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City plans to remove jetty where St. Petersburg teen was killed

The jetty near Albert Whitted Airport is unlit and hard to see at night, boaters say. The seawall’s original purpose is unclear.

James Borchuck | Times (2009)

The jetty near Albert Whitted Airport is unlit and hard to see at night, boaters say. The seawall’s original purpose is unclear.

ST. PETERSBURG — Little is known about the jetty near Albert Whitted Airport.

Officials think it was built in the 1930s, perhaps to prevent erosion or to blunt waves. The wall extends more than 50 feet into Tampa Bay.

Last fall, Paige Alyssa Davison, 17, was killed when the powerboat she was riding in slammed into the wall at night.

After the accident, local boaters spoke up about how the unlit wall is tough to see at night. Gov. Charlie Crist inspected the wall himself and asked the Coast Guard to install lights on it.

Now, the jetty is coming down.

In a letter to a lawyer representing Davison's family, Assistant City Attorney Joseph Patner said the wall will be removed Jan. 19 or shortly thereafter.

The Davisons' lawyer received the letter on Wednesday. On Dec. 11, the Davisons filed a notice with the city indicating they intended to sue.

Patner on Thursday wouldn't say if the city's decision to tear down the jetty had anything to do with the threat of a lawsuit. But he did say that city officials had been talking for weeks about possibly removing the jetty.

He said the final decision was made after the Coast Guard told city officials on Dec. 30 that it did not object to the jetty's removal.

One of the Davisons' lawyers, Matthew Emerson, said that the family still may sue the city, even if the jetty comes down.

"The family has not made a decision yet," he said.

In a statement released Thursday, Jeff and Jill Davison said: "Nothing can replace the loss of our child, but our prayers are answered that another family will not experience such a loss at this fatal site."

No charges have been filed in connection with the accident, but an investigation is ongoing. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has forwarded its investigation to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, where prosecutors are reviewing the evidence to determine if charges should be filed.

Davison, a senior at St. Petersburg High School, was one of four teens returning to Bayboro Harbor from an evening shark fishing trip on Oct. 2 when their boat hit the jetty. Authorities have said speed and alcohol may have been factors.

Six weeks after the crash, the family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against David L. West and Trey Sorenson, the two teens who the Davisons claim were operating the boat that night. West's parents, who own the 22-foot sport boat, also were named in the suit, as was a St. Petersburg liquor store accused of selling alcohol to the teens hours before the accident.

The city also launched an investigation in an effort to learn more about the jetty, including its history, origin and hazards. Patner on Thursday would not reveal the status of that investigation, citing the Davisons' recent threat to sue.

Questions remain about the jetty, including which state, federal or local agency has ultimate control over it, and whether there could be any environmental impact from removing it.

Peter Clark, executive director of Tampa Bay Watch, said he was surprised to learn the city planned to remove the wall.

Normally, communities are putting up seawalls, not taking them down, he said. He believes the removal also may be expensive. A cheaper alternative may be to just make sure the jetty has adequate markings, he said.

"I think it's good the city is looking at whether they need it or not," he said. "Any opportunity to remove a hazard to navigation should be supported."

City plans to remove jetty where St. Petersburg teen was killed 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 10:41pm]
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