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‘This is a huge safety issue’: Sarasota leaders concerned about city’s growing dirt bike, ATV problem

Sarasota County

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – People living along Cocoanut Avenue in Sarasota have grown used to hearing the roaring sounds of dirt bikes and four-wheelers speeding up and down the residential street. They’re now banding together in hopes of finding a way to pump the brakes on the growing issue.

Robert Shaffer has lived along Cocoanut Avenue since 2004. He says the dirt bike and ATV problems have gotten worse over the last five years.

“It is pretty alarming when you see somebody flying down the road at 60 miles an hour on one wheel,” said Shaffer. “You just kind of gnash your teeth and hope nothing bad happens on a regular basis.”

The issue has proven to be deadly in the past.

It was March 2019 when a young man on a dirt bike slammed into a car on Cocoanut Avenue, went airborne and died on the scene. The car belonged to Shaffer’s wife. He told 8 On Your Side the deadly incident still haunts his family.

“She thought an airplane had fallen out of the sky and hit her car. There was no indication whatsoever that it was gonna happen,” said Shaffer. “She has had a lot of emotional trauma. The noise of one of those dirt bikes makes her crawl into the corner and hold her ears.”

Sarasota City Commissioner Kyle Battie is well aware of the issue in his district.

“It is extremely, extremely dangerous,” said Battie said.

The newly-elected commissioner told 8 On Your Side the issue needs to be addressed with urgency and immediacy.

“We are working with the Sarasota Police Department and Chief [Bernadette] DiPino trying to come up with some sort of solution to help mitigate this issue. It is going to take minds coming together and it will have to be a collective effort by a committee to sort of quell the situation,” he said.

He says the continuing safety concerns are not fair to the community.

“Fast and furious is what it is, but on motorcycles. These are city streets with a great deal of residents. These are residential streets and you can’t have that type of thing going on in your community,” said the commissioner.

Neighborhoods in Tampa are dealing with similar problems. Just last week, city leaders there decided to have an ordinance drafted to address the issue.

Sarasota Police Captain Demetri Konstantopoulos told 8 On Your Side the police department has received countless complaints about the dirt bikes and ATVs. He explains it is a complex issue.

“At the core of this is public safety and we have a very strict pursuit policy to begin with,” said Capt. Konstantopoulos. “We don’t chase motorcycles because we are never really going to be able to track them down and apprehend them. Also, there are a lot of juveniles riding these bikes and we don’t want to be a contributing factor to them getting hurt.”

The police captain assures the department is working to find a solution.

“It is very difficult to deal with the situation. We are looking into ways to combat it in a more safe manner. We are reaching out to the community. We’ve got a community event scheduled within the next week where we are going to sit down and collaborate with the community and try to find more viable and safe solutions to this problem,” said Konstantopoulos.

The community meeting will take place at Water Tower Park in Sarasota on Saturday at noon.

Shaffer says anyone interested in helping resolve the issue is welcome to join.

“If there are riders or parents of riders that would like to attend, that would be great. It is not going to be a finger-pointing session,” said Shaffer. “It is just going to be an explanation on both sides. If we are trying to resolve this with people in all corners of the room, I think we can get somewhere with it.”

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