Friday, October 19, 2018
News Roundup

Teen sentenced to eight years in prison for setting East Hernando library fire

BROOKSVILLE — Joseph Brannen stared at the pages as his attorney explained the deal that would send the teenager to prison.

One day last summer, Brannen showed up at the East Hernando Branch Library clad in firefighting gear as crews worked to douse a blaze that Brannen would later confess to having ignited. On Friday, the mentally ill 18-year-old wore an orange jail jumpsuit that swallowed his thin frame; he bounced his legs up and down as he awaited his turn in a Hernando County courtroom.

When the time came, Circuit Judge Stephen E. Toner Jr. asked whether Brannen wanted him to accept the plea deal struck with prosecutors. The terms: eight years in prison and an order to pay roughly $590,000 to Travelers Insurance and $25,000 to Hernando County. If convicted at trial, Brannen could have faced up to 15 years.

"Yes, sir," Brannen replied.

Assistant Public Defender David Bauer told Toner that the deal had come after extensive negotiations with the State Attorney's Office. Bauer said Brannen has an "extremely significant mental health history and difficulties," but a psychologist deemed him sane at the time of the offense and competent to stand trial. Bauer did not elaborate on Brannen's illness but said the teen is taking prescribed psychotropic medications.

"Do you feel you're competent to proceed here?" Toner asked.

"A little bit, yes, sir," Brannen replied.

"Do you understand what's going on?"

"Yes, sir."

Brannen had just one prior arrest as a juvenile, for petty theft. Toner noted that the sentence fell within recommended guidelines and granted Bauer's request to recommend that Brannen be placed in a state Department of Corrections mental health treatment facility. He wished the teen luck, and Brannen thanked the judge.

The call on the fire came during the early hours of July 6. When firefighters arrived at the library at 6457 Windmere Road in Ridge Manor West, they found wicker chairs piled against the back door on fire. The fire activated sprinklers inside the building.

They also found Brannen in the area, wearing the bunker gear of a firefighter. When questioned by deputies about his presence, Brannen said he wanted to be a firefighter so he had purchased the gear on eBay.

He told them he had heard the fire call over his scanner, so he had come to the scene, which was just down the street from where he was staying with his aunt. Brannen did not participate in helping to extinguish the fire.

When investigators from the state Fire Marshal's Office and the Hernando County Sheriff's Office interviewed Brannen, he provided details of how he had gotten into the screened reading room at the library and set the fire.

At the time of his arrest, Brannen claimed on his Facebook page that he was employed by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue. Brannen told authorities that he wanted to get a job there but didn't actually work there. The page said he attended Hernando High School and lives in Riverview.

The fire caused extensive smoke and water damage from the sprinklers. The county had to hire a company to meticulously clean and pack every book. County officials say the repairs could be completed and the library reopened by August.

The county opened a temporary library site this week at Ridge Manor Community Center at 34240 Cortez Blvd. An official grand opening is set for Monday evening.

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

Comments
Hernando commissioners face Democratic challengers, questions about contributions

Hernando commissioners face Democratic challengers, questions about contributions

Early voting begins Oct. 24.
Updated: 7 minutes ago
NB lanes on Howard Frankland reopen after fatal crash involving wrong-way driver; alcohol suspected

NB lanes on Howard Frankland reopen after fatal crash involving wrong-way driver; alcohol suspected

A Pinellas Park man was killed when he drove the wrong way on the Howard Frankland Bridge and struck another vehicle head-on, forcing all northbound lanes to close.
Updated: 20 minutes ago
After Hurricane Michael, a hunt for surviving oysters in Apalachicola

After Hurricane Michael, a hunt for surviving oysters in Apalachicola

APALACHICOLA — T.J. Ward’s phone rang. Service had improved in the days since Hurricane Michael. "Get another scrub brush and a squeegee,"he told his sister. "The littlest one you can find." The retail shop of the Ward family’s 13...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Leader of Clearwater’s strong mayor initiative goes to work for prominent Scientologist

Leader of Clearwater’s strong mayor initiative goes to work for prominent Scientologist

CLEARWATER — The chairman of the group backing Clearwater’s Nov. 6 strong mayor referendum began a job this month with a company owned by a prominent Church of Scientology donor that focuses on local and state government education.Zach Thorn, 29, had...
Updated: 1 hour ago
UConn is just awful, a positive at FSU and more state college football nuggets

UConn is just awful, a positive at FSU and more state college football nuggets

FSU bright spotAs rough as Florida State's 3-3 start has been, its run defense has been one of the best in the nation. The Seminoles are seventh nationally in yards per rush allowed (2.76) and held Northern Illinois to only six yards — the best...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tuna-gate: StarKist admits fixing prices, faces $100 million fine

Tuna-gate: StarKist admits fixing prices, faces $100 million fine

StarKist Co. agreed to plead guilty to a felony price fixing charge as part of a broad collusion investigation of the canned tuna industry, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fire at Tampa Yacht and Country Club forces evacuation of 27 horses

Fire at Tampa Yacht and Country Club forces evacuation of 27 horses

A fire Tuesday night caused 27 horses to be evacuated from their stable at Tampa Yacht and Country Club.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Congress provides an opportunity that might help finance a new Rays stadium

Congress provides an opportunity that might help finance a new Rays stadium

TAMPA — Whatever work is under way on financing a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium remains hush-hush for now as the clock ticks toward Dec. 31.That’s the day the window closes on a three-year deal with current host St. Petersburg allowing the team to explo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Heisman watch: Two AAC players crack the top five

Heisman watch: Two AAC players crack the top five

5. Memphis RB Darrell Henderson: The nation's leading rusher (1,133 yards) ran for 199 on UCF in a one-point loss.4. Houston DL Ed Oliver: His 1.9 tackles for a loss per game lead all interior linemen nationally.3. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins: The B...
Updated: 2 hours ago
USF kicker Coby Weiss  emerges as clutch ‘cast’ mate

USF kicker Coby Weiss emerges as clutch ‘cast’ mate

TAMPA — There's no skirting the laws of physics and gravity. All kickers, regardless of the amount of horsepower harnessed in their respective quads and calves, have a ceiling.For most, it's a sobering reality. For USF walk-on Coby Weiss, ...
Updated: 2 hours ago