FALMOUTH — Alexa Oropesa, a self-proclaimed scaredy-cat, was shaking Monday morning when she and Kaithleen Hernandez locked themselves together under a Sabal Trail Pipeline truck hauling equipment on a dirt access road.
A group of Sabal Trail Pipeline protesters halted the truck for nearly an hour, which according to a Sabal Trail spokeswoman was hauling cleanup equipment to an area where the pipeline — which is cutting through three states — was already installed, by blocking an access road near the Suwannee River State Park outside of Live Oak.
Hernandez and Oropesa, both from Orlando, were part of a group of protesters that blocked the truck on the access road before using a protest maneuver called a sleeping dragon to lock themselves to the bottom of the truck.
The sleeping dragon is when protesters handcuff their hands to each other inside PVC pipes, usually in a circle. The two protesters were wrapped around a piece of metal under the truck.
A Suwannee County official at the site said the protesters were attached to a piece that could be removed, but they were waiting for backup because of how many protesters were at the site. There were about 30 protesters there.
Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John said the protesters pushed his hand.
“We were allowing them to express their first amendment right, and up until today we had two days of peaceful protest,” St. John said. “I hoped it would remain peaceful, but there’s a group of them willing to be arrested to further their cause.”
When backup arrived, the police formed a line and began forcing protesters back away from the truck, arresting anyone who failed to move. In all, eight protesters were arrested, six charged with trespassing after warning. Tristan Alexander Werning and Brian Edward Sheehan were arrested and charged with felony trespassing of a construction site.
Separately, they chained themselves to a compressor site on Sabal Trail property, according to St. John.
Hernandez said she locked herself to the truck to slow down the pipeline’s construction and raise awareness.
More than anything this is about raising awareness because not enough people know what is going on,” Hernandez said. “And sometimes, in these cases, it takes something this drastic in order for us to be able to move others and inspire change.”
The arrests came two days after the park had to close for the first time in its history due to overcrowding. Nearly 100 cars were allowed in to park Saturday with hundreds of protesters on hand.
According to the Sabal Trail spokeswoman, construction was never halted by the protesters and drilling is now complete at the site near the state park.