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Sexual offender injured in attack

4-24-2002 Florida:

Trying to leave Spring Hill for good, he is hit in the face by bolts thrown through his car windshield.

After drawing criticism for moving next door to an elementary school, convicted sex offender Gerald Collins decided to pack up and leave Spring Hill.

But on Monday night, after Collins loaded a moving van to leave the neighborhood near Spring Hill Elementary School, someone threw metal bolts through his windshield and injured his face.

Collins, 39, of 5579 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill, was treated for broken facial bones at Brooksville Regional Hospital.

Collins told authorities he had received threats after recent newspaper articles identified him as a sexual offender who rented a house next to Spring Hill Elementary. He told authorities that at the time of the attack he was moving to Titusville, on Florida's east coast.

Last week, a student's grandmother had reported to school officials that Collins was a sexual offender. As a precaution, the principal sent fliers home to parents of children who walk or ride their bikes home and showed Collins' picture to staffers and a school crossing guard.

Collins had served time in prison for lewd and lascivious acts involving a child under 16, and his criminal record includes charges of burglary, larceny, dealing in stolen property and purchasing crack cocaine.

In recent days, authorities received new allegations that Collins had committed sexual offenses. The allegations triggered an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The reports came from several different jurisdictions, said FDLE special agent supervisor Ray Velboom. He said he could not comment on the investigation.

About an hour before Collins was injured, a reporter and a photographer from the Times had found him at home, preparing to back his car onto Mariner Boulevard. He had spent the afternoon packing his belongings into a moving van.

He said he was leaving town because of the attention focused on him by the newspaper and the reaction of parents and the staff at Spring Hill Elementary.

Collins said his girlfriend, another female roommate and children belonging to each of them had moved out of the rental house. Collins said he and his girlfriend hoped living next to the school would be convenient because one of the kids attended classes there.

He said he realized that was a bad idea.

"Wherever I move, it won't be within 5 miles of a school," he said. "I ain't never going to go through this again."

Collins asked the Times to wait to write about his departure until he was gone, expressing concern that someone might try to vandalize the rental home and that he might be held responsible for the damage.

It was unfair that people would judge him by his past without getting to know him first, he said.

"I was wrong, but that was years ago," he said. "I'm going to have to deal with this the rest of my life."

Collins said he did not know why the Sheriff's Office, and later the FDLE, is investigating him.

Collins told authorities Monday that he and his friend, who drove the moving van, left his home and stopped to get gas at Cumberland Farms on Mariner Boulevard, just a short distance from the house.

While there, Collins said, he saw two white men drive into the parking lot in a white pickup truck with a utility tool box on the back.

Collins told authorities that the men watched him while he was in the store and one man walked over and looked into his car.

He and his friend then made their way to Cortez Boulevard, setting out for Titusville. Collins said the truck followed.

He said he stopped at the Hess Express and told his friend to keep driving. He then headed east on Cortez. The pickup truck headed west.

Collins said the driver threw some objects out of the window and they smashed his windshield and hit him in the face. He pulled off the road and walked to the sheriff's Ridge Manor substation.

Deputies found two large holes in Collins' front windshield, a large nut and bolt lying on the hood of the car and other nuts and bolts inside the car.

They called an ambulance, and Collins was taken to the emergency room, where doctors closed gashes on his face with eight sutures.

Collins told authorities that he was a sexual offender and has had "threats against his life," according to a report.

The Sheriff's Office has been criticized by parents for not notifying them about sexual offenders living nearby.

By statute, law enforcement agencies must notify schools and day care centers about people certified as sexual predators (sexual offenders who have repeat offenses, prey on children or use violence in their attacks) who live nearby.

But there is no notification requirement for sex offenders, like Collins, who are no longer under court supervision. The Sheriff's Office has never notified schools and day care centers about such people. But that policy is being reviewed in light of this case.

The main obstacle to notification, said Chief Deputy Michael Hensley, is manpower. There are more than 150 sex offenders living in Hernando County. And there are 25 schools (public and private) and roughly 100 day care centers.

The Sheriff's Office has also received threats of lawsuits from attorneys representing sex offenders, who say the department's regular visits to verify the offenders' addresses is akin to harassment.

Beyond that, Hensley said, schools, day care centers and parents must take a certain amount of responsibility to be aware of where sex offenders live through information available at the Sheriff's Office or on the Web. ...more...By JAMIE JONES and ROBERT KING

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And the police do nothing which makes no sense. They are supposed to uphold the law.