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Gaither students driven from business parking lots // NORTHDALE

Gaither High School students who park their cars at businesses across from the school already have one obstacle to deal with: crossing busy N Dale Mabry Highway.

Now they have another.

Business owners, concerned about liability for students who might get hurt crossing the road, have put up signs this week telling the teenagers they no longer are welcome.

Representatives from more than 20 businesses met with Gaither officials and Hillsborough sheriff's deputies earlier this month to discuss the hazards of students parking in their lots and dodging traffic on Dale Mabry to get to school.

The businesses, on Dale Mabry between Northdale Boulevard and Lakeview Drive, agreed to install signs warning non-patrons that their cars will be towed. They include Pier 1 Imports, Long John Silver's, Home Depot and Boston Market. Some also plan for employees to patrol their lots to discourage students from leaving their cars.

"There's a real danger of kids being injured or even killed," said community resource Deputy Jay Mauk of the Sheriff's Office. "Our main thing is to reduce the danger of students walking across in the traffic."

The sheriff's office hopes this collaborative effort will pick up where other attempts have failed. Last month, sheriff's deputies issuedpedestrian violation citations to 12 students caught running across N Dale Mabry Highway when school let out at 2:45 p.m. That curbed the problem for a few days, but students again can be seen crossing Dale Mabry at points other than two nearby crosswalks.

Deputy Ray Pappion, Gaither's resource officer, said the school is giving students ample warning before the businesses begin a joint towing effort Monday. School officials have issued warnings during the school's morning news and in the school bulletin.

"A kid's going to get killed out there eventually," he said. "When that happens, the parents aren't going to blame the child for running across the street. They will blame the businesses for letting the kids park there.

"Parents aren't going to sue the school _ we don't have any money. Businesses now realize that they could be liable if students got hurt."

Although some businesses already had no-parking signs up, Pappion said that just caused students to move their cars to other lots.

Page Merkel, assistant manager of the Lakes of Northdale apartments on Mapledale Drive, said the complex has long posted signs and tows an average of seven student cars a year. But Merkel is glad to work with other businesses to relieve the issue.

"While it hasn't become a big problem with us, these kids don't need to be parking in business lots and crossing the busy streets," Merkel said. "We inform students at the beginning of each year that they can't park here. That, plus the signs does seem to work."

Parking on campus is limited to juniors and seniors who have bought a $5 parking decal. School officials say there are more than enough spaces for qualified students.

"We just have a lot of kids who never got their permit to park here," Pappion said. "Each day when school lets out, I just cringe because I can't stop every student from running across the street. Something's going to happen. It's just a matter of time."

_ If you have a story about Northdale, call Kari Ridge at 833-7384.