Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

Prosecutors drop case against Clearwater man accused of impersonating a firefighter

ST. PETERSBURG — In late February, police arrested a man they said pretended to be a firefighter to get free drinks and meals.

This month, prosecutors determined the young man was not breaking the law.

Records show the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office decided on April 1 not to file any charges against Robert Spalla, 23, of Clearwater.

Assistant state attorney Noelle Festa said the law about impersonating a firefighter did not apply in this case. She said that in order to be prosecuted for that, a person would need to do something that would prompt someone to aid them in a manner related to the duties of a firefighter.

"The case facts did not rise to that level," Festa said.

In other words, getting free gift cards and meals isn't the duty of a firefighter, so the statute does not apply.

Spalla, who has never been a firefighter in the state of Florida, had faced a third-degree felony.

Police said for six months, Spalla got free meals from businesses around Pinellas County when he wore a T-shirt that featured an official fire department logo. Police said he admitted to telling people he was a firefighter.

Spalla denied that, and told the Tampa Bay Times there were "several things that went wrong." He said he collects shirts, and that around Christmas a friend gave him one from the fire department.

He said he was wearing the shirt and pajama pants when he took his daughter to All Children's Hospital last year. A staff member there asked him if he was a St. Petersburg firefighter.

"I was being sarcastic and said, 'What does it look like?' " Spalla told the Times on Thursday. "I said I'd been trying to get on for five years."

Spalla said he was a fire explorer in Pinellas County when he was younger and once wanted to be a firefighter. He is currently going to school to be an underwater welder.

"This has been blown way out of proportion," Spalla said. "It was a complete misunderstanding."

Comments

Column: No-win fishery bills would undermine businesses and innovation

The federal government delivered good news for anglers this week. Under newly approved two-year pilot programs, Florida and the other Gulf Coast states will manage red snapper fishing for private anglers. This means states can test ways to improve ac...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Hundreds mourn Durant High athlete killed at Brandon gas station

Hundreds mourn Durant High athlete killed at Brandon gas station

PLANT CITY — Many remembered Durant High School football player Grover Wills, 18, for his talent on the field, but almost as many remembered his penchant for bursting into dance and song. After practice or on team trips, Wills would mesmerize those a...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Hernando County Commissioner arrested on prostitution charges

Hernando County Commissioner arrested on prostitution charges

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, 71, was arrested midday Thursday by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office on multiple prostitution charges.Nicholson was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center on one count of operat...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
Child, 3, hospitalized after being found in New Port Richey pond

Child, 3, hospitalized after being found in New Port Richey pond

Deputies said they were dispatched to a pond behind a home in the 4700 block of Crestknoll Drive on Thursday afternoon.It appeared the child wandered off and that the incident was accidental, deputies said. An adult caretaker was watching the child, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

Tech Data names Rich Hume to take over as CEO

CLEARWATER — A longtime IBM executive is becoming the new leader of Tampa Bay’s largest public company. Tech Data announced Richard "Rich" Hume as its new CEO effective June 6. Hume joined Tech Data two years ago and is currently the chief operating ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg Police on Thursday closed two assisted living facilities, citing "deplorable conditions," including no running water. The facilities are run by Tampa Bay Behavioral Health, located at 3434 Second Ave. S and 3418 Second Ave. S, accordin...
Updated: 1 hour ago
FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275 in St. Petersburg

FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275 in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — A distracted driver from Pinellas Park walked away unscathed after his car plunged 50 feet off Interstate 275.Thomas Highhouse, 61, of Pinellas Park, was driving his 2016 Chevy Camero along Interstate 275 around 11:10 a.m. when he lo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Bay area has ‘hit show’ again, thanks to USF

Bay area has ‘hit show’ again, thanks to USF

For the first time since its season commenced, the USF baseball team enters a weekend as the Bulls' feature sports attraction.Basketball ended last month, and spring football ended last Saturday, meaning would-be baseball fans no longer have reason t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

The Mallex Smith effect can take effect for Rays

ST. PETERSBURG — Mallex Smith has style.Effervescent personality. Pop culture hipness. Sense of fashion with accoutrements.Now the Rays are going to find out if he has game.More specifically, enough game to be a front-line outfielder, even an i...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Column: Some facts and figures you might not know about civil rights restoration in Florida

After U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled Florida’s process for restoring felons’ civil rights was unconstitutional in early February, he allowed me to file a friend of the court brief to assist the court as it considered possible solutions. The br...
Updated: 1 hour ago