Several people have informed me about ambush muggings and assaults against bicyclists on the Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg. They're usually along the stretch of Pinellas Trail between Tropicana Field and the high school -- in the area between 31st and 34st Streets.
A few months agao, Rick Fidanzato, owner of ABC Bicycles and the Trek Store of St. Petersburg, sent me an email from a customer who was assulted while cycling about three months ago.
There have been media reports of more attacks recently. And one bicycle friend passed along information about a cyclist named Brian who reported he was assaulted as well.
Be on guard while cycling that section of Pinellas Trail!
Here is a recent account from bicyclist Brian:
At 7:30 PM I was biking west on the Pinellas Trail between 31st and 34th St S in St Pete. About midway between the two streets is an "island", with railroad track remnants and a bench, where the paved path divides and goes around it on both sides. As I approached the island, I saw a man partially blocking the path to the right (north), and another man sitting on the bench on the left side of the island. I thought maybe I saw signs of one or more other people there as well (and I've since been told there were in fact four guys), but my attention was focused on the two guys I saw clearly. Because the path to the right was partially blocked, I rode around the island to the left.
When I got within about 100 ft of the man on the bench, he got up, walked to the left of center of the trail, then just sorta stood there casually. Suspecting nothing, I rode to his right, between him and the bench. As I passed him, he suddenly moved closer, raised his elbow, and walloped me in the mouth -- I never saw it coming. Somehow, I don't know how, I managed to stay upright and keep moving. I also retained enough presence of mind to shout a few obscenities at him. When I got about 100 ft away, I stopped, looked back to see what was happening (nothing -- the guy was just standing there, looking at me -- I like to think he was saying, "damn, this is harder than I thought!"), pulled out my cellphone, and dialed 911. At that point the guys took off in the opposite direction. (I tried dialing 911 twice, and the call failed both times. In the end I called Linda, who gave me the non-emergency police number to call.)
I'm fine -- a deep laceration inside my mouth and a headache for a day, but it could have been much worse, as proved to be the case for poor Michael Hall, who rode by the same spot an hour later (after dark) and got badly pounded. By then I guess the muggers had perfected their ambush technique enough to be successful. Fortunately for them and unfortunately for Michael, their second assault yielded a much better haul than their first one could have: Michael lost a $1500 bike, whereas all they could have got from me was a 10-year-old cellphone and a 25-year-old bike worth maybe $100.
And another Pinellas Trail bicyclist added: "I rode by that area last Sunday morning @ about 9:30am. When I rode by that same bench there was a woman's purse sitting open on the bench. I saw no woman around.
It seemed odd. I got to the top of the bridge over 34th and stopped and called 911. They put me over as a non-emergency call to St Pete police. They said they would check on it and I chose to leave the area.
I am thankful I did not stop. It seems any time of day is not safe in that area until the police take things a bit more seriously."
Here is the St. Pete Times story: http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1191471.ece