Siesta Seen

Crystal Classic records another record year of attendance; the latest sergeant on the Key gets a promotion; a new wall has a traffic crash ‘baptism’; boat beached in Big Pass; and bill to prohibit smoking on beaches making little progress in Legislature

(This article was edited on the afternoon of April 5 to correct the spelling of the name of Sarasota County’s waterways manager.)

‘The Tears and Beers of a Clown,’ winner of the People’s Choice Award in 2018, is a tribute to Emmett Kelly. Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

Attendance for the 2018 Siesta Key Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival was up almost 10% from 2017, with 65,225 attendees, organizers have announced.

That uptick came in spite of what the organizers characterized in their news release as “the red tide challenges the area had experienced.”

After red tide began killing tons of fish and turning the Gulf of Mexico a muddy rust color, tourism took a tumble on the Key. Business owners reported significant drops in the number of customers and condominium rentals.

The national attention to the problems in the late summer of 2018 obviously did not deter fans of the intricate and whimsical sand masterpieces.

“Based on data research and surveys, the total economic impact of out-of-county visitors to the 2018 Siesta Key Crystal Classic was estimated at $10,500,000,” the news release emphasized.

Other data received worth noting follows:

  • 37% of attendees overnighted in hotels or condominiums, generating more than 19,000 room nights for the area.
  • 41% of attendees were Sarasota County residents, 17% were Florida residents from outside of Sarasota County, 36% were from out of state and 6% were from other countries.
  • 98% of attendees reported that the festival met or exceeded their expectations, “stating that this year’s event was most impressive,” the news release pointed out.

Siesta architect Mark Smith, a long-time member of the Board of Directors of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, told attendees at the Chamber’s quarterly membership meeting in February that he knew attendance was up for the 2018 event. “I was in charge of the cash collection, and the cash collection was up.”

‘Ode to SATAO’ is by Rachel Clara Stubbs of the United Kingdom. Photo courtesy of the Crystal Classic

The Siesta Key Crystal Classic is owned by Siesta Beach Festival Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. “The event is produced by the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce to promote tourism, local businesses, and both ephemeral and visual arts through a collaborative partnership with the community,” the release explained.

Based on a News Leader review of county records, the festival has been receiving grant funds since the 2016 fiscal year from the Sarasota County Commission, through the Arts & Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. Organizations applying for the funding have to demonstrate their ability to bring visitors to the community. The grant for the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, 2018, was for $31,676. The Crystal Classic was among 39 events or programs that won funding.

The description provided for the grant for the current fiscal year, presented to the County Commission as part of the materials for its June 13, 2018 meeting, read as follows: “Over the course of approximately 4 days, 8 teams of two master sand sculptors and 8 solo masters, who hail from several countries, create [8- to 10-feet high, three-dimensional] sand sculptures created solely out of the whitest, finest sand in the world and water. Collectively, they compete for $15,000 in prize money and an award at this masters sand sculpting venue held on the #1 beach. The artwork is displayed at night under colored lights as well,” the description noted. The lights highlight the sculptures in a unique way, it pointed out.

During the festival, the description added, more than 65 retail, art and food vendors have booths in what is called the Vendor Village on the beach. Additionally, the event features speed sculpting competitions between the sculptors and an educational element, which features sand samples from around the world.

Moving on up

Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta Key (left) and Major Paul Richard, leader of the Sheriff’s Offie Law Enforcement Division, flank new SKA President Catherine Luckner on March 2 at the SKA’s Annual Breakfast Meeting. File photo

Last October, newly promoted Lt. Jason Mruczek told the News Leader that he would be leaving Siesta Key, where he had served as the Sheriff’s Office substation leader for a number of years. Sgt. Paul Cernansky, who previously served with the department’s Mounted Patrol, would be taking his place, Mruczek added.

As it turns out, Cernansky also is getting a promotion to lieutenant, he told the News Leader this week. That means that he, too, will be moving to another assignment. (In Mruczek’s case, it was a position with Animal Services.)

Cernansky indicated that the formal transition to new substation leadership would be taking place later this month.

Cernansky first addressed SKA members during their regular meeting in November 2018. Then, Deputy Chris McGregor, a long-time officer on the island, had the honor of making the introduction. McGregor and Cernansky laughed about the fact that Cernansky had ended up having to use one of McGregor’s uniform shirts that day, which, obviously, misidentified Cernansky, just as he was trying to get acquainted with the nonprofit’s board and members.

A crash ‘baptism’ for another wall

Construction was just getting underway at the Oceane site in June 2018. Rachel Hackney photo

Siesta resident Michael Shay, who manages the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., has proven a very good reporter about traffic accidents on Ocean Boulevard that damage county and private structures.

One of the prime incident locations is the curve just north of the Gleason Avenue intersection.

On March 23, however, Shay noted that the latest “target” for an accident was the wall adjacent to the Oceane condominium complex, which is under construction on Big Pass, across from the Givens Street intersection.

Shay wrote of the “baptism overnight” for the “BRAND NEW cinder block retaining wall at Oceane.”

He had seen the driver still in the truck at 7:15 a.m. that day, he added. The front of the vehicle was crumpled, he noted.

Kaitlyn R. Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, kindly provided a copy of the incident report to the News Leader.

The call came in at 2:30 a.m. on March 23, according to the report. The driver was Nicholas David Fouts, 34, of Bismark Way in Sarasota, the report said. Fouts was traveling north on Ocean Boulevard at an estimated speed of 35 mph, which is the posted speed limit, the report pointed out.

His vehicle was a 1998 Ford F150, the report said.

