Sheriff’s deputy reports on February crime stats; aggravated battery charge results from beach parking space dispute; Fire Department chief reports island’s 2019 stats; loud music in beach parking lot continues to trouble residents; deputy wins over SKA audience as stand-in for sergeant; and bird steward training scheduled for this nesting season
Editor’s note: This article was updated early in the afternoon of March 13 to correct a link in the section about signing up with Florida Audubon to be a bird steward on Siesta Key. It was updated late on the afternoon of March 13 to include the email address of Kylie Wilson, the coordinator of the Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program in Sarasota County. Wilson is inviting interested persons to contact her about becoming volunteers.
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 The Sarasota News Leader, 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.
The Fire Department’s 2019 report for the Key
As part of the Feb. 18 program of the Siesta Key Condominium Council meeting, Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier offered detailed statistics for Fire Station 23 for 2019.
That station is located at the intersection of Beach Road and Midnight Pass Road, adjacent to the public beach park.
Noting that the department is “quite busy out here on the Key,” Regnier explained that, not surprisingly, given the older population, the majority of the calls were for emergency medical services (EMS).
The total number of fire and rescue incidents for Siesta last year was 1,569, out of 64,372 countywide, according to the slide Regnier presented to the audience. “About 88% of the overall volume,” he continued, involved EMS calls: 1,258.
The stats showed that 32 of those EMS calls dealt with motor vehicle collisions — including one extraction of a person; 37 were elevator rescues; 10 were water/surf rescues; and another 10 were watercraft rescues.
Of the 311 fire-related incidents, the report said, 157 were false alarms; 105 were service calls; 12 involved fires not on the Key; 29 were related to hazardous conditions; three were structure fires; and one involved a lightning strike that did not result in a fire.
The month with the largest number of EMS calls was March, with 145; followed by May, with 113.
May had the highest count of fire calls: 35, followed by March 2019, with 33.
As for the mean response time: The slide said that was 6.01 minutes from receipt of a call by Dispatch to the time of arrival on the scene. The mean time it took for a unit to reach the scene after it left Fire Station 13 was 5.05 minutes, the slide noted.
Regnier noted that a common question he receives from Siesta residents is how the department handles traffic congestion on the island if equipment has to come over from the mainland to respond to a call. EMS and fire units have direct communication with the bridge tenders, he said, so personnel can ensure the drawbridges are down.
Additionally, he pointed out, the department uses a system called Opticom, which allows personnel approaching intersections to make certain the traffic signals are green. “We can take control of [an] intersection,” he said, as a unit approaches with its lights and siren operating.
That system is in place at most county intersections, he Regnier added; implementation took place close to seven years ago.
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.
Knowing how to work an audience
After stepping to the podium during the March 5 Siesta Key Association meeting, Deputy Zack Lewis of the Sheriff’s Office seemed to win over the audience members immediately.
He told them, “I’m much shorter and I like to think far better looking [than substation leader Sgt. Ark Smith].” After an ever-so-slight pause, Lewis added, “Nah, I’m actually kidding. I’m not that much shorter.”
Then Lewis said of Smith, “You guys don’t understand how fortunate, lucky you are to have him out here. He is truly passionate about [the Key]. He loves coming to work …”
Bird stewards sought on Siesta once again
In a March 4 email blast, Holley Short, project manager for Florida Audubon’s Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program, announced that training for volunteers on Siesta Key would be conducted from 9 to 11 a.m. on March 28.
“Some of you may be returning,” she wrote, “but there are a few new volunteers coming in. For those new volunteers, welcome!”
Then Short explained, “Bird stewards are one of the most important aspects for shorebird and seabird conservation. Stewards are stationed at sites where nests and/or chicks are located and provide education to the public through brochures, signage, and visuals through a scope,” she wrote.
During a training session, she continued, Audubon Florida staff members, along with their partners in environmental protection, “provide information about the shorebird species, the stewardship site, and how to successfully educate [the public].”
The March 28 session on Siesta will cover all of those topics Short added, “so attendance is strongly encouraged,” even for those who have been stewards in the past. “We always provide new and updated information each year, and you will also have the chance to meet new stewards and seasonal Audubon staff,” she wrote in the email. “You will also be able to pick up your new volunteer shirt, if you have been a steward before.”
The Siesta training will be conducted at the Sea Turtle Pavilion at Siesta Public Beach, near the north section of the parking lot and the north snack bar, Short pointed out. For the first half of the session, she added, “we will go over the training.” The second half will feature “a short beach walk” to explore nesting sites “and see potential nesting species.
Those interested in attending the event are asked to click here for the Facebook event page. Additionally, they are welcome to email Kylie Wilson, coordinator of the Bird Monitoring & Stewardship Program for Sarasota County, Wilson told the News Leader on March 13. Her email address is email@example.com.
During the March 5 Siesta Key Association meeting, SKA Director Robert Luckner noted that he has heard reports that three pairs of snowy plovers have been seen “courting” on the beach this nesting season. He was hopeful, he added, that Siesta this year would see success with chicks “fledging,” which means they can fly and survive on their own.
Over the past couple of years, Luckner noted, no chicks had survived. The culprits were natural predators and human interference, he said.
Snowy plovers have been in decline in the state over the past years.