Dewey officials, business owners and law enforcement agents say whether or not shots were fired, it’s frustrating that two weeks into the 2016 summer season they’re reading about an incident in the Northbeach parking lot.
Those same folks are also hoping changes made by the restaurant will make it the last incident they have to deal with.
Mayor Diane Hanson said she was concerned when she heard about the 1:20 a.m., June 1, report of an incident involving two possible gun shots. She said the town was continuing to investigate; everything possible is being done to resolve a problem she thought was taken care of.
The mayor said she had spoken with Alex Pires, president of Highway One, the Dewey-based company that owns Northbeach, during the past winter, and he said the restaurant was no longer doing $1-drink night and also changed the music being played. She said Pires said Dewey was coming up in the world.
“It’s really unfortunate,” she said, in an almost complementary tone. “We’re hoping it’s just a holdover from years past.”
Dewey Beach Sgt. Cliff Dempsey said in a statement June 1, department police officers were patrolling the bayside of Dagsworthy Avenue when they heard what appeared to be two gunshots fired in the Northbeach parking lot. The officers responded to the scene and noticed a large disorderly crowd with several people fighting, he said.
“The officers were able to disperse the crowd with assistance from the Rehoboth Beach, Lewes, Bethany Beach and Delaware State Police,” wrote Dempsey.
Dempsey said no arrests had been made. He said video the night of the incident has been reviewed, and Dewey Police are following up on some of the images.
Except for the reported gunshots, an incident in June 2014 and one in July 2015 in the Northbeach parking lot followed a similar pattern. A large crowd of people, exiting Northbeach, congregated in the parking lot following the town’s 1 a.m. closing time. Within 15 or 20 minutes, a fight broke out, and could not be controlled by the town’s officers.
Following the 2015 incident, Highway One repaired two lights and installed at least four new lights on the parking lots that support Northbeach and Ivy. The town also installed three mobile light pads – two on Dagsworthy Avenue and one on McKinley Avenue.
Jimmy O’Conor, owner of Woody’s Dewey Beach Bar and Grill, said it’s a safety issue. No one in town wants a business where guns are a part of the atmosphere, he said.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s been introduced,” he said.
The land Northbeach and its dirt parking lot sits on is owned by the Dewey Beach Lions Club. The club leases the property to Highway One.
Hayden Evans, club president, said the club supports the town and will do anything in its power to ensure the incidents don’t happen again, but there’s a legal, binding contract with Highway One. He said a month ago, the club sent a letter to Highway One addressing lessee issues, including public safety concerns associated with Northbeach. He said the letter requested a response by Sunday, June 15, listing the measures taken by the company to help with public safety.
“That’s about all we can do,” he said. As of June 5, there had been no response.
Evans said the club has cooperated when Dewey and state police have requested vehicle surveillance of the parking lot. He said it was time for the state to begin enforcing laws associated with the restaurant’s liquor license.
In Delaware, the Alcohol Beverage Control commissioner grants, suspends and revokes liquor licenses, while the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement enforces the laws associated with the license.
DATE Deputy Director Robert Kracyla said the agency has historically issued numerous charges in Dewey, specifically in Northbeach because, he said, the restaurant seems to attract a very young crowd. He said statewide in 2015, there were 44 arrests for fake IDs issued by DATE officers to the underage individuals.
“Twenty-two of those arrests happened outside of Northbeach,” he said. “It’s a very, very large number is what it is.”
Kracyla said since 2011, DATE officers have conducted eight complaint-driven investigations of allegations such as underage drinking, food not being available while serving alcohol and allowing patrons to leave the premises with alcohol. One of the cases, a May 14 charge of allowing a patron to leave with alcohol, is still pending, but in the other seven, Northbeach was found guilty three times – all in 2012.
Kracyla also said he was under the impression some issues have been resolved by Northbeach management and $1-beer-night had been eliminated, However, he said, it remains to be seen how things will turn out.
Pires has not respond to numerous requests for comment.