Five years after charley struck, town rebounds
Five years ago, "the entire downtown area of Punta Gorda looked like Beirut," says Becky Bovell, director of the visitors bureau. Hurricane Charley, the Category 4 storm that was the first of four major storms to hit Florida in 2004, had just slammed the town before churning on to Orlando and Daytona Beach. Today, halfway through an uneventful hurricane season and with tropical depression continually weakening, you'd never know that Charley had hit Punta Gorda. Folks are putting the finishing touches on what they call the area's "extreme makeover." For a closer look at how Punta Gorda has recovered since Aug. 13, 2004, go to links.tampabay.com.
DCF chief wants stricter drug rules
The head of the state's child welfare agency is recommending stricter rules for prescribing antidepressants and other drugs to foster children after a 7-year-old in state care committed suicide. Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon said he is recommending additional review for all children in state custody on such medications and the appointment of an in-house state medical director to keep tabs on cases. The department released a 55-page preliminary finding on Thursday, four months after Gabriel Myers hanged himself with a retractable showerhead at his foster home. The new report found a lack of accountability and inadequate supervision in every step of Gabriel's case.
$5 million awarded in smoker's suit
A Broward County jury has awarded more than more than $5 million in damages to a 92-year-old man whose wife died of lung cancer. Philip Morris USA Inc. was ordered to pay millions to Leon Barbanell, whose wife, Shirley, died in 1996 at 73. In a statement, Philip Morris said it planned to appeal.
7 plead not guilty to double murder
Six men and a 16-year-old boy pleaded not guilty to two charges each of first-degree murder. The men face the death penalty and the boy life in prison in the home-invasion murder and robbery of a wealthy Panhandle couple known for adopting 13 children with special needs. A judge set a Nov. 9 trial for the men and an Oct. 21 trial for the teenager, but State Attorney Bill Eddins says the trial likely won't start for a year. Byrd and Melanie Billings were shot to death in their Escambia County estate on July 9. Nine of their children were home when they were slain.
WEST PALM BEACH
Deal set to start Glades cleanup
South Florida water managers and federal officials have reached a deal that promises to jump-start stalled Everglades restoration. The agreement reached Thursday ends years of dispute over how to split the costs of the project — expected to top $22 billion.