Wreaking Havoc on Spring Break

Deaths and riots mar the collegians' annual wingding

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Every year just before Easter, they flock to Florida's beaches, hundreds of thousands of them, bikinis and libidos at the ready. After a week of the unimaginable and the unmentionable (to parents), spending up to $300 million on their bacchanal, they return to their college campuses, survivors of spring break. Says Dave Mazur, a Canisius College freshman: "Fort Lauderdale is like Mecca. You have to make the trip at least once. It's what everybody says it is --beaches, beer and bikinis . . . sand, surf and sex."

And tragedy too. Among the 800,000 reveling collegians who flocked to Fort Lauderdale, Daytona Beach and Miami this year, seven have died violently. That is more than anyone can remember since 1960, when the movie Where the Boys Are institutionalized Fort Lauderdale's spring.

Two revelers were killed in Fort Lauderdale, including an inebriated student who plunged off the 16th floor of the Pier 66 Hotel. Two more died in Daytona Beach after falling from hotel balconies. On Sanibel Island, along the Gulf Coast, a University of Arizona freshman fell to his death from a balcony during a vigorous tobacco-spitting contest. In Miami, a student toppled off a drawbridge at 1 a.m.

Some students viewed the deaths with concern, others with callousness. Said Jimmy Hain, 21, of Farmingdale, (N.Y.), Community College: "Either stay on the first floor or get a parachute. I always pass out before I get that crazy." But the resorts are trying to restrain the sprees with stiffer law enforcement. Florida is raising its drinking age from 19 to 21, and Fort Lauderdale now prohibits open containers of booze in cars or alongside A1A. Still, the law and the weather did not always work well together. Heavy rains kept some vacationers inside hotels and motels, where maximum-capacity regulations prevented them from congregating in lobbies or other common areas. Thus the kids had only one place to do their drinking: their rooms. The resulting vandalism was the worst in years. "They just went wild," said Caryl Sickel, director of sales at Fort Lauderdale's Days Inn. "They did $50,000 worth of damage in an hour."

Arrests for the season stood at 1,920 in Fort Lauderdale last week, double last year's number, with jail stays as common as the smell of suntan lotion.

The crackdown and the wet weather had some bar owners and retailers complaining that business is off 25% to 30%. Even with the stricter rules, however, some aspects of spring break remain. "Most of the guys are still animals," said Gail Stout, a University of Missouri junior. "I don't think that will ever change." The behavior seemed transcontinentally contagious. In Palm Springs, Calif., hundreds of rioting students threw rocks and bottles, assaulted cars and stripped women of their clothing in a weekend melee. Some 100 overexuberant vacationers were arrested.