tampabay.com

Instant stop signs? It's all a blur

By ERIN SULLIVAN
Published May 26, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - Michael Connor is being coy.

"So, you don't know who put the stops signs out on Osprey Lane?" a reporter asks the 57-year-old Friday afternoon, two days after he got a stern talking-to from a sheriff's deputy.

"No, " he says. "I don't know who did it."

A Pasco County sheriff's report is slid across the counter to him in his used-car sales office, Mannix Motors, in Land O'Lakes. It describes an incident on Connor's road Wednesday during rush hour.

"A convenient time to spring the alleged plot, " Connor muses.

A vigilante looking to slow down speeding cars hammered two stop signs along Osprey Lane in broad daylight. Connor says the "darkness of night" might have been a smarter time for whoever did this - not that he knows exactly who did it.

Posting unauthorized signs is illegal.

The report says, "I then made contact with Michael Connor, who stated he placed the stop signs in front of his residence to slow the traffic down in his neighborhood."

Connor looks at the report. "He must have misunderstood me, " he says.

His deeply tanned face is deadpan, no half-smile; but his eyes - dusky blue-gray, sparkling with a bit of mischief - tell the truth.

Well, maybe the truth.

"Allegedly, it was an experiment, " he says of the anonymous "neighbor" he thinks did it.

"At least that's what I was told."

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Osprey Lane never used to be like this.

Back when Connor and his family bought their three-bedroom white and blue home in the Cypress Coves subdivision in 1987, Osprey Lane dead-ended a few doors down from them.

Things were quiet. You could walk your dog down the sidewalk without fear of having a pet mowed down. Mailboxes lived long lives and died natural deaths, from sun and storms and changing tastes. Cement light posts usually stayed put. Cars parked in driveways were safe. Yards didn't sport tire marks. The noises heard outside were the normal ones - birds and crickets and whatnot.

Then Osprey Lane connected to State Road 54. It instantly became a shortcut from 54 to U.S. 41 or County Line Road.

The road is two lanes and curvy. The speed limit is 30 mph and 15 on the twists. Most people go 40 mph. Some push it to 50 or 60.

Mailboxes started being plowed down. Light posts, too. Kids stopped being allowed to play in front yards. Dogs were restricted to back yards.

The driveways are short along this road, so residents have to back out on to Osprey Lane. It became a daily ordeal - looking once, twice, three times, minutes passing, to make sure there wasn't a speeding car coming from a blind curve. Squealing tires, revving engines and the booms of crashes became routine.

And then there's the stuff of neighborhood legend. Both of these incidents happened several years ago.

Allegedly.

One guy's Mitsubishi Diamante was destroyed when a driver lost control.

The Diamante was parked in his driveway at the time. He's still upset about it.

And one family had a frightening start in the middle of the night when a wayward car skipped the curb, hit a light pole and rammed the side of their butterscotch-colored home.

"People drive through here like a bat out of hell, " says Megs Connor, who is Michael Connor's 25-year-old daughter. "They're always haulin' buns here."

She says she and her brothers get their parents mailboxes for Christmas and birthdays, because they know they'll need them. On Friday afternoon, she got a tape measure out of her dad's garage and helped track the distance of some of the tire marks in front of their home. One stretched more than 50 feet.

"I'm always afraid, " she says.

Megs Connor says she doesn't know if her dad put the stop signs out there or not.

"But I support him if he did, " she says - then adds quickly, "I support whoever did it."

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Chuck Hilger is the vice president of the Cypress Cove homeowners association. He says the group has tried for years to get some kind of agency to listen to members and fix the problem. He says he respects the Pasco County sheriff's deputies - "I love 'em to death" - but they are short-staffed and can't patrol Osprey Lane much.

Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin says residents need to call the Sheriff's Office at 1-800-854-2862 and ask for the community policing department. He also says residents can try to get the license plate numbers and descriptions of repeat speeders.

"If they are concerned, they should let the Sheriff's Office know, " Tobin says. "They just can't take matters into their own hands."

Hilger says the homeowners association is trying to get speed bumps installed on the road, but county transportation officials have said that doing so would cost each homeowner $300.

That county department was unable to comment Friday - though each person a reporter was transferred to said he or she had never heard of that complaint.

Hilger says he has nearly gotten into fights with young drivers whose cars have wiped out on the curves.

"It's terrible, " he says.

The stop sign experiment turned out well, he said, even though they were up only an hour before the law came and took them down. Hilger says most drivers stopped.

But he wouldn't give up who did it.

"I'm not sure, " he says, his voice trailing off.

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The deputy who chastised Michael Connor told him that what he did was a second-degree misdemeanor. Serious stuff. Connor wasn't ticketed, but a report was written so deputies have it on file in case this happens again.

It won't - at least not with those particular signs. The deputy confiscated them for evidence.

"Will they dust them for fingerprints?" a reporter asks.

Connor's eyes go wide.

"I never thought of that, " he says.

When asked about the signs themselves - hypothetically, of course - Connor said they're easier to buy than one might think.

"You go to Google and type in 'stop sign, ' " Connor says. "At least, that's what I'm told."

"How would a person put them into the ground?" a reporter asks.

"The signs were simply pounded into the ground with a large hammer, " he says.

The hammering, he says, might also aggravate some tendonitis in a person's forearm. On Friday afternoon, Connor wore a black wrap around his right arm.

"Bad things happen to people who do bad things, " he says.

"Or so I'm told."

Connor is not sure stop signs or speed bumps are the answer. He just wants people to go the speed limit.

But he's thinking of a sign that might actually work:

"Slow down. NUDIST AREA."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or 813 909-4609.