Siesta Seen

Siesta Key Association marks 70th birthday; Ramirez appeals Circuit Court decision in civil case; new Siesta substation sergeant introduced to SKA members; and no recent crime trends reported, but two incidents draw plenty of attention in Siesta Village

Image from the Siesta Key Association homepage

On Monday, Nov. 12, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) observed its 70th birthday.

News about the celebration drew a big round of applause during the Nov. 8 SKA meeting.

Back in 1948, SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner pointed out, the island had a number of beach cottages but limited other development. Yet, residents could envision big changes in the future, she continued, and they wanted to ensure that new construction would take place in an orderly fashion.

A group of Siesta residents went to the Legislature in Tallahassee, Luckner explained, and petitioned for what was called “an enabling act,” so they would have the right to create their own zoning code. “That was done not without great difficulty,” she added.

To win the authority to write the regulations, Luckner said, the group had to secure the signatures of two-thirds of the property owners and residents on the island. “They went door-to-door, [visiting] every single person that was here.”

When they had obtained the necessary number of signatures, they needed, Luckner pointed out, they were able to win the Legislature’s support for the zoning code.

“I was shocked,” she said, at all the work that went on in the early days of the SKA. “That’s the kind of spirit we started with here.”

Then, in 1954, she continued, the Sarasota County Commission “followed what we did,” working to create a countywide zoning code.

The interaction between county leaders and the SKA on that process formed the basis, she said, for the good working relationship the nonprofit and the county have had over the years. “People have a lot of respect for the organization as a whole,” she pointed out. “I’ve really discovered that.”

Among other SKA achievements, she continued, were the installation of the first fire hydrants on Siesta, which reduced the expense of the island’s fire station, because of the change in classification for the service as a result of the presence of the hydrants.

Typical of high tourist season, traffic flows steadily in both directions across the north Siesta bridge on the evening of Jan. 12, 2017. File photo

“We also led the way for the north bridge to remain two-lane. People wanted to make it four lanes,” Luckner pointed out. Residents were very happy to see it stay a two-lane structure, she said.

Further, the SKA led the campaign to replace the original Stickney Point Road bridge, which was built about 1909, Luckner noted. That effort “was a very big deal.”

Yet another initiative of the SKA was obtaining the support of the homeowners association in the Coconut community along the beach on the north end of the island, so improvements could be made to Ocean Boulevard. The homeowners association was willing to give up “a little bit” of its property for the roadwork, she added.

The SKA also petitioned the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for the first crosswalks on the Key, and it worked with FDOT representatives again in 2012 to push for the installation of the crosswalks on Midnight Pass Road between the Beach Road and Stickney Point Road intersections.

Thanks to the SKA’s work, she continued, the County Commission approved regulations to set a maximum density for residential development on the island. Additionally, after two 12-story condominium towers were completed, the nonprofit pushed for a height limitation of 45 feet for any other multifamily residential structures. That is why Siesta Key does not look like Fort Lauderdale, she pointed out.

Moreover, SKA members “always have been proponents of the environment here,” Luckner said. For example, at one time, septic tanks were the norm on the island. The SKA was among the groups that worked to establish the Siesta Key Utility Authority (SKUA), she said, which handled water and sewer hookups for the island. “It was wonderful [drinking] water,” she said of the SKUA service.

SKA Vice President Catherine Luckner. Rachel Hackney photo

Yet another big initiative of the SKA, Luckner continued, was the organization of a subsidiary, Save Our Sand, in 1992. It fought the proposal of the City of Venice to dredge Big Sarasota Pass for a beach renourishment project and won in federal court. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had obtained a permit for the project, Luckner explained, but the permit was withdrawn as a result of the court decision.

“We raised $150,000 in less than four months,” she said, to pay the association’s legal expenses. “We got the lawyers and got the work done.”

And in 2018, she said, “We keep having work to do.”

“The Siesta Key Association exists because people live here,” President Gene Kusekoski told the approximately 60 SKA members at the Nov. 8 meeting.

For example, he said, when he and his wife were discussing retirement, they did not want to be in a community of transients. They wanted neighbors.

The SKA continues to work for a balance between what visitors need and the needs and desires of the island’s residents, he added. The Key “is not a drive over the bridge to Disneyland” type of place, Kusekoski pointed out.

Ramirez appeals case against Waechter

With a 12th Judicial Circuit Court judge having denied her motion for a rehearing of the case, Siesta resident Lourdes Ramirez has appealed the judge’s Aug. 10 dismissal of her civil complaint against Robert Waechter, also of Siesta Key.

