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Interaction among trail users can be improved

After reading several recent articles on the Pinellas Trail in the Times, I would like to elicit comments from the Pinellas County communities on the following and, I believe, rational observations concerning the safety of the trail.

I cycle and/or run the trail at least two times a week as a competitive runner, cyclist and triathlete, feeling it is the safest place to do such.

While on the trail, I observe many vehicles not heeding the stop signs (including PSTA buses), cyclists just slowing down and proceeding through stop signs without stopping (including myself), and angry exchanges between motorists and cyclists at four-way stop signs.

Let me propose the following:

1. Eliminate all stop signs for motorists.

This will be an energy-saving change and eliminate conflicts between motorist and cyclist.

Keep the traffic signals or flashing red lights at all major intersections, where future overpasses will hopefully be installed.

2. Provide yield only signs on the trail for pedestrians, runners, inline skaters and cyclists, including intersecting roads where users of the trail now have the right of way.

Make the cyclist, who should be slowing down at every intersection anyway, responsible to stop for oncoming traffic.

Most intersections are very visible for a cyclist to yield to oncoming traffic and will eliminate the need to always stop at the present four-way stop signs.

In closing, I must compliment most motorists for allowing cyclists to proceed through four-way stop signs, even when they are at the intersections before the cyclists, and I beseech the city of Clearwater, where I reside, to improve the trail through that city.

Most cyclists, and I agree with them, indicate it is the worst section of the trail to traverse.

Jim Larson, Clearwater

Don't place rehab patients at the Vinings

The article in the Feb. 15 Times concerning the use of apartments at the Vinings to house residents of a drug rehabilitation program is quite alarming. It appears that management at Alternative Treatment International succeeded in obtaining a lease without apparent concern for the impact of such an arrangement on the many families in the complex.

Perhaps I will be accused of suffering from the "Not in My Back Yard" syndrome, but there are legitimate reasons to question the wisdom of housing a transient population with significant psychiatric problems in the immediate vicinity of scores of families with school-age children.

Since your article mentions failed efforts in 2003 by the drug rehabilitation program to find a locale to house their clients in Oldsmar, one must wonder how it is that the owners of Alternative Treatment International (www.jamaicarehab.com) failed in three years to resolve their problem.

In order to prevent conflicts of this nature, the municipal or county governments should hold hearings and implement statutes regulating the establishment of such housing to more appropriate settings.

In the interim, there are countless hotel rooms available in the area for such occupancy.

Dean Carter, Clearwater

Giving alcohol to minors is always crime

Re: Restaurants weren't to blame for deaths, letter by Kathy Dreyer, Feb. 14.

Ms. Dreyer is gravely mistaken in her conclusion that restaurants that knowingly serve alcohol to minors aren't to blame for their deaths. And it is the height of hypocrisy to, on one hand, offer condolences and, on the other, blame grieving parents.

As the attorney investigating and handling the case for more than three years, I can shed a bit of light for the misinformed reader and perhaps others.

You see, Florida wisely recognizes the danger that intoxicants pose to those too immature to appreciate it. And, by the way, for purposes of Florida's beverage laws, everyone under the age of 21 is a minor.

In fact, everyone under the age of 21, whether by two days or two years, is in a special, protected class, created by the Legislature. There is a bright line, with no gray areas. You are either 21, or you are not.

Thus, by "the rule of law" (a concept for which this country sheds blood every day in faraway places), all minors are to be protected from themselves.

In fact, such minors bear no responsibility for their injury or death after being served alcohol unlawfully. By law, they are without fault. Those are not my words, but the well-settled law of this state. Serving any minor intentionally is a crime.

The lawsuits were based on crime, not a mistake. The reader might not like it, but it is the law. Perhaps if the reader knew some basic facts of the case, she might not jump on the "blame the victim" bandwagon and brush the matter under the corporate carpet.

First, if these bars are not made to account for their employee's criminality, there is no incentive to make sure that crime is not committed.

The reader and her loved ones, and everyone for that matter, are in jeopardy when corporate behavior is left unchecked. That the twins were among nearly 10 minors openly being served large quantities of alcohol at Applebee's on the night of their death might raise Ms. Dreyer's eyebrow.

How about the fact that employment files were forged to make it look as though they were trained on alcohol awareness?

No IDs were checked, not once. The manager on duty that night was in a back room counting money.

The server knew the law and chose to ignore it. The server knew they were not 21. He had no right to "rewrite" the law, as Ms. Dreyer thinks is a customary practice at bars.

The server knew how much the twins were drinking, knew they were driving and when invited to their 21st birthday, his response was to bring them more alcohol.

The law was very specifically designed to protect Eddie and Suzie Ward from their horrific death.

If only the simple law was observed, they would not have become intoxicated and their birthday would have been a great day in the Wards' life, instead of the nightmare it will always be.

Unlike Ms. Dreyer's suggestion that it is customary to serve minors alcohol when they are a couple of days shy of 21, the law does not permit it. It remains a crime.

Maybe, on second thought, Ms. Dreyer will consider why we have drinking laws and bright lines in the law.

There is no room for gray areas when it comes to something as dangerous as alcohol in the hands of young people.

But the lawyer bashing by Dreyer belies her real problem with the case. She is singing the song of the tort reformer.

Fortunately for the rest of us, not everyone ignores the law. Some among us make errant corporations atone for their crimes. They call us lawyers.

And I am sure she will run, not walk, to one of my brethren when it is her ox that is getting gored. Until then, I can only say, shame on you, Ms. Dreyer. Shame on you.

Mark Roman, Clearwater

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