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Restitution deals are settled in elementary school rampage

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 14, 2001


DADE CITY -- When it was over Wednesday, when 10 teens charged with trashing an elementary school last year were sentenced and ordered to pay for the damage, the last to accept his fate bowed his head, wept and hugged his mom.

Then, as the courtroom emptied, he was led away to finish his sentence in juvenile detention, with an $8,000 debt to pay when he gets out.

The 16-year-old -- hands cuffed and head shaved -- was the last to hammer out a deal with the Pasco County School Board. An afternoon of negotiations closed a case that started on Labor Day weekend at Sand Pine Elementary School, amid the suburban homes of the Meadow Pointe neighborhood. The Times is withholding the names of the teens because of their ages.

Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper started the day Wednesday by accepting a no-contest plea from the final teen to have his case resolved. After 90 minutes of testimony, the 15-year-old boy agreed to accept two counts of grand theft and one count of burglary and was sentenced to probation and 600 hours of community service.

Then Tepper gathered everyone involved for nearly four hours of negotiations aimed at paying back the school district for the damage done on the weekend rampage.

Original estimates at repairing the damage ran over $100,000. Virtually every part of the school was trashed, school officials said. Computers were smashed; cafeteria food was ruined; televisions, doors, musical instruments and windows were damaged.

"The school looked like a war zone," principal Ginny Yanson testified Wednesday. "There was shattered glass everywhere."

In aftermath, Xerox Corp. agreed to replace a $33,000 leased copier at no cost. And the community rallied around the school with donations. Items that had been stolen were recovered, and school maintenance crews repaired damage without outside contractors.

The district settled Wednesday for $31,861.92 that must be paid by the teens and their families.

All 10 teens involved were charged in September with criminal mischief, burglary and two counts of grand theft. But as the cases were resolved, degrees of guilt emerged. One boy eventually ended up pleading to only a trespassing charge and was not part of Wednesday's restitution hearing. Others were convicted of lesser degrees of criminal mischief.

Punishment for the crimes ranged from a stint in a Pinellas County boot camp to probation and community service. As they were sentenced over the past seven months, the teens also were ordered to write letters of apology and research essays on topics such as peer pressure and mob behavior.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the teens gathered in the center of the courtroom around prosecutor Eric Rosario, pitching settlement offers for restitution, haggling over the cost of windows and computers.

Five teens, the ones who avoided felony criminal mischief convictions, agreed to pay $1,189.07 each, with one agreeing to an extra $157 for a damaged door. Another agreed to $1,952.88, and another agreed to $3,251.07.

The largest debt was assessed on a 15-year-old boy, the boy who was the first to take responsibility in court for his actions, and also the boy that Rosario said could be tied to the most damage. He and his parents agreed to pay back $12,555.29, at $200 a month.

There remains a lawsuit filed by the school district, also seeking reparations.

School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso said Wednesday he would have to examine the results of Wednesday's hearing, but he said the district would probably drop the case if reimbursements are made.

"They're not trying to make money on the deal," he said.

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