Tag Archives: 09-28-2011

Friends rescue LBK man after shark bite

“Oh my gosh, a shark bit me!”

Charles “C.J.” Wickersham yelled to six friends on a 25-

foot open fishing boat, which had been taken into the Gulf for a Saturday afternoon of sunning, swimming and spearfishing.

Connor Bystrom said he looked out to the water and saw Wickersham, 21, of Longboat Key. “There was a 10-foot pool of blood around him,” Bystrom, 22, of Holmes Beach, said.

He said he and others jumped into the water to pull Wickersham to the boat and they began emergency procedures to stop the flow of blood from the injured man’s leg — the bite was deep enough to expose the thigh bone and about 14 inches long from knee to hip.

Max Gazzo raced the boat back toward Anna Maria Island, where Manatee County Emergency Medical Services paramedics, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, West Manatee Fire Rescue and a Bayflite helicopter would be waiting.

Two days after the emergency, Wickersham remained at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

He was expected to undergo a second surgery Sept. 26, after The Islander went to press.

Bystrom and others on the boat visited Wickersham in the hospital Sept. 25.

“We just talked about the incident and how crazy it was, and how lucky he is to be alive,” Bystrom said. “It was just a freak accident, just a rare freak accident.”

The incident Sept. 24 occurred on what began as an ordinary good-time day on the Gulf on the Bystrom family boat.

The group included Wickersham, Bystrom, Gazzo, Katie Mattas, Kiera Dunn, Oceanna Beard and Lee White.

Bystrom said the guys were spear fishing and having success with hogfish, while the girls were chatting and relaxing in float chairs.

At about 3:05 p.m., the boaters were about 6 miles offshore in the Gulf, where the water is about 40 feet deep. Some of the group were already in the boat, preparing to go back to shore.

That’s when the bull shark — estimates put its size at 9 to 11 feet — struck, when Wickersham yelled and when his friends rushed to his rescue.

Bystrom said his friend told them he felt a bump and, at first, thought one of the other guys was playing around.

“I never saw the shark,” Bystrom said. “I saw the commotion. I saw the panic. I saw the blood.”

Bystrom swam to Wickersham and he others pulled the injured man into the boat. They could see teeth marks, the flesh flapping and, in the open wound, exposed bone and severed arteries.

Bystrom said a tourniquet, fashioned from anchor rope, was wrapped around Wickersham’s leg and towels were applied as a compress. He said he put his friend’s leg in a bear hug to try to stem the bleeding.

“It was just instinct,” said Bystrom, who works for a veterinary surgeon in Sarasota. “When I saw the bleeding, I just knew we had to stop it.”

He said the group remained “as calm as we could” as Gazzo navigated the boat to the Rod & Reel Pier on the Island’s north end.

“We were wide open,” Bystrom said. “Just hauling butt.”

As Gazzo raced toward the pier, a ride that lasted less than 6 minutes, the group received guidance from a 911 telecommunicator.

Gazzo grounded the boat on the beach near the pier, where paramedics waited.

Wickersham was then rushed to an emergency medical helicopter at the Anna Maria Island Community Center. WMFR officials said he had suffered a substantial loss of blood, but that his vital signs were good.

Bystrom added that he returned to the spot in the Gulf where the shark bite occurred to retrieve Wickersham’s gear, including his spear gun, but someone had already picked it up. Anyone with information about the gear, or wishing to return it, can call The Islander at 941-778-7978.

The International Shark Attack File database at the Florida Museum of Natural History indicates that the shark bite was the fifth reported unprovoked attack in Manatee County since 1982.

        Publisher Bonner Joy contributed to this report.

The group of seven friends spent the day boating, free diving and the guys were spear fishing while the gals relaxed in float chairs. Islander Photos: Kiera Dunn

The Manatee County Emergency Services ambulance met the boaters at the Rod & Reel Pier and transported C.J. Wickersham from there to the Anna Maria Island Communtiy Center, where they were met by Bayflite, who then took Wickersham to Bayfront Medical Trauma Center. Islander Photos: Jeannie Bystrom

Shark bystrom boat Connor Bystrom docks the family boat at his parents home in Holmes Beach following the incident offshore of Anna Maria in which his friend C.J. Wickersham was bit by an 11-foot-long bull shark. Islander Photo: Jeannie Bystrom

Anna Maria increases tax, builds reserve

At the city’s final public hearing on the 2011-12 budget, commissioners voted 3-1 to increase the millage rate to 2.05 mills and approved the $2.22 million budget by the same vote.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said he would not support a budget that increased the ad valorem tax rate from 1.7882 to 2.05 mills.

