cat torturer faces up to 5 years in prison
One Giovanni Estrada, above, pleaded guilty Tuesday in Hillsborough Circuit Court. A better known name: Lovey, his victim. She was the black and white feline found riddled with BBs, locked in a cat carrier and left to drown late last summer in Tampa's McKay Bay. Fortunately, a passer-by heard her gurgling, and a veterinarian adopted her. Estrada, 20, admitted to a felony count of animal cruelty. He shot the cat after she ate his pet crawfish, his girlfriend testified. He will be sentenced on Feb. 23 by Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet and faces up to five years in prison.
Gasparilla to test new alert system
Neighborhoods along Bayshore Boulevard and near downtown Tampa could be especially vulnerable to hurricanes, which is why the city has an emergency alert system to reach them. But the area is also most affected by the Children's Gasparilla Extravaganza on Jan. 22 and the Gasparilla Pirate Fest on Jan. 29. Tampa Fire Chief Tom Forward plans to use the same alert system to call, e-mail and text residents near the parade route about plans for the upcoming events. Fire officials think it's a good way to test out the city's new alert system. They urge residents to go to tampagov.net/alerttampa to register.
In six days, shelter takes 104 residents
Pinellas County's new homeless shelter has only been open six days, but it already has 104 residents Tuesday, according to Pinellas Sheriff's Chief Deputy Robert Gualtieri. "Everything's status quo," he said. "Everybody's eating, taking showers, using the restroom facilities. Tonight is our first AA meeting." The shelter was converted from an old bus garage and detention center near the county jail off 49th Street. While the shelter is eventually expected to hold up to 500 people, officials say for now they're more comfortable keeping it around 100 while they fine-tune and add services. However, they realize the cold weather may hasten the timetable. "Right now we're not going to turn anybody away," Gualtieri said. "But we don't want to overextend ourselves."
Fatal bird disease found in Pinellas
State wildlife officials are monitoring the spread of a deadly and highly contagious disease affecting birds that was spotted in Pinellas County last week. Exotic Newcastle disease, which is harmless to humans except for minor skin irritation, was found in a cormorant at the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary. It's the only bird to contract the disease so far, said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The disease can jump from infected birds to domestic poultry and pet birds. Symptoms include coughing, muscle tremors, drooping wings, paralysis, swelling around the eyes or neck, and eye or beak discharge. Wildlife officials say people shouldn't handle sick wildlife.