The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 11 No. 50 - September 28, 2011


Friends rescue victim of shark attack
Carol Whitmore

C.J. Wickersham is surrounded by his friends
in his hospital room. From left to right are:
Katie Mattas, Kiera Dunn, Oceana Beard,
Connor Bystrom, Lee White and Max Gazzo.


Charles "C.J." Wickersham, 21, of Longboat Key, has a lot to be thankful for following his encounter with a bull shark last Saturday. Despite the pain and the medical procedures he faces to get back to normal, he is lucky to be alive, thanks to his friends.

Seven young men and women took off for a day of spear fishing and free diving off the north end of the Island. They had known each other for years and many had grown up on or near the Island.

Around 3 p.m., Wickersham was trying to regain his breath after a free dive when the shark attacked. The shark was estimated to be around nine feet long and it took a bite out of his left thigh.

"Initially, in the first second or two, he thought he might have run into one of us," said Max Gazzo, a longtime friend of Wickersham who was on the boat when Wickersham was bitten. "It took a second or two to realize it was a shark."

Inside the boat, Connor Bystrom, 22, saw the commotion around Wickersham as the water turned red. He saw Wickersham strike the shark in the nose. That's when he decided to dive into the water to aid his friend. He swam with Wickersham to the boat where Max and Lee White pulled him in quickly.

"C.J. never lost consciousness," Gazzo said. "We used an anchor line as a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and held it all with towels. It was a 14-inch gash and it was to the bone."

Once inside the boat, they contacted 911 and took off for the Rod and Reel pier, where Wickersham was transported to a helicopter, airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center, in St. Petersburg and treated for his wounds. He was awake and alert the next day.

"It was all surreal," said C.J.'s mother, Ella, while describing her arrival at Bayfront Medical Center. "Thank God those friends were there."

Doctors operated on Wickersham a second time on Monday to see how much damage there was to the thigh. They used five pints of blood when he first arrived at the medical center.

"We're all thankful he's OK," Gazzo said. "He's going to make a full recovery and we thank the EMTs and everyone who got him to the hospital."

When asked if this incident would prevent them from going back in the water, Garza said he didn't think so.

"We've all had close calls but we've never been bitten before," he said. "We've all grown up on the Island and, of course, it's going to make us think twice."

Wickersham's mother is thankful that her son's friends were there and knew what to do, but she feels her son will not be afraid to go in the water again.

"He doesn't like sharks and he never did," Ella Wickersham said. "He's the first one in the boat when there are sharks in the water but he also doesn't have a lot of fear."

She praised the people who got her son to the hospital and treated him.

"They did an amazing job," she said.

Meanwhile, the story about the attack and the subsequent heroics has gone national. Tuesday morning, Good Morning America recounted the events, showing still photos of the group and airing an interview with Bystrom filmed at the hospital. They also replayed the 911 emergency call made by Kiera Dunn to the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

Millage hike protested

ANNA MARIA – Commissioner Dale Woodland declared at the beginning of the second public hearing on the budget that he would not vote to approve it because he feels that the millage is too high.

"I haven't been pleased with this process since the beginning," he said. "We started with an increase in the millage at our first workshop. It wasn't just a simple increase; it was 11.8 percent.

"I'm very disappointed that this is where we're at. I've been a commissioner for eight years, and I have never not voted for a budget, but there is no way I'm going to vote for this one. We could make an effort to get to the rollback rate."

The $2.2 million budget has a millage of 2.05. Last year's millage was 1.7882. The rollback rate is 1.8881.

"We've had four meetings on this, and we went through this budget each time, and no changes were made," Finance Director Diane Percycoe pointed out. "Now you wait until the second public hearing."

She said several things have happened to justify the increase – the city paid off its loan, which depleted its reserves; it pledged some fees and taxes to pay off the loan to purchase the six lots at Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard; and assessed values have declined.

