SAFETY HARBOR — Late Wednesday, Rodger Baker had to sit down with children as young as 8 years old and tell them the New Port Richey man they know as the "Wheelie King" is a registered sex offender.
WKID-FM 96.7, a Clearwater radio station owned and operated by kids, is scheduled to do a live broadcast Saturday of Thomas Edward Lynch's attempt to break the Guinness World Record for longest wheelchair wheelie.
Lynch, 45, didn't bother to tell the parents of the children or the Safety Harbor Community Center, which will host the record-setting event, that he was convicted in December 1997 of first-degree sexual abuse and second-degree sodomy against a 17-year-old boy in Suffolk County, N.Y.
"I'm pretty much speechless," Safety Harbor City Manager Matt Spoor said Wednesday evening. "I'll contact the sheriff's department tomorrow and just verify that he's legally permitted at a community center. That's really my issue."
Lynch, who has spina bifida, acknowledges that he didn't share details of his past with either entity. "It's something that's not in the back of my mind," he said. "My thing is concentrating on setting my Guinness World Record and going from there."
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Bob Clifford, the spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney, did not return an e-mail or phone message by press time. But New York records describe Lynch as a "sexually violent offender." He was sentenced to seven years. At the end of his sentence in 2004, he moved with family to Florida.
State law requires that certain offenders stay 1,000 feet away from playgrounds, parks and schools. But it only applies to those who were convicted after Oct. 1, 2004.
"This guy was convicted in '97 so he does not fall in that group," said Sgt. Thomas Nestor, Pinellas County Sheriff's Office spokesman. "So technically, yes, he can be within 1,000 feet of kids."
Regardless of the law, Baker said Lynch should've told him. The radio station's 40 staffers aren't older than 15 years old.
"I created this whole radio station idea," he said, "to keep kids off the street and safe."
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Lynch said he didn't fondle his accuser on multiple occasions as alleged. He said the child was a drug dealer, tried to extort $10,000 from him and couldn't even describe the inside of his home when attorneys pressed him.
Lynch said he worked with the teen's mother at St. Charles Hospital of Port Jefferson, N.Y. He said the boy saw him as an easy target.
"I was a very popular person," Lynch said. "I knew everybody. I was always in the public eye for other charities."
He said he took a plea deal, on the advice of his public defender, to avoid a 25-year sentence.
"It came down to: Do I take a plea deal or do I take a chance to go to prison for a long time," he said. "I took a plea deal."
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Spoor said that Safety Harbor does not screen people who rent the city's community center. "You or anyone else can walk in and rent the facility," he said. "We do not do background checks on residents or nonresidents."
Baker said he didn't vet Lynch either. "I didn't check him out because everything he told me was legit," he said. "With him being in a wheelchair, as long as I was there, I knew he wouldn't be a threat to these kids. I never leave these kids sides."
He said the decision to proceed with the event will be left up to the children. Donations from the event will go to a teenage boy with cystic fibrosis.
"Pending the outcome of the vote," Baker said, "we'll decide whether or not we're going to do the event. These kids look forward to being able to help other kids out so most likely we will end up doing the event."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.