Bus stop not far from predator's home

A mom is worried about her kindergartener's safety. Officials are looking into the situation.

By MICHAEL A. MOHAMMED, Times Staff Writer
Published August 23, 2007

TAMPA - Like some other Hillsborough County parents, Jessica Everson got angry when information on new school bus routes arrived in the mail last week.

The bus that takes her son to kindergarten stops less than 1,000 feet from the home of a registered sexual predator.

Paul M. Gates, the man registered as a predator, isn't happy about it either.

Everson, 24, worries for her 5-year-old son and the other children of Paradise Village, the mobile home park west of Mango where she lives.

And Gates, 44, fears that the publicity will bring more of the hatred and vandalism he has lived with for years.

As part of the Hillsborough County School Board's overhaul of its transportation system, it replaced a handful of bus stops within Paradise Village with a stop at each of two entrances to the community, Everson said.

On the district's Web site, she found a list of guidelines that district administrators use to determine bus stop locations.

"No stop knowingly will be placed near a convicted child molester's residence," it says.

But that's a guideline, not a hard rule, said district spokesman Steve Hegarty.

"It would be very, very difficult for us to organize bus stops where we could guarantee that kids did not have to walk by the home of a sexual predator," he said.

The department is handling complaints on a case-by-base basis, Hegarty said, and has begun researching Everson's situation.

Gates' home sits between the two stops, about 50 feet from one and 750 feet from the other, Everson said.

But when she called the district's transportation department, an administrator told her the rule did not apply because Gates is no longer on probation, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Sexual Offender Database.

"She told me that if Gates was on probation, they would have been notified," Everson said. "Then they would have gone through certain measures to make sure there was no bus stops within 1,000 feet of his house."

Gates was convicted in 2000 of sexual battery or coercion of a child under 12, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show. He was sentenced to eight years' probation and lifelong sexual predator status, but his probation was cut short after about six years.

Gates said he is married, with two stepchildren, two children and a grandchild on the way.

He said he wishes worried parents such as Everson would try to get to know him before judging him.

"Maybe that mother should come up to my door and knock on the door and meet me," he said.

Michael A. Mohammed can be reached at mmohammed@sptimes .com or (813) 226-3404.