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Updates on key stories from 2008

. . . That flyover on Bruce B. Downs

NEW TAMPA — Road-weary New Tampa commuters — and, really, is there any other kind? — got some relief this year in the form of a $42-million flyover at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Interstate 75.

Work crews opened a second lane this month on the tall bridge and were wrapping up a few last tasks, four months ahead of schedule.

Before the flyover, commuters heading downtown from New Tampa had to make a left turn at a traffic signal to get from Bruce B. Downs onto southbound I-75. The flyover, which opened in July, lets them veer off Bruce B. Downs, sail over the interstate, then merge into its southbound lane.

The Florida Department of Transportation has not counted how many motorists take the flyover every day, but "it is a very heavily used bridge," DOT spokesman John McShaffrey said. "We really don't receive complaints out there like we used to."

Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer

. . . Revealing condo owners

TOWN 'N COUNTRY — The Arbors at Branch Creek, an apartment complex near family-friendly Countryway and Westchase, announced last summer it was going condo and clothing-optional. The name was changed to the Eden. Its marketing team launched a sexually suggestive Web site featuring a naked model. Landscaping around a new, private European/South Beach style swimming pool and spa area for nudists began.

According to Eric Dukes, the director of sales, some of those plans have changed drastically.

The Eden's Web site, www.edentampa.com, has been stripped bare. Renamed the Valhalla Vacation Club, the 390-unit community is now slated to become a timeshare resort with a clothing-optional pool.

Dukes, who is also the "broker owner" of Attraction Realty in Altamonte Springs, said recently that he wanted to consult his attorney before discussing other details with North of Tampa.

On its Web site, Attraction Realty says its No. 1 goal "is to help you create wealth in real estate." It lists the Trafalgar Village and Flora Ridge communities in Orlando as clients.

This is the third incarnation of the northwest Hillsborough complex, which struggled to attract tenants as the housing market went belly-up. Zom Development built the Arbors at 12401 W Hillsborough Ave. in 1999, then sold it in 2005 to Miami developer Abbey Berkowitz for $60-million.

Rodney Thrash, Times Staff Writer

. . . The reformed rapper

TAMPA — Edwin Camacho, an ex-drug dealer gone Christian rapper, lost his job as a recruiter for a Tampa staffing firm when a story detailing his life's transformation appeared on tampabay.com and in North of Tampa in June. (A manager for Construct Corps LLC declined to discuss the matter with a reporter at the time.)

But Camacho, 31, known musically as Godsent the General, used it as his chance for another new beginning.

He and his wife, Diana, have moved to West Palm Beach, where he works as a recruiter for a firm called Balance Staffing. On the side, he is recording two new CDs — The Second Coming and Only the Elite and he hopes his musical career continues to flourish.

"I'm looking forward to eventually pursuing my ministry full time," Camacho said. "It's all about God's timing."

To check out his music, visit www.myspace.com/godsnt2007.

Arleen Spenceley, Times Staff Writer

. . . House that fell prey to a sinkhole

LUTZ — First the earth moved.

Then the Whitehill family did.

The ground behind Alan and Kimberly Whitehill's old house on Alice Circle began sinking in April.

It started as a dimple in the back yard. In six weeks, it was knee-deep.

Then, with a noise like a sonic boom, it gave way on June 5. A sinkhole 35 feet wide and 30 feet deep yawned open. The corner of the Whitehills' back porch dangled over one edge of the crater. A shed that had housed their printing business was perched precariously on the other.

"You only see it on TV," Kimberly Whitehill said recently from the safety of a new home. "You never expect it to happen to you. It's unreal."

At first, the family moved straight to a hotel and stayed there until school started. They wrangled with their insurance company, sold the house to a company that specializes in sinkhole repair and bought a new place about 5 miles away in October.

The new home has four bedrooms, not three, and is sound. In the 30 years since it was built, nothing has settled, so the family feels secure.

