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Law proposed for San Antonio would bar sex offenders from moving there

SAN ANTONIO — In 1989, Roy Pierce and his wife left their home in Tampa and went for a drive. They headed north and ended up in east Pasco. It was close to Christmas and Pierce, a Tampa police detective at the time, had a package he needed to send. He saw the tiny San Antonio post office on the town square and stopped.

His package wasn't wrapped properly, the post office clerk said. Instead of sending him away, the friendly clerk took the package, rewrapped it, labeled it and mailed it for him.

"This is the kind of town I want to live in," he thought.

He and his family moved there soon after that visit. Pierce retired from the Tampa force after hurting his back on the job — wrestling with a thief who stole a 12-pack of Budweiser — and ran for mayor. He won. He's been mayor of this village of about 1,000 people so long he can't remember.

"Sixteen or seventeen years," he said.

Much has changed around San Antonio over the years. Suburban development inches closer. But Pierce wants to keep the heart of the Catholic town founded in the 19th century — its goodness, its safety, its charm — intact. He wants to protect his citizens.

So he's spearheading a campaign to deter sex offenders from moving to his city.

"This is a small problem we can address," Pierce said. "Hopefully, that's what we'll do."

• • •

Florida law states people convicted of certain sexual crimes against children cannot live within 1,000 feet of any school, day care center, park or playground. Many cities, such as New Port Richey, have enacted ordinances increasing that buffer. After Miami-Dade made it 2,500 feet and added school bus stops — which are numerous and often moving as routes are changed — the restrictions left hardly any space for housing for registered offenders, forcing them to live under a bridge. The American Civil Liberties Union sued Miami-Dade County saying they were "increasing the danger to society" as unstable living conditions lead to higher rates of re-offending and running away.

San Antonio has drafted an ordinance increasing the limit to 1,500 feet of any school, day care, public or private park and bus stop — essentially the entire town. Pierce said in an interview that he, the city's attorney and commissioners considered making it a bigger distance, but they wanted something they could defend in court, if anyone objecting to the ordinance filed suit.

"The 1,500 foot would be easier to defend if we ever had to do it and it would cover all the children that we're trying to protect," Pierce said during San Antonio's December meeting.

"That was my conclusion," said Commissioner Richard Gates, "that the 1,500 feet would cover everything in the city of San Antonio because of the bus stops, the schools, the playgrounds, et cetera, et cetera."

The final vote on the proposed ordinance is Tuesday.

• • •

Right now, there's one sex offender living inside city limits. Since he's already there, a new ordinance wouldn't affect him.

His name is Hector Luis Estrada. He is 37 and he lives in a house on Magnolia Street, close enough to the town's Little League baseball fields to hear the bats crack and parents cheer on warm nights. To the south, he's a short walk from downtown, which includes a deli, a Mexican restaurant, a hair salon, City Hall and the post office, where locals know to have a P.O. Box, even if they also get mail at home, just so they can be social.

Estrada is not the first sex offender to live within city limits, locals say. There are seven other registered sex offenders whose addresses are San Antonio, though they live just outside the town's border.

Estrada did not respond for comment on this story.

His crime was in Michigan in 1993. He pleaded guilty in 1994 to assault with intent to rob while armed and first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Details about the incident were not available from law enforcement in Grand Rapids, where the offense occurred. The Grand Rapids Press didn't write about Estrada. His crime does not appear to have been on a child, as those types of abuses are usually mentioned in the charge.

He was released from prison in February 2006, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections. He has a wife. A child's shoe was seen outside their front door when a Times reporter knocked on their door last week. The porch light came on, but no one answered.

• • •

The mayor said Estrada moving to town has nothing to do with this push to make sure others don't follow. Pierce said he's been looking into the idea of an ordinance for a few years. Then, recently, a few citizens approached him about creating one, which got the ball rolling.

One of those residents is Donna Swart, who moved to town with her husband in 1968. She said a sexual predator moved in next door to her niece, who lives in a similar small town in Illinois. Her niece's family went through much angst until the predator offended again and went back to jail, Swart said.

This prompted Swart to research Florida law and to talk with the mayor to see if their city could tighten restrictions.

"I wanted it to be a stronger, more effective ordinance," Swart said.

She said sex offenders have to live somewhere.

Just not in San Antonio.

"These men need a chance to do something better with their lives," she said. But, at the same time, she doesn't want her family or other town residents to go through what her niece did.

She's happy with what has been drafted so far.

"It looks as if it's pretty much covered the whole town," she said. "I think it is a good protection for everybody."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

.fast facts

Sex Offender Ordinance

The meeting to vote on the ordinance is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at San Antonio's City Hall, 32819 Pennsylvania Ave. The phone number is (352) 588-2127.

Law proposed for San Antonio would bar sex offenders from moving there 01/15/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 15, 2011 10:50am]
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