"We have cut the budget as much as we could," she continued. "Hopefully the assessed values will go back up and we can reduce the millage rate."

Commissioners' comments

Commissioner John Quam said without the purchase, they would have been very close to the 1.778 millage rate and added, "But there's no way we can meet our needs without the increase. Based on our reserves, I could see next year we would not have to raise the millage rate.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick said she supports the increase in order to build the city's reserves, and they can reassess at the end of the fiscal year.

"I do think our income is going to go down based on current values in the city and also our costs of operating the city continue to increase," she said.

Commissioner Gene Aubry had no comment and Chair Chuck Webb was absent due to illness.

One resident, Paul Van Zytveld, agreed with Woodland and pointed out, "We're talking about a double digit increase. The rate of inflation is 2 to 3 percent. I can't see that increase being justified. The millage is too high.'

Woodland then said, as he had at the first budget hearing, that he felt the contingency fund of $78,000 was too high, and noted, "We could drop a millage point if we cut it to $10,000."

Percycoe pointed out that in the past, Woodland said the city did not have enough in the contingency fund.

Mattick asked if they could move funds from the reserve to the contingency fund. Percycoe said they could with a budget amendment, but she said she is more comfortable keeping the fund at $78,000 in case of an emergency.

Percycoe distributed a handout detailing the reserve and said it should be at 29.3 percent by the end of the fiscal year. The auditor has recommended 35 percent, which she said the city should reach in two years.

Nyad forced to abandon swim

Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad was forced to end her quest to swim from Cuba to Florida Sunday morning after suffering painful stings from jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war.

The 62-year-old swimmer was pulled from the water at 11 a.m. Sunday, having completed 67 miles of the 103-mile journey.

Nyad said Monday that the stings had paralyzed some of the muscles in her back and robbed her of some lung capacity. Doctors had told her before she got out of the water that more stings could be potentially fatal.

It was Nyad's third attempt to make the swim. Bad weather ended the first try in 1978 after 42 hours in the water. Strong currents, a shoulder injury and an asthma attack scuttled her second attempt in August after about 29 hours of swimming.

In a televised interview Monday from the Keys, Nyad said the stings from the man-of-war and box jellyfish produced the most severe pain she had ever felt in her life. She added that it is doubtful she will try to make the swim again, mainly because of the danger from the jellyfish.

Two years ago, Nyad did much of her endurance training in the waters around Anna Maria Island.

Cell tower plans proceeding

ANNA MARIA – The Island Community Center's Board of Directors last week authorized its cell tower committee to negotiate with a provider and come back to the board with an agreement.

"The ad hoc committee has been meeting with groups to get the best proposal for the Community Center," member Blair Schlossberg told the board. "We got four proposals originally and whittled it down to two groups.

"With a lot of back and forth, the committee is now comfortable with one of the two, and we want to negotiate with this one. Before we sign a contract there's still a lot of steps and we have to work out any issues with the city."

Other committee members are board attorney Scott Rudacille, board chair Greg Ross, Jason Sato, Monica Simpson and Randy Langley.

Board Chair Greg Ross said he would not reveal the name of the provider until negotiations are complete in case negotiations fall through and they have to go to their second choice.

"We want to move forward and bring it to the city for approval," he said.

Mayor Mike Selby said, "The city definitely has to be involved in this. I have some commissioners who feel the city owns the land and should partake in any profit.

"We have leased the land to the Community Center for 99 years, but it's not a permitted use in their lease. They would have to change the use language or sublet the land."

In addition, Selby said the city's cell tower ordinance must be revised and explained, "We authorized the Center for Municipal Solutions to review our ordinance and recommend changes."

"CMS has completed the review and the commission has to discuss the recommendations and decide if they want to implement them. Then we'll be open to taking applications."

The mayor met with Community Center representatives on Friday and Ross reported, "We'll be going to the commission at the Oct. 31 or Nov. 17 meeting to tell them our plans and ask their permission to modify our lease."

