Controversy over free admission to pumpkin festival

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SARASOTA, Fla. - A pumpkin festival held in a Sarasota park this weekend is now finding itself in a controversy, after patrons complained that "free" tickets got them turned away at the gate.

"You have a couple of frustrated kids and frustrated adults who were looking for something to do with their families," said Chris Crotinger, standing on the sidewalk in front of the gate into the Sarasota Pumpkin Festival at Payne Park in downtown Sarasota.

Crotinger was looking forward to attending Pumpkin Festival with his family and friends on Sunday using free tickets, but event organizers told him the tickets were only good for children.

"It doesn’t say anything about it on the passes" Crotinger said, adding, "It just says free admission on it."

Like a lot of families, Crotinger says his family is on a tight budget and did not have the extra money to spend for admission, and they choose not to pay seven dollars each for admission 

Sarasota Pumpkin Festival organizer Lazarus Fernandez told ABC 7 some people were confused by the tickets.

"There (are) two types of tickets. There is a free adult VIP ticket that we gave away 100,000 of to three different counties. Then there is a free kids ticket. They do look completely different but to the naked eye you don’t know which one it is."

Fernandez said they gave local businesses the free tickets to give away and customers should have specified if they wanted adult or children’s tickets.

"You have to say I need adult tickets or I need children’s tickets for the pumpkin festival. All that information is on line."

ABC 7 looked on the Pumpkin Festival’s website and did not find any mention of children’s tickets. The only reference to children was that children under 12 received free admission. 

Demian Somerville contacted ABC 7 after witnessing several families being turned away. It made him so upset he decided to investigate the charity benefiting from the Pumpkin Festival, the Lazarus Foundation Kids Force. (

"I researched it and came up with nothing. There is no board of directors, there’s no contact information. There’s no publicized 501c charitable organization," said Somerville.

He said he is surprised a charity that claims to change the lives of children in a positive way would turn away any families at the gate.