Siesta Key Breeze getting lots of positive attention; barrage of law enforcement vehicles one evening sparks a lot of curiosity; Siesta Key Association director seeking beach cleanup volunteers and working on ‘Adopt-A-Near-Shore Area’ project; turtle nest marked close to vacated portion of North Beach Road; new Sheriff’s Office substation leader introduces himself; SKA continues website work; and mixed news for the snowy plovers
As the Sarasota County commissioners have engaged in budget discussions in recent weeks, the Siesta Key Breeze has been in the spotlight quite a few times.
During the May quarterly meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, members were able to learn even more about how busy the Breeze has been.
Nathan Reid, general manager of the trolley operation for CPR Medical Transportation LLC of Washington, D.C., told the approximately 25 people present that from January to May 22, the Breeze had had more than 190,000 riders. “Great numbers.”
He did point out that CPR Medical — which won the contract for operating the trolley in July 2018 — took over the service just as the worst of the red tide bloom was making its presence known on the county’s shoreline, in August 2018. He called the period from August through October 2018 “a few rough months.”
However, Reid continued, when December 2018 arrived, “Things really cleared up, [with] a tremendous difference as far as ridership was concerned. I think people were just sitting at home, waiting,” he said, for red tide to subside so they could return to the beach. “It was an onslaught” in December, he added.
Still, he told the Chamber members, the Crystal Classic International Sand Sculpting Festival in November 2018 did bring out lots of people. The weekend of the event, Reid said, trolley ridership was almost 7,000.
“That was coming down to the ending of red tide,” he added, so he and other company representatives had wondered how busy the Breeze would be.
“It’s almost scary to think about what this year might bring with the Crystal Classic,” Reid told the Chamber group. “But we look forward to it.”
This year, the Crystal Classic is set for Nov. 15-18.
Because of spring break visitors, Reid continued, “March was probably our biggest month.”
He did point out that one day in March, some teenagers took the Breeze sign off a trolley. Reid said he had told one of his colleagues, “Those kinds of things, we expect to happen,” given the number of 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds enjoying a week at the beach.
All in all, he added of the spring break period, “We thought it was a very good success.”
Reid also noted that the total number of riders in March was almost 63,000. The biggest day was March 24, with 3,000 people counted on the Breeze.
As for more recent data: The ridership for May was 24,906, Lisa Potts, communications specialist for Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT), told The Sarasota News Leader this week.
The buzz about the June 4 vehicle pursuit
During the June 6 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting, President Catherine Luckner lamented the absence of the new Sheriff’s Office substation leader, Sgt. Arik Smith. (Smith had told the News Leaderin late May that he would be out of town and unable to attend the meeting, but he had hoped to send someone in his place.)
The primary reason she was disappointed, Luckner said, was that she was curious about an incident that occurred on the north end of the island on June 4. The Sheriff’s Office helicopter was flying around, she noted, and she saw about seven law enforcement officers. “They had surrounded something.”
She was hoping to hear the scoop from Smith.
New SKA Director Eddie Ward replied that he heard that teenagers had stolen a vehicle off the island and then led the law enforcement officers on a chase over to Siesta.
The News Leader contacted Kaitlyn R. Perez, community affairs director for the Sheriff’s Office, to request a report of the incident.
On June 10, she responded that four arrests were made on June 4 as a result of what transpired that evening.
“Three of the four arrestees are juveniles,” she added; they were charged with a misdemeanor count of Resisting Arrest. Because they are juveniles, Perez pointed out, she was unable to provide the News Leader the reports regarding their involvement in the case. However, she did send the report for the fourth person arrested, who was identified as Lequavious Amon Claridy, 20, of Sarasota. He was charged with a misdemeanor count of Resisting without Violence.
His Corrections Division record lists his occupation as “Cook.”
He was placed under $500 bond; as of June 13, he still was in the county jail. His arraignment was set for June 24.
