Survivor backs bar measure
Keep those under 21 out of bars, a young woman accused of DUI manslaughter urges.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007
Laura Gorman, left, and Jessica Rasdall were the best of friends right up until the night Gorman died when Rasdall's car crashed.
A new voice has joined the debate over whether to let young adults - old enough to vote but too young to drink - attend concerts at two popular mid Pinellas bars.
In an emotional appearance, Jessica Rasdall stepped to the microphone and told Seminole city officials 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 started home to St. Petersburg. On the way, 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," said Rasdall, a student at the University of South Florida.
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, told the Seminole City Council meeting to support a proposed ordinance that would ban anyone between the ages of 18 and 21 from freestanding bars with a capacity of more than 100.
"I'm here tonight to support this 110 percent," said Rasdall, now 20 and a resident of Seminole. She 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. While the proposed rule would ban patrons under 21, it would allow police officers, firefighters and some others to enter the bars even if they were between 18 and 21.
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 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 tourism, 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 Pow Wow 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, nearly 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 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.
[Last modified August 20, 2007, 22:09:50]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]