On Sept. 24, Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh offered little in the way of information in her order to explain her decision to deny the rehearing.

In the meantime, after an Oct. 30 hearing, McHugh ruled that Waechter is entitled to attorneys’ fees, in accord with a motion filed by his attorney, Morgan Bentley of the Bentley & Bruning firm in Sarasota. Based on a timeline reflecting Ramirez’s refusal to settle the case in September 2017 for $500, Bentley originally sought $34,370.92 in fees and costs of $5,300.14.

Circuit Court Judge Andrea McHugh. Image from the 12th Judicial Circuit Court website

McHugh noted in her Oct. 30 order that the parties were to advise the court within five days about whether they would pursue mediation. On Nov. 6, Ramirez and Waechter did file a joint notice “to have the entire case mediated before any more proceedings are had on Defendants’ Motion for Attorneys Fees,” pursuant to McHugh’s order.

Ramirez filed her complaint against Waechter and his business, RWR Installations, in March 2015. It points out that he bought a prepaid credit card in 2012, through which he made contributions, in her name, to Democratic candidates. Ramirez is a Republican.

After she received a thank-you note from one of the candidates, she went to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, seeking an investigation of apparent identity theft.

Waechter ultimately admitted to purchasing the card and pleaded guilty in 2013 to a misdemeanor charge in the criminal case. He also paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Nonetheless, Ramirez argued in her civil complaint that his actions damaged her 2014 campaign for County Commission. She lost the District 4 Republican Primary that year to Alan Maio of Nokomis, who went on to win in the General Election.

In regard to Ramirez’s appeal: The Second District Court of Appeal issued a formal acknowledgement of the case on Oct. 23. The $300 filing fee for the appeal was noted in a separate Oct. 23 document.

Ramirez’s attorney is Jose A. Gutierrez of the Cosio Law Group in Coral Gables.

The new sergeant

During the Nov. 8 Siesta Key Association meeting, members were able to meet Sgt. Paul Cernansky, the new leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation, and a new lieutenant overseeing island operations, Lt. John Varley.

Long-time Siesta Deputy Chris McGregor introduced the men, noting that the former substation leader, Jason Mruczek, had been promoted to lieutenant and reassigned to the Animal Services division on Bee Ridge Road, east of Interstate 75.

“They are great guys,” McGregor said of Cernansky and Varley.

Sgt. Paul Cernansky addresses SKA members on Nov. 8. Rachel Hackney photo

McGregor also pointed out that Cernansky would continue to spend some of his time as a member of the Mounted Patrol.

“You’ll see more of a presence out here,” Cernansky added of the Mounted Patrol, which often works on the Key during spring break.

“Our goal is really prevention of crimes and keeping the quality of life the way it is,” he said.

Cernansky and Varley both invited the SKA members to stop and chat with them when they see the men on the island. However, Cernansky did caution everyone, with a laugh, “I can hold you down for a long time” in a conversation.

Varley pointed out that the two men had requested the transfer to Siesta Key. “It wasn’t like we were assigned here.”

They had most recently worked together in the Sheriff’s Office Tactical Unit, Varley added.

“We’re excited to be here,” he said, and “we’re very approachable.”

No real crime trends

During the Nov. 8 SKA meeting, Deputy Chris McGregor said he had no crime trends to report. Between the time of year — when fewer people normally visit the Key — and the red tide news keeping visitors away, he said, things had been slow.

The Sheriff’s Office was preparing for the Ninth Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival, he noted, which began the next day. (See the related article in this issue.)

When McGregor asked whether any SKA members had questions, one woman reported that, during the summer, she found a gas card at one of the Siesta Beach concessions, which she turned over to an employee there. The person had promised to give it to an officer, the woman added, asking whether she had acted appropriately.

The concession workers operate an informal “Lost and Found” service, McGregor replied. “They do give us a lot of stuff.”

He asked the woman if the card had a name on it. When she replied that it did not, McGregor responded that, occasionally, after people “burn through a gift card,” they will just leave it at the last place they used it.

Cernansky suggested, laughingly, that “burning” might not have been the best choice of word, so McGregor corrected himself, also with a laugh. What he was referring to, McGregor said, were situations when people had “used all of the monetary value” of the cards.

Siesta Village incidents reported

Even with no crime trend on the Key, as Deputy Chris McGregor pointed out to SKA members this month, incidents of some note still have occurred.

For example, The Sarasota News Leader learned from Siesta Sand that a driver recently damaged a wall at the Beach Club on Ocean Boulevard.

