Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas Trail riders urged to watch out for students near Ozona Elementary School

Children bike home on the Pinellas Trail at the end of the school day recently at Ozona Elementary School in Palm Harbor.


Children bike home on the Pinellas Trail at the end of the school day recently at Ozona Elementary School in Palm Harbor.

OZONA — Bikers on the Pinellas Trail, beware if you're passing Ozona Elementary School between 8:15 and 8:30 on weekday mornings. The trail is awash with young children then, wearing bike helmets, most on their own small bicycles, and a few on tandem bikes with parents.

A significant portion of the 800 students at Ozona Elementary use the Pinellas Trail to get to and from school. The school, located off Tampa Road and Alt. U.S. 19, is one of the few in Pinellas County located along the trail.

"Parents really enjoy riding the trail with their children," said principal Kerry Apuzzo, "and if the kids come in happy and ready to go, it makes the day much better."

The students come from neighborhoods in and around Ozona, including Forest Grove and Wexford, as well as from Crystal Beach and downtown Palm Harbor.

"No bus transportation is available to students living within two miles of a school, "said Apuzzo, "so students from parts of Palm Harbor come on their bikes."

The sight of cheerful kids pedaling their way to school doesn't tell the whole story of the trail riders. Apuzzo said she and her staff work regularly to educate parents and their children about trail safety.

They hold two meetings a year for parents and kids — one at the opening of school and another as a reminder in the second semester. The emphasis is on wearing helmets, avoiding the edges of the trail, staying to the right so faster bikers can pass on the left, and the importance of walking in groups.

Apuzzo said she puts articles on trail safety in school newsletters sent home to parents, and calls to alert them as concerns arise. She's also trying to get someone from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to come in and assist in the mornings.

Maureen Grab, a physical education teacher and mother of four former students at Ozona, greets the children as they pull up to the bike racks. She usually is the first to spot potential problems.

"Freeze!" she calls out to children playing on the grass near the bike racks, waiting for the bell to ring. The word signals the approach of bikers, and the children must remain "frozen" until the bikers pass.

"The kids are well-trained," she said, but admitted they are still vulnerable to mishaps.

Adult bikers are among her concerns. One mishap occurred recently when a child was nicked on the hip by a fast-moving biker.

"They often don't realize how unpredictable children can be," she said of the adults. "Young kids are easily distracted."

Another issue is the terrain on the eastern side of the trail, where sharp rocks drop down to a creek. Last year, Grab said, a 7-year-old swerved, lost control of her bike, and plunged over the rocks into the creek.

"She was fine," said Grab, "but I had to climb down there and get her out."

Adult Pinellas Trail riders often avoid that 15 minutes of high activity in the morning, she said. For those who ride by at that time, there's a warning posted as they approach the school — a green plastic man with the word "Slow" emblazoned on his shirt.

"I know these kids by name and I'm a parent myself," said Grab, who has been at the school since 1995. "I want them to be safe and have a good day."

Pinellas Trail riders urged to watch out for students near Ozona Elementary School 11/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 7:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Pedestrian dies after being struck by vehicle near USF Tampa campus


    A pedestrian was killed near the University of South Florida Tampa campus on Friday after he was struck by a car on Fletcher Avenue, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

  2. St. Petersburg police investigating why civilian employees accidentally fired AR-15 semiautomatic rife inside HQ


    ST. PETERSBURG — An internal police investigation is looking into two civilian employees who accidentally fired a round from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle inside St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters.

    The St. Petersburg Police Department is investigating an incident in which two civilian employees accidentally fired an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle they brought inside police headquarters. Department rules prohibit civilian employees from bringing weapons into police facilities.
  3. A 12-foot pilot whale washes ashore on Siesta Key


    A 12-foot-long beached pilot whale appeared on the shore of Point of Rocks Beach in Siesta Key early Friday morning, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

    The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office responded to a 12-foot whale washing ashore early Friday morning. (Sarasota Sheriff's Office)
  4. Trump signs 'VA accountability' bill, as Gus Bilirakis watches


    WASHINGTON - Rep. Gus Bilirakis was among a group of lawmakers on hand to see President Trump sign a "VA accountability bill that will make it easier to dismiss problem employees.

  5. In this June 18, 2012, file photo President Barack Obama and Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, go to shake hands during their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. [AP photo]