Last May, images of raucous holiday weekend parties at Lake of the Ozarks pool bars were beamed across the world. At the height of pandemic lockdowns—as most Americans were holed up in their homes and some were washing their groceries in fear of infection—the sight of hard-partying, unmasked Midwesterners dancing to EDM at an event called “Zero Ducks Given” became a lightning rod for national debate. A year later, we caught up with five people involved.
Gary and Andy Prewitt
Operators of Backwater Jack’s
Well-known locals not seeking more worldwide attention
THEN: Gary Prewitt is an Ozarks businessman who controls stakes in lake bars Backwater Jack’s and Shady Gators through LLCs. Gary Prewitt has tangled repeatedly with neighbors and the local government (sample headline: “Town Hall Meeting Erupts After Announcement That Lazy Gators Will Re-open”). In 2015, Gary sued an attorney who spoke out against his requested rezoning for libel and slander. After the pool party drew media attention, Gary shared a statement to the bar’s Facebook page, defending their party because “no laws were broken” and “social distancing is not a crime.” The bar pointed out that temperatures were checked at the door and personal bottles of FDA-approved hand sanitizer were available. A few days later, another statement was posted after the bar was informed by the Boone County Health Department that someone at the party had tested positive for Covid.
NOW: Gary’s nephew Andy Prewitt is the manager of Backwater Jack’s and handles the day-to-day business. The junior Prewitt’s email signature points to PrewittEnterprises.com, a site parked with GoDaddy. Andy declined to do a phone interview with Kansas City but agreed to answer questions over email. “We appreciate the publicity from last season’s media coverage but most of it was negative and it did cause us problems,” he wrote. “We had over five hundred negative Yelp and Google reviews last season from people who had never even been to Backwater Jack’s. We attribute our survival more to decisions made by local politicians to keep the lake open than from the negative media coverage.”
Party Goer from St. Louis
Got fired for going to the party…but also got a girlfriend
THEN: Tyler Crancer arrived at the pool party from the bar’s dock on the lake. The social media manager from St. Louis remembers getting his temperature taken by Backwater Jack’s employees and then ordering several strawberry Bud Light Seltzers. “I was going there for the party,” Crancer says. “I knew it was going to be a packed atmosphere. I wasn’t and am still not nervous about the virus. I am very healthy, no underlying issues. I’m twenty-nine years old and physically fit. The pool was packed, the bar was packed, the docks were packed.”
NOW: Crancer was promptly blasted with criticism on his public Instagram, which didn’t bother him. However, it did bother his employer. “It was pretty shocking to be asked to leave a company for supporting another small business during a difficult time,” he says. “I was told my services were no longer needed.”
There was a happy ending for Crancer, though: At the party, he met Miranda, who he has been dating ever since. He’s also spent a good chunk of the year traveling. “Since the Backwater Jack’s party, I have traveled on fifteen-plus trips, including Mexico twice.”
Mayor of Lake Ozark
Lost reelection in disgrace
THEN: Among the most brashly outspoken defenders of Backwater Jack’s and Shady Gators was Gerry Murawski, the colorful first-term mayor of Lake Ozark, a town on the northeast curl of the serpentine lake. For his forceful defense of the parties, Murawski was dubbed the title of “Most Irresponsible Mayor in America” by The Daily Beast. He was unrepentant. “So you just think about what this has done for our economy and you just go, ‘Thank you, folks,’” Murawski said, bragging that his town actually had an uptick in tourists. “I look at that and go, ‘Well maybe we’ve done something right.’”
NOW: In March 2021, Murawski was the subject of an expose in the local newspaper that revealed he’d paid a sixteen-year-old girl for sex while he was a city alderman. The report revealed that Murawski had been interviewed by the FBI and police but was not charged, even though he admitted to the allegations. “It happened,” Murawski told the paper. “I thought she was 20… I made a mistake… I didn’t ever have another prostitute, so I learned a lesson from that.”
Murawski ran for reelection, but in April both he and the political rival who’d pushed for the investigation of him were beaten by write-in candidate Dennis Newberry, a local developer who pledged to steer clear of controversies. “I have no platform or agenda other than seeing the voters of Lake Ozark served with decency, and properly managing the city business,” Newberry said.
A partygoer from St. Louis
He and his wife later got the virus. She still has symptoms—but he has no regrets.
THEN: Troia and his wife were among the older partygoers, arriving in the early afternoon “before the party really kicked off.” It was lit nonetheless. “I gotta be honest—I mean, it was a shit show,” Troia says. Troia doesn’t recall getting his temperature taken, but he’s also not sure “how accurate it would be considering you’re in one hundred-degree weather.”
NOW: Troia and his wife contracted Covid a few months ago. For him, the virus came and went, but his wife is still experiencing residual symptoms. However, he plans on returning to Osage Beach this Memorial Day. “I will probably go back again this year. I can’t imagine that it’s going to have the same level of media attention.”
Partygoer local to the Ozarks
She became an international media sensation… and will be back at Backwater Jack’s
THEN: Katie Moreno is a Lake of the Ozarks local who attended the party last year. “I had interviews with Inside Edition, Buzzfeed News, Fox News, ABC News, Good Morning America, TMZ and a radio station from North Carolina,” she says. All of these news outlets found her through her Instagram post location.“I never thought it was going to make national news,” she says. “We woke up the next morning and saw an article on TMZ, and that’s when it started spiraling out of control.”
NOW: Moreno plans on attending the party again this year.