Rick Fernandez saw the all terrain vehicle riders buzzing around the opposite side of as he and his girlfriend walked their dogs last Saturday evening.
To him they looked like late teens to early 20s. Two or three riders were doing donuts on the baseball diamond. Before long, as the couple strolled on the sidewalk, they heard the sound of one ATV closing in fast from behind. Next thing they knew, the rider buzzed right by them.
“This one guy came real close to us on the sidewalk,” said Fernandez. “I don't know if he couldn't see us or he was just trying to be cute, but hecame pretty damned close to us. I'm gonna estimate he was going about 40 (mph). At the last minute he swerved around us. It was a little close for comfort.”
Fernandez called the police. The dispatcher told him that others had complained about the ATVs at the Tampa Heights park, and that officers were on the way.
Fernandez and his girlfriend left before police arrived, but on the short walk back to his house he spoke with a neighbor. “I asked what this is all about,” Fernandez recalled, “and she said it's a block party that happens every week.”
Call it a dubious welcome back to the neighborhood for Fernandez, 56, who grew up in Tampa Heights, moved away in 1972, and moved back to the area two weeks ago. “If it weren't my neighborhood and my park, I would've thought it was funny,” he said.
Lena Young Green of the Tampa Heights Civic Association agrees that the ATVs — which are illegal to operate on city parks — at Robles Park has been an ongoing problem.
“The people who continuously and excessively speed around on the motorized two and four wheelers are indeed dangerous,” she wrote in an e-mail, “are a grave hazard to children and pedestrians who travel on the streets and who come to the park for enjoyment and recreation. They destroy the beautiful grounds of the park and the ball fields, and even take liberties to enter private properties to endlessly spin around and do 'wheelies' leaving dust flying in the air, holes, large patches and uneven areas behind. The noise that they create is a major annoyance to the residents. Some have even started coming into the neighborhood and the park at night when we cannot take pictures or tell who they are. Others have taken to waring face-gear to avoid identification.”
Green said that she has forwarded a request on behalf of residents around the park to meet with officials from the city's police, parks and recreation, and transportation departments for a meeting to discuss solutions. “We are waiting for the response, which we are sure will be very soon,” Green said.
Janelle McGregor, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department, said these Saturday rallies are “something that happens sporadically. It's not something we've seen an increase in. A lot of times what happens is people get wind that we're on the way, and they all scatter.”
McGregor said when officers do catch the illegal riders, they generally write tickets. If residents see the ATVs operating on the park grounds, McGregor saidthey should call the Tampa Police Department at 813-231-6130.