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Killing renews safety worries

Crime has been a worry for some neighbors of the Pinellas Trail since the beginning of construction two years ago.

Those who feared that criminals would use the trail as a path to their back door are likely to have more questions than ever after the fatal shooting Monday of a Belleair police officer.

However, Pinellas County sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said crime figures on the trail are not out of line with the criminal activity that occurred in the area before the trail was built. Railroad tracks used to run along the trail's current path.

"(The trail) is another area we patrol as part of our regular spectrum of responsibilities," she said. "Crime knows no boundaries. We are as busy there as any other area."

There were 95 police reports involving incidents on Pinellas Trail during the 27 months from January 1991 to March 1993, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The 54 reports made in 1992 include auto theft, battery (seven) and petty theft (four). Two reports of aggravated assault on the trail were the most serious.

But these numbers do not reflect crimes in which the trail was used to enter and exit nearby areas, as was apparently the case Monday. Pasha said it would be difficult to obtain those numbers.

The possibility that the trail would be used by criminals has been a concern of some nearby residents.

Philip Jones, who has lived on Rosery Road for 23 years, said people using the trail have trespassed on his property, have used his bushes as a bathroom and have allowed children to climb his trees.

"We've had a couple of bikes stolen since the trail was put in," Jones said.

In April, the county denied a request from some residents of a Clearwater subdivision to build a barrier between their property and the trail. That same month, Seminole resident D. J. Sleva asked the city for permission to build an 8-foot fence between his property and the trail. The city said no.

Not everyone along the trail is worried.

Frank Reagan, who lives in a condominium at Pelican Place, where Monday's shooting occurred, said residents there had not experienced any problems because of the trail.

"The trail has nothing to do with it," Reagan said. "I don't feel the trail should be blamed. It could have been the railroad bed someone came down."

Scott Daniels, president of Pinellas Trails Inc., a non-profit group of advocates for the trail, called the shooting "very unfortunate," but said he did not think the trail was being used as an access route for crime. He did say the shooting would be discussed at the group's quarterly security meeting Tuesday.

_ Staff writer Jenny Deam contributed to this report.