What was supposed to be a small gathering of car enthusiasts turned into a large party that was shut down by law enforcement officers after thousands of people packed into a parking garage in Loma Linda. 

The event on Saturday on the rooftop of the parking structure near the Loma Linda University Medical Center was organized by Loma Linda University Church. A flyer said the event was for a homeless charity, and organizers said they expected about two dozen cars.

But it looked more like a potential virus super-spreader event, county officials said. Video showed rows of cars, including a BMW i8, Nissan GT-Rs, a Mercedes-Benz AMG GT and other high-end models, parked side-by-side surrounded by crowds of people.

The sheriff’s department said 3,000 to 4,000 people were at the event.

The event violated state rules on large gatherings, something organizers said they never intended. Attendees were supposed to drive through and stay inside their cars. 

“We wanted to be a good neighbor, and we obviously failed,” the church said in a statement. “We have worked tirelessly with our partners in healthcare and government to maintain care and wisdom during this pandemic. We failed to anticipate that the event would grow so far beyond what we had planned.”

The church apologized for complicating the work of the hospital, campus security and law enforcement. 

The sheriff’s department received calls about traffic near the hospital and cars backed up inside the parking garage.  

“We got some calls from some people who were trying to get to the hospital for medical services, and they wrest able to get there because it was such congestion and traffic gridlock,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy Olivia Bozek. 

The garage was cleared out late Saturday. 

San Bernardino County remains in the state’s purple tier for reopening, the highest alert assessment for the spread of coronavirus. More than 960 people have died in the county due to the virus. 

County officials said the car show appeared to have been out of compliance with health safety rules.

“When you start bringing hundreds of people, or in some cases, thousands of people together, those types of super-spreader events are what is helping keep us in the purple,” said Supervisor Curt Hagman. “We really want to get to the red and be able to be able to open our legitimate businesses throughout the county.”

Traffic citations were issued, but not arrests were reported. 

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By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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