'Rainbow people' create problems for Lake Co. merchants



OCALA, Fla.,None - An annual gathering of a group of campers commonly referred to as "rainbow people" is causing problems for local businesses near the Ocala National Forest.

Deputies told Eyewitness News that some merchants along State Road 19 in Altoona are dealing with shoplifters and panhandlers. 

While merchants said they do not think all of the rainbow people are causing problems, there have been some who have been keeping deputies and shop owners busy and on alert.

Store owner Mohammed Nur said he has to keep a close eye on customers.

"When they come in as a group, inside, it is really hard to keep track," said Nur.

Lake County merchants along State Road 19 in Altoona and State Road 40 in Astor are not happy about the arrival of the rainbow people.

"They are going (to the) bathroom, this aisle, that aisle, that aisle. So one person handling the store is difficult to track all this," said Nur.

The annual gathering of campers in the Ocala National Forest has triggered complaints.  The sheriff's office usually has two deputies assigned to the area, but they have increased that number to six, with several more officers assigned to the forest service.

"There have been some arrests," said Sgt. Jim Vachon with the Lake County Sheriff's Office.  "Some drug arrests and some retail theft, and misdemeanor arrests."

While Eyewitness News was at the campsites on Monday, deputies seized a stolen car and wrote a ticket for an expired tag.

Merchants are frustrated with shoplifting, begging and using their convenience store restrooms for bathing and then taking the toiletries.

"I have a local customer who said they go to the bathroom and take your bath tissues and rolls and everything.  You better watch them," said Nur.

Eyewitness News spoke with a couple of campers who would not go on camera, but they insist only a very few are causing problems.

The Rainbow Gathering began on Jan. 30 and concludes this weekend.