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Date of Issue: June 21, 2007

County bans congregating in beach parking lots

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Parking for the park
Work takes place to define "zoned" areas in the Coquina Beach parking lot June 14, two days after the Manatee County Board of Commissioners voted to amend rules for loitering on county beaches, parks and other public lands. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Manatee County commissioners voted June 12 to ban congregating in parking lots at county beaches and parks.

"They gave us what we needed," said Sam Speciale, chief of the Bradenton Beach Police Department, which patrols Coquina Beach under an agreement with the county.

The ordinance was approved with the support of Commissioners Amy Stein, Joe McClash, Carol Whitmore, Jane von Hahmann, Ron Getman and Donna G. Hayes. Commissioner Gwen Brown did not attend the meeting.

Stein praised the county staff’s work on the ordinance, which also involved some changes in language.

McClash said he wanted to see even more changes to make the county’s parks and beaches safe.

The measure was drafted in the wake of the shooting of three men on Coquina Beach on Easter Sunday. Authorities said the shooting was gang-related, a retaliation for a prior gang incident in Bradenton.

The ordinance OK’d by commissioners prohibits people from hanging out in parking lots, the exception being people in permitted RV lots, although there are no such lots on any Anna Maria Island beaches.

"This is something we’ve been pulling for for a long time," said detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz, of the Bradenton Beach Police Department. "One of the biggest problems we’ve had is people hanging out in the parking lots."

Diaz and Speciale said the loitering ban would be particularly useful on holidays at the beach, when authorities have observed crowds of people, who by manner of dress don’t seem to be bound for the beach, assembling in the parking lots.

"It basically comes back on us now to make sure the ordinance that’s in place is enforced," Diaz said.

Speciale predicted the next big beach holiday would be Labor Day, since July 4 falls on a Wednesday.

In addition to giving police the authority to stop people from congregating on the beach, the new measure prohibits people from leaving their pets unattended in the parking lots.

Diaz said the department receives a number of calls from people who see pets, especially dogs, left in cars in the heat.

Bradenton Beach police also have observed that people chain pets to vehicles to serve as guard dogs.

Meanwhile, at Coquina Beach last week, crews continued to work in the parking lots, adding dividers, wooden posts to curb cruising at the beach. The county is creating a system of "zoned" parking, in order for lots to be closed off and easier to police.

"The zoned parking and this ordinance, I think, will put a humongous dent in the loitering in the parking lots," Diaz said. "This is really going to help us control the crowds."

In the shooting on Easter, three brothers suspected of involvement in the Sur 13 street gang - Jose Estrada, 20, Salvador Estrada, 27, and a 17-year-old identified by Bradenton Beach police as F.E. - were injured.

Two other men, suspected of being involved in the Norte 14 street gang, were arrested for the shooting while still at the beach, and, are scheduled to stand trial in mid-August on a number of charges.

Santiago Delgado Jr., 21, of Plant City, is charged with carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharging a firearm.

Rene Vasquez-Mendoza, 22, of Plant City, is charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharge of a firearm in public.

The shooting forced authorities to clear the beach late Easter afternoon and shut down traffic, northbound and southbound, in Bradenton Beach for an hour, while the injured men were taken to hospitals by medical helicopter transport.

"It had ramifications far beyond what happened to the boys who got hurt," said Becky Callahan of Longboat Key.

Callahan was dining at the SunHouse Restaurant in Bradenton Beach at about the time the shooting occurred. "People came in with the news and it was frightening," she said. "I can only imagine what it meant to a tourist who was here and doesn’t know just how peaceful and quiet the islands are. So I hope the police have what they need to keep the peace."

Rosie Martinez of Bradenton brought her family to Coquina Beach last Thursday. She endorsed tougher rules to keep the beach safe.

"I think what should be done is a security check at the entrances," Martinez said. "If they can do it at a baseball game or concert, they can do it at a beach. No guns. No liquor. The people who want that stuff would have to go somewhere else."