Selby confirmed that and said, "They need to get approval to change the lease before proceeding."

Neighboring cities dispute new gate
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

A new gate in a fence on 27th Street North between
Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach has caused a
dispute between city officials on both sides.

HOLMES BEACH – Holmes Beach officials are scheduled to discuss a dispute with Bradenton Beach officials over a gate added to a fence along the boundary between the two cities.

Sandpiper Resort, on the Bradenton Beach side of the fence, recently added a gate to the opening in the fence on 27th Street North, which residents from both sides have long used to reach their neighbors and the beach access at the western end of the street.

At a Holmes Beach Commission meeting earlier this month, City Attorney Patricia Petruff announced that Bradenton Beach officials had not responded to her letter expressing the Holmes Beach Commission's concerns that Holmes Beach residents retain the use of the shortcut.

According to Bradenton Beach officials, the city vacated and relinquished 27th Street to Sandpiper in 2008, but Petruff said that based on her research, the street is a public right of way and Sandpiper should not have installed the gate.

Holmes Beach commissioners discussed initiating a conflict resolution proceeding, then reconsidered after hearing from Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt, who said that he never saw the letter, and added that he heard about the dispute only four days before the meeting.

"I don't think this is of any benefit to either one of our cities," he said, requesting that the matter be held in abeyance.

Bradenton Beach Mayor-Elect John Shaughnessy proposed that a vote be postponed until he and Bartelt could speak with Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger.

"I'm not that naïve to think that we can please everyone," Shaughnessy said, adding that before both cities spend tax money and create ill will and animosity, "Let's show citizens we're willing to do what we're elected to do."

"I think it's very important for us to sit down and talk," agreed Sandpiper resident and Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler.

Holmes Beach officials agreed to postpone any decision for 30 days and discuss the issue at a work session set for Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m.

Resident Marian Jones told the commission that she uses the unlocked gate frequently, and it poses no access problem. Others, including Holmes Beach Commissioner David Zaccagnino, said they saw a lock on the gate.

An unknown person put a lock on the gate, but it has been removed, said Sandpiper property manager Tracy Moon, adding that no lock was intended for the gate, which was meant primarily to stop bicycles, skateboards, Segways and roller blades from entering the 5 m.p.h., 55 and over mobile home park.

At a Bradenton Beach Commission meeting subsequent to the Holmes Beach Commission meeting, Bradenton Beach City AttorneyRicinda Perry warned commissioners that if Holmes Beach proceeds with a conflict resolution proceeding, "This is obviously going to cost our city money. The process requires cities to retain a mediator. It will require attorneys."

In other business, the Holmes Beach Commission

• Is scheduled to make a final decision on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 6:30 p.m. on passing a 1.750 millage rate to generate an $8,665,109 budget for 2011-12 that will not raise residents' taxes;

• Is scheduled to discuss in a work session on Tuesday, Sept. 27, at 7 p.m. whether golf carts should be allowed south of East Bay Drive in the city. The Florida Department of Transportation has not yet decided on approving a golf cart crossing at East Bay and Gulf drives, which would provide golf cart drivers south of East Bay Drive access to the northern part of the city. Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine is expected to make a presentation.

Staff writer Tom Vaught contributed to this report.

Anna Maria closes on six lots

ANNA MARIA – Mayor Mike Selby announced at last week's commission meeting that the city closed on the purchase of the six lots at the corner of Pine Avenue and North Bay Boulevard.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick asked if she should convene her committee that plans to explore uses and grant and fund-raising opportunities for the property. At a previous meeting, she suggested that committee members include Mayor Michael Selby, former Mayor Fran Barford, Public Works Director George McKay and native plant specialist Mike Miller.

"We need to come up with a basic plan and bring it back to the commission," Mattick said. "There will be time for public input. Then we'll take what the public and commissioners say, go back and discuss it and bring it back again before the commission."

