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Officers Relay Special Olympics Torch Across County

Clearwater and Largo police officers and Pinellas sheriff's deputies joined other local law enforcement agencies for the annual event leading up to the Special Olympics in Orlando.

The 2012 Law Enforcement Torch Run took place Tuesday morning, as participants from nearly a dozen local law enforcement agencies took to the streets of Pinellas County to help raise awareness for the Special Olympics.

Members of the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Clearwater, Largo and Pinellas Park police departments and other agencies teamed up with area schools to promote the event, in which participating officers passed a torch from one agency to another along the 18-mile route.

The event began at 8:15 a.m. at the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters and traveled north, stopping at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School before hitting the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office CSI building on 49th Street, going over the Bayside Bridge and ending at the Paul B. Stephens School in the early afternoon.

"The weather is perfect, the enthusiasm is magnificent, and everything has gone off like clockwork," David Haines, the Pinellas County Coordinator for the Special Olympics, said during the Bayside Bridge stop. "We appreciate the efforts of all the law enforcement agencies involved."

The event began 30 years ago as a way to raise awareness for the Special Olympics and for the individual departments that participate in the run. 

Most of the officers said the length of their portion of the run was not an issue, since they train extensively both on and off duty. It was more important to them to participate in such a worthy event.

"I run every day, so this is just like a tune-up for me," said Pinellas County sheriff's detective Jeff Capra, who took the torch for the Bayside Bridge leg. "But it means a lot to participate in such an event."

For the pair of Clearwater Police detectives who took the torch from Capra on the north side of the bridge near Drew Street, the exercise was not challenging, but rewarding.

"We do a lot of running after work, so this should be pretty easy," said Detective Mike Stonelake, who has run triathlons with his partner. "But it's for a great cause, so that's all that matters."

His torch-toting partner, Detective David Devol, agreed.

"Don't let these guys fool you," he said. "I've only done a half-triathlon. But I'm excited to be a part of this race."

Largo Police Officer Julie Wiliams was happy to be part of the torch run, as well.

"We had a great sendoff at Morgan Fitzgerald," she said. "It was a nice day ... but two laps is good enough. My ride's here, and I'm heading back." 

The state Summer Olympic Games will be held May 18-19 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando.

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