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Pine Hill eradicating drug trade

Residents say the area, once a haven for drug dealers, hasn't been this safe in 15 years.

By TAMARA LUSH

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


PINE HILL -- Woody Gay remembers a time, about two years ago, when drug dealers used his salvage-yard parking lot as a place to turn their cars around, so they could cruise back down Pine Hill Road to find more customers.

"It was just like a party," Gay said while shaking his head.

Now, he said, the traffic has stopped. This time, it's the neighborhood that has turned itself around, residents say.

"Things have gotten a whole lot better," Gay said.

Pine Hill, a small Port Richey neighborhood that is home to about two-dozen residents, used to be ground-zero for the west Pasco drug trade. Crack dealers used to set up lawn chairs and beach umbrellas and sell to customers on the side of the road. Children, who weren't old enough to go to school, were paid $10 to serve as police lookouts.

But no more, say residents. Increased law enforcement patrols, clearing debris off the streets, and neighborhood pride has forced the open-air drug market to close.

"It's improved 100 percent," said Doretha Arline, 79, who lives at the corner of Pine Hill Road and Cobb Street. "The ones that were selling are in jail."

Arline, who has lived on the same Pine Hill property since she was 5, said the neighborhood is the safest its been in 15 years.

On Thursday, she sat at her kitchen table, as a half-dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren ran in and out of her house.

A couple of the kids watched tree-trimmer John Misch hack some palm fronds off Arline's trees. Misch, of New Port Richey, has cut lawns and done maintenance work in Pine Hill for 20 years.He,too, has noticed the change.

"Look at all the kids," Misch said. "The neighborhood cleaned up pretty good."

Misch said that when he used to drive down Pine Hill Road a few years ago, people used to stand on the side of the street and yell as he drove by. Often, officers would stop him to ask why he was there. Garbage lined the streets.

"It was nuts," he said.

Although the Pasco County Sheriff's Office doesn't have exact numbers of arrests in the area, they, too, maintain that drug dealing and crime is declining.

"The neighbors have taken back their neighborhood," said Pasco County Sheriff Lee Cannon. "They need to pat themselves on their backs."

Cannon added that he will continue to send teams of deputies to the neighborhood.

"It's not a good place to be a drug dealer or a customer," he said.

One resident who had been critical of Cannon and his deputies for not taking action, now gives Cannon credit for helping improve the area.

Eugene Scott, who grew up in Pine Hill and has relatives that live there, said he is grateful to Cannon for his efforts.

Scott said he and Cannon "voiced their frustrations" during discussions about Pine Hill's problems,which started about two years ago..

Cannon, said Scott, "did his job and he hung in there."

New Port Richey and Port Richey police have also helped eradicate crime, residents said.

Increased patrols and a deputy, who frequently rides his bike through the neighborhood, has helped squash the drug trade, said Scott, who runs the Afro-American Club, established in 1991 to offer guidance to the county's young residents. Many of the neighborhood's drug dealers are also in jail, he said.

"These kids that we work with have a halfway decent chance to grow up now without the drug dealers around," Scott said.

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