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Column

World of violence can be one we live in

By SUE CARLTON
Published June 1, 2007


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She called the newspaper because she wanted to tell someone what happened that day, right in front of her, how violence can explode in a second, even in a routine ride through traffic.

On March 26 at 4 p.m., the woman was driving along Tanglewood Drive in New Port Richey toward Ridge Road. She saw a flagman in a hard hat. He was holding up a sign, slowing and stopping traffic through the utility pole work that was going on there.

The big black SUV in front of her stopped. So did she. The SUV driver rolled down his window and said something to the flagman. She figured the driver was annoyed at having to stop. The flagman said something back. "I could tell by the expression on his face he was trying to explain," she said.

The driver got out. He was bigger than the flagman. They kept talking.

Then, she said, the driver pushed the flagman, and they were in a fist fight. The flagman was knocked to the ground.

Then the driver grabbed the big metal sign the flagman had been holding, she said. He hit the flagman with it. Once. Then again. It looked like he was doing it as hard as he could. "He was so enraged he was completely oblivious of anyone around him," she said.

A teenage boy got out of the SUV and got the man to stop, she said. The flagman got up. The SUV rolled away.

"I said to myself, 'I can't believe I'm witnessing this.' "

She didn't know what to do. So she drove.

She used her cell phone to call a friend, who told her she should call the Pasco County Sheriff's Office nonemergency number, since the incident was over.

She did. She was on hold for approximately an hour.

Pasco Sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin later said it appeared the woman's call, which came in during the busiest time of day, "fell through the cracks."

He noted the average non-emergency hold time is two minutes, 14 seconds. But he added, "I'd say even one call to the communications department being lost is probably one call too many."

By the time a deputy got to the scene, everyone was gone. The woman had given them the SUV's license plate number over the phone. But lacking a victim, Tobin said, busy deputies moved on to other calls.

"Could they do more if they had all the time in the world? Probably," Tobin said. "But our deputies go from call to call."

The woman doesn't fault the Sheriff's Office. But she couldn't forget what she saw. She called the utility company, the barricade company, the traffic control company. No one could identify the worker, who was thought to be a day laborer who had been hired for the job. Apparently, for whatever reason, he never came forward.

Ultimately, she called the newspaper. The Times is not identifying her because she witnessed a crime for which no one has been arrested.

She said she called because the incident has preyed on her mind, made her think that we have no clue what's going on in the brain of the guy next to us in traffic. "The thing is, we just underestimate what people are capable of emotionally with the least provocation, " she told me.

You can be driving along, living your life, and suddenly something unfolds in front of you, maybe even involves you. This is the world we make our way through everyday.

"Be aware, " she said.

[Last modified June 1, 2007, 06:58:22]


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