By Rachel Brown Hackney
About those ATV’s…
During peak tourist season, the leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta Key generally fields a lot more questions when he appears at a Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting. That proved to be the case on April 6, when Sgt. Jason Mruczek kept his opening remarks simple and then opened the floor for audience member queries.
“After this weekend,” he told the approximately 80 audience members, “it should be calmed down a little bit for us.”
Moments before Mruczek stood to speak, SKA President Harold Ashby joked that, typically, two or three Sheriff’s Office personnel attend the nonprofit’s monthly meetings. “I see they’re out chasing spring break-ers,” he added. The department always steps up patrols on the Key during March, especially, and April, when college students from around the country are on spring break.
When Mruczek asked for questions, one man responded, “Do you have any guidance for the ATV vehicles going up and down Crescent Beach?” The man added, “They are really whizzing by, [especially when they are out in pairs]. … I would say that they’re going at least — or more than — 20 mph.”
Mruczek asked if the man knew which condominium complex or company the drivers represented, noting that he had heard no complaints from other people. Mruczek added, “They’re not supposed to be driving on the beach.”
“These are 4-wheelers,” the man replied.
Mruczek promised to investigate the situation. Then he asked the color of the ATVs.
“They are green ones,” the man told him.
In that case, Mruczek replied, the people the man had seen could be Sheriff’s Office deputies, as the department has green ATVs. Laughter rippled through the audience.
If officers are not following proper procedures, Mruczek added, he would ensure they do.
On a related question, Lourdes Ramirez pointed out that she has seen “a lot of speeding boats” in Siesta’s canals this tourist season.
Again, Mruczek said he could not recall having read or heard any complaints, but that was a matter for the Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol. “I’ll bring that up with them,” he added, noting that one or two boats should be on regular patrol in the canals this time of year.
Another person complained that speeding boats in the Intracoastal Waterway are endangering manatees. “They’re not slowing their boats at all,” a woman remarked about people on the waterway who should be complying with slow-speed regulations.
When Mruczek asked where she lives, she told him that she resides in a Gulf and Bay Club condo on the bay.
Mruczek said he would alert the Sheriff’s Office Marine Patrol about that situation, too, and he also would contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, so its officers could step up enforcement of the area.
Traffic congestion in the Village…
Another woman brought up concerns about the valet service blocking traffic at the four-way intersection in Siesta Village, especially with the number of people who head to the beach at the end of Avenida Messina in the evenings to watch the sunset. Could the Sheriff’s Office start posting a deputy there to direct traffic?, she asked, adding that she has seen “people screaming out their [vehicle] windows” with traffic not able to move.
Mruczek indicated that, in spite of the multitude of vehicles that navigate that intersection in the evenings, accidents are rare.
The woman also pointed out, “People will not walk on the sidewalks [along Avenida Messina]. They walk down the street” — another factor that exacerbates the problems.
Mruczek told her he would talk with representatives of the valet service to try to come up with remedies to the congestion.
Michael Holderness suggested the valets find a better way to manage the service without blocking the roads at the 4-way stop.
The woman responded that she knows the valets work as quickly as they can.
“There’s not enough room,” Mruczek added.
Another person broached yet a different traffic concern: “I’ve been driving up and down Midnight Pass,” he began. Recently, he has seen “car after car … flying down the middle [turn] lane, just cutting people off.”
“That’s something we do keep an eye out for,” Mruczek assured the man, noting that he would talk with the deputies who patrol the Key at night, to make certain they are watching out for such violations.
The man told Mruczek he has been observing drivers taking such illegal shortcuts in the daytime. “It’s annoying and unsafe,” the man added