Vol. 8 No. 31 - April 23, 2008


‘You just run for your life’
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Flames light up the night sky as a fire started by an oily rag in trash
can in the garage destroyed the home of Kent and Pa Davis in Holmes Beach.

HOLMES BEACH – "I’m shocked; I don’t believe it happened," Pa Davis said sadly after an early morning fire destroyed the home of her and her husband, Kent, at 519 58th St. on Thursday.

Pa said she and Kent were awakened by smoke alarms sometime after 2 a.m. and smoke was coming into the house from the garage.

"I don’t know how long it was burning," she said. "I could hardly see anything. You just run for your life. We got out the front door. It was pitch black from the smoke and wind.

"We knocked on the neighbors’ doors. I dialed 911 and handed the phone to my neighbor to talk because I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t even remember my address."

She said if they hadn’t left the sliding glass door open in the back of the house, they might have died from smoke inhalation. Another plus was that the home’s smoke detectors were interconnected, so when one went off, they all went off.

"We got the alarm at 2:22 and the first engine was out at 2:23," Deputy Fire Marshal Kurt Lathrop, of West Manatee Fire Rescue, said. "The roof and garage were completely involved, and when the fire made entrance into the attic, the high winds off the water pushed it through the attic.

"Once that happened, we went on the defensive mode and didn’t allow any firefighters inside, so they wouldn’t be put at risk, and we worked to save the houses next door."

A total of five units from all three West Manatee stations and Longboat Key responded. Lathrop said the closest hydrants are at the nearby Catcher’s Marina and city hall.

"We laid 1,300 feet of 5-inch hose," he said. "We try to have a hydrant every 800 feet but you can’t put one on less than a 6-inch waterline. A lot of the lines on the side roads are 2 to 4 inches."

A propane tank at the side of the house also exploded during the fire. The fire was extinguished by 3:56 a.m.

"At this point, it appears to be accidental," Lathrop noted. "The owner treated a piece of furniture with linseed oil and put the oily rag in the trash can in the garage. If you put something like that in a confined space, it will become hot enough to ignite.

"I’ve been investigating this since 6 a.m. it’s like a big puzzle. The firefighters are my eyes and ears and based on what they tell me and the homeowner says, it helps me put the puzzle together."

"We lost everything except some jewelry and our passports that were in a safe," Pa said. "One of the firemen (Fire Inspector Jim Davis) found my wedding ring that I had put on a table beside the bed. It was washed into a corner.

"There’s a saying in Thailand that if you are robbed 100 times, it is not as bad as being burned out of your house. I don’t know the last time a disaster like this has happened in Holmes Beach."

The couple lost their antique collection, including priceless, irreplaceable antique books, she said, and Kent lost his computer on which he was writing a book about Southeast Asia.

‘We want to thank our neighbors that stayed with us all night," she said. "We just want to get ourselves together, file the insurance and see how it goes. It has worn me out, but it’s lucky that no one got hurt."

Andrea gets second slice of success
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Sign of the Mermaid owner Andrea Spring shows off the baskets she
won at the American Pie Council/ Crisco National Pie Championship
last weekend. SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT

ANNA MARIA – She was the defending champion, the one to defeat, according to the Food Network. Andrea Spring, overall winner of last year’s National Pie Council Championship, returned to competition last weekend and again, tasted success.

"What a roller coaster ride," she said on Monday, after sleeping late. "I feel like I’ve gotten about 10 hours sleep over the last three days."

However, she didn’t have anything but positive vibes about the contest and for a good reason. This year, she took first place in the in the nut category of the American Pie Council/Crisco National Pie Championships with her Key West Crunch pie. She also won an honorable mention for her apple oatmeal crunch pie and since there were only two categories of winners, first place and honorable mention, she feels great.

"The contest was fantastic, so many more people entered this year," she said. "The Food Network followed four of us around. We were the ones the producers felt were most likely to win."

Spring said she will definitely appear on the Food Network this year, probably around November. Last year, the network only taped and interviewed the professional teams.

