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    Trooper, chief clash over beach turf

    Treasure Island officials want to keep an eye on a ticket-writing trooper.

    By KATHY SAUNDERS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000


    TREASURE ISLAND -- City police are trying to track a trooper. Police Chief Joseph Pelkington wants his officers to document every date and time they see Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jesus Lopez patrolling their streets.

    "He's not supposed to be out here enforcing the laws on Treasure Island," said Pelkington, who has called the trooper's supervisor twice to complain.

    But Lopez isn't bothered.

    "I'm trying to overlook the criticism by agencies that I would expect to support the law and uphold the law," said Lopez.

    "Central Avenue is a county road and it's maintained by the county," said Lopez. "I'm on a county road and it doesn't matter what city I'm in. I'm a state trooper."

    Lopez said he can't understand all the fuss coming from local authorities. He has the support of the residents, he says. And he believes he has raised about $50,000 for the city in a year's worth of catching speeders and toll booth runners.

    "The revenue that is generated by the tickets comes back to the city," he said.

    At an average of $120 a pop (the fine for running the toll booth or traveling more than 10 mph over the limit), Lopez figures he has been a boost to the local economy.

    Lopez, part of the highway patrol's nine-person motorcycle squad, lives in Treasure Island and had been donating time after his regular shifts to write tickets in his own neighborhood.

    City commissioners have said they don't mind Lopez's help, but the mayor doesn't like his attitude.

    Unlike Treasure Island police, Lopez gives no warnings, just tickets.

    Mayor Leon Atkinson said he would rather Lopez not patrol Treasure Island territory.

    Chief Pelkington said he phoned Lopez's supervisor a second time last week and was told to put his concerns in writing. So that's what he plans to do.

    Lopez said he did back off for a while. In October and November, he said, he volunteered for campaign motorcades for President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. For the past few weeks, he also took part in motorcades for a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial.

    But he's back in Treasure Island now.

    "You never know when I'm going to be out there," he said. "I still get a lot of people honking and giving me the thumbs up when they see me."

    Lopez says he's the kind of guy who doesn't give up easily.

    He joined the Florida Highway Patrol in 1994 after serving 20 years in the U.S. Air Force. For the past 11 of those years, he said, he was a first sergeant in charge of 372 personnel.

    "I have many, many, many medals," he said.

    A native of California, Lopez is one of nine children and the divorced father of four sons.

    "I am a high achiever," he allowed. "Sometimes maybe an overachiever."

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