When Monroe County put up a checkpoint to limit entry to the island chain, they thought they had an easy way to identify people who live in the Keys.
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The county issues hurricane re-entry stickers to residents, so they can get back in after evacuating for storms. And the county started distributing more of them when they put up a checkpoint March 27.
But Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said Monday the deputies working the checkpoint over the weekend started seeking a rash of fake stickers.
They were easily spotted by their bad printing jobs.
"You'd see the yellow ones that have big white lines indicative of a bad printer or a printer low on ink. We saw some stickers that were not the right proportion in size," Ramsay said. Some had the wrong fonts, or other indications that they were fake.
"These stickers were designed to be stuck on the inside of the car windshield," Ramsay said. "We saw some that were printed and were stuck on the outside."
Access to the Keys is now limited to people who live there, own property there, are working there or are making deliveries.
"People, when asked, told us they bought them from people in Miami and/or made them themselves," Ramsay said. They also gave multiple reasons for why they wanted to go to the Keys.
"A lot of people are bored because they couldn't do anything in Dade County. Dade County was locked down, you couldn't go anywhere, they were just going to drive down here," Ramsay said. "Some said they were just going to look for work, or maybe going to work — they had so many different answers for why they were coming down, but these were not legitimate reasons."
Ramsay said that on Sunday, they also started seeing hundreds of legitimate stickers that were on cars driven by people who had no legitimate reason to be in the Keys.
"We have people coming from a high-impact area to our smaller, rural county which makes these people a threat to our public health and lives of our citizens," he said.
Based on traffic counts from the week before the checkpoints, Ramsay estimates about 20,000 fewer people a week are coming into the Keys.
Most people turned away accept the rule, Ramsay says. But on Thursday, April 2, almost a week after the checkpoint went up, a Wisconsin woman showed up three times, insisting that driving over the Keys bridges was on her bucket list. She kept going even when a deputy was standing in front of her car, with his hands on the hood.
And she did get her dream to travel down the Keys — in the custody of the sheriff's office on her way to the county jail on Stock Island. She was still there on Monday, held on $1,000 bond for three misdemeanor charges.
Monday afternoon, Monroe County announced it is suspending distribution of the stickers and advised Keys residents to carry additional documentation to prove that they live or own property in the Keys.