"I actually did well in front of the camera, better than I though I would," she said. "They had us do some trash talking while we were cooking, so it will be fun to watch."

Her Key West Crunch pie contains macadamia nuts, coconut and pineapple and it was baked like a pecan pie. The macadamia nuts actually float to the top like pecans.

"After I was done, one of the stars, Gail Gand, stopped me and asked what was in that pie," she said. "It was really an honor to have someone who I have been watching on that network compliment me."

Her apple oatmeal crunch pie is made like a traditional apple pie with an oatmeal, pecan crunch topping.

Last year, her Chocolate Express Explosion won first prize in the "other" classification, her key lime pie took first place in the citrus competition and it also won Best Overall.

"It was three days of absolute whirlwind, she said, "I had so much fun. I though I would be nervous, but I was really in my element."

Former city official beaten in home
Sheriff’s detectives are calling the attack in Anna Maria a home invasion

ANNA MARIA – Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives and deputies are investigating an apparent home invasion in which former Anna Maria City Commissioner Linda Cramer was beaten and robbed in the house in which she is staying.

Cramer refused to go to the hospital and said Friday that she had gotten a CAT Scan and it showed no broken bones. She said she still had black eyes and swelling in her face.

It began on Wednesday, around 4 p.m., when somebody called and asked for Joe Pandolph, who owns the residence in the 300 block of Crescent Drive, according to the police report. Cramer said he was not there and the party said he would call him on his cell phone.

About 15 minutes later, Cramer saw an old white work van with dice hanging from the rear view mirror pull into the driveway. Two suspects got out of the van and Cramer described them as a white male 5 feet 7 inches tall, stocky build, possibly named Mike, wearing sunglasses, and a white male six feet tall, thin with short brown hair and sunglasses.

They came to the front door with a large box and rang the bell. They said they were there to deliver a package. Cramer asked where the package was from and they said Cosmetics USA.

"I pretty much knew I was in trouble when I opened the door," she said. "They rushed in and I put up a pretty good fight for a while until the big one got me down, grabbed my throat and started punching my face."

She eventually succumbed and they bound her arms with large zip ties. They ransacked the house, demanding drugs, money gold and guns. Before leaving, they threatened to kill her and her family if she did not wait 20 minutes to call police. She eventually got loose from the zip ties and called 911.

Cramer said she thought they might have known Pandolph. Sheriff’s Office Sgt. John Kinney said the investigation is progressing.

"We have some excellent leads," he said. "We feel this was premeditated and well thought out."

Kinney said he did not want residents to worry.

“This was not a random act," he said. "We don’t want anyone to be concerned that we have people randomly breaking into homes and beating people."

Coquina shooter gets 10 years
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story


One of two men charged with attempted murder in a gang-related shooting in Coquina Beach parking lot on Easter 2007 has been sentenced to 10 years and four months in prison.

Officials said that Rene Vasquez Mendoza, 23, faced a much longer prison term if he had been convicted on charges of attempted murder with a firearm, but the victims are illegal aliens and migrants who left the area and have evaded authorities. An assistant state attorney said that the victims’ testimony would have been essential in getting a conviction on the stronger charges, which would have carried a mandatory 20-year sentence.

The other man convicted in the incident, Santiago Delgado, Jr., 22, was sentenced to house arrest and probation last year because he said he shot into the ground and did not see Vasquez Mendoza fire his gun.

The shooting, which authorities said occurred in front of children and families on one of the busiest days of the year at the county-owned beach, stemmed from a dispute between rival gangs, according to police. Manatee County has since redesigned the parking lot at the beach to discourage cruising, which is popular among gang members. There was no violence reported on Easter of this year.

Chuck White: ‘Gentle man, brilliant mind’
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Chuck White

Longtime Anna Maria resident Chuck White died at Blake Hospital on Tuesday, April 17.

White was the partner of former Mayor SueLynn.