It’s the first time since 2006 that Anna Maria has increased its ad valorem millage rate. It is not, however, the first tax increase.

This year’s increase was needed because the taxable value of Anna Maria properties declined the past few years, resulting in less revenue, city treasurer Diane Percycoe said.

Woodland said that at the end of the fiscal year, the city’s reserve account could be “in great shape” if the $78,000 contingency fund goes unused. Woodland argued unsuccessfully that the contingency fund be allocated $10,000 and the balance go into the reserve account.

The city’s contingency fund is a line item in the budget that can be used in an emergency or when the city needs funds for a large purchase or project. The reserve fund, usually 35 percent of the city’s total operating expenses, is not part of the budget and is maintained in an interest-bearing account.

Woodland said he could “almost support the rollback rate” of 1.881 mills, which would be the millage rate needed to bring in the same amount of ad valorem revenue as the current budget.

Percycoe said passing the rollback rate would not add any funds to the city’s reserve account, which is now about $540,000, or 24.3 percent of the budget. City auditor Ed Leonard has consistently recommended the city’s reserves be a minimum of 35 percent of the budget.

The reserve account declined in 2010-11 because some of it was used to pay off the city’s stormwater improvements loan, saving the city $50,000 in bank administrative fees, Percycoe said.

Commissioner John Quam, however, said he viewed $50,000 of the proposed contingency fund as reserves. If it’s not used during the coming fiscal year, it will go into the reserve fund. Percycoe said if the revenues and expenses go “as planned” in the proposed budget, reserves will be at 29 percent by the end of the budget year.

Quam said if the contingency fund goes back into reserves, the commission next year should definitely consider lowering the millage rate.

“In two years, we’ll be back to 35 percent” in reserves, Woodland said. “I think we are in great shape if we reduce the contingency fund.”

Quam said he believed the city is in “excellent shape” with $78,000 in the contingency fund. Commissioners Jo Ann Mattick and Gene Aubry agreed.

The increase in millage from the rollback rate of 1.881 to 2.05 is considered an 8.9 percent tax increase by the state of Florida. The state uses the rollback rate to determine tax increases or decreases, not the millage rate.

The city has had a 1.7882 millage rate since 2006, but keeping that percentage rate can result in tax increases.

Commissioners did not seek any changes to the budgeted line items. Of those, the largest is the city’s contract with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, which is $663,922 in the 2011-12 budget, a 1 percent decline from the 2010-11 budget.

Quam noted that the stormwater utility account is $195,000 and suggested commissioners reduce that amount at next year’s budget meetings or sooner. Woodland, who spearheaded passage of the stormwater fee, agreed. He said he envisioned maintaining about $120,000 in the account.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb did not attend the meeting.



The following figures represent the changes to Anna Maria’s budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year.


Budget year                    2010-11                   2011-12

Millage                           1.7882                     2.05

Rollback                         1.9450                     1.881

Ad valorem revenues      $1.100 million                $1.153 million

Total revenues                        $2.14 million          $2.220 million

Total expenses                        $2.885 million                $2.14 million

An Anna Maria homeowner with a house with a taxable value of $500,000 and with the maximum of $50,000 in homestead exemptions would pay $922.50 in property taxes for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

At the rollback rate of 1.881, the same Anna Maria homeowner would pay $846.45 in property taxes for 2011-12.

City treasurer Diane Percycoe has said that the city receives back about 11 percent of the total taxes paid by a property owner to Manatee County.

The final budget hearing for Holmes Beach was scheduled after presstime for The Islander at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27. A report of that hearing will appear in the Oct. 5 edition of The Islander.

New beachfront homeowner likes Australian pines

Anna Maria homeowner Shawn Kaleta, who recently purchased the Moss home on the beachfront at Willow Avenue in Anna Maria, said he doesn’t mind having Australian pines in front of his property in the city-owned Gulf Park.

When the city recently announced plans to remove six or seven Australian pines in the park in the next few years, several people protested and said the pines should remain because of the shade they provide and their beauty.

Kaleta, however, said as long as his home is safe from the pines, he likes seeing them.

“I like them there. The shade is nice,” he said.

