ZombiCon 2016 canceled after permit scramble, legal trouble

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan
Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. — ZombiCon’s organizers have announced that the popular event will not return this year.

The Zombie-themed art and music festival usually takes place every October in downtown Fort Myers, but last year’s event was marred by gunfire that killed Expavious Tyrell Taylor, 20, and injured five others in 2015.

Some Fort Myers residents, Tom Calabrese, want city leaders to work to correct any mistakes to bring the event back.

“I would be curious to know why they don’t want to have it down here. The city of Fort Myers should be very focused on promoting downtown Fort Myers,” he said. “Events like that attract positive attention to downtown — even with the overshadowing of something that happened last year.”

City council members rejected permits to host the event in downtown Fort Myers and organizers failed to secure a different location, though Cape Coral city leaders had at one point considered hosting the event.

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson said Pushing Daizies, the event organizers, have not shown proof that it could insure an event this year.

“City council made a decision to not permit the event this year. Moreover, it is my understanding there is pending or ongoing litigation and it is not clear if Pushing Daizies will be able to provide insurance for the event even if council were to permit it,” he said in a written statement.

It is also unclear whether Pushing Daizies planned to use a new security team. ZombiCon’s former event security, Southwest Florida Security, has had significant licensing problems that date back to the early 2000s. The company was fined in February for hiring guards who were not authorized to work security.

Lawyers for Southwest Florida Security have denied any obligation to ensuring the safety of Zombicon attendants, saying the company’s contract “didn’t provide for making sure the people at the event were safe,” according to lawsuit documents. The security of the event, which was annually attended by more than 20,000 people with masks, gory makeup and fake firearms, has also been a security challenge for law enforcement.

Pushing Daizies declined to comment. They are facing two lawsuits: A $5 million wrongful death suit filed by Taylor’s family and another suit filed by Kyle Garick Roberts, who was shot in his hand.

Summer Groh, who last year’s event, believes a break this year would be a good thing.

“Because I was so close to where it had happened, it was a little bit traumatizing for me,” Groh said. “I think it’s smart to take a year off, especially if they’re having financial trouble with it. It’s definitely something they can plan to make more safe in the future and take this year off to make it safer for everyone.”

Investigators continue to ask the public for tips about the shooting and most recently has sought out information from a “November tipster.” That tipster, who called Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers in May, is said to have vital information that could lead to an arrest, authorities said.

Anyone with tips is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 1(800)-780-TIPS.

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