During the March 5 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Deputy Zack Lewis stood in for Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the substation on the Key, pointing out that he has been working on the island about 18 months.
For February, Lewis said, the Sheriff’s Office responded to 309 calls for service, about 15% of which were Part I crimes — those the FBI classifies as the most serious.
“Three of those were vehicle burglaries,” Lewis noted. Reprising the advice he said he knew Smith has given them regularly, Lewis added, “Please lock your vehicles.”
Of the three burglaries, he continued, two involved vehicles that had been left unlocked. In the third case, he said, “[The perpetrators] attempted to gain entry to the vehicle but were unable to do so” because it was locked.
Lewis then noted that spring break season was getting underway. “This week, especially, we really started to see an increase in traffic, foot traffic, bicycle traffic. … What that brings are a lot of crimes of opportunity.”
Almost 60% of the Sheriff’s Office cases on Siesta in February were crimes related to people leaving valuables unattended, Lewis pointed out. Visitors tend to think they are safe on the island in general, and even on the beach, amid 3,000 other people, he added. They will leave wallets, jewelry, purses and tablets on towels and wander off, he continued.
Siesta may appear to be a safe place, he added, but, “unfortunately, that’s not the case.” People should lock up their valuables, he said.
“Especially this time of year,” Lewis continued, a lot of young people will walk through neighborhoods. “The harder we make it for them to commit the crimes, the less likely they are to commit them.”
When residents leave home — even for a quick trip to Morton’s Siesta Market, for example, Lewis said — they should lock their doors. “[Visitors] will try door handles. Most of the time, they’re not going to break a window, break a lock, to get in your house.”
As for the Part 1 crimes in February: Lewis noted that three bicycles were stolen, and an item was discovered to be missing from a docked boat.
Additionally, two shoplifting cases were reported, he said, adding that he believed both of those involved juveniles. One of the items stolen was a candy bar, Lewis said.
A good reason not to try to hold beach parking lot spaces
During the March 5 SKA meeting, Deputy Zack Lewis offered numerous details about one of the Part 1 crimes the Sheriff’s Office handled in February. It involved an incident in the Siesta Public Beach parking lot.
A person tried to hold a space for one party by standing in it, and another vehicle — whose occupants felt the space was theirs — “didn’t appreciate that,” Lewis said. “It turned into a big mess …”
“Don’t hold a parking spot, please,” he urged the SKA members.
Signage in the parking lot warns people against such action, he pointed out, as the County Commission several years ago approved a regulation prohibiting the practice.
At the request of SNL, Kaitlyn Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, provided a copy of the report on the incident Lewis had described.
The document says that the aggravated battery was reported at 12:37 p.m. on Feb. 18. “The parking lot in the specific area” has a one-way aisle with posted signs saying, “DO NOT ENTER,” the report emphasized. Additionally, the report continued, “a painted white arrow on the pavement” faces west to direct traffic flow.
The officer wrote that he responded to the south end of the parking lot in regard to a disturbance involving several people. When he arrived, all the parties still were in the area. The suspect’s vehicle, he noted — a 2007 Scion — was parked facing west in the parking lot, “traveling the correct path.”
The victim, who was not named, told the officer he was trying to park when a woman later identified as Yazmin Torres jumped in front of his vehicle.
“(It should be noted [that the victim] was traveling East in the parking lot against the correct flow of traffic),” the report said.
The victim then told the officer that after he exited his vehicle and was standing between the car door and the driver’s seat, he asked Torres to leave the parking space. As he was talking with her, the report continued, a vehicle driven by Yazmarie Monterro-Torres “came around the corner and hit his vehicle door pinning him between the door and the vehicle frame.”
The victim said “Yazmarie Monterro-Torres exited her car as he was pinned and started to yell at him,” the report noted. The victim added that Yazmarie Monterro-Torres finally “got back in her vehicle and backed up and freed him from the door.”
The victim told the officer he could not breathe while he was trapped “and felt bruising in his chest.” The report said he refused medical attention at first, but the officer “talked him into being evaluated” by Sarasota County lifeguards.
After lifeguards arrived, they took the victim from the scene, the report noted.
