Tag Archives: 10-12-2011

A hero’s welcome Oct. 12

Three Anna Maria Island cities, the town of Longboat Key, Islanders and The Islander will unite Wednesday, Oct. 12, to recognize six young men and women who saved their longtime friend from a life-threatening shark bite Sept. 24.

C.J. Wickersham’s heroes — Oceanna Beard, Connor Bystrom, Kiera Dunn, Max Gazzo, Katie Mattas and Lee White — will be honored at a ceremony by invitation of The Islander newspaper and Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger at Holmes Beach City Hall. Presentations will be made by Anna Mayor Mike Selby, Bradenton Beach Mayor Bob Bartelt, Longboat Key Mayor Jim Brown and Bohnenberger.

The public is welcome to attend the event. The doors of city hall will open at 5:30 p.m. and the presentation will take place at 6 p.m.

Wickersham on mend on LBK

As fish tales go, Charles “C.J.” Wickersham says with a grin that he’s “got a pretty good one.”

Wickersham, 21, of Longboat Key, was spearfishing with friends about 6 miles off the coast of Anna Maria Island Sept. 24, when he became the fifth recorded shark-bite victim in Manatee County waters.

Eight days after a bull shark left Wickersham with a gaping 14-inch wound on his left thigh, a shark — authorities don’t know what kind — bit a fisherman in waist-high water off Anna Maria’s Bean Point. The injury that 38-year-old Javier Perez of Kenneth City suffered Oct. 2 was minor. Manatee County’s sixth recorded shark-bite victim in more than 100 years was treated and released from Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

Wickersham’s injury had required multiple procedures and a six-day stay in the trauma center at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Closing the wound took about 800 stitches. Wickersham, an avid fisher and former football player for Manatee High School, says the only other memorable injury he’s suffered was from a skateboard fall when he was 16. He hit his chin on a rock. That cut required six stitches.

Wickersham went to his home in Longboat Key’s village Sept. 30. He’s recuperating there, aided by relatives, encouraged by friends and entertained by television and Xbox games.

“It feels pretty good — no pain pill since Saturday,” Wickersham says during an interview Oct. 6. He’s sporting a nearly 2-week-old red beard that his mother said made him look like a lumberjack.

“I haven’t felt much like shaving,” he explains.

Wickersham rests in a recliner in a sunny living room, with “Tiger Woods PGA Tour” paused on the Xbox. His injured leg is in a brace and bandaged.

“I go back the 26th to get the stitches out,” he says, referring to a doctor’s visit later this month.

Wickersham went home with pain medication, but hadn’t needed any after the first day out of the hospital. He is taking only baby aspirin as a blood thinner.

Full recovery is expected “once the muscle branches out,” says Wickersham, who is contemplating a request that he and his rescuers appear on NBC’s “Today” show, which could involve traveling to New York City.

When asked about the voluminous media attention, he chuckles.

“I never thought you could get that much attention for getting bit by a shark,” he says.

But Wickersham gets serious when he says that the six friends on the boat outing with him Sept. 24 “probably saved my life.”

Those friends — Connor Bystrom, Max Gazzo, Katie Mattas, Kiera Dunn, Oceanna Beard and Lee White — rescued Wickersham from the water and tended to his wound as they rushed him to first-responders on the shore at the Rod & Reel Pier.

“They acted fast,” Wickersham says.

On Sept. 12, at about 6 p.m., the group of seven is expected to gather for a heroes’ reception at Holmes Beach City Hall, 5801 Marina Drive. The Islander is organizing the event, with participation from Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Longboat Key mayors.

Wickersham was in water about 40 feet deep, having just completed a free dive, when he felt a bump. “I was catching my breath,” he remembers. “I came back up from a dive, felt a bump and I looked.”

He thought one of his friends was goofing around, playing on his minor fear of sharks.

But then he saw the bull shark — identifiable by its bullish head — and his own blood. The bite was not painful.

“The teeth are so sharp,” he says.

