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East County Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012 5 years ago

Observed: Time to take back Lakewood Ranch

by: Michael Eng Executive Editor

I’ll be honest: My original idea for this column was to chastise the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office about the information — or lack thereof — it released in the days following the murder of Lakewood Ranch resident Ina Gross.

In the days following her discovery, we received painfully little in terms of investigation details. The crime has shaken our community to its core — I’ll even go as far as to say stole Lakewood Ranch’s innocence — and residents are clamoring for details. They’re scared and want desperately to know this won’t happen again.

Trouble is, no matter what Sheriff Brad Steube and his investigators know about Mrs. Gross and her homicide, they never can promise that.

“I will never tell anyone that they shouldn’t be worried,” Steube told me last week. “We all have to take precautions. We need to lock our doors and windows. Don’t open the door to people you don’t know.”
However, he insisted residents pay careful attention to two details he released last week. No. 1: There was no forced entry. No. 2: This was not a home invasion or burglary.

“Read between the lines,” he said.

And so, after thinking longer, I came to this conclusion: Details from Mrs. Gross’ autopsy or any of the items the Sheriff’s Office seized from the home last week would do little more than satisfy our curiosity. Sure, we have a right to know, and I believe in time, we will. But Steube has maintained that releasing some of these details could compromise the investigation.

None of us wants that.

Steube is asking that we all be patient. Let his department perform its job.

That isn’t to say we should do nothing.

Following Mrs. Gross’ murder, I went back into our archives to examine a disturbing timeline in the last six months. Since July, we have had three home invasions, a $54,000 burglary (in which the suspect stole a loaded .45-caliber handgun and, now, a homicide. Add in the discovery of Nicole Rose Scott’s body in a ditch at the end of University Parkway, and Lakewood Ranch has endured a crime trend that stands in stark contrast to its seemingly warm, friendly — and safe — image.

Now, that image has come under attack. Here’s the question: What are we going to do about it?

Crime Prevention Unit Dep. Alan Fifield last week suggested an active neighborhood watch.

Yes. Absolutely. For the entire Lakewood Ranch community. It’s actually a little hard to believe we don’t have something like this already in place.

So, let’s mobilize. Let’s get at least one representative from every neighborhood — heck, from every street if we can — to help protect our community and our neighbors. The East County Observer is ready and willing to help however possible. Contact me directly at [email protected] or 366-3468.

Let’s take back Lakewood Ranch.

Since July 2011 …

July 17, 2011. Home invasion. At about 5:30 p.m., July 17, the suspect rang the doorbell to a home on Waters Edge Way in Lakewood Ranch. The suspect then forced his way inside the home and held the victim against his will.
The man then ransacked the residence for personal items to take. The suspect loaded the items inside the victim’s vehicle and ordered the victim into the vehicle. The suspect eventually released the victim on the side of the road at Lorraine Road and University Parkway.
The vehicle was later recovered at the plaza at Market Street and University Parkway. It had been set on fire.

July 26, 2011. Home invasion. At about 6 p.m., July 26, the suspect knocked on a door at the 8400 block of Misty Morning Court in Edgewater. The owner of the residence opened the door and saw the suspect standing there. The suspect asked for someone who did not live there. The owner told the suspect he had the wrong house. The suspect replied that he had the right house as he pulled out a pistol from his waistband.

The suspect pointed the pistol at the homeowner and entered the residence. A guest also was at the home. The suspect took the guest into the master bedroom and zip-tied the victim’s hands and feet to the bedpost. The suspect took the guest’s bracelet, ankle bracelet, ring and a necklace.

The suspect also bound the owner’s hands with zip ties and attempted to take him out of the residence in the owner’s vehicle; however the guest’s vehicle was blocking the driveway. The suspect went back into the residence and did not see the guest in the bedroom. The suspect then fled.

Following this incident, police arrested George Hand and charged him for these crimes as well as the July 17 home invasion. Hand was convicted in December and sentenced to 15 years.

Oct. 4, 2011. Home invasion. According to Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reports, four suspects entered the residence in the 8200 block of Whiskey Pond in the Sarasota Polo Club. They grabbed a worker in the barn apartment and attempted to tie him up with a lamp cord. They punched the worker several times, stole a DVD player, a cell phone and $40 in cash. They then forced the worker to open the main residence. The victim’s dogs then chased the suspects away from the home.
As of press time, no arrest has been made.

Dec. 11, 2011. Homicide. A motorcyclist discovered the body of 29-year-old Nicole Rose Scott at about Dec. 11, in a ditch near the intersection of University and Bourneside Boulevard near The Concession Golf Club.
As of press time, no arrest has been made.

Dec. 16, 2011. Armed burglary. The suspect entered a home on the 7200 block of Ashland Glen in Lakewood Ranch. Once inside, the suspect stole $54,000 in watches and jewelry as well as a loaded .45-caliber handgun.

Jan. 9, 2012. Homicide. Ina Gross, 78, was found dead at 5:37 a.m. Jan. 9, in her garage in the 11000 block of Hyacinth Place in Riverwalk Hammock.

As of press time, no arrest has been made.

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