12/29/17 Public Safety
They knew something had gone wrong, but they weren't sure what, climbing back into the car outside the courthouse. The kid had his phone pressed to his ear; he was trying to reach his probation officer. It rang and rang but she didn't pick up.
She had told him he had court that morning, he said, but when they asked the clerk, nothing was scheduled. The kid hung up and dialed again. Adam turned the key in the ignition, shaking his head. ...
12/22/17 Human Interest
CLEARWATER — The tree in the hotel lobby was plastic, skinny and swaddled in shoeboxes, empty but gift-wrapped, and blotted with bows. For Gael Rodriguez, it was love at first sight. Every time the 9-month-old's mother carried him outside, he smiled and stretched his arms, reaching for the fake bristles, the thread of lights, the shiny red and silver bulbs: his first Christmas tree.
If it couldn't be beautiful, Gael's parents thought, at least it was normal....
12/12/17 Public Safety
LAKE MARY — Hundreds more juveniles who steal cars each year could be kept off the streets under a new tool approved by a Department of Juvenile Justice committee Tuesday, a move that could put a dent in a dangerous local car theft epidemic.
Secretary Christina Daly also committed her department to improving services for young offenders who are released into the community, part of an overhaul to a piece of the justice system that officials across Florida agree is failing....
12/08/17 Public Safety
Left your car running, and a teen stole it?
Some state lawmakers think you should be criminally charged for that.
Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, this week filed House Bill 927, which would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to leave your car unattended without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition and taking the key from the car. Sen. Perry Thurston Jr., D-Fort Lauderdale, filed matching Senate Bill 1112....
12/08/17 Public Safety
Florida's juvenile justice department will propose sweeping changes Monday that would make young auto thieves more likely to face consequences.
This overhaul of the Detention Risk Assessment Instrument — the first time the tool has been modified in 23 years — comes on the heels of "Hot Wheels," the Tampa Bay Times series that exposed a deadly juvenile auto theft epidemic in Pinellas County....
A national think-tank has begun a sprawling study into Pinellas County's juvenile auto theft epidemic, hoping to stop the problem before more teens die in stolen cars.
The $85,000 research project, expected to culminate in policy recommendations for the Florida Legislature in January, appears to be the first probe of its kind into this dangerous youth crime.
"We're not just doing a study for the sake of doing a study," said Dewey Caruthers, president and CEO of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Caruthers Institute. "This is about data-driven social change — policy change, culture change, systems change."...
11/24/17 Human Interest
YBOR CITY — The bouncer was already at the door, checking IDs, when Lori Rosso came home from work on a recent Friday. The sidewalk outside her building is usually lined with cross-legged adolescents waiting for a show to start at the Ritz Ybor; Lori lives above the club, on the party strip of Tampa Bay. As she opens a special door for residents to the left of the bouncer, the teens point, whisper. Lori thinks they must think she's cool, this 51-year-old woman with a key to the Ritz....
10/20/17 Human Interest
TAMPA — Meet her with her clothes on.
Don't make her greet you in a paper gown, slits down the front and flimsy ties. Shake her hand, if she wants to, and introduce yourself. Pause between sentences. This will make it clear that you are listening; that you will listen, to whatever she has to say. Observe what she is not saying. Ask the question you've been trained to ask:
"Have you ever had sex against your will?"...
ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.
Forty years later, Dillinger is the Pinellas-Pasco public defender, but the same poverty zones still exist, he said, giving birth to most of his clients, including children who cycle through the juvenile system without hope. That hopelessness, Dillinger said, is at the center of the county's deadly juvenile auto theft epidemic....
We sawed through plywood and boarded up windows, hoarded water and bought stores out of batteries. We took down flags and porch swings and filled up with gas, hit the road or hunkered down.
In short, we all made plans.
But the impossibly large Irma, like every hurricane before and all that will come after, did not care about how well-prepared we were. The storm left us powerless before moving on to devastate areas outside its path, that didn't see what was coming....
ST. PETERSBURG — Danika Kubiak is no stranger to the lemonade business. When her neighbor's dog ate her retainer last year, Danika set up on their block. She asked for donations. She raised $15. Anything to lower that orthodonture bill, right?
So when the freckled-nose 7-year-old woke up on Tuesday and realized some of her neighbors still didn't have power, she went up and down 14th Avenue NE, knocking on doors. "Would you like to do a lemonade stand?" she asked Meara Hill, still in her pajamas. The 8-year-old said sure, and they added coffee and power strips to the mix....
They hardly slept at all the first night, too anxious to settle. The kids couldn't stay still, and the baby cried. "Is there anything you can do to quiet him down?" asked an older woman holed up in the same classroom. But there wasn't, and Jasmine Walker held him closer to her chest.
No one believed her when she said this would be bad, and by Saturday, it had been too late: The roads were jammed to Georgia, friends told her; she and her family would have to stay in St. Petersburg as a Category 5 hurricane swirled closer and closer....
Editor's Note: We typically swim in our fishbowls, having a million different conversations as we go about our daily lives. But this week in Tampa Bay, we're all asking the same questions, speaking the same fears and telling the same jokes. Our reporter spent Thursday afternoon eavesdropping at a bar, a coffee shop, a hardware store, a Walmart and Tyrone Square Mall. Here's what she heard, woven together as we all anticipate the big storm....
GULFPORT — The calls kept coming, the ringing like a whine over the wall-unit air-conditioner in the little office, the messages piling up. Insurance broker Rob Sepúlveda leaned over his hands, his fingers laced together on his desk. "I want a policy that will protect me if my house blows away," the latest caller said. She wanted what everyone else did, the thing people usually never wanted: flood insurance....
LARGO — Isaiah Battle, who at 15 years old became the most arrested car thief in Pinellas County, was sentenced to 20 months in prison Monday.
At an emotional hearing that in many ways served as an indictment of the juvenile justice system, Isaiah also received four years probation.
"In Pinellas County, youth stealing cars, fleeing from police, and getting in crashes is out of control," said Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Coyler. "This is extremely concerning behavior that puts everyone at risk....