NAPLES — Thousands of residents and visitors are expected to hit Southwest Florida beaches and parks this Fourth of July weekend.
But law enforcement officials warn that some simple mistakes could turn a day of fun in the sun into a real pain in the buns.
To ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday, authorities suggest the following:
■ Leave valuables at home
Car keys, towels, shoes, cell phones, cash — there’s no shortage of items that have been stolen on Southwest Florida beaches.
“You never know what’s going to motivate somebody to take some items,” said Ron Mosher, a crime prevention specialist with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.
To avoid becoming a theft victim, Mosher recommends people avoid bringing valuables — iPods, credit cards, jewelry — to the beach. A driver license and a few bucks should suffice, he said.
Valuables shouldn’t be left in plain sight in the car, Mosher said, adding that the Sheriff’s Office has worked more than 540 auto burglaries so far this year. Car doors need to be locked, and anything left in the trunk should be put in prior to arriving.
“You don’t want to really put it in your trunk when you get to the beach because somebody could be watching you,” Mosher said.
On Wednesday afternoon, 71-year-old Jeannette Wentworth of North Naples sat in a chair on Vanderbilt Beach listening to the Beatles on her pink iPod Shuffle.
“I bring a dollar or two with me,” Wentworth said. “A bottle of water. I bring some crackers.”
■ Use the buddy system with young children
“Young children are quick. They’re going to take off,” Mosher said.
Because of that, Mosher said it’s important for parents to be vigilant and keep an eye on their children all the time. He also suggests the buddy system as a way of letting the kids help keep track of one another at the beach.
If a child does wander off, Mosher said parents should notify law enforcement as soon as possible.
“The longer you wait, there’s a greater distance a child could cover,” he said.
■ Know the law
Alcohol is allowed on city of Naples beaches, but not in glass containers. No alcohol or glass containers are allowed on beaches in the unincorporated area of Collier County.
Fireworks of all kinds, including sparklers and fire crackers, are prohibited on beaches both in the city and unincorporated area.
Mosher said people should take their time at the conclusion of a fireworks display, and shouldn’t drive if they’ve been drinking.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office will be doing “saturation patrols” this weekend, establishing a strong presence on the road and looking for drivers under the influence.
“If you’re going to party, don’t drink and drive,” Lee County sheriff’s Sgt. Stephanie Eller said. “Have a cab lined up or have a designated driver in your group. It’s just not worth it.”
■ Use only legal fireworks, and use them responsibly
The best way to prevent an injury from fireworks is to not use them in the first place.
Officials recommend that people go to one of the about half-dozen professional displays in the area. But people who are going to use personal fireworks at home should only use the legal kind, typically sparklers and fountains, said Sgt. Mike Oler, commander of the Collier Sheriff’s Office’s bomb squad.
“The illegal is basically anything that either leaves the ground or explodes,” Oler said.
Eller said people who are going to use fireworks need to use common sense.
“We’re just asking the public to buy from reputable dealers _ those who know what they’re allowed to sell,” Eller said. “Don’t make your own stuff. If you try to make your own explosive devices, you could be committing a crime.”
Even legal fireworks can be dangerous, including sparklers, which burn at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, Oler said.
He suggests people using legal fireworks keep a bucket of water or a garden hose nearby, light only one at a time, don’t relight fireworks that don’t go off, don’t mix alcohol and fireworks, and wear eye protection.
“Obviously, don’t throw any at any people,” Oler said.