Contrary to some reports, Kaleta is not behind the effort to remove the pines from Gulf Park.

“It’s not my property. I told George (McKay) I’m fine either way with what the city does. I just want to make sure my home is safe, but the final decision is up to the city,” he said.

Kaleta indicated he has concerns with tall branches from the pines that could splinter and fall on his house during a storm event, but added that trimming might be a better solution.

He said he wants to maintain whatever shade canopy is possible from the pines. At the same time, Kaleta wants to maintain for his family the character of the 1920s-built home that was occupied by the late Gene and Elizabeth Moss for many years.

Kaleta said he bought the Moss home as his permanent residence and will abide by any city decision on the removal or retention of the pines.

Anna Maria officials have given public works director George McKay the go-ahead to remove six or seven Australian pines in the area between the beach accesses for Willow and Cedar avenues. McKay said the plan is to gradually remove the trees, possibly one per year.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection classified Australian pines as an invasive species in 2003 and has requested they be removed “whenever possible” by local governments.

Anna Maria’s own landscaping ordinance prohibits the planting of Australian pines and classifies the tree as a non-native, invasive species.

Plant consultant Mike Miller, who is assisting McKay with the landscaping of Gulf Park, has said the trees should be removed. Miller said the trees are prone to topple in a hurricane because of a shallow root structure and the trees do not support native plants beneath its branches.

County replacing Anna Maria sewer lines

If Anna Maria residents smell something a little stinky the next few weeks, they shouldn’t be alarmed. It’s only Manatee County replacing existing sewer mains at various locations in northern sections of the city.

City residents also can expect some traffic interruptions throughout the five-month project.

The project begins Sept. 30 with the closure of Palm Avenue at Crescent Drive, a Manatee County press release said. This closure runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 14, according to the release, and a suitable detour will be in place. The entire sewer replacement project is expected to finish in February.

The first replacement is the 8-inch sanitary sewer line along Magnolia Avenue, Crescent Drive and Palm Avenue.

County officials said they would use the directional drill method to “minimize impact to residents” near construction.

During the course of the project, other road closures and detours will be necessary, the release said.

Other excavation areas include Palm Avenue at North Shore Drive intersection.

Anna Maria public works director George McKay said he did not know if any water or sewer service will be shut off while installation occurs, but will meet with county officials this week to obtain more information. The city is not obligated for any project funding.

For more information, call McKay at 941-708-6130, ext. 26, or Anthony Benitez at the Manatee County Utilities Department, 941-708-7450, ext. 7333.

AME peace event fires up night

A crowd of children, parents and community members gathered on the front lawn of Anna Maria Elementary School Sept. 21 for an evening celebration of International Peace Day. The theme for the school’s 10th anniversary celebration was “light.”

The event also commemorated the 10-year-old peace pole and was a remembrance for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the event that precipitated the peace pole and subsequent celebrations.

The event this year had an unexpected climax when a fire balloon engaged in a cluster of trees above the crowd just moments after its release. With the balloon wavering in the breeze, and flames licking the air, kids screamed, some folks moved quickly away, others shook lower branches.

Eventually the balloon lifted away and “peace” returned to the crowd of celebrants.

Before the event kicked off, members of the Anna Maria Island Rotary Club lit the rows of luminaries, all decorated with images of peace by AME students.

Manatee High School cheerleaders led a procession of world flags to start the ceremony and AME alumnae Trina and Holly Rizzo, now in high school, sang the national anthem. A trio from the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra, including violinist Shawn Snider and cellists Lorraine English and Karolyn Silbaugh, accompanied the Rizzos.

The Island Rotarians partnered with AME 10 years ago after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and donated the International Peace Pole.

“The inclusion of AMICCO this year added a whole new layer of sophistication to the event,” said Melissa Williams, Rotary club president.

Past president Judy Rupp and husband Ed refurbished the wooden pole and Williams and husband Frank replaced the placards proclaiming “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in 12 languages.

The evening included several musical performances. Young bell ringers in the music program at Roser Memorial Community Church performed an original composition, and youth choir members from the church also performed. A rock band featuring AME students Jacob Castro and Abbey Achor on guitar and bass and AME coach Eric Boso on drums accompanied the student body in performing “We Got to Have Peace.”

The evening culminated with the lighting of fire balloons that were launched into the sky. Harrison said the flame retardant balloons are biodegradable and West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price suggested their use.

