Around Pinellas

Dunedin looks into buying unbuilt, foreclosed mansion

DUNEDIN — When the city's only 10-room, 12,000-square-foot mansion began to take shape two years ago, developer Jeff Ricketts said he believed it would serve as a beacon of energy efficiency and smart design.

What do its neighbors think of it now?

"It's a monstrosity," said Lucy Myers, a 45-year resident of the nearby neighborhood. "It's absolutely disgraceful. … People look at it and say, 'What in the world is that?' "

The answer: not much.

The two-story home on President Street and Edgewater Drive that Ricketts had planned for his family was never finished. It sits at the north end of the city's scenic waterfront, a dilapidated concrete shell, with no construction crews in sight.

The unbuilt home was foreclosed upon in July by Century Bank of Sarasota in lieu of an unpaid $5.6 million mortgage, and the property was taken over by bank subsidiary North River Holdings, property records show.

The site's future became even more uncertain when the bank itself failed in November, its assets and deposits shifting to Louisiana-based Iberiabank.

The city has begun negotiating with the site's bank-hired broker to buy the site, though officials won't share offer amounts for either side.

If the city did buy it, City Manager Rob DiSpirito said, the property could be used for much-needed stormwater drainage or water quality improvement on the shore of St. Joseph Sound.

Drew Harwell, Times staff writer

Safety Harbor

Private medical records piling up at random woman's home

Elsie Huebner has the private health information of people she has never met.

Huebner, 73, didn't go fishing for information; it came to her.

Since last summer, Aetna and UnitedHealth Group have mailed personal medical records of its customers to her Safety Harbor home, which they've mistaken for the medical offices of at least 10 doctors.

Huebner has tried everything. She has written "return to sender" and "wrong address" on the letters and stuffed them back in her mailbox. She has tracked down the doctors' phone numbers and called them. She has enlisted the help of the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas. And she has complained to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Despite her efforts, all she has received in response are form letters; the medical histories of strangers continue to land in her mailbox.

HHS spokesman Bill Hall did not address any complaints from Huebner in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. Instead, he said, "Responsibility for determining a correct address — and for any impermissible disclosures caused by using an incorrect address — stays with the entity making the disclosure of protected health information."

Aetna spokesman Walt Cherniak said this is what happened:

The addresses for physicians are procured through vendors who manage and assemble databases, and then sell that information to various parties, including insurance companies like Aetna.

"There appears to be an error in the database, and we're taking steps to remedy that," Cherniak said early Wednesday evening.

David Himmel, a spokeman for Prescription Solutions, the UnitedHealth Group company that also sent unsolicited mailings to Huebner, did not respond to specific questions about Huebner's case by press time, but said, "We really want to get this issue resolved, so we'll stay on it."

Rodney Thrash, Times staff writer

PINELLAS COUNTY

Disbanding unit results in 62 percent drop in DUI arrests

With deep budget cuts looming in spring 2008, Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats had warned that he would have to cut back on DUI enforcement. And that would mean fewer drunken drivers taken off county roads.

That's exactly what has happened, according to numbers recently released by the Sheriff's Office.

Since the agency's DUI unit was originally disbanded in 2008, drunken driving arrests are down 62 percent.

During the first quarter of 2008, when the agency had six deputies dedicated to DUI operations, 408 arrests were made. During the first quarter of this year, 156 arrests were made by patrol deputies, who are now responsible for DUI enforcement, along with their other duties.

"Is there an impact? Sure there is," said Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Bob Gualtieri.

In early 2008, the agency had a unit of 13 deputies assigned to "selective traffic enforcement," including DUIs and other traffic issues.

In 2007, the Sheriff's Office conducted seven DUI checkpoints. Since then, there have been none, Gualtieri said.

In early 2008, with budget cuts on the horizon, the agency eliminated the traffic and DUI units to save about $1.5 million, Gualtieri said.

The drop in DUI investigations and arrests can be traced to various factors, including fewer deputies, lack of time and lack of specialized training for deputies.

"The DUI deputies become experts in it. Now you've got deputies who are running from call to call, trying to pick people up on warrants, trying to enforce general traffic laws and serving injunctions," Gualtieri said.

It's unclear if decreased DUI arrests have affected the number of alcohol-related fatalities. Statistics for Pinellas DUI fatalities in 2009 will not be released by the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles until this summer.

Rita Farlow, Times staff writer

Dunedin looks into buying unbuilt, foreclosed mansion 05/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 6:35pm]

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