The incident was reported at 7:50 p.m. on June 4, the report says. Claridy’s arrest was recorded at 8:09 p.m. at the intersection of Siesta Drive and Higel Avenue, the report notes.
The deputy who wrote the report said that he responded to a call about a burglary. A woman had notified the Sheriff’s Office that she had observed five people inside the home of a person who was out of town, the report continues.
When the deputy arrived, the report adds, the woman flagged him down to say she had seen the suspects on the beach.
“As I approached the end of Shell Road and made my way onto the beach to check the area behind the residence [where the suspects had been seen],” the deputy wrote, “I observed multiple subjects down the beach matching the [complainant’s] description.”
As the deputy began walking south toward the suspects, the report says, “they immediately started running east towards the residence.” The deputy pursued them on foot, giving them “loud verbal commands [to stop], but they continued to run east from me,” the deputy wrote.
The deputy then saw several of them get into a black Chevy Impala and drive “away at a high rate of speed.”
One of them, who had not made it to the car, continued to run from the deputy, the report notes. However, the deputy lost sight of that person at 4043 Shell Road, the report says.
The deputy checked the immediate area with the help of the Sheriff’s Office helicopter Air 2, the report adds, but the deputy was unable to locate the person.
Then, a sergeant and another deputy with the Sheriff’s Office spotted the Impala on Siesta Drive at the Higel Avenue intersection, the report says, and they stopped it. They took the four suspects they found inside the vehicle to the Sheriff’s Office, the report notes, where the officers contacted the parents and guardians of the juvenile suspects.
One suspect was transported to Sarasota Memorial Hospital, the report says, so that person could get “medially cleared due to smoking marijuana.”
All then were transported to the jail “on charges of resisting arrest without violence,” the report notes.
A deputy later spoke to the owner of the residence where the complainant first reported seeing the suspects, the report adds. The victim did not wish to be identified, the report says, referencing a state law that recently went into effect.
Help clean the beach after July Fourth
New Siesta Key Association (SKA) Director Elizabeth Gomez-Mayo announced during the nonprofit’s June 6 meeting that she is trying to sign up 100 people to work as a group, representing the SKA, as part of the July 5 Liberty Litter Cleanup on Siesta Public Beach.
The sixth annual cleanup — which is sponsored by Keep Sarasota County Beautiful — will begin at 7 a.m. and conclude at 9 a.m., Gomez-Mayo said. Keep Sarasota County Beautiful does provide Liberty Litter Cleanup T-shirts to participants who sign up early, she continued. However, if the SKA can put together as large a group as she hopes for, perhaps the individuals also could identify themselves as representatives of the nonprofit, Gomez-Mayo indicated.
She asked interested members at the meeting to come up and speak with her after the June 6 agenda items were completed. People also may contact the SKA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce is encouraging its members to participate in the Liberty Litter Cleanup, too. The Chamber provided a link to the county webpage for registration.
Along with Siesta Beach, six other county locations have been chosen for the initiative, the Chamber points out.
Those who would like more information may call the county Contact Center at 861-5000.
Additionally, Gomez-Mayo explained on June 6 that she has been working with Keep Sarasota County Beautiful (KSCB) about the SKA’s adopting and keeping clean an area of the Key.
With the County Commission this spring having authorized the rebuilding of Fire Station No. 13 next to Siesta Public Beach, she continued, she is hopeful that the SKA can adopt the public property behind the station, which offers access to the shoreline. The land includes a pond, she noted.
If she is successful with the initiative, she added of that area, “We can monitor it and just enjoy it.”
Gomez-Mayo said she would welcome members interested in volunteering for that project as she continues to work with KSCB.
Turtle nest marked near Access 2
Since the County Commission voted in May 2016 to vacate a 373-foot-long segment of North Beach Road, turtle nests have become more common in the area, island residents have noted.
