Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Public safety

Police seek vandals hurling large rocks at buses, cars in east Tampa

TAMPA — Police have increased patrols in an east Tampa neighborhood after a series of attacks in which vandals threw large rocks at passing cars and buses, striking at least 10 vehicles, shattering windshields and startling passengers.

The incidents began about four weeks ago in the area of 50th Street and Melburne Boulevard, said Tampa police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor, with the majority of them occurring during the evening.

No one has been injured in the attacks, and police have not yet determined who is responsible.

The first incident was reported Jan. 23 when a piece of concrete struck a Hillsborough Area Regional Transit bus, McGregor said. On Feb. 16, five vehicles reported being struck in an hour.

The concrete rocks, which can be found on the side of the road, are large enough to damage vehicles and break windows, McGregor said.

At least eight HART buses, all along Route 6 — which travels from the University area in the north to the Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa — have been struck, said HART spokeswoman Sandra Morrison, though not all were damaged.

A HART surveillance video from inside the bus where the first attack occurred shows a piece of concrete breaking through a side-door window and landing on the bus floor as a passenger sits just feet away.

In other incidents, rocks shattered front windshields and pierced windows near seats.

The most recent attack, on Monday evening, prompted HART officials to make a temporary detour of three stops. The detour was canceled Wednesday due to passenger confusion.

"(Tuesday) we had about 25 passengers that didn't know we had taken into measure a safety detour, and they had no way getting to work and appointments," Morrison said.

HART has instead stationed supervisors in the area to help increase safety, Morrison said.

Police have enhanced patrols and were asking for the public's help in identifying those responsible.

"This is one of those cases where we are also asking if anyone in that neighborhood hears or sees anything suspicious to contact us," McGregor said. "Because the majority of the rock-throwing incidents are occurring at night while vehicles and buses are passing by, drivers don't have an opportunity to get a view of who's throwing."

But officers do have some leads, McGregor said.

"We do believe it's a group of teenagers who are throwing the rocks," McGregor said. "We are looking to take these suspects or suspect into custody before someone gets hurt."

A representative for the union that represents HART workers said she understands the need to return to normal service but expressed concern for the safety of drivers and patrons.

"There needs to be more police presence and debris needs to get cleaned up," said Michaela Stuckey, chief steward of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1593. "It's a very dark street. If something comes flying, drivers can't see it."

Several riders of the HART route said Wednesday they were unaware of the recent incidents. Jeffrey Singletary, 32, who usually takes the bus to church, said he wasn't concerned about his safety.

"But it does worry me in terms of the safety of others," he said.

Demontiae Hunter, 26, said he had heard about the string of attacks but wasn't worried either, as he rarely rides the bus in the evening.

"That's crazy," Hunter said. "I never heard of nothing like that."

Similar incidents across the country in the past have led to accidents and deaths, though they often have involved rocks thrown from overpasses.

A woman died in Bradenton in 1999 after a teenager dropped a piece of concrete from an Interstate 75 overpass. The rock crashed through the woman's windshield as she drove, striking her in the face.

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Dan Sullivan and Jimmy Geurts contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.

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