07/18/14 The Feed
All is not peachy on the Island of Sodor.
Martin T. Sherman, the St. Petersburg native who has voiced the lovable engines Thomas the Tank Engine, Percy and Diesel for U.S. audiences, broke the news softly a few days ago on one of the more popular Thomas & Friends fansites.
"Unfortunately," he wrote, "I must now quit the show. It is embarrassing but the reason is that they are paying a very low wage. The terms they are offering are so poor, and this with the immense success of Thomas, that the only right thing for me to do is walk away."...
07/11/14 Human Interest
OKEECHOBEE — The sheriff's deputies saw blood on the back of Joseph Johnson's shirt. He was 12, in 1959, walking down a Sarasota street after another beating from his stepmother.
There's no way this is going to happen to you again, one of the deputies told him.
They sent him to live at the Florida School for Boys at Okeechobee, a brand-new state-run facility for troubled kids and orphans and wards of the state, where that deputy's promise fell apart....
06/23/14 Human Interest
Chelsea Baker was nervous.
So much could go wrong. She could hit Evan Longoria's sweet face with a pitch. She could end David Price's elbow. She could come out and throw like 50 Cent.
And everybody would be watching — her friends and teammates, the gaggle of reporters, Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon.
She never expected any of this. A female baseball player, a 17-year-old female baseball player, throwing batting practice — knuckleballs, no less — inside a for-real major league stadium to men who make millions of dollars....
06/13/14 Human Interest
The daughter sits on the front porch of a little bungalow in Seminole Heights, her new home since her husband died a few months ago down south. She misses him, but she's making do.
At 76, she has her health, and friends. And her son, Gary. And she has the memories.
Like the time Frank Sinatra came over to say hello to her father and spilled a champagne bucket of ice in her lap and looked as though he had made a fatal mistake. Or the time her father took her to the Majestic Theatre to see Carousel, the hottest ticket on Broadway, and he bought all the seats in front of them so their view was unimpeded. Or the time she went ice skating on the terrace of her family's 19th-floor apartment at the Beresford at 211 Central Park West. Or the time, later, when she made love to Dean Martin six times in one night....
TAMPA — Is she insane?
Julie Shenecker, with 20 years of medical records that detail a struggle against a variety of severe mental illnesses, killed her own teen children. She shot them, as she wrote, in the "mouthy mouth," covered them with blankets, manipulated her daughter's lifeless lips into a smile. She wanted to protect them from molestation, and from inheriting her own debilitating brain disease. She wanted to kill herself, so they could live safely and eternally together in heaven....
Janet Feldman did not need four dozen rotisserie chickens. Who among us does?
But the 57-year-old Davie woman who makes outfits for strippers is not someone who minds her own business when she discovers a wrong. If society's moral fabric is twisted, she irons it smooth.
"When I see a wrong," she says, "I right the wrong."
The day she took all the chickens, she was trying to prove a point. Trying to look out for the little guy. She was on a mission....
TAMPA — Coffin nail by coffin nail and bone fragment by bone fragment, University of South Florida forensic anthropologists are learning more about the identities of remains exhumed months ago from a hidden cemetery at the state's longest-running and most criticized reform school.
Researchers have so far analyzed 12 of the 55 sets of remains unearthed at the former Dozier School for Boys, developing biological profiles and establishing theories about date of burial, age and race. They've received DNA analysis from the University of North Texas Health Science Center on five of the bodies, but have not yet identified any of the boys....
04/01/14 Public Safety
When 15-year-old Thomas Curry was found dead in 1925, not long after he had run away from Florida's reform school in Marianna, the coroner's jury determined he "came to his death from a wound on forehead: skull crushed from an unknown cause." His body was buried in Philadelphia.
Now, a team of University of South Florida forensic anthropologists, backed by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, are asking the Pennsylvania state police to help them find and exhume Curry's remains for an autopsy. Nelson has asked Gov. Tom Corbett for his assistance....
03/29/14 Human Interest
LAND O'LAKES — If you believe the clowns, everything was hunky-dory until 2007, when Ben Alexander came along.
A dedicated clown could work a restaurant for a couple of hours, twist a T. rex or a Super Mario — really innovative stuff, not just one-balloon wiener dogs or swords — and walk home with a hundred bucks. The restaurants paid, so parents didn't have to worry about scrambling for tips. The clowns weren't going to get rich, but it was a living....
Freddie Williams has spent most of his 68 years in the custody of the state of Florida. Prison walls and razor wire are the landscape of his life. Given his criminal record — the rape of a 23-year-old Pinellas Park woman at gunpoint in 1973, and armed robbery in 1985 — his chance for parole on a recent morning was slim.
But there's more to Freddie Williams' story than his record....
In April 2005, as legislators moved closer to passing a bill that would become known as Florida's "stand your ground" law, then-Rep. Dan Gelber proposed a simple, 54-word amendment.
The gist: If you're attacked and you can safely escape without killing someone or risking death yourself, you should.
"It may be somebody that deserves it," Gelber said Wednesday. "But at the end of the day, if you can walk away safely or resist the impulse to kill, I think you ought to."...
Even before jurors reached a verdict in Florida vs. Michael Dunn, who said he killed a black teenager in Jacksonville in self-defense last year, people took to social media to bash Florida and call again for a boycott of the Sunshine State.
"Tell everyone you know to vacation somewhere else," wrote Twitter user Mary Graham of Michigan. "Only MONEY will change the stand your ground laws!"
"If Florida somehow screws up the #DunnTrial then I propose an economic boycott of the state. Pathetic," wrote user Matthew Gregson of North Carolina....
02/04/14 Human Interest
MARIANNA — A spot of buried blood. A drop of subsurface semen. A bone fragment in the ground for decades.
Those are things cadaver dogs have been trained to smell, according to handlers from NecroSearch International, a nonprofit group enlisted to help find the bodies of boys who died in custody of the state's oldest reform school here on the outskirts of town.
The search continues this week for boys buried outside the known cemetery on the campus of the now-shuttered Dozier School for Boys, known through the years as the Florida Industrial School and the Florida School for Boys. ...
01/28/14 State Roundup
TAMPA — The men who ran the Florida School for Boys buried George Owen Smith quickly, without the dignity of a permanent headstone, before his family could drive up from Auburndale. Their official story was that the spry 14-year-old had crawled under a house nearby and died. His sister Ovell, 12 at the time, never believed it.
"None of that rang true," said Ovell Krell.
Seventy-three years later, she still wants to know what happened, and where he's buried....
01/02/14 Human Interest
Jacky Fuller was sound asleep beside his wife of 33 years when pounding at the door jolted him awake. The 54-year-old father of two and faithful Jehovah's Witness stumbled out of bed in his underwear. It was not yet dawn, but the doorbell was ringing, and the pounding sounded like someone about to knock the door off the hinges. Heart hammering, he pulled open the door and stared into gun barrels....