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    Just one family owns up to Pasco school vandalism

    Ten teens are accused of causing $113,000 in damage at a school. Only one teen's family has come forward.

    By CHASE SQUIRES

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 3, 2000


    DADE CITY -- There were 10 teenagers accused of trashing Sand Pine Elementary in September.

    But according to a court file, only one family has come forward to accept responsibility and made an offer to pay for some of the damage.

    On Sept. 2, authorities said 10 Wesley Chapel teens tore into the school in what was described as one of the worst acts of Pasco school vandalism in memory. Then they videotaped themselves smiling -- with no apparent remorse -- as they watched televised news reports of the $113,000 rampage, investigators said.

    When the teens were arrested, the Pasco County School Board struck back with a lawsuit demanding their families pay for the damage.

    In the six weeks since the suit was filed, nine of the 10 families have denied responsibility, blamed others or asked to delay the case.

    One mother, Melanie Smither, and her son accepted responsibility.

    "I, Melanie Smither, acknowledge that my son . . . took part in the incident," Smither wrote in response to the board's suit. "I further agree to pay (my son's) fair share of the costs."

    Her son, whose name is being withheld by the St. Petersburg Times because of his age, wrote his own letter to the court.

    "I am very sorry for what I did, and I will do whatever I have to to make up for the damage I did," the boy wrote.

    The admission and willingness to pay for the damage are in contrast to responses from the rest of the parents named in the district's lawsuit.

    One parent, Ann Gallagher, asked the court, through her attorney, to delay action until after the criminal charges are handled in juvenile court. But others had their attorneys argue that the suit should be dismissed for a variety of legal technicalities, claiming the district did not distinguish which students caused what damage.

    And others sought to lay the blame on someone else, including the school district.

    "Any injuries suffered or damages sustained by the plaintiff allegedly as a result of the incident described . . . were caused solely by the negligence, fault or want of care on the part of the plaintiff," was the response from attorney Michael Kiernan, representing parent Kathy Guertin. Kiernan said Wednesday that the defense is standard in civil cases and is filed as a matter of routine.

    Another set of parents, Edwin and Margo Cridland, argued through their attorney that their son was not involved in causing damage.

    Mother Gloria Williams-Hall argued through her attorney that the county is only entitled to recover damages that it can prove her son specifically caused. Mother Lee Anna Ayan moved to dismiss the suit against her and her son, arguing through her attorney that "not all defendants were present during the time in which the majority of damage was allegedly committed."

    Preliminary hearings on the case are set to begin this month.

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