A Mom’s Heartache: Is your child safe at the Florida State Fair?

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Each year, it’s a painful reminder.

Each year, Deanna Joseph prays that nothing like this will ever happen again.

She says she still can’t believe it happened.

“You never would have imagined going to an event such as this would be the last event your son ever attends,” Deanna told News Channel 8 as she talked about the day her son died while attending Student Day at the Florida State.

It was a Friday, and she remembers like it was yesterday.

Her 14-year-old, Andrew Joseph III, prepared to walk out the front door of their Riverview home. She remembers him walking down the stairs, the smile on his face, the excitement in his voice.

She remembers the final conversation they would ever have.

“I said, ‘Andrew it’s cold. Put on a jacket.’ He was like, ‘aw, mom. It’s gonna mess up my outfit.’ I’m like, ‘put on the jacket,’” she recalled.

She would never see her son alive again.

It was February 7, 2014.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, nearly 100 students, including Andrew, participated in something called, “wilding,” or a planned melee.  The teenagers would cause a stampede that night, sending panic throughout the fair, deputies say.

Dozens of students were ejected from the fairgrounds that night.

Andrew was one of them.

His parents claim they never got a phone call that their 14-year-old was handcuffed, detained, then dropped off by deputies near the fairgrounds where he was left to cross Interstate-4 to meet up with his carpool ride home.

Andrew would lose his life that night, trying to cross I-4, his cell phone left ringing near his body as his parents called him over and over again when he didn’t come home.

Since the start, the Hillsborough sheriff’s office has always maintained that deputies were doing their job amidst chaos and that safety is the top concern for law enforcement at a large event such as this.

Each year, extra deputies are on hand to ensure safety, according to HCSO.

Andrew’s parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit and it continues to wind through the court system.

Ultimately, his mother says she is pleased with changes that have since been made, such as mandatory accompaniment by an adult after 6 p.m. and free admission for parents who wish to attend Student Day with their children.

She also admits the changes will never bring her son back – a young man with a bright future, an honor student who loved sports.

On Friday, she and other parents plan to honor Andrew at a 5 p.m. memorial. She hopes fair-goers remember her son, reminding them that safety is everyone’s responsibility, she says, and that her 14-year-old was a special boy.


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