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Survivor backs rule to ban under 21s from certain bars

A young woman accused of DUI manslaughter tries to sway the council, but so do fans of Boomerz and Page II fighting the measure.

By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published August 19, 2007


Jessica Rasdall stepped to the microphone and told of the night in February 2006 that she and her best friend went to Club Skye in Ybor City.

They had a few drinks and on the way back to St. Petersburg, the Honda Civic that Rasdall was driving veered off the road, flipped and smashed into a tree.

"Laura Gorman never made it out of the car that night," Rasdall said.

Rasdall was taken to the hospital, where she received more than 400 stitches. Both girls were 18, below the legal age to consume alcohol.

Rasdall, who is facing a charge of DUI manslaughter, was speaking to the Seminole City Council on Tuesday concerning a proposed ordinance that would ban anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 from freestanding bars with a capacity of more than 100. The proposed rule would allow police officers, firefighters and some others to enter the bars even if they were between 18 and 21.

"I'm here tonight to support this 110 percent," said Rasdall, who is now 20. Rasdall, who lives in Seminole, is a student at the University of South Florida.

Rasdall said she and her friend did not intend to imbibe that night, but a club employee bought them the alcoholic drinks.

"You can't control what happens inside of those places," Rasdall said. "Please support this. ...You don't want to go celebrate (someone's) birthday at the cemetery like I did."

The council voted to send the proposal back to a workshop and on to a final public hearing Sept. 25.

Although Rasdall and others urged the council to pass the ordinance, there was ample opposition. The most vocal came from owners and musicians who play in Boomerz and Page II, the only two existing bars the ordinance would affect.

"My clubs are known as live-music venues," said Eddie Mlotkowski, owner of Boomerz on Seminole Boulevard. "I provide a meeting place where music is the focal point."

Many of the musicians and fans are younger than 21, Mlotkowski said. Passing the ordinance could possibly close his business.

John Caskill, who works for the production company that handles concerts at Boomerz, agreed.

"We have a thriving music scene in this area," he said.

Boomerz is famous for its music and attracts patrons from as far away as Japan, he said. Passing such a rule would hurt the tourism industry in Seminole, Caskill said.

"Concert venues are part of tourism in Florida," Caskill said.

It is also wrong, he said, to single out Boomerz and Page II. Other venues, such as Ruth Eckerd Hall and even the city-sponsored Powwow Festival, serve alcohol and those younger than drinking age are allowed to attend.

"Boomerz is absolutely diligent in keeping under-21 drinking in control," Caskill said.

Opposition to the ordinance also built up on the Internet, where a petition gained steam. By the time of the council meeting, almost 900 people had signed the document and left messages.

Someone named Ally wrote: "I have been going to Boomerz since I was 15. It's basically like a second home to me. ...Why deny people under the age of 21 a chance to hear great music and enjoy some fun at local gigs??"

Another came from "Martin Luther King Jr.": "I HAVE A DREAM... THAT ALL BANDS CAN PLAY IN BARS... NO MATTER WHAT AGE OR COLOR. AND I HAVE A DREAM... THAT ALL KIDS ARE ALLOWED IN BARS...LET FREEDOM RING LET FREEDOM RING... FROM THE MOUNTAIN TOPS... TO THE NEON SIGNS OF BARS."

Some of the postings complained about an Aug. 12 incident at Boomerz. The incident, just two days before the public hearing, resulted in the bar's being closed.

Boomerz's supporters accused the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office of raiding the bar and closing it for no reason.

But sheriff's spokeswoman Cecelia Barreda said that's not what happened. Deputies were called to Boomerz because two youths were kicking the side of a car. Once there, they saw kids coming out of the bar with open containers. It's against the law, she said, to bring an open drink out of a bar, even if it's not alcoholic, so deputies went into the bar to discuss the matter.

Once inside, she said, deputies found open bottles of alcohol on the bar and kids as young as 14 in the room. Bars must lock up liquor if they're going to have patrons younger than 18 on the premises.

The manager was given the choice of locking up the liquor or closing. Barreda said the manager chose to close.

Deputies issued no citations.