10/14/17 Human Interest
TAMPA — Jack Surrency parks his Chevy pickup in the nature preserve, climbs out and eyeballs a muddy, ruddy patch of earth beside a paved walking trail. Knee-high grass grew here just a few days ago. Now it looks like someone lobbed a grenade.
Hogs, for sure.
"This right here helps me locate the hogs," he says, pointing out a game trail through the grass. "Another way I know it's hogs is if there's mud on the brush, like this."...
Day Four feels like Day Fourteen when the power is out and there's nothing to do but endure. All that's left in the pantry is a can of whole tomatoes, a half-sack of black-eyed peas and a box of Turkish Delights the neighbors brought back from Istanbul in 2013.
The pack of Oreos was the first victim of Hurricane Irma.
Survival sounded fun on the front end, exotic even. We dragged the Coleman stove in from the garage and remembered that camping trip to High Springs a few years ago when we brought the propane stove but forgot the pots or pans, so we ordered burgers from the Great Outdoors Restaurant, which at least felt rustic....
TAMPA — Robert E. Lee Elementary School is no more.
The oldest magnet school in Hillsborough County, which some school board members were trying to rename as part of a nationwide movement to remove Confederate symbols, burned down on Tuesday night as hundreds of residents watched and children cried.
"Lord have mercy, Jesus," said Erica Claitt, whose 9-year-old niece attended the school until recently. "It's a historical school."...
Monday's blustery daybreak brought relief — albeit cautious relief — across the Tampa Bay area.
Hurricane Irma downed trees and power lines and knocked the canopies off some gas stations, but seemingly spared the region the catastrophic damage that had been predicted.
"A glancing blow," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who had previously warned Irma would "punch us in the face."...
Pets indoors. Windows covered. Tubs filled. Pantry full of nonperishables. Enough candles to contact the dead.
We fell asleep Saturday with anxiety and slept in fits, wondering what Sunday would bring, the words of the weathermen ringing. Chaos. Destruction. Category 5. Landfall. How would this big storm present itself? Those who said they knew for sure were long gone, most of them, leaving behind the immobile, the brave, the foolish, the uncertain....
We've spent all week worrying, wondering, trying hard to remember why we moved onto this peninsula that juts into the ocean like a spur. We threw plans against forecasts that looked like spaghetti noodles and came away with threadbare answers that weren't really answers.
The only thing that seemed certain on Friday was that there is one way out of here, and that's north, and if we're going to leave we'd better go soon....
The world was full of uncertainty back in June, when Jim Wolf and three of his pals departed Clearwater Beach early one morning bound for Cuba aboard a pontoon boat.
Because there's no such thing as surety on the open water.
Alas, the daring Joe-Sixpack adventurers are back in the United States with some stories to tell about being part of the first-ever (so far as we could find) expedition via 'toon between those two specific points in that specific order....
The effects of a natural fire that charred a quarter of Egmont Key are still noticeable a year later, but bright green undergrowth has already replaced the blackened detritus.
Scorched sabal palms are plentiful on the interior 88 acres affected by the fire, but many tourists who stick to the beaches of the 328-acre island in the mouth of Tampa Bay don't even notice.
"It amounted to a good thing," said park ranger Tom Watson, who discovered the fire early one morning in July 2016. "Nothing was harmed, nothing was hurt. It helped clean out years and years and years of brush."...
08/25/17 Human Interest
They're everywhere you look now, the ubiquitous customer feedback survey.
You get a haircut and Number 9 Salon emails to ask if it's working. Call Frontier to complain and a voice begs you to take a survey about your interaction. An oil change at the Nissan dealership prompts a plea for a review.
If it seems like you're inundated by surveys lately, it's because you are. Businesses of all kinds want your immediate feedback on how they're doing....
08/01/17 Human Interest
Matt Cooney was 4 years old when his father bought him a set of plastic golf clubs and drove the boy to a Bermuda grass pitch near the Rocky Point Golf Course to take some swings. The father watched in awe as the son hit balls with what seemed to be natural grace and accuracy.
"He hit a plastic golf ball so pure," said Mark Cooney, 64. "He could hit them 100 feet. Four years old!"
Matt Cooney, 28, who played golf nearly every day since then, was still playing, coaching and marketing golf when he died in his sleep July 22 of unknown medical causes, according to his father....
07/28/17 Local Government
One thing stands between Mark Crawford and the mackerel schooling in the topaz saltwater around the pier at Fort De Soto Park: a toll booth. And even if the lady inside is as sweet as orange blossom honey, she still wants his five dollars.
He's been coming since he was a boy. But lately?
"I haven't come out here at all," said Crawford, 60, of Seminole, violating the directive on his hat — SHUT UP AND FISH....
06/16/17 Public Safety
TAMPA — A faint quiver of cigarette smoke in a mobile home in Tampa launched the most extensive espionage investigation in FBI history, a case that brought down a Cold War spy ring so successful that it had left the West wide open to a Russian attack.
As national attention focuses on Russian meddling in U.S. elections, a new book by a former FBI agent in Tampa highlights the potential lethality of foreign intelligence and the agency's role in disrupting black operations involving Americans who might live right next door....
06/14/17 Human Interest
CLEARWATER BEACH — Some adventurers go looking for new worlds or new records.
First to Mars. Fastest around the Earth.
Important stuff, at least to them.
But sometimes there's just a guy, and that guy has a dream of getting to Cuba on a pontoon boat.
Meet Jim Wolf, 52, who spends part of the year in Clearwater and part in Alma, Mich., where he is president and CEO of Avalon & Tahoe Manufacturing Inc., a private, family-run pontoon boat builder....
06/01/17 Human Interest
MADEIRA BEACH — In a town where a playful wind tosses sand across Gulf Boulevard like summertime snowflakes, they're talking about death threats. They're serving up blackened grouper sandwiches at Dockside Dave's, and lawsuits and ethics complaints down the street at City Hall. As tourists call for room service, residents call for the heads of elected officials.
Welcome to self-anointed "Mad Beach," where sleepy-town politics have grown so serious the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office posts two deputies at City Commission workshops. So volatile are the public meetings that one man, dressing down commissioners this month in a sleeveless shirt, called them "Jerry Springer, Judge Judy and WWE all mixed together."...
05/19/17 Human Interest
TAMPA — Joe Kotvas made a mistake. He admits this now, or at least he admits he would have done things differently one very important morning in 1983, when that corrupt politician Jerry Bowmer walked into Kotvas' County Commission office and then walked out, leaving there on Kotvas' desk an envelope filled with enough cash to make a poor man sweat.
If he could go back, Kotvas says now, 34 years later, he would grab that envelope and storm out and catch Jerry Bowmer. And feed it to him, from the sound of it. Kotvas would avoid all the newspaper headlines and perp walks, avoid two trials, avoid prison time and a broken back. Maybe he'd rise to be the public servant he always dreamed about....