September Siesta Key Round Up

| September 1, 2016

FDOT to start pedestrian/bicycle safety improvements at Stickney Point Road/Midnight Pass Road intersection

By Rachel Brown Hackney
SarasotaNewsLeader.com

Sitckney Point Road FDOT Sept 2016A Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) project finalized almost a year ago to improve pedestrian safety at the intersection of Stickney Point Road and Midnight Pass Road was scheduled to begin before the end of August, the state agency announced.

The project includes a pedestrian refuge island at the northeast corner of the intersection and tightening of the right turn lane from Stickney Point Road onto Midnight Pass Road, an FDOT news release says. “This addition will provide pedestrians and bicyclists with an improved crossing and encourage motorists to use a slower speed when turning north onto Siesta Key,” the release says. The approximately $500,000 project is expected to be completed in early 2017, the release adds.

“FDOT developed these improvements after receiving feedback from the community,” the release notes.

The latter sentence is a bit of an understatement. After considerable pushback from members of the Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) in September 2015, FDOT staff appeared two days later before the Siesta Key Association with a revised plan. FDOT engineers originally proposed removing the right-hand acceleration lane, but SKVA members stressed that it was a benefit to motorists heading north.

L.K. Nandam, FDOT district operations manager in Sarasota, said during the Sept. 3, 2015 SKA meeting that a raised concrete separator would be constructed where striping is in place to create a physical barrier to try to prevent motorists from attempting illegal moves around pedestrians or cyclists. Further, the design Nandam discussed called for the crosswalk on Stickney Point Road to be connected to the crosswalk on South Midnight Pass Road.FDOT’s contractor, Ajax Paving Industries of Florida Inc., was expected to begin work the week of Aug. 21.

“Crews will work on the project during daytime and nighttime hours,” the news release says. Motorists should expect lane closures from 10:30 p.m. to 7 a.m., the release adds. Some sidewalk closures will be necessary, too, the release notes.

16-year-old arrested for stabbing mother and younger brother on south Siesta Key

A 16-year-old from Framingham, Mass., has been charged with stabbing his mother and 14-year-old brother while the family was vacationing on Siesta Key, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reported on Aug. 18. Both victims suffered multiple stab wounds, according to the report. The report says Melissa Ramgren was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, while her younger son was taken via Bayflite to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in Tampa because he was suffering with “life threatening injuries.”

“As deputies rendered life-saving efforts [at the scene],” a Sheriff’s Office news release said, they learned that the suspect had been located nearby. Gust L. Ramgren was arrested and charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder. After his booking at the Sarasota County Jail on Aug. 18, the Sheriff’s Office reported later that day, Gust was taken into custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Just after 9 p.m. on Aug. 17, the Sheriff’s Office report says, Melissa Ramgren called 911 to report the situation and that Gust had fled on foot. Moments later, the report continues, the Sheriff’s Office received a call from a resident on Tree Bay Lane who said Gust Ramgren was outside, requesting help for his family.

Melissa Ramgren and her sons were staying at the Fisherman’s Cove condominium complex, which is located at 8900 Blind Pass Road, just south of Turtle Beach Park. The Sheriff’s Office report says that while deputies were rendering first aid to the 14-year-old, he told them “he thought he was going to die and asked why his brother would do this.”

Gust “was cooperative and provided a full confession to stabbing both his mother and younger brother,” a Sheriff’s Office news release says. He confirmed that the three of them were visiting Siesta Key “and had been having a good time,” the report adds. According to the report, the boys’ father, Peter R. Ramgren, lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

Situations prompt discussion of homelessness

A sight that caught Siesta Key resident Michael Shay’s eye twice on the morning of Aug. 2 prompted considerable discussion about homelessness during the Siesta Key Village Association that same day.

Shay was on his regular early morning walk when he first saw two individuals, who appeared to be homeless, in the gazebo at the intersection of Ocean Boulevard, Avenida Messina and Canal Road, he told SKVA members. That was about 5:15 a.m. When he passed the gazebo again about 8:20 a.m., two people were sleeping on benches inside the structure, he continued, and a third man was seated, holding an artificial limb.

One day in July, he added, he saw families munching on doughnuts in the gazebo. On the morning of Aug. 2, Shay said, he would not expect to see any families there because “two benches had a body on them. … I think that’s a problem. I’m not trying to be insensitive. We advertise this as a family-oriented destination.” If homeless people regularly occupy the gazebo, Shay pointed out, “I think it’s going to hurt business.”

Two days later, an incident at the gazebo sparked discussion at the Siesta Key Association meeting.

Mark Smith, vice president of the SKVA, announced that homeless people staying in the gazebo were suspected to have “defecated all around [it] and smeared [feces] around.” That situation was discovered about 8:30 a.m., Shay stated.

In response to questions, Lt. Donny Kennard of the Sheriff’s Office explained that officers have to be careful to treat homeless people the same way they would treat any other person. The Sheriff’s Office can arrest anyone creating a disturbance or violating a county ordinance, Kennard pointed out.

Kennard also said it is not illegal to sleep on the beach. Any such activity a resident observes must be assessed on a case-by-case basis. When SKA Director Joe Volpe asked whether panhandling is allowed, Sgt. Jason Mruczek replied that no one can solicit for money on a county right of way. However, someone could ask for money at the gazebo.

Chapter 98 of the Sarasota County Code, which the County Commission amended in 2013 and 2014, deals with panhandling by prohibiting obstruction of traffic and preventing “an unreasonable risk of accidents due to distraction of motorists and pedestrians and interference with the vision of motorists and pedestrians.”

Discussions are underway among members of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. and its board, Shay continued, to make changes in the gazebo to discourage homeless people from remaining in the structure for hours at a time and from sleeping there.