"He was a gentle man with a brilliant mind," Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford said. "He never hesitated to serve our community."

Barford recalled the days recently when White and Larry Albert went out and did a survey of the street resurfacing project to make sure that problems with drop offs at the street edges were corrected.

"He was out there going street by street on those long hot days to make sure things were done right," Barford said. "He never wanted any recognition. He just did it."

White did the street surveys as a member of the city’s capital improvement advisory committee.

Fellow CIAC member Bill Snow recalled White’s value to the committee:

"He knew his stuff," Snow said. "He performed a good service to the community. He was well informed and knew where we were going and what we had to do to get there."

Snow cited White’s knowledge about how to get the capital improvements funded as well.

White had volunteered with the Manatee County Extension Service’s Master Gardner Program for the past 10 years. The Master Gardener Program provides advice to the home gardener. White served as head of the volunteer organization until recently.

"He was my mentor when I got first involved in the program," said Holmes Beach resident Fred Heger. "I found him to be enormously helpful in getting me started. He taught classes, and everyone said the same thing about him. He was a wonderful teacher and mentor.

White was especially versed in plant propagation and soil testing, according to Heger.

"He taught a lot of others how to do what he did, so there will be people following in his footsteps," he said.

Before moving to Florida, White managed the Frost Valley, N.Y. YMCA year-round camp where he was responsible for overseeing the construction of much of the infrastructure.

There, he taught fly-fishing to breast cancer survivors.

"I will personally miss Chuck, and I’m so grateful I got the chance to know him," Barford said.

No services had been planned as of the weekend.

Bollards, boat ramps concern beachgoers
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

New bollards forced truck drivers with trailers to parallel park along
the Palma Sola Causeway on Saturday. The bollards are intended to
facilitate parking and keep beachgoers separate from vehicles.

BRADENTON – Weekend visitors to the Palma Sola Causeway proved that beauty is in the eye of the beholder with widely varying reactions to the wood bollards recently installed along both sides of the popular beach.

The bollards are intended to facilitate parking and keep beachgoers separate from vehicles, according to the Palma Sola Causeway Scenic Highway Committee, which spearheaded the changes, including the removal of Australian pine trees that were replaced with palms and other native species.

"It’s horrible the way it’s blocked off," said Donna DeSantis, of Palmetto, adding that the placement of the bollards and palms makes the beach much narrower than it used to be, leaving little area, especially on the south side, to set up even a beach chair.

"You can’t print what I would say," said a man with a large family using a Jet Ski.

The bollards prevent people with trailers carrying Jet Skis, sailboats and other watercraft from launching almost anywhere except at one crowded boat ramp on the northeast corner of the Causeway. A new ramp and pier at the southwest corner is completed but the parking lot is awating construction.

Donald Whalen said he saw a fistfight at the only open boat ramp because several people with Jet Skis were waiting in line to leave the beach in the late afternoon and someone took too long to load up. A broken rear windshield resulted.

"By the end of the day, people get mad," he said.

"They need to make more boat ramps and maybe take some of the trees out," said Mike Micochero. "We used to back right in. We always went to the other (south) side, but the beach there is too narrow now."

The bollards were like the zigzag poles on an agility course for the frustrated Sophie, a dog whose leash kept getting tangled around them. The Causeway is the only beach in the county that allows dogs.

"I used to tie my dog to my trailer hitch and she could go down to the water," said her owner, Sean Gagne of Bradenton, as he untangled her leash for the umpteenth time.

"The trees look okay," offered Ryan Gagne.

"It looks great," said Rhode Island visitor Paul Clays, a law enforcement officer who enjoyed the beach with his wife and two daughters on Saturday.

"It’s alright except for the shade," said a mother of three, who had to use several umbrellas to make up for the shady Australian pines that had been removed.

"I like the trees," said Marsha Coulthard of Bradenton, but the improvements to the Causeway stirred up rocks that make it hard to walk barefoot along the water, she added.

