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Dani's stirring story

The girl in the window | Aug. 3 Stirring story carried us from tragedy to hope I can't begin to describe the range of emotions I felt after reading the tragic and hopeful story of young Danielle.

It is difficult to understand how a mother could allow her child to live in such horrific conditions and then believe she is only guilty of having a dirty house. It is even more difficult to understand how prosecutors could offer her a plea agreement in exchange for waiving her parental rights. When did we decide that house arrest and probation was fair punishment for six years of the neglect and abuse of a child?

Let's also not forget the role that the Department of Children and Families played in this story. They were called to this home twice in 2002 and did nothing. Where was the follow-up over the next three years and how might have Danielle's life turned out if she had been removed from this home when she was 4 years old?

Thankfully this beautiful young girl has a glimmer of hope because Diane and Bernie Lierow made the decision to make her a part of their caring and loving family.

Phil Fraley, Crystal Beach

A failure of leadership

I do not work for the Department of Children and Families and neither do any of my family members. What needs to be remembered is that funding for DCF and other family programs was being hacked to pieces at that time. These cuts were made under a governor who would present himself as a family-values champion but when a child needed protection this is what occurred — on his watch.

Before cuts are made to a program, the question needs to be asked, "Why, to begin with, was this program ever put in place?" People didn't just dream up DCF for no good reason.

What you didn't report was how many budget cuts were made at that time resulting in too many cases per case manager. Tax cuts are being touted as the way to win an election, but tax cuts that result in a little girl's face in a window are tax cuts that are too deep.

The system failed due to a breakdown in leadership and comprehension from the top, and the broken childhood of Danielle is the grievous result.

Jim Fortinberry, Plant City

An unsung hero

We commend the St. Petersburg Times and reporter Lane DeGregory for doing an excellent job in telling the story of former foster child Danielle. Those who supported this amazing young lady and continue to work with Danielle and her family are a wonderfully dedicated team.

We'd like to let your readers know more about someone who was mentioned only briefly in the story. It is likely that Danielle might not have had the opportunity to find her family had it not been for the above-and-beyond dedication of her case manager, Ms. Garet White. Garet was in court the day Danielle's case was on the docket and specifically asked to have Danielle's case assigned to her. Garet stayed with Danielle in the hospital, fed her, changed her and comforted her long after Garet's normal work hours when Danielle was terrified of her new world.

In the beginning, when all was uncertain about what the future held for Danielle, Garet White refused to accept any plans that limited Danielle's options. This especially was evident in Garet's unwavering advocacy for Danielle's inclusion in the Heart Gallery of Tampa Bay adoption recruitment program. At every turn, Garet advocated for Danielle, and even facilitated ways Danielle could visit her potential parents and encouraged the Lierows to believe in Danielle.

Garet continues to be a treasured friend of the Lierow family and takes delight in Danielle's progress. Garet White is an unsung hero. She is the type of Hillsborough Kids Inc. care manager who lives the values of her job every day and puts children's welfare first.

Luanne Panacek, chief executive officer, Children's Board of Hillsborough County

A tale perfectly told

I just finished reading this amazing story. What a fine piece of writing, very fine. The way Lane DeGregory developed it was perfect. She answered all my questions, just as I was thinking them and made all the points that needed making. Nothing was lacking. Great and eloquent writing. I'm sure she'll get an award for this.

It must have been heartbreaking to follow this story so closely. The horror of this child's early life is staggering. Thank God she is now in a good place. God bless those people and Lane DeGregory, too, for telling their story. This is journalism at its best.

Marcella O'Steen, Balm

Such a caring family

Instead of starting off the day by complaining about the war, the economy, lack of health care, supposed global warming, etc., let's give some thought to little Dani and her family. What a wonderful story about such a caring family and a young girl who needs so much love. She is so lucky to have Bernie and Diane Lierow as her adoptive parents.

Thank God for such a wonderful, loving family, and thanks, God, for putting them in our midst for a time. What great examples they are to the rest of us.

Larry Fox, Largo

A stirring story

I have never read an article that caused me to experience such a range of emotions. They ranged from initial disgust at the conditions that Dani was forced to live in for years to the unbelievable, unconditional love that her adoptive parents have bestowed upon her. They are truly extraordinary people — especially William, who at 10 years old, possesses compassion and acceptance that most of us never gain in our lives.

My wish is that Dani continues to improve and have some realization of the life that she deserved before she was so severely neglected by her biological mother, who is obviously ill-equipped to be a parent.