The 911 call from Dunn to the county emergency operations center lasted 10 minutes, ending when Gazzo beached the boat next to the pier.

Wickersham says he remained conscious throughout. His friends told him he complained on the way to the pier, not about the bite but about his uninjured leg bouncing against the back of the boat.

“I remember it,” he says of the rush to the shore and then the Bayflite helicopter ride to the hospital.

“I was trying to stay conscious,” Wickersham says, adding that he was told he lost about five units of blood.

The International Shark Attack File, a database managed by the University of Florida’s ichthyology department, contains details of 625 shark-related incidents in Florida since 1882. Until recently, with the attacks on Wickersham and Perez, there were four recorded incidents in Manatee County:

• On March 23, 1970, 19-year-old Robert Fetterman was wading in county waters when a shark lacerated his foot and calf.

• On Sept. 15, 1981, a shark — possibly a hammerhead or tiger shark — bit Mark Meeker’s right calf. The report indicates that Meeker, 26, swimming in Tampa Bay between Egmont Key and the Island, suffered a fatal wound. An autopsy showed that the New Jersey man bled to death.

• On July 4, 2000, 55-year-old Beverly Comstock was spearfishing near an artificial reef about 3 miles offshore of Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach. A 4-foot nurse shark bit her lower, right calf.

• On Aug. 29, 2001, 29-year-old Kristi Herzberg was bit on an arm by a shark. The species was not identified. The bite occurred while she was standing in the Gulf at Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach.

The database now includes the bite Wickersham suffered, although the location erroneously is listed as “Santa Maria Island,” and the bite Perez suffered, also erroneously listed as occurring on “Santa Maria Island.”

Wickersham, who grew up on Longboat Key, knows his way around the islands, the bays and the Gulf. And he knew when he went out Sept. 24 that there were sharks in the water.

“I’ve seen hammerheads, bull sharks, lemonheads,” he says. “This time of year, there’s always sharks out there. Usually they just swim by.”

The attack was unprovoked, in clean, clear Gulf water.

Wickersham says he’s not dwelling on why?

“It was pretty crazy. There’s no why.”

Wickersham is not likely to go diving or spearfishing again soon, not just because he’s recovering from the shark bite.

“It’ll be winter soon,” he says. “Too cold to dive.… So probably next summer.”

Anglers advised: Don’t dump bait while in water

A fisherman bitten in the leg by a shark in the channel off Anna Maria Island’s Bean Point Oct. 2 was standing in waist-deep water when he dumped his bait into the water.

Javier Perez, 38, of Kenneth City, was visiting the area with his family and had been fishing from the beach before he suffered a minor shark bite. He was treated and released at Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

The catalyst for the bite could have been the bait thrown in the water, according to Dr. Robert Hueter, director of Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research.

“Sharks naturally seek out fish for food, so any fish or fish parts you bring into the ocean may attract sharks,” he said. “Anglers should not stand in the water with their catch or bait. Shark bites are rare, and we can help keep it that way by playing it safe.”

Debbie Meihls of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau said the BACVB is glad Perez is OK and only suffered a minor injury.

While many people enjoy beach and wade fishing along Anna Maria Island shores, “encounters such as this are extremely rare, especially near shore,” Meihls said.

A BACVB press release encouraged people fishing in Gulf waters to “take necessary precautions.”

Jose’s Real Cuban Food comes to AME

Jose’s Real Cuban Food, just featured last month on the Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, will host the Anna Maria Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18.

The menu provides a choice of a Cuban or pulled pork sandwich paired with black bean soup or French fries Children have an addition entree choice of chicken nuggets.

Adult dinner tickets are $7 and $5 for children.

Due to the popularity of Jose’s after its appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the event may sell out. To guarantee a meal, order in advance by calling the AME administrative office at 941-708-5525.

Those who order early will be entered into a drawing for a gift certificate donated by the restaurant.

Dinner will be followed by the third-grade play with the theme of “Peace.”

AME is at 4700 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.


