AVON PARK — Every day, 23-year-old Brandon Bennett spends most of his time trying to pass time at home in Avon Park Lakes. A rare disease he contracted at birth prevents him from walking very far, working at a job or driving a car.
However, during most of the last 1 1/2 years, he got some relief from the boredom by driving a golf cart a short distance to Lake Olivia and fishing during the day.
That all ended last week when a Highlands County deputy approached him at the fishing dock and told him it was illegal to drive the cart on the street. The deputy said he had to drive it home.
Those events were recounted by Bennett's stepmother, Peggy Bennett, who questioned why the Highlands County Sheriff's Office would concentrate on golf carts when statistics showed that more serious crimes increased by 20 percent in 2013.
“I think their priorities are skewed,” she said. “Knowing Avon Park crime is as bad as it is, why is the focus on golf carts?”
Highlands County Chief Deputy Mark Schrader said deputies are not being sent to that area to look for golf carts on the road everyday, but they enforce the state law regulating golf carts on roads, he said.
Although Brandon has been riding his golf cart for more than 1 1/2 years and had not been stopped until last week, it was illegal for him to ride around with it on the roads, Schrader said.
Schrader said his office received a complaint about a proliferation of golf carts. He said that in some instances people see others riding golf carts and their use starts to increase.
But state law prohibits the use of golf cars on streets unless the county commission designates those streets as thoroughfares where people can ride the golf carts, he explained.
Under state law, in order for roads to be designated as golf cart-permissible, it must be determined that someone can safely drive golf carts down the street.
Areas that have been designated safe for golf cart use include the Hammock Highlands subdivision, Kissimmee River Estates, The Retirement Village for Sudan Interior Mission, Istokpoga Shores, and the Knoll subdivision.
Bennett said she plans to attend the Avon Park Lakes Association meeting at 7 p.m. May 13 to ask the association to support a petition drive to allow people to ride golf carts.
Until the situation changes, she said, the county has taken away stepson's ability to have an enjoyable life.
She said he suffers from Kniest dysplacia. According to the Genetics Home Reference, it's a disorder of bone growth, accompanied by short stature and problems with vision and hearing.
Brandon Bennett said he finds it frustrating he can't ride his golf cart. He has liked fishing since he was 6 or 7 years old, he said.
While he's able to ride a scooter, that doesn't allow him to take fishing equipment to the lake, he said.
Peggy Bennett said that soon he will have a hip operation. That will mean less pain in his disjointed hips but it also will make him physically unable to ride the scooter.