This week, Michael Holderness sent the News Leadera photo of a nest marked off by volunteers just west of Beach Access 2, not far from where the vacated part of the road begins.
In its report on turtle nests in the county for the period from May 26 through June 1, Mote Marine Laboratory noted a total of 178 loggerhead nests on the Key.
The latest report available just before the News Leader’s publication deadline this week — through June 8 — listed 66 new loggerhead nest and two green turtle nests. That bumped up the total number of nests to 247, compared to 118 for the same period of 2018.
Turtle nesting season begins May 1 and ends on Oct. 31.
Mote’s weekly updates may be found on its website.
The new sergeant introduces himself
During the May 22 membership meeting of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, the new leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the Key introduced himself.
His first official day on the Key was May 2, Sgt. Arik Smith told the group of about 20 people.
He has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2006, he continued, having served with the Patrol and Tactical divisions. He spent a little more than six years in undercover work with the Narcotics section, Smith added.
He and the previous substation leader, Lt. Paul Cernansky, have very similar philosophies about managing Sheriff’s Office operations on the island, Smith said. “If you guys were satisfied with Paul, hopefully, you guys will also be satisfied with me.”
Smith then noted that, from the Sheriff’s Office’s standpoint, spring break on the Key was “very successful. … Crime was down,” with few arrests, he noted.
“The biggest issue” in terms of crime on the island, Smith said, is vehicle burglaries, “and it’s extremelypreventable. You lock your doors.”
Young people, especially, he pointed out, will check the door handles of vehicles. If they find one with the doors unlocked, Smith said, then they will look inside for items of value that they can take.
“Lock your doors,” he emphasized again. “It really makes a huge difference — just that simple act of keeping your doors locked.”
He encouraged business owners to, in turn, encourage their patrons to keep vehicle doors locked.
Wrapping up his comments, Smith told the group, “I’m excited to be here, and I hope it can last a long time.”
“Until you make lieutenant,” Michael Shay, manager of the Siesta Village maintenance, responded, referring to Cernansky’s months-long stint as substation leader before Cernansky was promoted.
Smith laughed, telling Shay that any chance of Smith’s moving up to lieutenant is “down the road.”
Then Shay took the opportunity to ask whether Sheriff’s Office personnel find that most of the vehicle burglaries occur in the Siesta Public Beach parking lot.
No, they do not, Smith replied. “The ones we’re running into,” he continued, occur behind businesses and in residential areas where it is much darker and few people are around. He called the incidents “crimes of opportunity.”
Work continuing on new SKA website
Siesta Key Association (SKA) directors have been putting a considerable amount of time into creating a new website, they have told members in recent months.
On June 6, during the nonprofit’s regular meeting, Director Jean Cannon explained that Director Joyce Kouba “has been working night and day to get this done,” pushing for a mid-July launch.
Everything from the old site is having to be brought up-do-date on the new one, Cannon added.
Noting that the SKA will not conduct a meeting in July, Cannon continued, “Hopefully, by August, we can stand up and say [the new website is] ready.”
In her June 6 update, Kylie Wilson, coordinator of Florida Audubon’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in the county, reported that the snowy plover known as Ms. Sanibel “laid a third nest over the [previous] weekend …” Volunteers discovered it on the morning of Saturday, June 1, Wilson wrote.
“Sadly, the one-egg nest was gone the following morning and there was a large ghost crab hole a few feet away,” Wilson continued.
Because Ms. Sanibel laid only one egg, Wilson pointed out, the plover “was likely to re-nest again and soon.”
Then Wilson wrote, “Today another nest was discovered! This time … the plover is VERY well hidden. It is unclear if this nest is Ms. Sanibel’s,” Wilson continued, or if it belongs to the other female plover Wilson and volunteers have spotted on Siesta.
“The area where the nest is located is fortunately not used often by beachgoers since it is surrounded by thick grass,” she added. “Still, it will be the ideal spot for stewarding at this time.”