AME launched six balloons to represent six aspects of those affected the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Representatives from the WMFR, Holmes Beach Police Department, AME staff, parents, Island Rotarians and military veterans each released a balloon.

While most of the balloons sailed out over the Gulf, WMFR’s balloon got stuck in a palm tree.

“It was crazy for a bit,” said Harrison. “I was worried, but the tree did not catch fire. It was comical that it was the balloon representing the fire department that got stuck — and we’re not going to let the chief live it down.”

One final balloon was launched to close the ceremony. The seventh balloon was imprinted with the 9/11 memorial image and “We Will Not Forget,” and was released by Ramona and Charlie Schroeder in memory of their daughter Lorraine Antigua.

Antigua died in the attack on the World Trade Center, leaving behind her 11-year-old daughter.

During the final balloon launch, Lindsey Smith sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth” accompanied by the trio from AMICCO.

“It was so moving,” said Harrison. “We watched as that last balloon soared higher than the rest and finally disappeared out of sight.”

“The Rotary Club is pleased at how the students continue to carry on the message of peace,” said Williams.

And, Harrison noted that with this celebration a new addition has been made to the student pledge, to exhibit “Peace on the inside, peace on the outside and peace every day.”

BB budget at $2.57 million

For the third consecutive year, Bradenton Beach commissioners have downsized the city’s spending plan.

The commission and mayor, meeting Sept. 22, also reduced the city’s millage rate for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

The new tax rate was set at 2.1359 mills. The commission earlier had set a tentative rate of 2.539 mills and could have gone as high as the rollback rate of 2.1364 mills without increasing tax revenues. The rollback rate is the tax rate that would bring in the same amount of property tax dollars as the current year.

Bradenton Beach’s budget for 2010-11 was $2,667,114.40 and the 2009-10 budget was $2,847,301. The millage rate for 2010-11, 2009-10 and 2008-09 was 2.1539 mills.

Without factoring in exemptions, a property owner in Bradenton Beach with a home valued at $400,000 can expect to pay $854.36 in ad valorem taxes to the city in the new fiscal year. The current tax on a $400,000 home would be $861.56.

The budget votes last week were unanimous, 3-0. Commissioners Gay Breuler and Ed Straight were absent.

The final budget meeting lasted less than nine minutes, with one citizen seated in the gallery, who did not speak.

But the commission, mayor and city staff spent many hours in a series of meetings over the summer reviewing the spending plan, especially expenses.

“I think it’s phenomenal that we have been able to reduce the millage,” Commissioner Janie Robertson said after her final vote on her final budget. The Ward 3 representative will be term-limited out of office in November.

In the review process, at least 2 percent was trimmed from each department budget, some personnel benefits were scaled back and one position, in the public works department, was eliminated.

The commission also took a hard look at the police department budget, holding two meetings to discuss expenses and priorities. Dozens of people turned out for the second meeting to support the department and the chief.

Robertson, who has said she was not satisfied with the final police budget, said last week it was interesting to “see what the hot-button issues are.”

City officials described the budget process as brutal, difficult and bruising. Robertson’s description was “tough.”

She said the level of scrutiny was much higher than in prior years.

“I hope,” she added, “that next year’s budget will be as scrutinized.”


For the record

2010-11 total budget: $2,667,114

2011-12 total budget: $2,570,318

2010-11 millage rate: 2.1539 mills

2011-12 millage rate: 2.1359 mills

2011-12 rollback rate: 2.1364 mills

2011-12 ad valorem taxes: $845,956



In a Sept. 21 story in The Islander, West Manatee Fire Rescue Commissioner Scott Ricci said he did not support a 3 percent pay raise for firefighters, indicating the raise appeared to offset a 3 percent increase in the state retirement deduction.

However, West Manatee Fire Rescue District Commission Chair Larry Tyler said WMFR employees were given a 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase in the 2011-12 budget, not a 3 percent raise, and the district changed to a new retirement system, opting out of the Florida Retirement System in 1996. Only employees hired before 1966 are part of the FRS.

Court enters judgment against ex-Islander

A U.S. District Court has entered judgments against several defendants, including a former Islander, for engaging in unregistered distribution of billions of shares in a company.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced the court’s summary judgments against Doyle Scott Elliott, Scott Elliott Inc., Robert L. Weidenbaum and CLX & Associates Inc., all of Florida.

