South Jax Trustees Hear Critique, Mull Changes to Celebration

By Benjamin Cox on May 20, 2023 at 10:50am

The South Jacksonville Board of Trustees are thinking over changes involving the South Jacksonville Celebration for next year after this year’s celebration ended prematurely.

South Jacksonville Police Chief Eric Hansell was asked to provide an overall critique of the event to the trustees last night during their committee of the whole session. Hansell says that outside of the multiple fights that broke out on the Saturday night of the celebration, the entire rest of the celebration was a success.

Hansell says the Saturday morning parade was one of the best attended parades in the Jacksonville area that he’s seen in several years, and that overall the celebration was extremely enjoyable: “There really were no issues with the carnival or parade other than this big fight that broke out. So, that aspect of it just kind of puts a black eye on the event when really the event was a great event.”

Hansell says that public safety will be the biggest issue that the village has to resolve if they want to do the event again next year: “What went wrong is that there was just a lot of people there. I think that parents need to be held accountable for their children. They need to be responsible and on-scene if their kid is going to be there. So, we are looking at age restrictions without a parent – you would have to have a parent there if you are under a certain age. It’s hard to add more police when you are kind of limited on your staffing anyway. We did have one access point for the gate for all vehicle traffic that came in. There were a few other places that people walked in, but maybe we could restrict that a little bit more. That is something that’s hard to do with those grounds because the access is pretty wide open. We maybe will have some external camera trailers or something like that, and maybe more employees to help out on the village’s side. In the grand scheme of things, we have to realize that we are a town of 3,200 people and we are limited in just the sheer number of employees that we actually have on staff.”

Hansell says the investigation into the multiple fights are ongoing from that Saturday evening, which included responses from the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, Jacksonville Police, and Illinois State Police. Hansell says pursuit of the investigation has been somewhat stalled in his department because of staffing, but he does believe that they are close to making further arrests or citations: “When we go back and review the video, anybody else that can be identified that was engaged in a fight or enticed, facilitated, or aided in starting a fight can also be cited for ordinance violations and some possible criminal violations. We’ll review the video and if we can locate and identify those people, we’ll go back and make arrests or citations based upon that.”

Celebration Committee Chair Paula Belobradjic-Stewart commended Hansell’s quick actions for shutting down the carnival to prevent further problems at the Prairieland Heritage grounds. Hansell says had the carnival been a paying carnival that would have resulted in lost revenues to the village, the carnival, and the patrons that his decision likely would have been different. Stewart says that the village trustees need to take a hard look at making some security changes if they decide to do the celebration again.

Village President Dick Samples says that armbands required for entry and possibly limiting the carnival to daylight hours over three days might help solve some of the issues and prevent any further disorderly conduct in the future.