Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg woman accused of riding manatee arrested

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman who became the subject of a law enforcement publicity effort after she was spotted in September riding a manatee at Fort De Soto Park was arrested Saturday and charged with violating the state's Manatee Sanctuary Act, authorities said.

Ana Gloria Garcia Gutierrez, 53, was arrested on a misdemeanor warrant while working at Sears at Tyrone Square Mall, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Gutierrez had turned herself in to authorities in October after sheriff's officials distributed photographs to local media showing her straddling a manatee at the beach.

The photos were taken by another beach visitor who saw Gutierrez riding the manatee Sept. 30 in the water north of Gulf Pier, authorities said. Onlookers called the Sheriff's Office, but deputies who responded found neither Gutierrez — who was unidentified at the time — nor the animal.

The Sheriff's Office shared the photographs a few days later and held a news conference Oct. 2 at which Sheriff Bob Gualtieri referred to manatees as "a huge part of our culture here in Florida" and decried the alleged abuse of the animals.

"Go ride a Jet Ski," the sheriff said. "Don't use animals."

Shortly thereafter, Gutierrez phoned the agency and admitted touching the manatee, authorities said. She later told sheriff's deputies she didn't know that doing so was illegal.

The case was referred to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, which issued the misdemeanor arrest warrant.

Gutierrez was released Saturday from the Pinellas County Jail on $1,500 bail. She did not return a reporter's request for comment. A man who answered the door at her St. Petersburg home late Saturday denied that she lived there.

Under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, sea cow molestation is a second-degree misdemeanor, an offense punishable by a $500 fine or up to 60 days in jail.

Authorities said in early October that they did not believe the manatee was physically hurt. The psychological impact of the incident is harder to assess, they said.

Times staff writer Peter Jamison contributed to this report.

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