Photo courtesy of Paul Ray.
For the third time since opening in 2019, Gulfport’s Trolley Market Square is covered in caution tape, awaiting repair after a vehicle crash – most recently on Saturday, September 25 around 2 a.m.
Ronald Hester, 68, of St. Petersburg crashed into the 49th Street-facing entrance of the park at 4900 Tangerine Ave. S., while traveling westbound across 49th Street in a 1993 Chevy pickup truck early Saturday morning.
According to the Gulfport Police Department, Hester fled the scene on foot and was identified and arrested by Gulfport Police officers while being treated for injuries at a nearby hospital.
“There was a blood trail leading to the 1800 block of 49th Street,” said GPD Public Information Officer Thomas Woodman. “While Gulfport officers were investigating the scene, [Hester] had called the St. Petersburg Fire Department to his home for injuries related to the crash.”
Hester was unlicensed and charged with a careless driving citation, a misdemeanor for leaving the scene of an accident and a habitual traffic offender felony.
“He claims he was robbed by knife while driving the vehicle,” Woodman said. “There is nothing indicating that there was anyone else in the vehicle with him at the time of the crash.”
It’s unclear for now who will cover the damages.
Stretch of Road
“You have a very long street with pretty much no stop signs…of course there were some extenuating circumstances in this case,” Gulfport Chief of Police Robert Vincent said.
In each of the three crash incidents, the park’s stone barrier prevented the vehicles from damaging the actual “square” or the bright red trolley that gives the park its name.
The stretch that is 18th Avenue has split jurisdiction between the GPD [west side] and the St. Petersburg Police Department [east side].
“We’re going to start feeding [SPPD] the information for cases like this so they can take it and do proper data reporting…they have more resources for research into why this keeps happening,” Vincent said. “Information like that can help us prevent this from happening again.”
Previously at Trolley Market Square
The first time a car struck Trolley Market Square was September 22, 2019, just eight months after its construction.
The incident involved a 3 a.m. 911 call, a vehicle on fire and heavy damage to the adjacent Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus stop.
Fast forward to December 13, 2020: Another vehicle destroyed the barrier wall while traveling westbound on 18th Avenue South.
According to Vincent, it’s not necessarily that the park itself is an easy target, but that crashes there are more apparent than if they happened on a typical sidewalk or greenspace.
“We’ve had accidents there without the wall, and without the park, but without the barrier they would just drive into the grass,” Vincent said. “The wall is there for a reason; they installed it to keep the park and the people there safe.”
For the Future
Is there a solution?
Gulfport Public Works Director Tom Nicholls thinks a flashing beacon is the best bet.
“Installing a red flashing beacon like we have at the end of 49th Street would alert people that there is a stop coming up,” Nicholls said.
While there is no concrete plan yet, Gulfport’s Public Works Director suggests that a partnership between the City of Gulfport and the City of St. Petersburg is a possible solution.
The type of traffic beacon suggested can cost upwards of $3,000.
“Whether they buy it and we maintain it, or vice versa, it could work,” Nicholls said.
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