Center to forward tower proposal to city

Anna Maria Island Community Center board of directors chair Greg Ross said he plans to ask the Anna Maria Commission for permission to negotiate with a company to construct a cell tower at the center.

Ross said there was “misinformation” circulating that the board was trying to railroad a cell tower proposal through the commission.

“Anna Maria owns the lease, and we never intended to not go to the commission. We’re going to ask for permission to negotiate with one of the companies that made a presentation,” Ross said. The issue could be presented to the commission as early as Oct. 31.

Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby said he advised Ross to ask commissioners to amend the center’s lease because a cell tower is currently not a permitted use. Additionally, the mayor said he told Ross that an ordinance amendment or a new ordinance might be needed, depending upon the application.

Selby said wireless services consultant Rusty Monroe studied the city’s 2003 wireless services ordinance and submitted a number of recommended changes to city attorney Jim Dye.

“Unfortunately, Dye won’t be available at the Oct. 31 meeting, so the center presentation might get pushed back to a November meeting,” the mayor said.

Ross said board members favor a cell tower disguised as a flagpole because that seems the “least obtrusive.” The tower would be 90-150 feet high, depending upon the number of carriers. The city’s ordinance limits the height of a cell tower to 35 feet.

Ross said the ad hoc committee that reviewed four cell-tower applicants narrowed its choice to one preferred applicant, but he declined to name the company until a presentation can be made to the commission. He said the preferred choice is one of the two companies that made a presentation to the center board April 8.

One presentation to the board was from Anna Maria homeowner Stacey Frank, a Tampa attorney. She said her company has been building cell towers in Hillsborough County for several years. The company has built 12 cell towers on Hillsborough County public school property that last year generated $316,000 in revenue, she said.

She estimated a cell tower at the center with one carrier would bring a minimum of $1,200 a month in revenue. The amount would increase as more carriers were added to the tower. Frank said the monthly revenue could reach $5,000 to $6,000, or as much as $72,000.

Frank said her company would give the center a $25,000 deposit if it signs with her company.

James Eatrides of Alpha-Omega in partnership with Ridan Industries also made a presentation April 8. He proposed a lump-sum payment of $150,000 to the center the day the tower carriers become operational. Eatrides said it would take 12-18 months to construct the facility.

In addition to the lump sum, Eatrides said the center would get $1,000 a month or 20 percent of the monthly gross revenues, whichever is greater. Eatrides, who lives on Longboat Key, said his company recently signed an agreement with Longboat Key to construct a cell tower.

Both companies presented photographs of a cell tower that doubled as a flagpole. A flagpole-cell tower at the center would look nothing like the Holmes Beach cell tower, Eatrides said.

The ad hoc committee endorsed the flagpole concept.

Several years ago, the board considered a cell tower offer, but major donors responded their donations would end if a cell tower was built.

In current economic hard times, however, the center faces some financial difficulties. The $4.5 million mortgage on the new facility that opened in 2007 was recently refinanced.

Additionally, because of the mortgage payment, fees were raised on many center programs and some Island residents said they could no longer afford to use the center.

Commission OKs beach events

Bradenton Beach commissioners gave their OK to a strongman contest on the beach in December and a spooky chickee by the shore later this month.

The vote for the strongman contest at the BeachHouse Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., was unanimous, with commissioners and Mayor Bob Bartelt approving a special event application 4-0 during the Oct. 6 meeting. Commissioner Jan Vosburgh did not attend.

The other vote, for the Haunted Hut at the Gulf Drive Cafe & Tiki, 900 Gulf Drive N., was not unanimous. Bartelt and Commissioners Gay Breuler and Ed Straight voted in favor. Commissioner Janie Robertson voted against the special event request.

The restaurant plans to use a portion of its chickee hut to create a restaurant-themed haunted house this month. Plans include a haunted dining room and spooky kitchen, where battery-powered cauldrons would contain creepy stews.