Elliott was living in Holmes Beach and had an office in Bradenton Beach at the time the SEC case became public. The Manatee County Property Appraiser website indicates he still owns a home on Key Royale Drive that the FBI searched in early 2009.

The district court found that the three defendants engaged in an unregistered distribution of billions of shares of Universal Express Inc. between February 2004 and June 2007.

The judgments enjoined Elliott, SEI, Weidenbaum and CLX from future violations of the securities registration provisions of Section 5 of the Securities Act of 1933, ordered them to disgorge over $8.6 million in profits, plus prejudgment interest and pay penalties.

They also are barred them from participating in further penny stock offerings.

Another hearing in the case, which dates back to at least September 2009, is scheduled for December.

Plea hearing set in panty case

A plea hearing is set for Oct. 11 for a Holmes Beach man accused of raiding a neighbor’s dresser for panties.

Ernest Kendler, 63, is accused of stealing underwear from two women who live near his home on Neptune Lane. He is charged with one count of burglary to an occupied dwelling, a second-degree felony.

The Holmes Beach Police Department executed a search warrant at Kendler’s home Dec. 14, 2010, and arrested him Jan. 10.

Kendler entered a not guilty plea and demanded a jury trial, which was scheduled for October at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

However, a five-minute plea hearing is now set for 3:30 p.m. Oct. 11.

Golf cart driver started Sandpiper fence squabble

The current dispute between Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach over a fence along 27th Street that borders the Sandpiper Resort might not have happened were it not for one, or possibly a few drivers traveling by golf cart throught the resort to reach businesses on the other side.

Following the 2008 vacation of 27th Street where it adjoins the mobile home park east of Gulf Drive by the Bradenton Beach Commission to the Sandpiper Resort — a move that the Holmes Beach City Commission publicly protested — relations between the two cities over the vacation appeared to wane.

“We’ve always been good neighbors,” said Sandpiper manager Tracy Moon. “We’ve always allowed Holmes Beach residents to use 27th Street to walk to Gulf Drive or the beach. There’s a gate there, but it’s never locked. Access has never been a problem,” Moon said in August.

But the rift started anew when someone driving a golf cart on a Holmes Beach street began driving around the fence onto the grass dividing the two cities. The “driver” was observed using Sandpiper’s private streets avoiding Gulf Drive to reach Bradenton Beach restaurants, bars and a nearby convenience store.

On one return trip to Holmes Beach through the resort, the driver appeared “inebriated,” Moon said, and apparently tore up some turf on Sandpiper property. Several residents said they saw the incident, Moon said.

Unlicensed golf carts are not allowed on any Holmes Beach street south of Manatee Avenue, and are prohibited by law from using Gulf Drive or any Bradenton Beach road outside of the downtown area.

Sandpiper residents said the alleged drunk-driving incidents occurred more than once, prompting the homeowners association to approve installation of a fence to keep golf carts out of the resort.

Moon said the golf cart driver was told to stop driving around the gate, but continued, prompting the fence. The fence was installed to keep golf carts from entering the Sandpiper via Avenue B or Avenue C.

After the fence was in place, Holmes Beach commissioners asked city attorney Patricia Petruff to write Bradenton Beach to protest the street vacation and investigate any remedial action possible by the city.

The result was the introduction of a motion at the Holmes Beach commission meeting Sept. 13 calling for “conflict resolution” and “legal action” against Bradenton Beach.

Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt and Mayor-elect John Shaughnessy, a Sandpiper resident, spoke at that meeting and the result was and agreement to meet Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger to come up with some recommendations that both city commissions might accept to resolve any dispute.

“We’ve always been good neighbors. We’ve always allowed Holmes Beach residents to use 27th Street to walk to Gulf Drive or the beach and there’s never been a problem until recently. The resort even wrote a letter to

Holmes Beach about access to 27th Street,” Shaugnessy said.

The mayor-elect said there’s a lot of misinformation going around that the Sandpiper is denying people access to 27th Street. “That’s just not true,” he said.

Shaughnessy said any legal action by Holmes Beach would only cost both cities a significant amount of money.

There are two gates along the fence and Bradenton Beach Commissioner Gay Breuler, also a Sandpiper resident, said the gates are not supposed to be locked.

Breuler said no lock is authorized for the gate and an offending lock has been removed. Any lock found on the gates in the future also will be removed, she said.

“We’re trying to settle this peacefully, amicably, between two friends,” Breuler said.