The incident was called in at 11:48 a.m. on Oct. 22, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The report said that the person at the wheel of the vehicle, Maureen H. Spenello, 70, of 1300 Cove II Place on the Key, was charged with careless driving and no proof of insurance at the time of the incident.

She was in the parking lot of the Beach Club, located at 5151 Ocean Blvd., the report’s narrative, said, when she started to back up. She told an officer that her 2006 Lexus sedan “backed up quickly,” and then she put it in Drive. “She stated she went forward quickly,” the report added; the vehicle jumped the parking block and struck the wall of the building. Spenello was not injured, the report said.

Damage to the vehicle was estimated at $5,000, while damage to the wall was put at $8,000.

Spenello was not suspected of having been impaired by alcohol at the time, the report noted.

That incident did not generate nearly as much conversation as a second one, based on comments the News Leadersaw and heard.

The Circle K is located at the intersection of Avenida Milano and Ocean Boulevard. Image from Google Maps

The evening before the car crash, Sheriff’s Office personnel received numerous 911 calls, starting at 8:59 p.m., about “a male subject firing a gun” outside the Circle K, as the official report put it. The store is located at the intersection of Calle Minorga and Avenida Milano in the Village.

That incident led to a 33-year-old Bradenton man’s being charged with Discharging a Firearm in Public. Identified as Michael Alan Anders of 1907 45th St. Court E in Bradenton, he was released from jail on Oct. 22 on $500 bond, Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office records say.

One of the people who called 911 said the shooter was a white male wearing a blue shirt and a while cowboy hat, the Sheriff’s Office report noted. Another caller told the 911 dispatcher that the male was in front of Solorzanos Pizzeria on Avenida Madera, with his shirt off.

When a deputy arrived at Solorzanos, the report said, the shirtless man was sitting on a bench in front of the restaurant, wearing a white cowboy hat. A woman was seated next to him, the report noted. “I was able to safely secure the male into handcuffs and begin my investigation,” the deputy added in the report.

“I immediately observed a strong odor of alcohol coming from his person,” the deputy wrote of Anders in the report.

A map shows the distance from the Circle K (marked by the red balloon) to Solorzanos Pizzeria. Image from Google Maps

The deputy found a black nylon holster clipped to Anders’ right front hip, but the holster was empty, the report said. “You ain’t never gunna find that gun; I hid it,” Anders told the deputy, according to the report.

When the deputy spoke with the female who had been sitting next to Anders, the report continued, she explained that she was Anders’ former girlfriend, Tina Mcdonald. “She was crying and stated she was trying to get away from Anders after he became enraged because he was not able to find his truck keys,” the report said. They were in the Circle K, arguing, she added, when she decided to walk away. She headed west, in front of the businesses on Ocean Boulevard. Then she heard multiple gunshots and Anders screaming her name, she told the deputy.

Because she did not see him fire the gun, the report noted, she was unable to verify whether Anders had aimed it at her. After she arrived at Solorzanos, she added, she saw Anders come around the corner of the restaurant.

Mcdonald said Anders had not threatened her or battered her, the report noted.

The clerk on duty at the Circle K provided a sworn, written statement in which she recalled Anders entering the store “and being highly agitated,” the report pointed out. “She stated he was yelling and cursing. When she asked him to stop yelling, he lifted his shirt to display the handle of the gun in his waistband,” the report continued. He then went outside, she said in the statement, and continued to yell. When she tried again to calm him down, telling him he was scaring the other people in the area, he told her to “‘go ahead and call the “f…ing cops,’” the report continued, adding that he threatened to shoot any officers who showed up.

At that point, the report said, Mcdonald walked by and the clerk heard Anders yelling at her about the truck keys. Moments later, the clerk heard multiple gunshots and then called 911, the report noted.

Michael Alan Anders. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The clerk played the surveillance video for the deputy, the report added, “which clearly shows the defendant lifting his shirt to display the firearm both inside and outside of the store as [the clerk] had described.”

When deputies searched the area, they found nine 9mm shell casings in the intersection of Calle Minorga and Avenida Milano, the report said.

After officers read Anders his rights, the report continued, Anders “admitted he had hidden the gun in the toolbox in the bed of his truck. He walked to the vehicle and gave consent for deputies to [open] the toolbox and retrieve the weapon,” the report said. The gun had an empty 12-round clip, the report noted, which was still in the gun.

“Deputies were not able to locate any bullet holes and no one in the area reported being injured by gunfire,” the report added.

“It should be noted at the time of this reported incident the area was heavily populated with people walking around … Siesta Key Village,” the report said.