Predators targeting water parks where kids play

10:00 PM, May 25, 2010   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - Summer is almost here. It's a time when parents like to take their kids to the pool, beach and water parks but there's a serious danger that could be lurking there. Predators are preying on children at some of these places.

June 23, 2009: A 14-year old girl says she was sexually assaulted at Wet 'n Wild Water Park in Orlando. No one has been arrested.

July 1, 2009: Three middle school girls say they were groped at Aquatica Water Park in Orlando. Security cameras were rolling but the clips were too hard to make out. The mother and father of two of the girls were nearby.

The father, who doesn't want to be identified to protect his family, says, "Security sucks and the thing is you got thousands of people coming to these parks every single day."

A suspect was arrested but the charges were later dropped.

A few days later, a series of sexual incidents were reported at Typhoon Lagoon Water Park in Orlando.

July 3, 2009: 51-year-old Robert Chester Double, Jr. was arrested at the water park after a 15-year-old said he ripped her bikini top and bottom off. She says he touched her chest. She told her father, who was nearby when it happened.

July 13, 2009: Ten days later, a witness says he watched a 51-year-old Connecticut man exposed himself to a 14-year-old girl. When confronted, he blamed the incident on his European style bathing suit. He was arrested but the charges were later dropped due to a lack of evidence.

July 16, 2009: 29-year-old David Thomas is accused of touching six boys and sexually battering a seventh. According to reports, when he was arrested he told detectives, "It was an experiment and I was curious."

Former state prosecutor William Jay says, "Convicted sexual offenders aren't being prohibited from going to places like a water park."

In the Orlando cases last summer, those arrested did not have prior sexual offender convictions, which means every time you go to a water park or a city pool, a predator could be right next to you or your children and you'd never know it.

There are more than 600 sexual predators that live within five miles of the Sulpher Springs city pool at 713 E. Bird and many parents don't know it.

But Judy Cornett, a mother of two, is trying to change that.

If you'd like to see how many sexual offenders and predators live near city pools and water parks near you, just click here and type in the address of the facility.

Cornett runs a non-profit called Predator Patrol. She and her volunteers take to the streets in the Sulpher Springs community in Tampa, showing parents and their children pictures of the sexual predators that live around them.

She says, "If you add up the probation department, the police department, there's not enough manpower. There are so many other crimes going on that police officers, probation officers, don't have time to sit and watch these guys."

For Cornett, it's personal. She says, "When my son was  kidnapped and brutally raped, it changed our life and that's why I'm here today trying to change other peoples lives in a more positive way."

She says many parents may have a false sense of security at water parks and pools and she wants them to know children can become victims anywhere. "There's a predator everywhere and there's 1 in 7 children that are getting molested. That's a lot. You go into Adventure Island, any of these water parks, and how do you know it's not happening there?"

Meanwhile, William Jay says you shouldn't rely on security cameras in the water parks or pools either because the images they capture aren't always enough to get a conviction.

Though there were a couple of arrests from the incidents that allegedly took place in Orlando last summer, building cases against suspects in these types of crimes can be a challenge. Charges against two of the suspects in those cases were eventually dropped.

Jay says, "Touching is a part of it. It's an element of these crimes but it has to be done with a sexual intent and the cameras aren't necessarily going to be able to help sort that out."

Cornett believes parent's best line of defense is simple. "There are a lot of parents that don't even go. How many times over at Adventure Island, our water park, the parents drop the kids off at the front gate and say, 'Okay, we'll see you when it closes.' They're not there with them."

There haven't been any recent sexual incidents reported targeting children at Adventure Island Water Park in Tampa. Jill Revelle, a spokesperson for the water park, released the following statement:

"The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority and we have a zero tolerance policy for any sort of illegal activity. We have training programs, policies and active procedures in place, but for obvious security reasons, we do not share the details of our security precautions. In partnership with those precautions, parents should know where their children are and who they are with at all times, as is true when visiting any public venue."

Tammie Fields, 10 Connects

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