"I don’t like it at all," said Tom, a transplanted New Jersey resident who didn’t give his last name.

"The Causeway is the main reason we moved here," he said, adding that the bollards keep him from driving his truck right up to the water and launching his personal watercraft.

"I think it’s ugly. It looks like a fence," he said. "They overdid it. They should use the money to clean up the seaweed instead."

His wife, Mary, prefers the new palm trees to the Australian pines that were removed, saying it looks more like Florida, but thinks there are too many of them blocking access to the water.

"They could have done it more sparingly," she said. "And used the money for education."

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-designed Causeway is scheduled for Arbor Day on Friday at 11 a.m.

AMITW volunteers ready for May 1 opening of turtle nesting season
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Volunteers mob the dais at
Holmes Beach City Hall to sign up for their sections at the conclusion
of AMITW’s annual training session. Sea turtle nesting season officially
begins May 1.

HOLMES BEACH — More than a hundred volunteers showed up at city hall for Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch’s annual training session last week.

"I was happy with the turnout," said AMITW Director Suzi Fox. "It looks like we have a good group this year."

About a third of the volunteers who showed up the annual training session, which was held on April 22, were rookies, or newbies, as seasoned volunteers call them.

Among the rookies were Holmes Beach residents Peggy Hendrickson and her 13-year old daughter, Savannah.

"We are really looking forward to this," Peggy said. "I’ve waited to volunteer until I felt Savannah was old enough to enjoy it, too."

The Hendricksons are now trained to recognize the tracks of a mother turtle that has crawled ashore to dig a nest and lay her eggs. They know how to tell the difference between the tracks of a loggerhead turtle — the kind of turtle that normally nests on the Island — and the more rare green turtle.

"There has been only one documented green turtle nest on the Island," Fox said. "But we’ve had several false crawls."

A false crawl is the term used to define an event when a female sea turtle crawls ashore but, for some reason, does not lay her eggs.

"It could be that she was spooked by lights or an animal or by people coming too close," Fox said.

Fox is the person designated by the state as the primary sea turtle nesting permit holder. Members of Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch are also listed on the permit. No one else is authorized to touch a nest or a sea turtle.

The organization has divided the beach into nine sections sweeping from Coquina Beach at the south end of the Island all the way around the north end to the Anna Maria City Pier on the bayside.

"We are one of the only areas of the state where they have documented bayside nesting," Fox said. "And last year, we had a nest in DeSoto Park, so we want to get at least one of the rangers trained and listed on the permit."

Sea turtle nesting season runs from May 1 through Oct. 1. Island residents and visitors will see volunteers out at dawn in the early part of the season looking for signs of nesting.

When a nest is located, it will be staked off to make sure no one accidentally walks on it and crushes the eggs. The nest will be monitored until it hatches later in the season.

As the season progresses, the nests will be monitored for signs of hatching. The Hendricksons will be trained in recognizing the signs of the 100 or so hatchlings that will emerge from each nest and make their way to the sea.

"That’s if there are no predators, if the lights on the beach are left out or are shielded and if we don’t have any storms washing out the nests," Fox said.

Beginning May 1, beachfront lighting must be turned out or shielded, because lights can cause a mother turtle and/or the hatchlings to be disoriented.

"A mother turtle may lay her eggs, then she is attracted to the light and can’t find her way back into the sea," Fox noted. "When that happens, the mother can become dehydrated and even die. Same with hatchlings. They usually die when they are disoriented by lights."

Each of the three Island cities has ordinances in place mandating that beachfront lighting be turned off or shielded during nesting season.

"The best way to check to insure that your lights aren’t going to harm sea turtles is to go down to the waterline, squat down and look back at the buildings," Fox said. "Any lights or glow from lights that you see will also be seen by turtles."

There are also prohibitions against leaving furniture and tents on the beach overnight, as these items can entrap turtles and kill them.

There are stiff state and federal fines for causing the death of a threatened or endangered sea turtle. All species of sea turtles are either threatened or endangered.

