MERRILLVILLE | It's been a long, hot summer at the Deep River Waterpark, to the joy of the Lake County Parks and Recreation Department.
A week after a brief melee among some guests sent an anxious ripple through Northwest Indiana's social network, hundreds were at the facility Friday. Children carrying pink and white inner tubes climb to the top of a slide plunge with a shriek and get in line to climb again.
Becky Froman, of Hobart, said she felt safe.
"Absolutely. We come because they have so much stuff for the little kids," she said.
Carmen Martinez, of Chicago, said she and her friends are repeat customers for the wave pool and the lazy river and was surprised to hear about any fights there.
"Maybe they had a bad day there," Martinez said.
She echoes the feeling of Robert Nickovich, the Lake County parks director.
"We really don't have a lot of conduct like occurred Saturday. A park like this is bound to attract some people who will be unruly. Our staff is well trained to address that."
He said they rely on dozens of lifeguards and park personnel to keep guests in line and at least two off-duty police officers to deal with more serious problems.
He said the off-duty officers rarely are needed, even though the park has had more than 177,000 visitors this year.
The incident took place between 4:30 and 5 p.m. July 28 when the park was wrapping up the day for about 3,500 guests and a large crowd from a local business was lining up outside to enter for an evening party.
"Two women got into an argument in the wave pool that ended up as a fight," Nickovich said. "Security and park personnel attempted to separate them and then members from the (women's) respective groups jumped in. There was a person video recording it on her cell phone and egging the fight on."
A Lake County Sheriff's Department report indicates as many as 40 were involved at the height of the incident. Nickovich said the unruly guests were ordered out.
However, the ejected crowd continued milling in the parking lot. Another fight broke out, someone smashed a windshield with a hammer and parked cars were hit by fleeing cars, according to authorities.
"The officers felt a little undermanned, but it wasn't long before there was enough support," he said. It ended with three arrests.
Some Times readers expressed concern that security at the park was deteriorating and suggested that officials refused to acknowledge this for fear of depressing the lucrative revenue.
One blogger made a dire comparison to a 1993 clash between rival gangs at Celebration Station, a smaller amusement park in Merrillville that left a Gary man dead.
Nickovich called last week's event "unfortunate."
"But when it did happen, we got it under control. County police know their business and did a great job."
He said it is one of the few clouds on a season buoyed by warm weather.
"It is shaping up to be a record year. Fifty percent of our visitors are from outside Lake County. If you look at the five largest municipal water parks in the country, we are No. 2 this year," he said. "We had our 4 millionth happy and well-satisfied visitor (July 27) since we opened the Memorial Day weekend of 1995."