INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — A small fire department that services several coastal communities spent more than 10 times what was budgeted on legal fees last year, the result of several lawsuits and personnel disputes.
While district budgeted $20,000 for legal fees last year, the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District ended up shelling out about $230,000 to pay lawyers who represented them in a series of legal disputes....
LARGO — A sixth-grade social studies teacher was arrested Tuesday after police said they found child pornography on his computer.
The pornography, which police said was found on the personal laptop of Robert James Plotkin, was downloaded from the Internet and included images of children ages 3 to 17. But none of the teacher's students were included in those images, said Largo police Lt. Joe Coyle....
TAMPA — University of South Florida football player Hassan Childs, 22, was injured in a shooting Saturday night, Tampa police said.
Tampa police spokesman Lt. Steve Lee said the shooting started as a road rage incident.
About 11:15 p.m. Saturday, police received a call from a man later identified as Jovanni Jimenez, 26, saying that a man, later identified as Childs, pointed a gun at Jimenez and his wife and child at the Eagles Point Apartments at Tampa Palms, 14551 N 46th St....
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri rebuked in a statement Thursday the decision by Orlando’s top prosecutor not to pursue the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton in January.
Loyd’s case is just one in a sweeping announcement by State Attorney Aramis Ayala that she will not seek the death penalty in first-degree murder cases....
03/16/17 Public Safety
A report released Thursday says Miami Marlins pitcher and Alonso High School graduate Jose Fernandez was the only operator of his boat when it crashed into a Miami Beach jetty, killing himself and two others.
The report, released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is the first to place Fernandez at the helm of the 32-foot SeaVee when the boat crashed in the early morning hours of Sept. 25....
03/16/17 Local Government
LARGO — Around the city, affordable housing developments are out of room for renters.
Bayside Court Apartments off Clearwater-Largo Road have a wait list of six to nine months. Belleair Place just down the road has a wait list of four to six. Pinellas Heights Senior Apartments off Ulmerton Road gets 10 more applications every time there's an opening.
In a move aiming to secure more federal funding for affordable rental housing, city officials have shifted the focus from the community redevelopment areas off West Bay Drive and Clearwater-Largo Road to two main activity centers: the Tri-City Plaza area at U.S. 19 and East Bay Drive, and the Largo Mall area at Seminole Boulevard and Ulmerton Road. Both offer access to jobs as well as major roads and transportation....
03/15/17 Public Safety
ST. PETERSBURG — It was about 9 a.m. Wednesday when Jeffrey Falsey asked his mother to get him doughnuts, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
Susan DiFabbio told him no. Her son got angry. She called police.
What followed, officials said, was two hours of chaos.
DiFabbio's fiance would be killed by a blast to his face from a 12-guage shotgun.
A deputy would be shot in the leg....
Madeira Beach voters ousted all three incumbent city commissioners Tuesday, a shakeup that signals a shift away from redevelopment in that beach town. It was one of 10 elections that took place across Pinellas County.
The election of Margaret Black for mayor, Nancy T. Oakley for District 3 commissioner and John E. Douthirt for District 4 commissioner clouds the future of two controversial downtown hotel projects in Madeira Beach. This new crop of leaders ran together as a ticket aimed at fighting redevelopment and maintaining the city's identity as a residential fishing community....
03/14/17 State Roundup
TALLAHASSEE — Communities in Florida that are considered "sanctuaries" for undocumented immigrants, including four counties in the Tampa Bay area, would have to do away with those practices or risk fines and other state penalties under controversial legislation that passed its first committee this week.
If the bill becomes law, county and local law enforcement agencies would also be required — at local taxpayers' cost with no guarantee of reimbursement — to comply with federal immigration detention requests, which are currently only optional....
LITHIA — Trevor Summers' life rapidly disintegrated over the past seven months:
In September, he pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges in federal court in Philadelphia. In October, his wife, Alisa Summers, sought a domestic violence injunction against him. Two months later, she filed for divorce.
Then, on Feb. 21, she filed for another protective order, accusing her husband of holding her prisoner at knifepoint....
03/09/17 Local Government
LARGO — A parking and restroom analysis for an aerial obstacle and zip line course at Highland Recreation Complex showed that, as city officials expected, restroom capacity is lacking.
City Manager Henry Schubert told commissioners at a workshop late last month that it would be up to Bradenton-based TreeUmph! Adventure Course to pay up to $20,000 to build more restrooms to accommodate the influx of people expected to come with the opening of the park....
03/09/17 Local Government
LARGO — The Florida Supreme Court sided with Largo in a decision that found the city was not violating state law by accepting payments in lieu of taxes from a nonprofit organization.
The lawsuit sprouts from a deal between Largo and RHF-Brittany Bay, the previous owner of the Brittany Bay affordable housing complex at 1201 Seminole Blvd. The agreement said the group would pay an amount equivalent to the cost of property taxes in exchange for tax-exempt bonds with low interest rates from the city to get the project off the ground. ...
DUNEDIN — A man who stole a car with nine baby parrots in the back seat is on the loose, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
The man, described as white and about 30 years old, jumped into a 2016 Chevrolet Equinox about 6:45 p.m. on March 2 while the driver was inside Bauser's, a bar at 520 Douglas Ave. in Dunedin, according to deputies. The driver left the car running and unlocked with nine baby parrots in the backseat while he was inside....
CLEARWATER — Hours before detectives found the woman dead in her apartment, the couple who police said murdered her two weeks before showed a police informer her body, according to a search warrant.
The warrant connected to the murder investigation of 69-year-old Mary Ring shows Jennifer Dianne Elam met Feb. 19 with an informer for the Clearwater police narcotics unit. Elam, 45, asked the informer if he or she was interested in buying a car because she and her boyfriend, Lawrence Edward Cannon, needed money to leave town....
03/07/17 Public Safety
Dusk was bleeding into night, so the couple turned on their porch light to keep talking with the deputy at the foot of the steps.
Days before, Erna Lopez and Benjamin Moreno said their son, Benjamin Jr., had been taken to a mental health facility under the Baker Act when neighbors felt threatened by the 27-year-old waving knives and yelling in the street. It was another nerve-racking encounter with law enforcement sparked by their son's schizophrenia and bipolar disorder....