Bottle Club Can Keep Partying for now Orange's Drug Fears don't Sway Judge

By Henry Pierson Curtis of The Sentinel Staff
Posted September 9, 2000

The party continues at Cyberzone, the Lee Road nightclub associated with two overdose deaths last weekend.

Orange County failed Friday to convince a judge that others might die unless the club were closed temporarily.

" We are here because we are scared," Assistant County Attorney George L. Dorsett said during the emergency hearing in Orlando.

Circuit Judge James Stroker was not convinced there was a sufficient threat to public safety to warrant shuttering the business before a full hearing on the matter can be held Sept. 28.

"I don't know if it is the place that's killing them or they go there to kill themselves, " Stroker said.

The ruling satisfied Orlando attorney Mark NeJame, who represents Cyberzone and about 60 bars and restaurants in Central Florida. Outside the hearing, he claimed that politics -- and not a concern for public safety -- was behind the county effort to shut down Cyberzone as a public nuisance.

" If parents can't stop drug abuse, if law enforcement can't stop drug abuse, how can they expect a nightclub owner to solve the problems of the nation?" NeJame said of his client, club owner Daniel Davis of Daytona Beach. "He's nothing more than a scapegoat being served up."

Cyberzone is a bottle club where patrons can dance until dawn. Drug agents continue to investigate the deaths Sunday of Santiago Jaramillo, 19, and David W. Steib, 20, both of Orlando. They died several hours after being ejected from the club for harassing female guests. Tests are being conducted to determine what killed them.

The deaths were the second and third in six months of young men who had gone to the nightclub. Four other patrons, including one last weekend, survived drug overdoses in the same period, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Those cases contributed to Cyberzone's reputation as one of several nightspots that attract drug sales and drug abuse, especially the consumption of ecstasy and GHB.

Last October, about 100 deputy sheriffs and police officers raided the club and arrested 10 people on drug-dealing charges. A number of patrons continued dancing in oblivious bliss even after the raiders shut off the music and turned up the house lights.

The arrests were part of a statewide sweep of 57 nightclubs, called "Operation Heat Wave," that drew attention to designer drug abuse by netting about 49,000 doses of Ecstasy, 55,000 doses of Ketamine and 21,000 doses of GHB.

In October 1998, two young men died and a woman survived heroin overdoses in a motel room near Cyberzone. One of the victims, Christopher Cates, 21, turned out to be a police informant who had been a supplier of Ecstasy to Cyberzone patrons, according to court records and the Sheriff's Office.

NeJame did not dispute that drug activity goes on in and around the nightclub. Instead, he argued that Davis worked closely with law enforcement in recent months and spent more than $70,000 on security improvements to try to prevent drug abuse.

The lawyer accused the Sheriff's Office of hypocrisy for citing the club for 22 drug arrests without mentioning that 65,000 people visited the club during the past six months. And, he said, Davis and his security force identified seven of those 22 patrons for arrest.

" It's the epitome of bad faith for the Sheriff's Office to use against him those cases he brought to them," NeJame said. He also claimed that his client's installation of surveillance cameras inside the club and lighting in the parking lots had cut drug activity by 75 percent.

Vincent Scarlatos, an attorney for Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary, said that line of reasoning was the same as saying that a leaking nuclear power plant should be allowed to operate if it was able to cut deaths from 2,000 a year to 1,000.

"There is no remedy at law here," said Scarlatos, arguing for a temporary closing. "People are continuing to die. People are continuing to sell drugs here."

Source: Orlando Sentinel