Saturday, May 26, 2018
Public safety

Bay area beach-blanket thieves spike

CLEARWATER — He was only gone for 30 minutes.

Michael Marsh, 50, plopped his backpack on a lounge chair at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach and went for a swim. Coming back to the sand, he noticed police officers. A bag had just been stolen. He turned to inspect his own belongings.

"Sure enough," he said, "my backpack was gone as well."

Within an hour, the thief had charged $277 on his American Express card. Marsh's iPhone and wallet were also stolen.

Summertime is peak season for beaches, attracting thousands of visitors seeking solace from Florida's high humidity and sizzling temperatures.

The problem, police say: Petty criminals also typically lurk at the beaches this time of year, searching for unattended bags and belongings left on the sand, including on Clearwater Beach, where dozens of thefts have been reported so far this summer.

"It's the best beach in Florida," said Clearwater police beach commander Lt. David Dalton. "When everyone wants to come and enjoy the beautiful beach that is Clearwater, there are unfortunately those people that look to take advantage of others."

• • •

From May through July, nearly 40 beach blanket thefts have been reported at Clearwater Beach. Last year during the same time period, it was 22.

Police attribute the spike to more visitors at the beach. During the Fourth of July, about 25,000 cars came to the area, said city spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.

Usually a popular spot during morning and afternoon hours, more people are going to the beach in the evening. Several large-scale events, including the Sugar Sand Festival, attract more visitors as well to Clearwater Beach.

"It's a very active beach now," Castelli said. "So there's opportunities for crimes of opportunity."

That includes beach-blanket thefts, which occur when patrons leave their belongings unattended while going for a swim or walk. Smartphones and other electronics are among the most commonly stolen items. Beachgoers could leave their valuables at home, but they don't. "People have a false sense of security with their belongings," Castelli said. "They can't part themselves from their phones or iPads."

Other beaches have noticed the trend. Of the 12 beach-blanket thefts reported to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office from May to July, eight included stolen iPhones.

But other stolen goods include clothing, sunglasses, jewelry and wallets, Clearwater police records show.

During a July theft, for instance, two bags containing cell phones, car keys, credit cards and a gold watch and earrings were snatched near a lifeguard tower. No one saw the suspect.

As many as 10 officers, either uniformed or in plain clothes, patrol Clearwater Beach on any given day. So far, Clearwater police have made about seven arrests. In one case, a description of a suspect was radioed to patrolling officers. Moments later, they located the man, identified as Michael Roach. He was still carrying stolen items, including phones and a wallet, reports show.

Police also track thieves through activity on stolen credit cards, Dalton said.

At Treasure Island, detective Trenton Taylor said no beach blanket thefts have been reported so far this year. About three were reported in 2012. Officers there patrol the beach about every hour.

Motel keys, Taylor added, are a favorite of thieves. In one case, a thief swiped someone's key, printed with the motel's name and room number, and burglarized the victim's room.

At Honeymoon Island State Park, which sees 1.1 million visitors each year, no thefts have been reported. Volunteers, park rangers and Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission officers patrol the shores, said the agency's spokesman, Baryl Martin.

• • •

Preventing a beach blanket theft, police say, is easy.

"Don't leave," said Dalton, the Clearwater Beach commander. "You go to Raymond James Stadium, you go to the mall, you don't leave your property and walk off."

If you do take belongings to the sand, Martin said, make sure they're not of value. Leave valuables such as phones, iPads, money and jewelry inside locked cars or at home.

At Clearwater Beach, visitors can stow items in the quarter-operated lockers at the Pier 60 concession stand, Castelli said.

Marsh, of Clearwater, said he's moved on since the July 9 theft, which cost him about $1,000.

He got a new wallet, an upgraded iPhone, a better photo on his new driver's license.

"Glass half full," he said.

Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157.

Her husband wouldn't apologize to her father — so she shot him, police say

Her husband wouldn't apologize to her father — so she shot him, police say

RIVERVIEW — A Riverview woman shot and killed her husband Saturday because he punched her father and wouldn’t say sorry, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said. Sabrina Michelle Hendley, 40, faces a first-degree murder charge in th...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Hernando officials seize 36 neglected dogs from sanctuary

Hernando officials seize 36 neglected dogs from sanctuary

WEEKI WACHEE — A woman who runs an animal sanctuary will face dozens of animal cruelty charges after Hernando County animal enforcement officers said they found dogs, equine, pigs, cats and chickens housed in poor conditions on her property.Animal of...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Police investigating shooting outside nightclub

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred outside a south St. Petersburg nightclub early Saturday morning.Brennan-Aire D. Williams, 28, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving by cab at Bayfront Health. Police invest...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Woman dies in Plant City after SUV flips off road

PLANT CITY — A Seffner woman died Saturday from injuries sustained when her sports utility vehicle flipped off the road and crashed into a fence near the intersection of Tanner Road and State Road 574.Amanda K. Cepeda-Duque, 21, was traveling west on...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Quick action to slow traffic on Bayshore prompts call to do more citywide

Quick action to slow traffic on Bayshore prompts call to do more citywide

TAMPA — As city workers set up signs Friday establishing a lower speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, neighborhood residents and transportation activists urged more steps to improve safety for pedestrians all across the city.The move is a good beginnin...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

The 18-year-old who was arrested this week after police said he was racing when he fatally struck a young mother pushing her stroller across Bayshore Boulevard was back in jail on Friday night.Cameron Herrin, 18, was arrested on a second count of veh...
Published: 05/25/18
Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Last year three members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club gang were implicated in the execution of a rival gang leader in the middle of rush hour traffic in Pasco County.Now those three and two other 69ers members have been indicted on federal charges tha...
Published: 05/25/18

Raccoon bites bicyclist, now the Health Department is looking for the victim

TAMPA — A bicyclist in the Palm River area was bitten by a raccoon Friday morning, the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County said.Now the department is concerned the animal had rabies and is searching for the bicyclist."While it is impo...
Published: 05/25/18

Police: Baby not abandoned; mother surrendered infant

TAMPA — A newborn baby initially thought to be found on the ground near a trash can in north Tampa was not abandoned, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.The child’s mother gave birth to the boy Thursday, and she and someone else too...
Published: 05/25/18
Student says science teacher tackled Indiana school shooter

Student says science teacher tackled Indiana school shooter

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — A male student opened fire at a suburban Indianapolis middle school Friday morning, wounding another student and a teacher before being taken into custody, authorities said. Seventh-grader Ethan Stonebraker said the science teache...
Published: 05/25/18