And in the back yard, "we have a pool now, not a sinkhole," Kimberly Whitehill said.

Along the way, the family learned a lot, including that it's possible to do a current events report on yourself as a back-to-school project.

When she returned to the fifth grade at McKitrick Elementary this fall, 10-year-old Erica Whitehill did a class report on her family's sinkhole adventure.

Hopefully, she wrote, this is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

She got an A-plus.

Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer

. . . A determined student

TAMPA — She was the girl who earned her International Baccalaureate degree at Hillsborough High School while her mother was in jail. She studied by candlelight some nights, and in a rented car when she and her mother were homeless.

The Times profiled Valerie Perez's story in May, prompting a slew of responses from readers. Some donated cash, dorm supplies and clothes to help her make it through the first year of college.

Valerie has just finished her first semester at the University of Central Florida. Between exams, she sent an update by e-mail to a reporter.

"I have made tons of new friends and the classes are amazingly interesting," she wrote. "I have been busy with school and keeping up with some of the club organizations that I have joined."

She's going to her father's house in Texas for the winter break, she said. She has been writing to her mom.

Things are good, she said. She's a woman who's making it on her own, with a little help.

"Can you include a thank you from me to all the people who have helped me out in the past few months? I would really appreciate it."

Elisabeth Parker, Times Staff Writer

. . . Kickboxer who died mysteriously

CARROLLWOOD — Tim "Chip" Chipley was found floating in a pond five days after disappearing from a Carrollwood pub Jan. 27. Nearly a year later, an investigation into the death of the kickboxer is ongoing and investigators welcome any leads.

Chipley, 34, and his friend Joe W. Nuccio had planned a three-week trip to Thailand to study Muay Thai kickboxing, but he disappeared five days before he was to leave for training. He was last seen leaving O'Brien's Irish Pub, 11744 N Dale Mabry Highway.

Chipley, 5 feet 9 and 200 pounds, was found in the pond at Country Wood apartments with his wallet, credit cards and keys. Hillsborough County sheriff's officials will not comment on the cause of death.

Nuccio had known Chipley since their days at Chamberlain High School. The two worked together at Nuccio Heating and Air Conditioning in Town 'N Country, where Chipley was warehouse manager. Sometimes Nuccio would go to O'Brien's, a neighborhood bar, with Chipley, who went a few times a month.

"I have been around him before when people have tried to test him before. He was very low-key around confrontation," said Nuccio, who was not at the bar with him that night.

Nicole Miller had been dating Chipley for about four months. They met at a Bucs game a year before she saw him again at O'Brien's. Last Christmas Chipley met her parents, who adored him, Miller said. She still thinks about Chip all the time.

"It is something that I am going to have with me for the rest of my life. I know there is someone out there that knows what happened to him," Miller said.

If you have information about this case, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477 or the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200.

Jared Leone, Times Staff Writer

. . . Keystone challengers

KEYSTONE — In July, three developers launched a bid to represent this northwest Hillsborough community and repeal all of its rural-style growth restrictions.

The group said it represented more of a cross-section of area residents, business and property owners than the long-established Keystone Civic Association did.

"Get our Web site out there and we'll see who represents who," said Claire Clements, who co-founded the Keystone: the Great Northwest Business League Inc. with Dimitri Artzibushev and Stephen Dibbs. All three are developers who had trouble getting the county to sign off on projects they tried to push through.

Five months since the group filed for recognition as a nonprofit corporation from the Florida Department of State's Division of Corporations and began a community Web site to recruit members, the answer to Clements' summer challenge may be clear: The business league is no match for the civic association, at least not yet.

"We're still in the planning phase, getting memberships, that kind of thing," Clements said.

The league has had only two meetings. Clements said that "only a couple of members from the area" were there.

Meanwhile, the civic association has met monthly. President Tom Aderhold said the group has 300 paid members.

Rodney Thrash, Times Staff Writer

Updates on key stories from 2008 12/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 25, 2008 12:06pm]

    

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