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Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Tony Marrero

Tony Marrero covers breaking news and general assignment stories in Hillsborough County. A Baltimore native, he joined the Times in 2009.

Phone: (813) 226-3374


Twitter: @TMarreroTimes

  1. Tampa police link two shootings, tell Seminole Heights residents to avoid walking alone


    TAMPA — One was a 22-year-old African American man. The other was a 32-year-old white woman.

    Both died mysteriously of gunshot wounds in southeast Seminole Heights last week. Now police are asking nervous residents to be alert, avoid walking alone at night and to come forward with any information that might help solve the crimes....

    A small memorial sits in the grassy lot on East Orleans Avenue in Seminole Heights where 32-year-old Monica Hoffa's body was found Friday. Hoffa had been shot to death, and Tampa police say they believe her killing is related to the shooting death of Benjamin Edward Mitchell, 22, at a bus stop near N 15th Street and E Frierson Avenue on Oct. 9. There are no clear motives, however, and police have asked to residents to be on the lookout for anything suspicious and avoid traveling alone at night. JONATHAN CAPRIEL/Times staff
  2. Feds to certify Pasco deputies in deal that may boost deportations

    Public Safety

    NEW PORT RICHEY — The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is taking steps to turn some of its jail deputies into federal immigration agents.

    Sheriff Chris Nocco has signed an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to join a controversial program that give deputies the power to check the immigration status of people booked into the county jail and to serve warrants on suspected undocumented inmates — a process that could lead to deportation....

    Margarita Romo, executive director of Farmworkers Self-Help Inc. in Dade City, says she is worried the Pasco County Sheriff Office's new jail-based partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will lead to the deportation of immigrants without criminal histories.  [Times file]
  3. Miami man arrested in Sarasota in connection with fatal Tampa shooting


    TAMPA — A 32-year-old Miami man has been charged with murder in connection with the April shooting death of Darius Jaquan Harris, court records show.

    Zachary Alexander Williams was arrested Thursday in Sarasota County and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of first degree murder and illegally possessing a firearm as a felon, jail records show.

    According to a Hillsborough County grand jury indictment filed Sept. 28, Williams shot Harris, 24, "with a premeditated design" on April 23....

    Zachary Alexander Williams, 32, was arrested Thursday on a first degree murder charge in connection with the April 23 shooting of Darius Jaquan Harris, 24, in Tampa. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Victim of fatal shooting found near East Tampa bus stop


    TAMPA — Police are investigating after a 22-year-old Tampa man was fatally shot in East Tampa.

    Officers found Benjamin Edward Mitchell lying near the bus stop at 15th Street and East Frierson Avenue about 9 a.m. with at least one gunshot wound, according to Tampa police. Mitchell was taken to a local hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

    Detectives were working Tuesday to identify a suspect and motive in the shooting....

  5. People wait hours for food assistance in wake of Hurricane Irma



    Hela Garcia and her mother, Gloria Ferrales, sat on folding chairs Monday under a small white tent, taking a brief respite from the midday sun beating down on the Plant City Stadium grounds.

    A few minutes earlier, mother and daughter had walked out of another tent with a debit card that Ferrales will use to buy nearly $400 worth of food over the next two months. The money, courtesy of the federal government, is meant to help the 87-year-old disabled Tampa resident make up for the frozen steaks and other provisions she had to throw out when Hurricane Irma knocked out power at her home for three days....

    Traffic snakes near Plant City Stadium on Monday. There were similar scenes in Seminole, the Food for Florida site in Pinellas, which closed Oct. 2.
  6. Plant City police officers cleared in fatal shooting of 35-year-old father of four

    Public Safety

    PLANT CITY — A man fatally shot by Plant City police officers in July came at one in a "shooting stance" with a glass pipe and a rolled-up shirt in his hands, but officers feared he was holding a gun.

    These details are included in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigative report that the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office used in part to decide that officers Gerald Baker and Derek Hartmann were justified in shooting 35-year-old Jesus Cervantes on July 6. ...

    Ruth Beltran (in blue), community organizer for Black Lives Matter Tampa, speaks during a press conference at the parking lot of the Plant City Police Department on Jul 15 after two Plant City police officers, Gerald Baker and Derek Hartmann, fatally shot Jesus Cervantes. [CHARLIE KAIJO  |  Times]
  7. Chronister takes on 'privilege' of serving as Hillsborough sheriff (w/video)

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — It wasn't too long ago, in career terms, that Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee called Col. Chad Chronister into an office and asked if he'd try to succeed him.

    Chronister said yes. On Friday, he took over sooner than anyone expected.

    As Gee and a roomful of friends, family, dignitaries and Sheriff's Office staff watched, Chronister took the oath of office.

    "It is truly an honor, and I know what a privilege it is to be the sheriff of Hillsborough County," Chronister, 49, told an audience of about 150 people after taking the oath in the cavernous Courtroom 1 of the Edgecomb Courthouse....

