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Weeding out prostitutes: A garden art business owner is wary of new bus stop

Carol Campbell doesn't have anything against prostitutes, except maybe the one who stabbed her 10 years ago in Michigan.

"I'm sure they feel like they have to make a living,'' she says, "but so do I.''

Campbell, 57, owns Everything Outdoors on the west side of U.S. 19 in Holiday. Her crew makes everything from fancy concrete fountains to gargoyles and benches. Business seemed brisk when I dropped in to visit this week. Cars filled the parking lot next to her bright pink Ford, a modified U-Haul truck with pink dice dangling from the rear-view mirror and a picture of the Statue of Liberty sprawled across the hood.

Campbell, who advertises herself as the Statue Lady, says business is also pretty good for the women who patrol the six-lane highway. "They're not just ladies of the night anymore,'' she says. "They work in broad daylight.''

When Campbell decided to relocate her business from Fruitland Park to Holiday two years ago, she found 3 acres to rent just north of the Pinellas County line. The property had been vacant for a while, making it a perfect gathering spot for hookers and drug dealers. "I cleaned up all kinds of trash,'' she said, "including lots of syringes.''

Then she set about trying to change the gathering habits. "I had to do something,'' she said. "The hookers were propositioning my customers. I couldn't have that.''

Campbell is hardly a shrinking violet. She once managed a trucking firm with 35 drivers. She's a commercial boat captain and scuba diver. She owned a bar in Flint, Mich., for 10 years and had a ringside seat to the effects of a deteriorating auto industry. Flint became a rough town with high unemployment — and lots of hookers.

Campbell got to know many of them when she started a concrete statue business on a major highway. She tried to work with police to make them move away from her property. One woman attacked her, stabbing Campbell four times in the right leg with a small knife. Police never found the attacker.

A few moves later, Campbell finds herself experiencing deja vu on a major highway in a county reeling from the collapse of its major industry. Businesses have shut down; buildings sit vacant.

Campbell regularly notified the Pasco Sheriff's Office about streetwalkers. "But mainly I just talked to them,'' she said. "I don't think they're bad people. They're just trying to get through life the best they can, but they're stuck. And, of course, there's the drugs and the pimps.''

Just recently, she convinced the women to move down the road, but she still sees them around. She worries that they will return soon because the county is building a covered bus stop only a few feet north of the large purple concrete monkey that welcomes her customers.

"Now when deputies question them about loitering, they can just say, 'Hey, I'm waiting for the bus.' ''

Campbell can't understand why the county would even want a bus stop there, since the only place that might interest riders is Winn-Dixie, and it's on the other side of the highway. If you wanted to cross safely, you would have to walk several hundred yards to an intersection.

Mike Carroll, manager for Pasco County Public Transportation, said the state Department of Transportation selected the site during the recent construction project that included sidewalks. Riders can transfer at that stop to head south on U.S. 19 or Alt. 19, he said, adding that it will also serve residents of a subdivision west of the statue business.

"As with any of our stops,'' Carroll said, "if it's unsafe or creating a problem, then we'll re-evaluate it.''

This story lacks the prostitutes' side, which only means I didn't see any. At least I don't think I saw any.

Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said deputies made 17 prostitution arrests in 2011, all but one of them on U.S. 19 from Hudson to New Port Richey — none in Holiday. Eight were on the same day during a roundup.

"Prostitution is a misdemeanor,'' Doll said, "and they're back on the street in no time. We're swamped with a prescription pill problem. Our resources are limited, and that's our priority.''

He emphasized that the department does respond to complaints.

Carol Campbell has their number.

Weeding out prostitutes: A garden art business owner is wary of new bus stop 02/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 8:38pm]

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