Shay is the Maintenance Corp. liaison for the SKVA. That organization represents all the property owners in Siesta Village whom the county assesses each year to pay for the Village upkeep.

Sarasota County has changed a polling station for our immediate area

For all residents who previously voted at St. Michael the Archangel Church at 5394 Midnight Pass Road, please note: PRECINCT 411 now voting at: THE DEVYN EVENT VENUE 7113 South Tamiami Trail. 

Working to keep the beach cleaner

During the August SKA meeting, Veronica Murphy provided an update on the garbage collection initiative she organized for the July Fourth holiday and talked of how she is working to expand it.

As SKA Director Joe Volpe pointed out in introducing her, the SKA’s efforts to keep the public beach and beach accesses clean “started out kind of small,” but they are growing. Murphy “has done a great job spearheading this,” he added.

For three days encompassing the holiday last month, Murphy explained, she and other volunteers handed out 1,000, 10-gallon trash bags to people going to the public beach so they could collect all of their garbage and throw it away after their visit. People were lined up to accept the bags, she noted.

Murphy was planning a similar initiative for the Labor Day period, when she and volunteers planned to distribute 3,000 to 5,000 bags, she added.

Further, Murphy has been working with Sarasota County staff and representatives of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, she said, to encourage people or businesses to adopt a beach access. “It wouldn’t be a formal program,” she explained, as no signage would be erected akin to the county’s Adopt-a-Road program. She characterized it as “more of a pride of ownership kind of thing.”

She has been talking with the managers of all the condominiums from the Gulf & Bay Club, which is next to the public beach, all the way south to Stickney Point Road, Murphy told the audience of about 50 people. Based on those discussions, she continued, she learned that approximately 43,000 extra people are on the Key each month from January through May. That does not include those who stay for periods of time in condos they own, Murphy pointed out. Altogether, she said, by her estimate, about 200,000 more people may be on the beach during season.

Her plan, she explained, is to work with the managers of the condominium complexes so they will hand out trash bags to their guests and ask them to use the bags on the beach. “All the managers of those [complexes] thought that was a great idea. … That was part of my hurdle.” A lot of garbage collects on the Gulf side of condo buildings along that stretch of the island, she pointed out, including “an awful lot of plastic water bottles …”

Another facet of concern, Murphy noted, is that “people can bring anything they want on the beach. There’s nobody watching.” On Aug. 2, she said, “there was a monkey on the beach.”

On July Fourth, she added, people took grills out onto the shoreline and then dumped coals in the sand after they had finished cooking. She also has seen visitors hauling “huge speakers” onto the beach, she pointed out. Therefore, she also is seeking help for Labor Day weekend — between 7 and 9 a.m. — to monitor what people take from the beach park parking lots to the shore.

Furthermore, Murphy told the audience, she was scheduled to meet with county staff on Aug. 8 to ask about removal of garbage more regularly from the beach and the accesses over the upcoming holiday weekend. “I think they’ll do it as long as we tell them it needs to be done,” she added of county workers, saying she does not believe staff realizes how quickly dumpsters and garbage cans fill up during high-usage periods at the beach.

In conclusion, Volpe explained of the SKA and its members, “We don’t want to be a trash-collecting group of people. That’s not our job. Our goal is to educate people coming to the island,” as well as students in the county schools. “It’s a total program we’re looking at setting up.”

Speaking of the Fourth …

The August SKA meeting was the first opportunity for Sheriff’s Office personnel to discuss how members of that organization felt about the island’s July Fourth festivities, and the officers received high praise from one person in the audience. A woman who said she has been going to the beach the past eight years for the fireworks show produced by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce applauded the number of law enforcement officers helping maintain control of the crowd. “It was not as chaotic” as it has been, she added.

Moreover, because deputies limited drivers from entering the parking lots at the public beach when spaces were not available, the woman pointed out, vehicles did not back up on Beach Road. “[It] was much more orderly. Deputy Chris McGregor explained during the July 5 Siesta Key Village Association (SKVA) session that Sheriff’s Office personnel communicated to each other news about openings of spaces, so officers could let in more drivers at those times. That kept people from constantly circling the parking lots, as they have been known to do.

That repetitive circling in search of a space “builds animosity,” Lt. Donny Kennard replied, which leads to disturbances. After spending so much time driving around, he continued, people end up in a bad mood by the time they are able to park and then head to the beach.

Speaking of the beach …

During the August SKVA meeting, Michael Shay — who serves as that organization’s liaison to the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp. — had a question for Lt. Kennard and Sgt. Jason Mruczek of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. When he passed the Siesta Public Beach parking lot about 10:30 a.m. the previous Sunday, Shay said, he saw at least three tractor-trailer “sleeper” cabs there. Is that legal?

Mruczek replied that he believes county staff is allowing them to stay there until a certain time in the morning. Mruczek added that no restriction prevents such parking.

“Interesting,” Shay said. “They were huge.” He noted that they take up about four spaces, and one was partially blocking a travel lane in the lot. Deputy Jason Strom explained that Sheriff’s Office personnel try to get such cabs situated so they do not block traffic.

When SNL asked county staff about the sleeper cabs’ use of the parking lot, county spokesman Jason Bartolone provided this response from staff of the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department:

“Per Sarasota County ordinance, parking lots are closed in all park facilities from midnight to 6 a.m. unless otherwise ordered by the [County Commission]. There are two signs that allocate 15 RV/large vehicle spaces at Siesta Beach before 10 a.m. The signs can be easily overlooked or actually blocked by those very vehicles. If these spots are not utilized by 10 a.m. they are free to be used by anyone. Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources staff work cooperatively on a daily basis with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to regulate activities including parking enforcement. We encourage citizens and visitors to contact the sheriff’s office if they observe any suspicious activity or parking violations.”

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