    Chief Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, left, swears in Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Chad Chronister, right, to replace outgoing Sheriff David Gee, who decided to retire early. JAMES BORCHUCK/ Times
  8. Local Puerto Ricans providing relief to relatives suffering on island


    Oxalis Garcia finally heard her father's voice on Sunday, when he managed to get through to the mainland four days after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico.

    Augusto Garcia did not sound like the strong man his daughter knew.

    Things are really bad over here. Please get me a plane ticket.

    "He is very reserved, but for the first time in my life, I could hear the concern and the desperation in his voice," said Garcia, a 37-year-old St. Petersburg attorney. "To see him so vulnerable, it was very emotional for me."...

    Lavinia Rodriguez posed for a portrait at her home in Land O' Lakes. Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Rodriguez has been working to secure plane tickets for eight of her relatives to come to Florida. Her relatives will start arriving next week, six of whom will stay with her. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  9. Tampa charter school teacher charged with firing handgun at ground


    TAMPA — A charter school teacher was arrested Sunday after, police say, she fired a gun into the ground during a dispute with her boyfriend.

    Melody Patrice Bing, a teacher at Vision of Excellence Academy, fired at least two rounds from a silver handgun during an argument with her boyfriend about 1 p.m. in a vacant lot behind 402 W Columbus Drive, according to a Tampa police arrest report....

  10. Yankees executive Jessica Steinbrenner seeks restraining order against ex-husband


    TAMPA — Jessica Steinbrenner, a top executive with the New York Yankees and a daughter of the team's late owner George Steinbrenner, is seeking a restraining order against her ex-husband.

    In a petition filed in Hillsborough County last week, Steinbrenner alleges that Felix M. Lopez Jr. has been stalking her since their marriage formally ended in February. According to the complaint, Lopez has made unwelcome attempts to contact Steinbrenner by calling, sending text messages and making at least two unannounced visits to her Tampa home earlier this month....

    New York Yankees executive Jessica Steinbrenner filed for a restraining order last week against her former husband, Felix M. Lopez Jr.
  11. Still worried about family, Tampa Bay Puerto Ricans ramp up relief effort


    TAMPA — Brenda Irizarry is worried.

    By Thursday afternoon, more than 24 hours after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and tore across the island, the Tampa woman had not heard from any relatives who live there. But she had seen images of the devastation the storm left in its wake.

    "I'm numb," Irizarry said. "It doesn't look like my home, and I'm scared for them."

    Irizarry is among many Tampa Bay area Puerto Ricans channeling their nervous energy into relief efforts, collecting supplies to send to the island in the coming days and weeks. It keeps them busy between efforts to reach family across the divide created by the island's ravaged communication infrastructure....

    Brenda Irizarry of Tampa, while agonizing over the status of family in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, is helping lead an effort to collect and send supplies to the island. [ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times
  12. Puerto Ricans in Tampa Bay wait with dread as Hurricane Maria approaches island


    TAMPA — As Hurricane Maria swirled in the Atlantic Ocean, Sarykarmen Rivera got a call from her parents in Puerto Rico. They had an ominous message.

    We think it's going to make a direct hit here.

    "I try to be the strong daughter, but I have to admit I started sobbing when I hung up the phone," Rivera, a Riverview journalist and on-air personality for iHeart Radio's Rumba 106.5, said Tuesday about the weekend phone call. "I told my husband that this is the big one that people have been talking about for years."...

    Hillsborough journalist Sarykarmen Rivera displays a photo of herself and her family on Tuesday that was taken in her hometown of Guayama, Puerto Rico.
  13. Tampa man calls neighbor over to car, fatally shoots him, police say


    TAMPA — Matthew Downey and his wife were standing in an alley near their home at Westshore Yacht Club on Saturday night when a neighbor called them over to his car.

    Then, a flash of gunfire. Moments later, the 57-year-old father of three was dead.

    The shooter, Tampa police say, was Brian Baker, who lives in a condominium two doors down from Downey and his wife Susan at 5919 Bowen Daniel Drive....

    Brian Baker has been charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Matthew J. Downey, both 57, about 10:15 p.m. Saturday.
  14. Fueling ire: When generators crank up, noise complaints come in


    When the worst of Hurricane Irma's howling winds subsided, the generators began to emit their telltale drone, like 4,000-watt cicadas emerging from slumber.

    The calls to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office soon followed.

    "Neighbor has his generator running and it's keeping him awake," a Sheriff's Office dispatcher typed into a log during a call with a Palm Harbor man at 11:55 p.m. on Monday....

    People in Naples wait in line for generators three days after Hurricane Irma.
  15. Authorities: Busting Irma scammers starts with consumers, will last for years


    TAMPA — It's a forecast authorities can make with confidence: As soon as hurricanes blow through, the scammers emerge and get to work.

    They say they're collecting money for storm victims and keep it. They pretend to be storm victims, sometimes stealing actual victims' identities, to snag recovery money. They pass themselves off as licensed contractors, receive payment and then botch the job or perform no work at all....

    Sonia de Jara and son Querubin Jara, 11, play with the family's kittens in their damaged trailer after Hurricane Irma tore through southern Collier County on Monday. Authorities are urging storm victims and those helping them to watch for fraud. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]