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The day after 53-year-old Donna Chen was killed in a traffic incident on Midnight Pass Road, residents left flowers and a cross as a memorial to her. Photo by Rachel S. O'Hara.
Siesta Key Monday, Dec. 24, 2012 8 years ago

Year in Review: March 2012, 'Sarasota County Commission hears more pleas for alcohol ban'

by: Rachel Brown Hackney Managing Editor

The older sister of a Siesta Key runner who was killed in early January by an allegedly drunken driver joined four other family members and a former Sarasota County commissioner March 14, in asking the current County Commission to ban alcoholic beverages on the beaches.

“If the commissioners had thought differently 20 years ago,” Dinise McPhail said during the public-comment portion of the meeting, “I would not be standing here now.”

David Mills, of Sarasota, who stepped down from the commission in 2006, told the board that the issue had come up in 1991, but the commission, at that time, had declined to impose a ban.

Because of the structure of the county ordinance on beach activities, Mills added, it would be easy for the current commissioners to amend it.

During the commission’s March 13 regular meeting in Venice, Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key, won support from her fellow board members for making a formal request that the Florida Department of Transportation lower the speed limit on Midnight Pass Road from the Beach Road intersection through the curve where Chen was struck and killed Jan. 7. FDOT warning signs on the curve have a posted 30 mph speed limit and flashing lights.

Additionally, at Patterson’s request, the commission will ask FDOT to put raised reflectors on the edge of the road in that curve, to alert drivers who veer out of their lane.

The commission Tuesday also agreed to ask the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office for suggestions in how the county should handle the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the beaches. Finally, the commission agreed to install surveillance cameras as part of the planned redesign of the concession at the Siesta Public Beach.

In the meantime, Roy McPhail told the Pelican Press members of the family and supporters have gathered almost 3,000 signatures on petitions seeking a ban of alcoholic beverages on all county beaches.
“We’re getting there,” he said, “one step at a time.”

Part of the petition drive is on the website,, he said. After going to the website, type in “Donna Chen” to view the online petition.

As of mid-morning March 14, 754 people had signed petitions on that website to show support of an alcohol ban.

McPhail said he and his family appreciated Mills’ help in their endeavor. “We’re trying to pull it away from being a family tragedy,” he said.

Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson told Mills and the McPhails after their comments March 14, “Thank you for participating in the public process.”

City Editor Kurt Schultheis contributed to this story.

Siesta Beach concession sales report
In response to a question from Sarasota County Commissioner Carolyn Mason, Carolyn Brown, general manager of Sarasota County Parks and Recreation, sent a memo Feb. 22 to County Administrator Randall Reid regarding alcoholic-beverage sales at the Siesta Key Public Beach concession.

Mason had asked whether the county received proceeds from those sales. Brown responded that the county’s agreement with the concession “indicates the food, beverage and retail items that may be included for sale. The list does include beer and wine; however, compensation (to the county) is based on a base monthly payment with an additional percentage of overall sales.”

The base compensation, Brown added, is $34,100 per month.

Additional compensation is figured as follows:
• 2.001% of gross annual sales up to and including $1 million
• 3.5% of gross annual sales exceeding $1 million, up to and including $2 million; and 5% of gross annual sales exceeding $2 million during any concession year following the completion of all new, planned facilities in the concession area.

County residents address alcohol on the beach
In the aftermath of the Jan. 7 death of runner Donna Chen on Siesta Key, in an incident involving an allegedly drunken driver, numerous people have sent emails to Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson to voice their views on alcohol consumption on public beaches.
A sampling of emails follows:

March 9, from a Sarasota resident: “I understand you are looking at a request to ban alcohol on the beach because of a driver hitting someone after drinking on Siesta Beach. This was a tragic accident that could have been prevented if the driver would have obeyed the laws already on the books … There are many law-abiding citizens who enjoy a glass of wine while watching the sunset or just taking a relaxing stroll on the beach. These people should not be punished.”

March 9, from a Sarasota resident: “I have been a practicing emergency-room physician now for 31 years, the last 10 of which have been here in Sarasota … No one can deny the immeasurable pain this loss has had on the Chen family, but while their desire to do something to give some meaning to this tragedy is certainly understandable, I think that the solution they propose is based on emotion rather than logic … The problem here was not drinking on Siesta Key beach, any more than there is a problem drinking alcohol at home, in restaurants, in bars, at Tropicana Field (in St. Petersburg) or at Raymond James Stadium (in Tampa) … The societal problem here is drinking alcohol to the point of being intoxicated and then irresponsibly getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle … ”

March 8, from a Sarasota resident: “Please do not ban alcohol on Sarasota beaches. My family and I love the beaches here … There is nothing better than a glass of wine or a beer with friends and family on the beach at sunset. We have the No. 1 beach in the (United States). Please don’t take away our right to enjoy a drink while enjoying it.”

March 8, from an Osprey resident: “I think the idea of banning alcohol on Siesta Beach is not only a bad idea, it is also discriminatory based on your economic status. A ban on drinking at the public beach would restrict drinking to those who own property on the beach or have a boat, or restrict drinking on the beach to buying drinks at a beachfront bar.”

Feb. 29, from a Sarasota resident: “I disagree with those who suggest that consuming alcohol on the beach is a protected right. I’m not against alcohol in general, as I drink wine and beer in moderation myself regularly … Most people do not drink at the beach, and those who do should accept the rights of those who don’t (and who want) to be in a sober environment.”

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