For help making sure lights are in compliance, people can call their code enforcement officer.

All of the volunteer spots are filled as of now, but there are always some people who have to drop out for one reason or another. Anyone not yet trained by AMITW who wants to volunteer can call Fox at 778-5638.

Night beach safety concerns code officers
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/LAURIE KROSNEY Code enforcement officers from
all three Island cities put their heads together with Florida Wildlife
and Florida Power and Light officials last week to discuss strategies
for enforcing lighting ordinances designed to keep the beaches safe
for nesting sea turtles and their hatchlings.

BRADENTON BEACH — City officials have questions and concerns about sending their code enforcement officers out on the beach to enforce sea turtle lighting ordinances.

All three cities have ordinances in place that mandate that beachfront lighting be turned out or shielded. Unshielded lighting can cause the endangered and threatened sea turtles that nest on our beaches to become disoriented and die.

"I have some concerns about the safety of or code officers or anybody going out on the beach at night" said Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale. "It’s very dark out there. Concern for safety is my job."

Speciale said he was not reacting to any specific instances in which people were hurt or exposed to danger on the beaches at night.

"I want to be proactive," he said. "I don’t want to out somebody out there and give somebody else the ability to commit the crime."

Manatee County Conservation Lands Management Director Charlie Huntsicker said that millions of beach renourishment dollars are at stake.

"Our beaches have to be monitored for the safety of sea turtles," Huntsicker said. "That includes monitoring for man-made things that can harm turtles. It’s a federal, state and local issue, "I know that each Island city sees itself as a separate entity, but when it comes to the beaches, the weather, the habitat, wildlife and the environment, Island residents and governments need to see themselves as a whole. If one city fails to do what’s required, the renourishment funding for the entire Island could be in jeopardy."

The April 16 meeting was called by Bradenton Beach as a roundtable discussion about the challenges of keeping the beaches safe for turtle nesting.

It was moderated by Bradenton Beach Building Official Steve Gilbert and was attended the code officers, City Attorney Ricinda Perry, Speciale, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch Director Suzi Fox, Don Sayre from FPL, Public Works Director Tom Woodard, Florida Wildlife Conservation’s Jean Higgins and BB City Commissioner Bob Conner, who serves as liaison to AMITW.

"I found the meeting informative, and there were some things that needed to get out on the table," said Holmes Beach Code Enforcement Officer Nancy Hall.

"I like that the turtle people heard that we have a lot of work to do back in the office to research the property when we find a violation."

Hall said she’d be out on the beaches at night monitoring for lighting violations.

"It’s a job requirement, so of course I’ll do it," she said. "Liking it has nothing to do with it."

Anna Maria Code Enforcement Gerry Rathvon said she’d be out in her city as well.

"There’s no other way to get the job done, so of course I’ll be out there," she said. "We don’t have big problems in Anna Maria. There are still some problem properties, but overall, our city is mostly in compliance. People care about those turtles so when you inform them, they get those lights off."

Gilbert said his city is in the process of revising its land development code, which is part of the process that goes along with comprehensive plan revision.

"We’ll be looking at everything," he said. "I think in the end we’ll probably go with something that’s more educational."

Gilbert also questioned the safety of putting his two code enforcement officers, Gail Garneau and Wendy Chabot, out on the beach at night.

"I don’t like to see the girls out there at night," Gilbert said. "It can get dangerous when they have to confront someone — particularly someone who’s inebriated."

Gilbert said he’d ask commissioners what they want to do about monitoring lighting on the four-miles of beach in the city.

For now, the city is working on an emphasizing the educational aspect of sea turtle safety.

"We’ll still go out and monitor, but it won’t be three or four days a week," he said.

When pressed, Gilbert said the code officers might monitor up to a maximum of two nights a week.

"It’s a budget issue, too," he said. "We simply don’t have any budget for overtime."

Gilbert said he the city would have policies in place for at least this year’s sea turtle nesting season by May 1, when the season officially begins.

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