In response to the death last month of a Siesta runner, who was struck by a driver charged with DUI and vehicular homicide, the Sarasota County Commission is expected to be asked to ban all alcohol on Siesta’s beaches, Commissioner Nora Patterson has told members of the Siesta Key Association and the Siesta Key Village Association.
Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson is scheduled to meet later this week with relatives of Donna Chen, 53, who died Jan. 7, after she was hit on Midnight Pass Road by a vehicle driven by Blake C. Talman, 22, of Bradenton.
Talman remains in the Sarasota County Jail under $118,000 bond.
Robinson said she was not certain what day the family members would speak with her.
“We will talk with the family … and listen,” Robinson said, adding she was unsure how soon the topic of a beach alcohol ban would come before the full commission.
“I’m not sure how I feel about (the proposed ban),” Patterson told SKA members Feb. 3. “I’m not sure how others feel about it.”
Patterson said she had received numerous emails telling her, “Don’t punish everybody for one guy who couldn’t control himself in the middle of the afternoon.”
The Chen incident was reported at 1:10 p.m. Jan. 7.
“Plus, we don’t have enough deputies to patrol every cooler on the beach,” Patterson said. “However, it will be a conversation (for the County Commission), and it’s one, as a community, we should have.
“When you have a group of people with a lot of emotion attached to (an issue) and the ability to organize, it can appear as though there is an overwhelming movement (behind a proposal) … without ever hearing a lot from the other side,” she said.
SKVA President Russell Matthes said members of the organization already had a meeting scheduled with Robinson Feb. 13; they would bring up the issue then.
“If you intellectually look at the (issue), obviously there is legal drinking not far down the (Siesta) beach, (in) all of the establishments that are part of the Village,” Patterson said.
When Troy Syprett, co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck and the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar, asked whether Patterson thought the Chen family would push for an alcohol ban on all county beaches, Patterson said: “I don’t know. … It seems to me if you were going to do (a ban on) Siesta, you would want to do all the beaches.”
The Town of Longboat Key already bans alcohol on its beaches.
However, she said, “It doesn’t seem to me it’s going to be a cure for the problem of drunk driving.”
“There’s just so much emotion involved in this whole thing,” said Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café. “But I think once the emotion settles down, it should be a push more toward responsible drinking.”
Deputies already have difficulty trying to enforce the ban on glass containers on the beach, Syprett added.
“Having the deputies spending all of their time out there trying to keep alcohol off the beach is going to be an impossible task,” Syprett said. “You’re not just talking (about) the public beach; you’re talking one end (of the beach) all the way to the other end.”
Matthes said he had been to numerous beaches where alcohol was banned, and he always had seen people consuming alcohol.
Then Michael Shay, a member of the SKA Board of Directors, said, “Maybe what needs to change is the level of oversight.”
He added deputies had had contact with Talman prior to the Chen incident. Perhaps the deputies needed a stronger law that would have enabled them to arrest him before he left the beach, Shay suggested.
“(Being) drunk and disorderly is already illegal,” Patterson said. “There is more police patrol on Siesta Key than any other area in the county … and there is nothing we could do to give (officers) a way to act differently, really.”
Patterson said no state law prevents people from consuming alcohol until they are drunk.
In the Talman case, she said: “I think the deputies probably did all that they legally could. … (Sheriff’s Office representatives) will definitely come to us if they need ordinances changed.”
Lourdes Ramirez, a Siesta resident and president of the Sarasota County of Neighborhood Associations, told the group, “The other nightmare is that most of the beaches out there are private, and you can’t prevent people on their own private land from drinking.”
“Law enforcement has to respect individual civil rights,” Syprett said.
“That would be a huge issue,” Matthes said.