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Bayshore Boulevard: Safe but not perfect

TAMPA — It's Tampa's Sunset Boulevard. Lined by mansions to the west and water to the east, Bayshore Boulevard is prime real estate — and not just for those with money.

Joggers and bicyclists hit the 4.5-mile sidewalk before dawn and stay long after sunset. It's populated by people and dolphins. And, for the most part, it's safe.

But two recent incidents show that not even the poshest places are immune to tragedy and crime. A broken balustrade and dried egg yolk provided temporary reminders last week.

On May 11, a 19-year-old Tampa man's car careened down a narrow street, over speed bumps and across Bayshore, smashing through the balustrade before sinking into Hillsborough Bay. The man — University of South Florida student Michael Agana — died five days later.

Then last week, 17-year-old cross country runner Noah Grant was injured in a drive-by egging as he jogged with five Robinson High School friends.

Before Noah left, the group's departure time (after 9 p.m.) gave his mother pause. But he was with friends, she thought, and it's Bayshore.

"It's ours," she said last week. "It's Tampa's."

Though some joggers complain of motorists, who occasionally throw bottles and insults, to many the long, uninterrupted sidewalk is an oasis in a landscape of bustling city streets.

The winding road plays host to Gasparilla parades and running clubs. It is home to charity walks and tourists who gawk at the water and mansions. Over the past year, Tampa police wrote reports about Bayshore calls about 250 times — not a high number for a busy stretch of road.

Many police cases were car-related: accidents, DUIs and people driving without a license. Officers also investigated reports of lost property, stolen cars and burglaries.

Last Tuesday, joggers in the Four Green Fields running club chatted about the recent headlines. But to bar manager Randy Burns' knowledge, no one in the club is scared to go on Bayshore now.

"It's still safe," he said. "And it's one of the nicest attractions Tampa has to offer."

Burns has bicycled and roller-bladed Bayshore for more than 10 years. In that time, the road has seen several tragedies.

In 2010, a particularly heinous crime hit Bayshore near Howard Avenue: A man named Luis Munuzuri Harris posed as a cop and pulled a woman over. Then he raped her.

Police warned residents to watch out for fake police. Badges can be fake, they said.

Official-looking lights can be purchased.

Seven years earlier, traffic was Bayshore's main problem.

In June 2003, a driver mowed down bicyclist Ian Bellis as he waited to cross an intersection on Bayshore.

Bellis wasn't even on the street when he was hit — a sobering fact that meant any runner, walker or skater could be a victim.

Just two months later, the teenage son of a prominent lawyer was involved in a fatal car crash.

Charles Gable Yerrid, then 16, was speeding along Bayshore Boulevard when his Cadillac Escalade struck a car driven by a 33-year-old nurse from Lutz. The nurse died.

Then in 2004, a motorcyclist struck a jogger at about 80 mph — double the speed limit.

That year, then-Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio created a safety task force to improve pedestrian and bike safety along the road.

A sidewalk was added to the boulevard's southbound side and a traffic signal at Howard. The city also added bike lanes.

Last week, people continued to flock to Bayshore. Though Friday's downpours stopped some, joggers were back by the afternoon.

Police say they continue to investigate the death of Michael Agana and are waiting for state analysts to return some tests. It could be another six weeks.

Meanwhile, three high school students face juvenile felony battery charges in the egging incident.

As awful as that was, said Burns, the news coverage of the egging may make Bayshore safer for others.

"Over the last 10 years, I've seen more eggshells out on Bayshore than I'd like to say," he said. "Maybe this will deter people."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Bayshore Boulevard: Safe but not perfect 06/02/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 2, 2012 11:35pm]
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