City adopts new Beach Patrol policy for vehicles


Published: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 1, 2003 at 12:39 a.m.

MIAMI BEACH - The death of a sunbathing tourist under the wheels of a police car prompted the city Friday to change its policy on when, where and at what speed police cruisers can drive on the beach.

Two sunbathing sisters were crushed, one fatally, by a police car last weekend when an officer drove onto the soft sands of the beach looking for a robbery suspect.

The City of Miami Beach has decided to adopt its Beach Patrol's policies on an interim basis for all city vehicles, including police cars, said city spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez.

The Police Department previously had no official policy for using their vehicles on the beach, either on hard packed patrol paths or on softer sands between the beach dune and surf lines.

Stephanie Tunc, 27, and her sister Sandrine, 26, were sunbathing Feb. 22 when they were run over by a Miami Beach police officer driving a sport utility vehicle.

The French sisters, on an extended vacation from Paris, were sunbathing on an area of softer sand. Stephanie died; Sandrine was at one time in critical condition but was in good condition Friday at a Miami hospital.

The new policies, effective immediately, include:

  • Bicycles or all-terrain vehicles must be used instead of larger vehicles for routine patrols.

  • Police cars must use their overhead flashing lights when on the beach.

  • Cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles are prohibited from driving on soft sand when there is hard sand available to drive on.

  • The speed limit is set at 15 mph.

  • Cell phone use is prohibited while driving on the beach.

    Employees who violate the new policies could face disciplinary action.

    The policy does not cover county, state or federal vehicles or those that supply concessions. The county's parks department is responsible for cleaning the beach, so their vehicles probably spend the most time on the soft sand area, City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez said.

    But the city is working with all those groups to adopt stricter policies as it makes a comprehensive review of beach driving policies, City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez said.

    Because that process could take months, ''I decided to go ahead with an interim policy,'' he said.

    ''The city manager has taken a positive step toward ensuring that the beach remains a safe area for all who visit our beaches,'' said Mayor David Dermer. ''Public safety will always remain a high priority.

    The Miami-Dade state attorney's office is investigating the accident. Officer George Varon, who was driving the Ford Explorer, is on administrative leave.

    The Beach Patrol issued the policy after the April 20, 1999, accident that severely injured Lupe Tucker, who was eight months' pregnant. She suffered a crushed pelvis and bruised ribs when a lifeguard ran her over with a Ford Bronco, in an area near the scene of the most recent accident. Tucker was able to safely deliver the baby weeks later.

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