Friday, December 15, 2017
Public safety

'Missing' lion found within sanctuary near Masaryktown after causing media stir

MASARYKTOWN — The Facebook posting about 11 a.m. Friday was brief, but it created a spectacle that continued well into the evening.

Lion on the loose in Spring Hill.

Within an hour, media crews swarmed this tiny community at the Pasco-Hernando County line. They searched for any sign of Savannah, a 7-year-old lioness that had reportedly escaped from Survival Outreach Sanctuary. The "missing'' lion even spawned a Twitter account as helicopters buzzed the area.

After a search that lasted a couple of hours, authorities found the big cat resting among the trees at the 10-acre licensed facility on Bowman Road. She had dug a hole under her cage but had not escaped the 10-foot high fenced area. Officers tranquilized her with a dart gun and put her in another cage.

"There was never any danger to the general public," said Baryl Martin, a spokesman for the Florida Wildlife Commission.

But word of a lion on the lam created plenty of excitement among the lunch crowd at the Masaryktown Cafe, less than a mile north of the sanctuary.

Server Cecilia Soto, 23, called to warn her parents who live nearby and have goats, horses and sheep. Soto of Spring Hill said she was glad to hear the animal was never actually loose.

"One, it could hurt somebody, and two, they might have had to kill it," she said. "I hope they had tranquilizers and not guns."

Sanctuary owner Judy Watson alerted the wildlife agency, in keeping with rules requiring such facilities to report any time an animal is not in its cage.

Cages are subject to a host of rules that change regularly and depend on the species, said Gary Morse, another spokesman for the wildlife commission.

"There aren't enough Sunday papers to print them," said Morse, who said late Friday afternoon that he had already received more than 30 calls from media outlets across the nation. "I don't know how I'm going to return them all," he said.

Morse said the sanctuary, which was incorporated in 2000, has a stellar safety record. "We've never had any problems with this facility," he said.

Watson received a misdemeanor citation for improper caging that allowed an animal to escape, but Morse said those are given whenever an animal escapes its cage. Watson could not be reached for comment.

The website says the sanctuary "is dedicated to providing permanent, responsible homes to abused, unwanted and abandoned exotic animals of all species."

The first of the sanctuary's goals, the website states, is "to provide large natural enclosures for rescued animals so they may live with dignity for the rest of their lives."

In 2012, donors to Grassroots Groupon donated $2,190 to help build a hurricane shelter for Savannah. The donations were enough to build two shelters.

Staff writers Tony Marrero and Alex Orlando contributed to this report.


Bicyclist killed in Seminole Heights crash; portion of E Hillsborough Avenue closed

TAMPA — A bicyclist was killed early Friday morning in a crash in Seminole Heights.Tampa Police say the bicyclist was struck by a car just after 12:15 a.m.Eastbound E Hillsborough Avenue is closed from N Florida Avenue to N Central Avenue while polic...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Tampa police seek ‘person of interest’ in Dec. 3 homicide

Tampa police seek ‘person of interest’ in Dec. 3 homicide

TAMPA — Police are seeking a "person of interest" who they believe has information about a Dec. 3 drive-by shooting that killed a 22-year-old man.Police are searching for Anan Motilal, 25. He stands about 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds. He may have ...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Pinellas Park officer stuns middle school student with Taser

PINELLAS PARK — A school resource officer stunned a middle school student with a Taser while trying to break up a fight between her and another female student on Thursday, police said.Neither the Pinellas Park officer nor the students involved in the...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bob’s Carpet and Flooring heir was source of family strife before arrest

Bob’s Carpet and Flooring heir was source of family strife before arrest

An heir to a local flooring company charged with failing to report the death of a young woman last year has a troubled criminal history and was a source of strife in his family business, according to court records.Robert Butler III, 52, was arrested ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

PLANT CITY — Jonathon Adams heard a scream, "like a dog getting run over by a car," then saw a minivan come tearing around the corner with a woman he knew dangling out of the passenger side.It was the start of a deadly sequence of events Dec. 8 that ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Dade City man turns himself in on warrants for Polk armed robbery

Dade City man turns himself in on warrants for Polk armed robbery

DADE CITY — A 25-year-old man wanted in connection with the attempted robbery of a taxi driver in Lakeland turned himself in late Wednesday night after being prompted by his mother, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Edner Dely of Dade Ci...
Published: 12/14/17

Deputies: Fleeing suspect shoots, injures dog as he runs through yards

DOVER — While fleeing from deputies, a man shot a dog inside a fenced yard Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were attempting to pull over a vehicle that might have been stolen near Milagro Court and Bl...
Published: 12/14/17

Amtrak train strikes, kills 60-year-old woman in Lakeland

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a 60-year-old woman who was hit by an Amtrak train on Thursday.The woman was struck at 12:30 p.m. in the railroad intersection of Highway 92 East and Fairway Avenue in Lakeland, deputies ...
Published: 12/14/17

Palm Harbor woman, 23, killed while crossing Seminole Boulevard

SEMINOLE — A 23-year-old Palm Harbor woman was fatally injured when she was struck by a sport-utility vehicle while crossing Seminole Boulevard on Wednesday night, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.The incident took place at about 8:4...
Published: 12/14/17

Second Ruskin man sought in theft of cell tower equipment that interrupted service

TAMPA —The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has obtained a warrant for the arrest of a second suspect in the theft of batteries from cell phone towers that interrupted phone service and the 911 emergency call system.Investigators are looking for ...
Published: 12/14/17