The Sheriff’s Office report includes this graphic, showing how the accident occurred at the Oceane property. Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

As Fouts approached the Givens Street intersection, the report continued, the vehicle veered off the road in the curve and struck the retaining wall and a temporary construction fence, “causing minor damage to the fence and wall.”

When an officer arrived on the scene, the report noted, Fouts said that he had to swerve to avoid hitting a car in the road. “However,” the officer wrote, “I was unable to substantiate his claim.” No witnesses could be found, the report added.

It was not known whether Fouts had consumed any alcohol or drugs, the report said. No drug testing was conducted, the report noted.

Fouts was not injured, the report continued, and he refused medical treatment. He did tell the officer that he would take care of getting a tow truck himself, because of the time of day.

“No one at the construction scene was present,” the report also noted.

The most damaged area of the truck was the right front section, the report showed.

The officer did email Gilbane Building Co. of Sarasota, which is handling the Oceane construction, the report said, so the company could follow up with Fouts about the damage. The deputy estimated the total at $1,000.

The officer estimated damage to the truck at $3,000, the report added.

A boating tale

A boat appears to be aground on the sandbar in Big Pass. Photo contributed by Michael Shay

In early March, the News Leader learned from Siesta resident Michael Shay that a boat appeared to be aground on the sand bar in Big Pass. He first spotted it on the morning of March 9, he added.

A couple of days later, it appeared to be listing, he pointed out. He was concerned that it was taking on water.

The News Leader first contacted Sgt. Paul Cernansky, leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta. Cernansky was aware of the boat in the pass, but he said he believed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) would be handling the case. If not, then he suggested the boat might be in the Sarasota Police Department’s jurisdiction.

When the News Leader contacted Melody Kilborn, public information coordinator for FWC’s Southwest Region Office, she said in a March 14 telephone interview, “We’re not currently working it as a derelict vessel.”

The boat finally disappeared on the afternoon of March 15, but the News Leader had to wait a couple of days — because of coverage of County Commission meetings — before it could try to follow up with Genevieve Judge, communications coordinator for the Sarasota Police Department.

When the News Leader first reached Judge late that week, she was unable to reach anyone with the Police Department’s Marine Patrol. However, she promised to get back to the News Leader early the following week.

On March 18, Judge sent the News Leader an email, saying that she had learned from the department’s Marine Patrol that the Sheriff’s Office’s Marine Patrol and FWC were handling the case. She did add that she understood the boat had been towed to the 10th Street Boat Ramp by Sea Tow of Sarasota.

When the News Leader then contacted Kaitlyn R. Perez, the community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, she wrote in a March 19 email, “What we learned from our Special Ops Bureau (through Mike Solum at the county) … is that FWC worked this.”

Solum, she pointed out, is the county employee in charge of the waterways.

Perez continued, “Sea Tow took the boat to the 10th St. boat ramp. The owner has been in contact with FWC. They are in the process of having the title signed over to either FWC or Sea Tow,” she added.

“We have nothing to do with this case so we will defer to FWC and hopefully they can give you some more guidance,” Perez wrote.

With the News Leader then on vacation for a week, it was April 2 before this reporter again could contact Kilborn with the FWC.

On April 2, Kilborn wrote in an email, “It appears that this particular vessel was handled by Sarasota County’s boating and waterways section and the FWC was not the lead at any point regarding its removal. It is our understanding that this vessel has been removed from the water,” she added, suggesting the News Leader “reach out to Sarasota County to confirm and receive additional details, as I do not have any. I do not have any information regarding the vessel’s owner or the reason the vessel got there in the first place.”

Finally, on April 3, the News Leader spoke by phone with Elas Wallace, operations manager of Sea Tow in Sarasota.

“This was kind of a headache,” he said, after the News Leader explained the reason for the call.

This is a banner on the homepage of the Sea Tow website. Image from the website

Wallace was unable to share much information, though he did say that the woman who owned the boat “was a character.”

She apparently was moving the vessel from one location to another when she and a man with her had a disagreement, Wallace continued. “I’m not really sure [about the circumstances],” he pointed out, but he did add that he understood “video had surfaced on Facebook.”

“It’s a crazy scenario,” he said.

He also understood, he continued, that the boat had been in Venice and that the owner was heading back to Madeira Beach, in Pinellas County, when the incident occurred.

“We did remove the boat from the sandbar [in Big Pass],” Wallace told the News Leader. He had no further information about what had transpired since then, he pointed out.

However, Wallace did say, “Florida should really require people who have boats to have insurance,” just as people who own vehicles must have insurance.

Wallace also explained that Sea Tow’s operations in cases involving derelict vessels are funded by the state.

As the business name indicates, Wallace added, “[T]owing is what we do for a living.” However, Sea Tow is a membership-based company, he pointed out.

Sea Tow of Sarasota handles cases from Casey Key all the way up to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, he said. “We try to take care of the community.”

Update on Gruters’ ‘No smoking on beaches’ bill

State Sen. Joe Gruters. Photo from the Florida Senate website

Regular readers will recall that Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota introduced a bill in the 2019 legislative session to prohibit the smoking of tobacco on public beaches.

When the News Leader checked on the bill’s status this week, it found that the bill was introduced in the Senate on March 5, the day the legislative session began.

On Jan. 22, the bill was referred to four Senate committees: Environment and Natural Resources, Community Affairs, Commerce and Tourism, and Rules. The Senate summary of action on the bill indicates no committee has scheduled a hearing on it yet.

The legislative session is scheduled to end on May 3.