I worry about how many other Danis are out there. This story is a reminder not to turn a blind eye to things that do not seem right. While some neighbors made phone calls, Dani remained too long in a home with deplorable conditions. I understand that the goal is to leave families intact where possible, but sometimes that can be a matter of life and death. Fortunately for Dani, she has a loving family now, but they will always wonder what could have been if this situation had been brought to light sooner.

Suzanne Inzina, Largo

Hoping to watch her grow

It is so wonderful to see that Dani has such a loving and caring family. She has really come a long way.

I was wondering if Diane and Bernie have considered having a Web site showing Dani and her ongoing progress. How nice it would be to watch this beautiful child grow and experience the many things the rest of us take for granted.

I wish Dani and her family continued love and happiness.

Lori Poag, Clearwater

Candidate replies The Times offers candidates not recommended by its editorial board an opportunity to respond. Here are some of the responses to the recommendations for the Aug. 26 primary races. Randall Jones | Democratic candidate for Pinellas County sheriff

My 18-year record of public service in law enforcement includes supervising deputies and new recruits as their field training corporal, expertise in community policing, crimes against children, domestic violence and property crimes.

I'm the only candidate who has a Tough on Crime Action Plan that will track down criminals who prey on our elderly, reduce the troubling crime rate, expand crime prevention and work closely with community groups to expand Crime Watch activities.

I was honored by former Sheriff Everett Rice who awarded me the "Golden Star Award" for outstanding investigation. I am also the recipient of the 2007 Sheriff's Distinguished Service Award.

I'm a lifelong resident of Pinellas. I graduated from Clearwater High School, and the Law Enforcement Academy of St. Petersburg College. I'm married to Lisa Jones. We have three beautiful children.

I want to be your sheriff so that I can lead a comprehensive broad-based initiative to reduce crime, make us safer, and keep Pinellas a desirable place to live, raise children, and enjoy retirement because your safety is my highest priority.


Frank Gregoire | Republican candidate for Pinellas County property appraiser

Facts omitted from your endorsement:

I have been a licensed real estate broker for more than 30 years and a state certified appraiser since 1989, the first year such a license was available in Florida. In addition to holding designations from two professional appraisal associations, I hold associate membership in a third. My appraisal experience in Pinellas County exceeds 30 years.

As owner and president of Gregoire & Gregoire, Inc., I have supervised staff and completed tens of thousands of appraisals of all types and classes of real property from Tierra Verde to Tarpon Springs. For the past 10 years my concentration has been as a valuation and appraisal standards expert witness.

The governor was satisfied enough with my education and appraisal credentials to appoint me to the Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board. The Florida Senate agreed by confirming my appointment unanimously. My peers on the appraisal board elected me chairman four times during my eight years of service.

Under my leadership, enforcement of valuation ethics, standards and integrity requirements were the focus of the appraisal board, something sorely needed in Pinellas County. Pinellas County deserves a property appraiser with an established commitment to restoring public trust in the office. Violet M. Assaid | Candidate for Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge, Group 6

I appreciate this opportunity to tell your readers and the voters of Pinellas and Pasco counties more about my qualifications for Circuit Court judge.

In addition to what your editorial staff wrote about me, I have defended death penalty cases since 1992, and have never had a client sentenced to death. I have written, argued and won capital appeals in the Appellate and Supreme Courts of Florida.

Since 1996 I have been board certified by the Florida Bar in criminal trial practice. I have taught mental health law to lawyers throughout the state. I supervise Pinellas Drug Court. I work in our Pasco County Public Defender's Offices to inspire greater interest in the mental health aspects of criminal law among attorneys and judges in those jurisdictions.

Justice is only as good as the people who serve her. I have spent my entire career being a loyal public servant. I want to do my part to maintain the high quality of the judiciary in my circuit. I proudly ask the citizens of Pinellas and Pasco counties to vote for me on Aug. 26.

Jason D. Montes | Candidate for Hillsborough Circuit Court judge, Group 1

I'm running for the 13th Judicial Circuit's Group 1 seat because I believe that I bring a unique perspective to the bench. I'm different in that I was raised and attended school right here in Hillsborough County, so folks who appear here are "my people." They will receive the firm, yet fair treatment they deserve irrespective of color or creed. My vision, integrity and passion for the people and law are why I'm seeking office — for no other reason.

My record as an Army veteran sets me apart as the only candidate running who has military experience. While I don't count myself among the heroes, I'm grateful to have served alongside some. My distinguished service as a lawyer for the state attorney and public defender is notable as well. My Florida education and professional credentials are solid. The business acumen and experience I accrued prior to being admitted to the Bar would be a welcome addition to any court.

It's a privilege to seek this office, and it's an honor to be respected for my thoughtful judgment and maturity among family, friends and colleagues.

Dani's stirring story 08/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 7:24pm]
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