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Joggers in park remain cautious

Two recent incidents of men exposing themselves on a Whispering Pines Park trail apparently aren't scaring away joggers, but they have given people who use the park to stay fit reason to be cautious. Carolyn Kegler was jogging with a female companion Wednesday, at a time in the afternoon when both women knew there would be quite a few people in the park to use the pool and the baseball fields.

"I wouldn't come alone," the 24-year-old Kegler said. "We try to pick a time when a lot of people are here."

They also try to remember familiar faces they see along the trail each day. When she sees a stranger approaching, Kegler breaks off eye contact, afraid looking at the other person "might initiate something," she said.

Karen Gaffney used to run along the heavily traveled roads leading through Inverness, but she turned to Whispering Pines Park because she thought it would be safer.

"Truthfully, I'm scared," said Gaffney, who was walking with her son Wednesday. She usually jogs alone.

She said she was in the park the day four men, ranging in age from 38 to 59, allegedly exposed themselves and masturbated in front of police in the park. She saw them, she said, and naively thought they were jogging like she was.

"I thought how great it was to see all of them getting fit," Gaffney said.

The arrest Monday of J. W. Jowers, 22, for exposing himself to a pair of jogging undercover officers should lead to a reduction in complaints to the Inverness Police Department, Investigator Jack Armstrong said Wednesday.

He said he doesn't anticipate further problems, although the police presence in the park has been increased.

Although Armstrong said the incidents should be on the downslide, Gaffney is considering running on the street again.

"At least more people see you that way," she said.

Cindy Voikin, 29, and her family moved to Inverness from Orlando this week. Before Wednesday, she wasn't aware that five arrests involving illegal sexual activity had been made recently in the park.

She was a little shocked by it, but her concern wasn't so much for herself as it was for her daughters, Stephanie and Nicolette. The girls, 9 and 11 respectively, take tennis lessons at the park and go swimming in the pool after practicing their backhand.

"They'd be my biggest concern," Voikin said. "Certain people like to see what they can get away with."

The park's two and a half miles of jogging trails are scenic, but Voikin said the shady woods through which the track winds can be a dangerous place.

"It is fairly isolated, there are a lot of trees," she said. "That's a plus, but it can also be a minus. I know I wouldn't jog alone."

There weren't many people using the trails about midafternoon Wednesday, but a few pairs of women were seen, as well as groups of children and a few solitary men.

Park spokeswoman Patricia Smith said there are about a dozen full-time workers in the park, as well as some part-time help, but they have other jobs to do aside from security.

"We just keep our eyes open, that's all we can do," she said.

County Judge Gary Graham sent a serious message to would-be sex offenders in the park last month by slapping substantial jail terms to two of the four men in the group charged with lewd and lascivious behavior.

The park ought to be a place where people can go to relax and unwind, Graham told William Harvey, 51, who is now serving a 50-day sentence in the Citrus County Jail.

William Charles Helmer's 10-month sentence was designed as an object lesson for criminals in the park, Graham said during their sentencing.

"When they can't even go to Whispering Pines Park without being exposed to crime, it's time to draw the line," the judge said.