Robertson booed the proposal, which she said was inconsistent with the intent of a chickee hut, the large thatched-roof structure south of the restaurant that has been labeled a tiki hut.

“I have a problem with this,” Robertson said. “The intent of a chickee is totally different.”

“Chickee” or “chiki” is the Seminole word for house. A part of Native American tradition and culture, chickee huts built by members of the Seminole or Miccosukee tribes of Florida are exempt from the permitting process, though rules such as setbacks apply. State and federal policies define a chickee as an open-sided wooden hut with a thatched roof of palm or palmetto fronds or other traditional materials, devoid of electric, plumbing or other non-wood features.

The chickee is not considered a structure in the statutes or building codes, but instead is a shade covering and, at the Gulf Drive Cafe, it was allowed not as an extension of the restaurant but as an accessory.

The city commission, with a list of stipulations, approved the chickee hut and other elements of a proposed $500,000 expansion at the Gulf Drive Cafe in 2008. The plans — in the works for years — included construction of a 795-square-foot lobby, a tiki hut bar with some dining space, new rest rooms and a new short-order kitchen, a walkway to the beach and the 2,100-square-foot chickee hut.

Referring last week to the Haunted Hut, Robertson said, “The chickee hut was not permitted to be built for this type of event and this type of activity.”

She continued, “I am going to have to say this is pushing the envelope.”

The commissioner’s concerns about erecting a haunted house in the hut for two weeks were shared by nearby resident Barbara Hug.

“You refer to it as a tiki hut,” Hug said. “It is not a tiki hut. A tiki hut has an entirely different set of regulations.… The tiki hut was never built.”

Hug stepped to the podium with a folder containing newspaper clippings about the Gulf Drive Cafe project and notes. She said the record showed that the restaurant had planned to use a tiki hut for the type of events now taking place in the chickee hut.

She also complained that a required landscaping buffer along Gulf Drive does not exist, that her Imperial House condominium vibrates from the bass from bands that perform outside at the cafe and that “the chickee that is there does not follow guidelines for a chickee hut.”

Hug said any flooring in the chickee should have been wooden not stone, that electrical cords run across the property to the hut, a “satellite dish is in the open” and more recently a “flat-screen TV appeared.”

Bartelt told Hug that her complaints were code-related — an issue for another time. “We are not considering code-enforcement issues,” he said. “We are considering the special event tonight on its own merits.”

The mayor said the event had OKs from the city building and police departments, as well as the West Manatee Fire District fire marshal.

Building official Steve Gilbert said the Haunted Hut was proposed as a special event, not “a normal day-to-day business activity.”

“I think, under special event criteria, commission can authorize it for a period of time,” he said. Later, Gilbert said he recently received for review the architectural drawings for the tiki hut.

Without controversy, the commission approved a special event application for the BeachHouse to hold the Brawns on the Beach strongman contest Dec. 4.

A truck pull, log lift and other weighty, muscles-required events are planned, said BeachHouse general manager Rebecca Shannon.

Proceeds from the event will benefit Hope Family Services, a Manatee County nonprofit that provides shelter and services to survivors of domestic violence. The idea, she said, was to hold a strength contest to “lift up the women and children beaten down so badly.”

Shannon said she is still organizing Brawns on the Beach and may need to return to city hall for permission to expand or amend the application.

Commissioners also approved event applications for the BeachHouse to hold its New Year’s Eve celebration and fireworks show from 9 p.m. Dec. 31 to 1 a.m. Jan. 1 and the Gulf Drive Cafe & Tiki to hold a Halloween carnival Oct. 30.

In other business, the commission:

• Approved payment of a $5,820.31 invoice from M.T. Causley for building department services.

• Approved AMIP Thieves Markets from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays at Coquina Beach on Nov. 12, Feb. 11, March 10 and April 14.

AMIP also received approval to hold the annual Christmas parade on Saturday, Dec. 10, with the parade from Bayfront Park to Coquina Beach starting at about 10 a.m. A party with Santa Claus would follow the parade at Coquina Beach.