"I don't want DOT telling us how to use that property," Commissioner Dale Woodland declared. "I don't want a committee looking at grants to determine how we're going to use that property.

"We don't need a committee. That's our job. We need to have public meetings and do it sitting here in front of the public and make a decision."

Mattick said the committee could bring suggestions back to the board, but "it would not be locked into anything. If we got a grant, we could always reject it, but I think we need some kind of committee to start giving us the broad picture and clearly with lots of public input."

Commissioner John Quam said the board should be looking at uses and get public input, but not pursue grants at this time.

McKay asked if the city still wants to let groups use the property for festivals and similar events, and Quam said that would be part of the discussion.

Selby said the city has only committed to Bayfest, but it has received many calls regarding events, and he needs some direction.

Road closures for sewer project
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story



Manatee County utilities will begin replacing an eight-inch sanitary sewer force main along Magnolia Avenue, Crescent Drive and Palm Avenue in Anna Maria. Palm Avenue and Crescent Drive will be closed from Sept. 30 to Oct. 14.

Further road closures will be required for excavation of entrance and exit pits at the intersections of North Shore Drive/Palm Avenue and Palm Avenue/Crescent Drive. Detours will be coordinated by the city.

For further information, call the city's Public Works Supervisor George McKay at 708-6130, ext. 26, or Anthony Benitez at Manatee County at 708-7450, ext. 7333.

Bayfest offers a sound choice

Bayfest has always drawn a big crowd,
as shown by this photo taken
during the 2008 event.

ANNA MARIA – The area's brightest and most popular musical performers make sure Bayfest is one of their venues each year, and this year is no exception.

DJ Mike Sales hosts the music on Friday, Oct. 14, from 5 to 10 p.m. on the main stage in the field at Bay Drive and Pine Avenue.

KoKo Ray and the Soul Providers start things off from 5 to 7 p.m. in a prelude to the festival the next day. KoKo Ray plays a wide variety of music from jazz to oldies. You might catch him playing two saxophones at the same time as he tackles swing music or a Jethro Tull hit.

The music concludes with the Dr. Dave Band from 8 to 10 p.m. Dr. Dave has been around for years with a high-powered music featuring rock and roll as well as country.

Don't forget to bring an appetite as the Friday night party features food, drinks and shopping booths.

On Saturday, Chris Grumley takes over as emcee with a full slate of performers in the morning. Gulf Drive Band plays upbeat tunes from long ago from 10:15 to 11 a.m., Hot Tuna brings its folk rock, jam and southern rock sound to the stage from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., Emily Roff introduces her upbeat acoustic sound to the Island from 12:30 to 1 p.m. and the Island Rockers return with their home-grown oldies from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

SoulRCoaster plays contemporary hits, classic rock and soft standards from 3 to 5 p.m.; the Hammer-Adams Band, voted favorite band in The Sun Readers' Choice survey for 2010 and 2011, plays great pop hits from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the Billy Rice Band entertains with rock, country and original tunes from 8 to 10 p.m.

Make sure you bring a list for your holiday shopping as Bayfest brings out the best of vendors and this year, the Pine Avenue merchants will be involved. If you haven't shopped Pine Avenue, this will give you a chance to see what they're all about. If you have shopped there, inventories change over time, and you'll never know what you might find.

There will be food tents with the best in local food and a pie competition at the food court. AMI Fitness will sponsor Kidfest, the Privateers' pirate ship Skullywag will be available for kids tours, and the car show is back featuring street rods, antiques and today's hottest wheels.

Bayfest is sponsored by The Anna Maria Island Sun, The Bradenton Herald, Miller Electric, Bright House Networks, Waste Pro, La- Pensee Plumbing and Pools, Anna Maria Island Resorts, Casa Del Mar on Longboat Key, Air and Energy, Anna Maria Island Historical Society, Thompson Academy, Whitney Bank, Island Scooter Store, Waste Management and The Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce.

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