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East Hillsborough's year in review: Whatever happened to ...

We've watched 2009 go by in what has felt like the blink of an eye. Before we christen a new year, let's revisit some of the people, places and events that made life in east Hillsborough memorable. There were winners and losers, heroes, the downtrodden and the inspirational. Here, in words and pictures, are their stories.

. . . the Marine

She thought war would change him. For months, he slept in the dirt and watched fellow Marines die.

But Vicki Apsey said that her son, Josh, now back in the States after serving in Afghanistan, still seems like the same kid she waved goodbye to while wiping away tears back in May. And she swears the 19-year-old even grew an inch.

He came home just in time for Thanksgiving. He also gets to spend Christmas and the new year's holiday in Brandon.

Though she'll treasure every moment they have together, Apsey said she won't forget the families who don't have their loved ones. "It breaks my heart," she said.

Until he hears about redeployment in 2010, Josh will continue to work from his assigned base at Camp Lejeune. In the meantime, Vicki and Tom Apsey are preparing to send daughter Jordyn, 17, to the Navy when she graduates from high school.

"We are so grateful to have everyone home," Vicki said.

Chandra Broadwater, Times staff writer

. . . the Missionary

Jenna Doud graduated from Brandon High in June and about a week later was on a plane to Uganda.

She has been living and working in Uganda for seven months as her parents help build the Village of Hope, which will shelter and educate hundreds of orphans.

Jenna, 18, lives a few hours north, in Gulu. She shares a roof with 18 orphans, whom she's teaching English.

Jenna wrote in an e-mail that she misses her friends but loves her new surroundings. She especially likes the bright stars, Gulu's markets and day-to-day life with the orphans.

"Often, I'll be sitting in the living room and I'll hear two or three of the kids singing ... They have beautiful voices, but what really makes their songs go to your heart is the lyrics," she wrote. "These kids have been through terrible things, and to hear them sing about how Jesus has set them free and how much they love him is amazing. The same joy that is in their songs permeates how they live, which is the real miracle."

Jessica Vander Velde, Times staff writer

. . . the Unsatisfied

Ending a streak of 21 losing seasons, Bloomingdale High School's football team finished with a winning record and a playoff berth in 2008. Fans had high expectations for 2009.

But the team faltered. The Bulls, under first-year coach John Booth finished the season 0-10.

"Our kids are dedicated and obviously are upset with how things went this season," said Booth, a former NFL player. "They understand the hard work it takes."

So how does a team go from its best season at 6-5 to finishing winless and being shut out four times?

Losing almost two dozen seniors didn't help, Booth said. Bloomingdale had first-year starters at 17 of 22 positions.

"Any time you're filling those holes with inexperienced players, you're going to have lumps," he said.

Next fall, Booth hopes to build on this year's struggles and lead Bloomingdale back to its winning form of 2008.

Kevin Smetana, Times Staff Writer

. . . the Persistent

After intense lobbying from Sun City Center residents, Hillsborough County purchased an easement where it will soon build a golf cart path that will cross U.S. 301 and connect with the side entrance to Walmart.

"We're good to go," said county Public Works Director Bob Gordon. "We're heading into the construction phase."

The county secured the easement this month for $103,000, Gordon said. Crews should begin staking out the right of way in preparation for laying the path itself this month or in early January. Weather permitting, the new, roughly $250,000 path north of State Road 674 will open to golf carts by April 16.

Residents gathered more than 4,000 petition signatures seeking the golf cart path after Walmart moved east of U.S. 301, across from where most homes are located.

"I think it's fantastic that we've been able to address a very vital mobility issue for the residents of Sun City Center," said county Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who pushed the project.

Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer

. . . the Accused

She's accused of kidnapping a child and calling the little girl her own.

Since she was arrested in Manatee County in March, Amalia Tabata Pereira, 43, has been waiting in jail on $750,000 bond until her trial is set. The wife of minor league baseball player Jose Tabata, 20, Pereira is accused of posing as an immigration official and stealing a baby girl from an undocumented Mexican couple in Plant City.

The March 24 kidnapping set off a daylong search for the child, who eventually turned up unharmed in Bradenton, where the couple lived and where Pereira turned herself in to authorities. The 2-month-old, Sandra Cruz-Francisco, was returned to her parents.

Jose Tabata has been promoted to the Pittsburgh Pirates Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians, said Pirates spokesman Brian Warecki.

Tabata is also "no longer with Amalia," Warecki said, and is looking into having the year-old marriage annulled.

Chandra Broadwater, Times staff writer

. . . the Unemployed

Until recently, Michelle Brown had a job taking pictures. It was what she always wanted to do.

But it seems as quickly as it came, it went away.

She and husband Greg, an out-of-work plumber, remain hopeful though. This holiday season they have their family, and they still have their home. Three months ago, they thought they would lose the house, their first.

Cutting down on all the extras has been stressful. In September, it was hard enough buying groceries, let alone paying for their 15-year-old daughter's homecoming dress. But then Tammie Borden, owner of the Velvet Rope boutique in Valrico, stepped in to help out.

Borden donated a homecoming dress to Shelly, the Browns' daughter. The news made Michelle cry.

"She looked so beautiful," Brown said. "It's nice to know people care. It helped me think that things would be all right."

Chandra Broadwater, Times staff writer

. . . the Hero

Brian Sawyer is a firefighter and emergency medical technician. But when he moved to the bay area, he couldn't find work in his field. To pay the bills, he became a server at Stingray's Grill in Brandon. His expertise helped him save a choking toddler at the restaurant in May.

Sawyer, 31, ran across the restaurant and performed the Heimlich on 20-month-old Michael Mahoney, who was also having a febrile seizure.

Things have been going well for Sawyer lately. His wife gave birth to Brian Jr. on Dec. 9, and just last week, Tampa Fire Rescue offered him a job. He starts Feb. 1.

John and Sabrina Mahoney have kept in contact with Sawyer since he saved their son, and they've been pulling for him to get back into the emergency field.

"He's obviously picked the right profession," Sabrina Mahoney told the Times in May.

As for Sawyer, he's ready to return to life as a firefighter.

"It's a huge relief," he said. "It'll be nice."

Kevin Smetana, Times staff writer

. . . the 'Art'

Despite code enforcement complaints, "Airstream Ranch" still stands. But its future is uncertain.

In March, Frank Bates, of Bates RV, went before a panel of three Hillsborough County circuit court judges to make a case that the 71/2 Airstream trailers planted nose-down along Interstate 4 in Dover don't violate county codes.

Bates' lawyer, Luke Lirot, argued that it's art. He said it's not dangerous or a nuisance, and he contended that it's not an advertisement, which caused Circuit Judge James Barton to pause.

"So it's a coincidence that the appellants sell Airstream trailers and these are Airstream trailers?" he said.

Nine months later, the judges haven't released their decision. They have unlimited time, and Lirot said he assumes they're backed up with other cases.

"We'll give them whatever time they think is necessary to come to a decision," he said. "The wheels of justice sometimes move slowly."

Jessica Vander Velde, Times staff writer

>> More updates on Page 3

East Hillsborough's year in review: Whatever happened to ... 12/24/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 1:31pm]
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