The suspect — Monterro-Torres, 25, of Lebanon, Penn. — told the officer that her mother, Yazmin Torres “was standing in an empty parking spot at Siesta Key Beach in an attempt to find parking due to large crowds. Yazmarie Monterro-Torres stated when she arrived at the parking spot she observed [the victim] attempting to park in the parking spot,” with her mother still standing in it, the report continued. “Yazmarie Monterro-Torres stated there were words exchanged between her and [the victim] but she never hit him with her vehicle.”
The report did note that the wife of the victim, who was in the front passenger seat of the victim’s car, told the officer that she and her husband were waiting for a vehicle to pull out of the parking space that was the focus of the incident. After that vehicle left, the report noted, the wife of the victim said he was attempting to pull into the space when Yazmin Torres moved in front of his vehicle to try to prevent him from doing so.
After Monterro-Torres’ vehicle pinned the man between the car and the door, the report continued, the victim’s wife said she told Monterro-Torres to back up and let the man out. Then the wife told the officer that after Monterro-Torres moved, “an argument started between both parties.”
Yazmin Torres told the officer that she was trying to save the space for her daughter. Torres added that she had called her daughter to let her know she had found a space. She was in the middle of that telephone conversation, the report said, when the victim drove down the aisle “and attempted to ‘throw’ his car at her and pull into the parking space.”
Torres later was cited for blocking a parking space, the report noted, citing the county ordinance.
During an examination at the scene, the officer wrote, he “noticed a dent and scratch marks to … the driver’s side door” of the victim’s vehicle. “The top of the door also appeared to be damaged,” the report said. The victim “was pushing the driver’s door outward when he was trapped,” the report added.
The deputy saw “a slight dirt mark” on the victim’s shirt, which the victim “claimed was from his vehicle’s door,” the report said.
When the officer examined Monterro-Torres’ vehicle, the report continued, he found multiple scratch marks on it.
“Photographs of both vehicles were taken, along with photos of [the victim’s] claimed injuries, and a photo of the general area of the parking lot,” the report noted. “There were no independent witnesses or security cameras in the area.”
The victim originally told the officer “he did not want to press charges and signed a waiver of prosecution,” the report said. Later, he changed his mind, the report added.
Instead of arresting Monterro-Torres, the report pointed out, the officer completed a non-arrest form and forwarded that to the State Attorney’s Office for review.
Before the Siesta Public Beach Park renovations were completed in February 2017 — with even more parking spaces provided — fights over spots happened on a more frequent basis, as related by Sheriff’s Office personnel to this reporter. In fact, one reason the design of the park improvements moved the Sheriff’s Office substation to the top floor of the Public Safety Building — with its expansive view of the surroundings — was to enable officers to keep a better eye on the lot. The hope was that they could prevent disputes from escalating into fights.
Nighttime noise in the beach parking lot still an issue
During a recent Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, residents complained about young people gathering in the parking lot at Siesta Public Beach late at night, playing loud music that was disruptive to nearby residents. An audience member aired a similar complaint during the March 5 meeting.
The woman this month, who said she was a member of the board at Our House at the Beach, told Deputy Zack Lewis that loud noise emanates from the parking lot “at all hours of the night.”
Apparently, when deputies do arrive on the scene, she continued, the noise stops. Then — after they leave — it ramps back up.
Our House at the Beach is located at 1001 Beach Road, across from the parking lot.
“The noise is so bad that some people cannot rent their apartments or stay in their apartments,” she added.
“We’ve actually received several calls on that,” Lewis replied. In fact, he continued, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Siesta substation, had met with a complainant who had called in a number of times.
Unfortunately, Lewis explained, the incidents occur only at night, when the Sheriff’s Office typically has just one patrol deputy on duty. It would be “irresponsible for [that deputy] to stay in one place,” Lewis pointed out, while other calls for service are coming in.
Officers have found that mostly young people gather in the parking lot, “blasting the radio” in their vehicles, Lewis noted. “We enforce the ‘No Vehicles in the Parking Lot after Midnight’” regulation that the county has set, he added. “We’re trying to do everything we can.”
He promised to pass along the woman’s complaint to the deputies who patrol at night.
Additionally, “Coming into spring break, we’re going to have more bodies out here,” he noted of the Sheriff’s Office staffing level for the height of tourist season. He hoped that the extra personnel would be able to calm down that situation at the beach parking lot, he said.