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Tourist Slaying Sparks Outrage, Fear in Britain : Violence: Latest victim's father says, 'U.S. is a sick country.' Travel agencies brace for wave of Florida trip cancellations.

September 16, 1993|WILLIAM TUOHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONDON — Britons reacted with outrage and apprehension Wednesday over the latest slaying of a foreign tourist in Florida.

Every major British newspaper made Tuesday's killing of an English tourist near Tallahassee, the state capital, the subject of its most prominent headline, and the crime was the lead item on all major British TV news programs.

"Plan your Florida trip like a commando raid," advised a headline in the Daily Telegraph.

Britain's travel industry was braced for cancellations and a plunge in bookings to Florida, one of the most popular vacation destinations for the British. Last year more than 1 million Britons visited the state, according to the Florida Commerce Department.

The British Safety Council demanded that the Foreign Office advise vacationers not to travel to Florida, and a spokesman accused travel agents of not doing enough to inform customers of the dangers faced there by tourists.

The Foreign Office said travel advice concerning trips to Florida was under constant review.

Gary Colley, 34, was killed and his girlfriend, Margaret Ann Jagger, was wounded by two young men who demanded money from the couple after they had parked their rental car to take a nap at a rest stop near Monticello, Fla.

Colley's father, Terry Colley, said of the incident: "The U.S. is a sick country. There must be something they can do to change things there."

The car used in the crime, found near Monticello, had been stolen shortly before, the Associated Press reported. Part of a hubcap found at the slaying scene was matched with the stolen auto late Tuesday. Authorities said they were concentrating their search on 50 to 100 local youths with criminal records who might fit a general description provided by witnesses.

Gary Colley was the ninth foreign tourist to be killed in Florida in the past year. British newspapers on Wednesday ran maps of Florida showing the sites of the nine deaths, with advice to travelers on how to stay alive.

Last week, a German tourist, Uwe-Wilhelm Rakebrand, was shot to death after his rental car was bumped by would-be robbers as he left the Miami airport with his pregnant wife. Three arrests have been made in that case.

Rakebrand's death led to a flurry of editorial comment and cancellations of bookings among Germans.

In Britain, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways said they were hoping to advance flight times to Miami to ensure that tourists could pick up rental cars and drive to their hotels during daylight hours.

British travel agencies reported that anxious tourists were phoning rental-car firms for reassurance that renting cars would not lead to being singled out by possible assailants in Florida.

Earlier attacks on tourists have prompted rental-car companies to remove identifying bumper stickers from their vehicles and the state to diversify license plates on such cars.

A spokesman for Britain's largest tour operator, Thomson, which sends about 100,000 Britons to Florida each year, said Wednesday: "We don't think people who have already booked will cancel, but it will probably make a difference to future bookings."

Florida vacations are popular with sun-seeking Europeans because package tours make U.S. holidays much cheaper than similar trips to Spain, traditionally the most popular destination for Britons and Germans.

In an emotional transatlantic telephone call, a distraught Margaret Ann Jagger, 35, told her mother, Muriel: "We did not stand a chance, whether we opened the window or closed it, we were still going to get killed."

Muriel Jagger told reporters about the call and said that the couple loved the United States and enjoyed traveling there.

"They planned everything before they went anywhere," she said. "They never said America was a threatening place or (that) they felt at risk. They had a lot of friends there."

She added that her daughter praised Americans for the kindness she had been shown since the attack.

"She told me the people over there were very, very kind indeed. They are doing everything possible for her. They could not have been kinder."

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