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Briton Slain in Florida; Worries on Tourism Grow : Crime: He and companion are attacked in north part of state. Officials will be reassigned to patrol rest stops.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The ominous cloud hovering over the Sunshine State’s leading industry--tourism--grew even darker Tuesday after a British visitor was shot and killed and his traveling companion was wounded when they stopped in a north Florida rest area along a busy interstate highway.

The attack on the couple was the second fatal assault on a European tourist in less than a week in Florida.

Though authorities said it appeared that the killers did not know they were attacking foreigners, the slaying plunged state officials into a new round of crisis management sessions designed to mitigate damage to the $30-billion-a-year tourism business.

“We have no tolerance for violence of this kind,” Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles said in announcing that he would reassign up to 500 game wardens, agriculture inspectors and marine patrol officers, all licensed to carry firearms, to patrol rest stops throughout the state. He said he would ask the Clinton Administration for a $4-million federal grant to beef up the state’s violent-crime task force.

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Chiles said the state also had set up an 800 number for those who may have information about Tuesday’s slaying, and had posted a $10,000 reward. “Violence and brutality have no welcome mat in Florida,” the governor said.

Tourism officials, meanwhile, ordered an immediate 30-day halt to all national and international advertising and promotion aimed at luring visitors to Florida. Among print ads pulled is one that beckons, “C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

The latest in a yearlong wave of attacks on foreign visitors to Florida took place not in Miami, where a German tourist was shot and killed during a robbery attempt last Wednesday, but about 500 miles away, in a sparsely populated area of north Florida along Interstate 10.

Gary Colley, 34, and Margaret Ann Jagger, 35, both of Wilsden in northern England, reportedly were headed for St. Petersburg when they pulled their red rental car into a rest stop near Monticello, about 25 miles east of Tallahassee.

Jefferson County Sheriff Ken Fortune said the couple was asleep in the car about 2:30 a.m. when two young men awoke them and demanded money. Fortune said the car did not bear any telltale bumper stickers or a license identifying it as a rental.

As the couple attempted to back out of the parking area, gunshots were fired, Fortune said, and Colley was hit in the neck. The assailants fled.

Colley was pronounced dead at the scene. Jagger, grazed in the chest by a bullet, was treated at a Tallahassee hospital and released.

Fortune said the killing has shocked residents of rural Jefferson County, which has a population of 12,500. He said the slaying of Colley was the first his department has investigated this year.

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“It was just a chance thing happening, but it did happen, and we have to face reality,” Fortune said. “I can now appreciate the people of Dade County and Miami, their emotions going through this. We’ve had calls from all over England, even Pakistan, today.”

The death of Colley brings to at least nine the number of foreign tourists killed in Florida in the last year. Most of the slayings have been in South Florida, and many grew from robbery attempts in which thieves target the occupants of rental cars, often tailing them from airports.

In the last six months, rental car agencies have been ordered to remove promotional bumper stickers, and they no longer are issued identifying license plates bearing the letters Y and Z. In the Miami area, car rental customers are also given safety tips in brochures available in several languages.

Last Wednesday, Kathrin Rakebrand was reading a German-language safety brochure as she and her husband, Uwe-Wilhelm, drove from Miami International Airport toward a Miami Beach hotel. When their car was bumped from behind on the freeway, they followed the brochure’s advice and refused to stop.

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Their assailants then pulled alongside their rental car and a rifle shot was fired into Rakebrand’s neck. He died instantly. Three people have been charged in connection with the killing.

Colley’s slaying was certain to receive sensational front-page play in the British press, compounding Florida’s image problems in the nation that sends the state more visitors than any other in Europe. Last year, more than 1 million Britons visited Florida, the state Commerce Department said.

In the first four months of this year, 771,469 Britons came to Florida, up 8.88% over the same period in 1992.

“It’s going to be just catastrophic,” Florida Commerce Secretary Greg Farmer said. “The international numbers, which had been very positive, are going to start going down now. It’s going to take a constant, concentrated effort to minimize the damage. I’m even worried about the domestic market now.”

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After Rakebrand’s death and a subsequent barrage of worldwide publicity, cancellations at hotels and resorts were running more than 20%, an unidentified tourism official reported. James Call, spokesman for the state Commerce Department, questioned the 20% figure but confirmed that tour operators are reporting cancellations. Florida spends $6.7 million a year promoting tourism.

Although acknowledging the state’s woes, Chiles found a larger content for the crime wave. “Florida is not alone in this problem,” he said. “It’s a national crisis.”

Researcher Anna Virtue contributed to this story.


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