• Appointed Joyce A. Kramer as an alternate to the planning and zoning commission.

The next commission meeting will be at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N.

LBK bridge due for repair

The Florida Department of Transportation announced a $1.1 million project to repair the Longboat Pass Bridge beginning in early November.

A DOT press release said repairs would be on State Road 789 from North Shore Road on Longboat Key to the south end of Coquina Park in Bradenton Beach. The DOT did not have the exact start date of construction, a DOT spokesperson said.

Construction will take place between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Any temporary lane closures will be controlled by a flagging operation, and motorists should expect delays during these times. No closures will take place from Friday through Sunday or during holiday periods, the release said.

The posted speed limit in the construction area will be reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph.

Improvements include bridge repairs, painting and sidewalk construction.

Completion is expected in February 2012, weather permitting, the release said.

Quinn Construction Inc. is in charge of the project.

DOT road projects


The Florida Department of Transportation said the State Road 64/Manatee Avenue construction project near Perico Harbor would continue this week, with work taking place through Oct. 13 between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Flaggers will be present as needed, and motorists should expect minor delays during nighttime construction hours, a DOT press release said.

Weather permitting, the project should finish by the end of 2011.

And construction began Oct. 9 to add new sidewalks on State Road 789/Gulf Drive from 31st Street in Holmes Beach to S.R. 64/Manatee Avenue.

Motorists can expect lane closures and intermittent delays during construction. Flagmen will be present as needed to keep traffic moving, the release said.

Weather permitting, the project is expected to finish in January 2012.

Holmes Beach parks committee kicks off meeting season

The Holmes Beach Parks and Beautification Committee began its fall-spring meeting season Oct. 5, the first they’ve held since May, with the election of new chairman Jerry West.

West also was appointed as liaison to Keep Manatee Beautiful.

Once the election was complete, the committee quickly began addressing issues carried over from last season. The strip of shrubbery next to the bus shelter near Wells Fargo Bank was discussed, with worries expressed over the fact that some plants are dead. The important question before moving ahead with any replanting is whether or not the land is a public right of way.

Plantings along 63rd Street are currently on hold until drainage in that area can be addressed. The committee agrees that native plants would do well along that strip.

The beautification of the Kingfish Boat Ramp, which has been a work in progress for five years, should finally come to fruition. After an unsuccessful attempt at planting shrubs in the area, there are now 64 live oaks which are beginning to grow. “These will yield a 50-foot canopy and complete shade within 10 years,” West said.

Also carried over from last season is Grassy Point, a preservation area across East Bay Drive from Walgreens. Seven Australian pines were recently removed, and new foliage is needed. The committee discussed the mayor’s interest in possibly constructing a boardwalk and observation tower in the preserve, noting that grants will have to be pursued for these and other future projects.

In new business, the committee noted the need to replant the traffic islands at the corner of Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive. As this area is sometimes the first viewed by people coming to Holmes Beach, it was roundly agreed that the unkempt appearance should be promptly addressed.

Two years ago, the islands were beautification award-winners, and the hope is to restore them with native plants.

Also, there is interest in pursuing new shade trees for 77th Street where three Australian pines were recently removed. They have been replaced by very young live oaks, as well as a large fishtail palm, but these trees will not provide shade similar to the pines.

The possibility of a memorial tree for that area was suggested by Commissioner David Zaccagnino, and the committee agreed to an overall five-year goal for 40 percent canopy in the area.

West noted it will be difficult to create canopies in a town which is already so developed and only becoming more so.


Mote: red tide organism in Sarasota

Mote Marine Laboratory continues to detect Karenia brevis, the organism that causes Florida red tide, in water collected in south Sarasota County. Mote reported that the Sarasota County Health Department collected water from 16 locations between Longboat Key and Englewood. The Oct. 3 samples showed very low concentrations of K. brevis at Manasota Beach and Blind Pass. Islander Photo: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory/Mary Page