Saturday, June 6, 2009

New 5K run raises money for 911 reform

New 5K run raises money for 911 reform

Assistant Englewood Editor

MANASOTA KEY — More than 200 runners, walkers and strollers showed up at Englewood Beach early Saturday for the first "Angels in Blue" 5K Run/Walk, sponsored by the Denise Amber Lee Foundation. In the process, they helped raise funds for what some call the nation's splintered 911 call system.

Denise was kidnapped from her North Port home and murdered in January 2008. Four 911 calls, including one from Denise, failed to bring authorities to her aid in time to save her.

She left behind a husband and two small sons, who attended the 5K run Saturday along with family and friends.

Since her murder, a foundation was created in her name to promote and support public safety, bring about improved standards, and restore public confidence in the 911 system.

"Everybody wants to do something but not everybody can give a lot to 911 reform and the system that failed Denise," said Nathan Lee, Denise's widower. "It's heartwarming to see so many people come out."

Nathan has become a spokesman in a national effort and said he plans to attend eight conferences this year on 911 reform.

The biggest challenge facing reform is funding, Nathan said.

"Most states pay for 911 funding," he said. "We're going to start pushing for federal funding. I'm trying to prevent another Denise tragedy."

The weather for the 5K promised to be stormy, but held until most runners had returned to the finish line on Englewood Beach.

The turnout impressed Bob Geyer, who coordinated the race.

"This is going to become an annual event and I can see why," he predicted. "This one is very successful because of the numbers of people."

Geyer runs with Zoomers Southwest Florida Running and Triathalon Club, which meets in Port Charlotte, with members from Sarasota to Fort Myers.

About 100 people preregistered and another 100-plus signed up the day of the race.

Wearing Denise Amber Lee arm bands, visors and T-shirts, the crowd followed a route along Beach Drive, accompanied by police escorts.

Englewood resident Eric Botelho, 37, won the men's 5K run in 18 minutes and 29 seconds.

Just getting back into racing after knee injuries, he said he watched as high school students took off "way too fast" at the start, only to fall behind later in the race.

Second and third place went to Dylan Ireland, 16, and Derrick Lindberg, 18, both Lemon Bay High School students.

"Our pace needs a little work," Dylan said. "This is our first race since track season ended."

Runners found the track along Beach Drive more difficult than it first appeared.

"It's a long straightaway and no turns," Dylan said. "It makes it seem like you're running slower and like the race is never going to end."

Practicing what she preaches, Bethany Heslam, 44, won the women's 5K run. Heslam coaches track and cross country at Port Charlotte High School.

"It's a good race for a great cause," she said. "The course is a little deceiving. It's nice to have some turns to focus on. We were focusing on real estate signs."

Stefany Sanchez-Smith, 18, a recent Port Charlotte High School graduate, placed second in the women's race.