Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Afternoon Update: Home-price optimism; grand jury to probe licensing board; FDLE confiscates PTC phones; sting nets stolen guns, drugs

Here's what you may have missed, and what you need to know as you start winding down.

TAMPA BAY HOME PRICES IN 2016 SOARED, BUT WILL 2017 BE AS STRONG?

In 2016, Tampa Bay's residential real estate market enjoyed a banner year. Single-family home prices in the four-county area soared nearly 14 percent compared to 2015. That was the biggest year-over-year gain in at least six years and the largest increase of any major metro area in the state, according to newly released figures from Florida Realtors.

CONSTRUCTION LICENSING BOARD TO BE FOCUS OF GRAND JURY PROBE

Pinellas' top prosecutor has decided to open a criminal investigation into the county's construction licensing board, embroiled for weeks in controversy since a Times' series raised questions about the agency's conduct. Pinellas-Pasco State's Attorney Bernie McCabe said he began the process of convening a grand jury after the board rejected hiring an interim director from outside the agency and instead chose to hand the reigns to a longtime agency employee.

STATE INVESTIGATORS CONFISCATE PTC CELLPHONES

Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents have taken possession of seven Public Transportation Commission cellphones as it steps up an investigation into whether public records were deliberately deleted from the devices. The phones were used by PTC staffers, including former executive director Kyle Cockream.

UNDERCOVER OPERATION NETS 66 GUNS IN THREE MONTHS, SOME STOLEN

Over the past 14 weeks, Hillsborough sheriff's detectives arrested 51 people and seized 66 guns — 42 handguns, 15 rifles and nine shotguns. The effort netted about four pounds of drugs, mostly marijuana, methamphetamine and crack and powder cocaine. And it resulted in 188 drug and gun-related charges. Sheriff David Gee said that a reliable way to predict violent crime trends is to gauge the number of firearms on the street and the number of aggravated assaults.

FLORIDA'S CFO RESIGNS FOR JOB AT FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced that he's resigning from his Cabinet position to return to Palm Beach County and take a job as the CFO of Florida Atlantic University. Atwater was elected Florida's CFO in 2010 and won re-election in 2014. He cannot seek a third term but still had about 23 months left in office.

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO DO THIS WEEKEND?

The entertainment options are varied, beginning today with the Florida State Fair, which runs through Feb. 20. It's Student Day for Hillsborough students, but those with free tickets must be accompanied by an adult after 6 p.m. Saturday brings the Sant' Yago Illuminated Knight Parade in Ybor City and Rick Wallenda's high-wire walk at St. Petersburg's Sundial. There's also movies, music, a Hello Kitty truck and zombies. Check out all the happenings on the Times' Things to Do page.

EXPECT A SUNNY, DRY WEEKEND ACROSS TAMPA BAY

After low temperatures drop back slightly into the 60s overnight, the stretch of clear, sunny weather sticks around through the weekend and into Valentine's Day on Tuesday, forecasters say. For detailed forecast information, go to the Times' Weather page.

VASILEVSKIY IN GOAL AS LIGHTNING TRAVEL TO MINNESOTA TONIGHT

With goalie Ben Bishop being on a roll, and coming off a shutout, you would have thought he might get the start tonight for the Lightning in a measuring-stick game against the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. Instead, Andrei Vasilevskiy starts, hoping to keep Tampa Bay's two-game winning streak alive. Keep up with the game with our live blog from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

GET READY FOR SPRING TRAINING

Baseball season starts early in Florida. Whether you're a fan of one of the teams that trains in the Sunshine State, a resident planning a day trip or a visitor here on vacation, you'll find everything you need to know to plan a day at the park with our interactive page. From stadium locations to contact information, reporting dates, schedules, ticket information and more, we're your one-stop resource for the Grapefruit League.

TRAFFIC UPDATES TO GET HOME SAFELY

As you head out for your evening commute, check out our live blog for the latest traffic updates and road conditions across Tampa Bay.

Afternoon Update is a weekday feature from tampabay.com. Check in Monday through Friday for updates and information on the biggest stories of the day.

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Plan your beach vacation with Florida Beach Insider!

Plan your beach vacation with Florida Beach Insider!

We know how it goes: It's December. It's cold. It starts getting dark at 4:30.It's not even officially winter yet, but if you're like us, you're already yearning for the sun on your face and sand between your toes.That's why we're starting ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Carson Wentz's injury drops Eagles out of top five

NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Carson Wentz's injury drops Eagles out of top five

What follows below is a ranking of all 32 NFL teams. To build this list, we consulted five objective measures of team strength: Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ratings...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

PLANT CITY — Jonathon Adams heard a scream, "like a dog getting run over by a car," then saw a mini-van come tearing around the corner with a woman he knew dangling out of the passenger side.It was the start of a deadly sequence of events Dec. 8 that...
Updated: 8 minutes ago

Amtrak train strikes, kills woman in Lakeland

Deputies in Polk County are investigating the death of a woman who was hit by an Amtrak train on Thursday.The woman was struck at 12:30 p.m. in the railroad intersection of Highway 92 East and Fairway Avenue in Lakeland, deputies said.Investigators d...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Dade City man, suspected in Polk armed robbery, turns himself in

Dade City man, suspected in Polk armed robbery, turns himself in

DADE CITY — A Dade City man, suspected in the armed robbery of a Lakeland gas station earlier this week, turned himself in to authorities late Wednesday night after after being prompted by his mother, according to Pasco County Sheriff’s Office. Edne...
Updated: 21 minutes ago
St. Pete ponders building parking garage -- then giving it away

St. Pete ponders building parking garage -- then giving it away

ST. PETERSBURG — For years, Edge District merchants and residents have been united by this grievance: there isn’t enough parking to accommodate visitors to the booming entertainment and retail district.The City Council will consider a plan to fix tha...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Woman fired from Bay Pines health center calls it retaliation for complaints of harassment

Woman fired from Bay Pines health center calls it retaliation for complaints of harassment

Chalea Weekes fumes each time she sees another entertainer, politician or public figure stand accused of sexual harassment.Fired from her job in the social work department at the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, Weekes says in federal complaints that ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Tim Tebow wants to help throw you a tailgate wedding (sausages included)

Tim Tebow loves weddings.He apparently also loves football, tailgate parties and a good brat, which might explain why he’s lending his pitchman talents to a contest that ties all four together.In a promotional video, Tebow asks, "What happens when yo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa chamber names first companies for minority business accelerator

Tampa chamber names first companies for minority business accelerator

TAMPA — Four firms in marketing, construction and secure cash logistics will be the first to go to through a new Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce program designed to help black- and Hispanic-owned companies grow their businesses through two years of...
Updated: 1 hour ago
FCC votes down Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules

FCC votes down Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules

NEW YORK — The Federal Communications Commission has voted on party lines to undo sweeping Obama-era "net neutrality" rules that guaranteed equal access to internet.The agency’s Democratic commissioners dissented in the 3-2 vote Thursday.The FCC’s ne...
Updated: 1 hour ago