Make us your home page

Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers transportation, breaking news and features in eastern Hillsborough County. She is a graduate of Indiana University, with her master's from the University of Maryland.

She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (813) 661-2443


Twitter: @cljohnst

  1. USF under federal investigation for handling of rape case


    TAMPA — The University of South Florida is under federal investigation for possibly mishandling a sexual assault case, making it the second Florida school to face scrutiny since the White House created a task force on campus rape last January.

    The accuser, a 22-year-old woman who spoke with the Tampa Bay Times this month, said the university failed to properly investigate her case, which she said happened last February when she was still a student. ...

    The University of South Florida is under federal investigation for possibly mishandling a sexual assault case.
  2. Elliott Fuentes, thoroughbred racehorse breeder, dies at age 86


    TAMPA — Elliott Fuentes, a thoroughbred racehorse breeder who was instrumental in 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck's early years, died Sunday morning of natural causes. He was 86.

    Mr. Fuentes was recognized nationally as a top Florida thoroughbred breeder and consignor to prestigious bloodstock sales companies. But his love for horses started in the 1930s, back when dirt roads and dairy farms covered the area where Raymond James Stadium now stands....

     Elliott Fuentes, the local thoroughbred breeder who broke and trained 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck, died Sunday morning. He was 86. Fuentes was recognized nationally as a top Florida thoroughbred breeder and consignor to prestigious bloodstock sales companies, but his love for horses started in the 1930s, back when Dale Mabry Highway was a dirt road and dairy farms covered the land on which Raymond James Stadium now stands.  [Family photo]
  3. Breathing new life into Tampa's streetcar will take money, effort

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Local leaders who have long bemoaned Tampa's historic streetcar as an under-used, expensive, poorly managed transit option have recently refocused on making it more successful, starting first with discussions of overhauling the ownership structure.

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the first step in breathing new life into the program is to abolish its board, which oversees the streetcar along with the city of Tampa and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority....

    HART CEO Katharine Eagan says funding is critical to expanding the streetcar schedule.
  4. Hillsborough announces time line for transportation plan

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough leaders expect to have a countywide transportation plan outlined by April, with funding sources identified by September.

    George Walton, senior vice president for the national consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, unveiled a time line Wednesday to a transportation group made up of county commissioners and local mayors.

    The county hired the consulting firm in October to help develop a transportation plan and handle public outreach, including launching a website, making presentations, holding public meetings and producing other materials....

  5. Concerns arise over Uber's accessibility for persons with disabilities


    TAMPA — Ride-share company Uber has operated around Tampa Bay since April, but advocates are concerned that the company has no wheelchair-accessible vehicles here and that its representatives seem misinformed on federal regulations.

    A representative from Uber discussed concerns with advocates and community members during a forum Tuesday organized by the Hillsborough County and Tampa Mayor's alliances for people with disabilities....

    Uber uses a smartphone  app to  connect passengers with nearby drivers. Currently, there is no way for riders in Tampa to request a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
  6. Lawyer killed in Cuba was visiting extended family


    TAMPA — Tampa lawyer Alberto Romero's dedication to his extended family was what inspired him to visit Cuba, where he was killed last week, friends said.

    Little information is available about how and why Romero was killed, but friends said this was the seventh or eighth time the 39-year-old South Tampa lawyer had visited his extended family since he first met them in 2013.

    "He was in Cuba to love and connect with and to help his family," said friend and former co-worker Miriam Mason. "He was just so warm and so generous and so anxious and willing to help these people who had never been a part of his life but obviously were his relatives."...

    Little information is available about how and why Tampa lawyer Alberto Romero died on a trip to Cuba last week.
  7. Tampa lawyer killed in Cuba


    Alberto Romero, a Tampa lawyer, was killed in Cuba while visiting family last week, a family spokesman said.

    Hal Flowers, a close family friend, said the family received the news late Friday and has very little information.

    "The family of Alberto Romero is privately grieving the loss of their loved one as more details are being sought and the circumstances of this tragedy are being investigated," a written statement from the family said. "At this profoundly sad time, the Romero family respectfully requests privacy as they surround themselves with family, loved ones and close friends."...

  8. New member of Hillsborough County Commission plans own style, priorities


    Valrico pharmacist Stacy White is the sole new member of the Hillsborough County Commission. Now that he's had time to settle in and attend a few meetings, we sat down to speak with the former Hillsborough School Board member about his new role, goals for his term and life in East Hillsborough.

    Commissioner Al Higginbotham served as the District 4 representative before winning election in an at-large district. Is there anything you've learned from watching his work in this role?...

    Stacy White
  9. Hillsborough transit authority discusses upgrades to streetcar

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA —Transit authority board members Monday discussed extending Tampa's struggling streetcar through downtown and upgrading it to a modern streetcar or light rail.

    The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board had commissioned HDR Engineering to conduct the study in light of an ongoing discussion on how to improve the floundering transit option.

    "People don't ride it because it's slow and costs too much," board member and County Commissioner Sandy Murman said. "For a family of four to go Ybor and back, it's $20. That's too expensive."...

    Riders board the TECO Line Streetcar in September.
  10. Ride-share companies see high demand on New Year's Eve, despite cease-and-desist request


    TAMPA — Defying a cease-and-desist letter from local regulators, ride-share company Uber saw high demand drive fare prices to more than eight times the normal rate on New Year's Eve.

    Uber spokesman Taylor Bennett said the company was pulling together statistics on how many rides passengers requested in Tampa Bay but didn't have any firm numbers as of Thursday night.

    Bennett said earlier in the week that Uber expected the party night to be its busiest since launching in the Tampa Bay area in April....

  11. Robbery sparks chaos and panic at International Plaza


    TAMPA — In a sign of these jumpy times, International Plaza turned to chaos Tuesday afternoon when loud bangs — later learned to be glass breaking during a jewelry store robbery — caused shoppers and employees to panic and many to run for the doors.

    Parents and their young children lay flat on the floor of the playground area, bodies pressed to the ground between kid-sized replicas of elephants and lions. Women jumped over tables in the food court and people cried as they ran to find shelter....

    Tampa Police block the entrance to International Plaza after reports of robbery inside. Security officers at the mall say shoppers are being evacuated and stores are on lockdown. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times]
  12. Ride-share users poised to see expensive fares on New Year's Eve


    As tens of thousands of people poured out of a recent Florida State University football game in Tallahassee, Tina Gutierrez-Brewster opened her Uber app and summoned a ride.

    Gutierrez-Brewster, 30, and her husband had never used the ride-share company before, but she had a $30 credit from a friend and figured it would be a quick and affordable option.

    What Gutierrez-Brewster didn't realize was that Uber's surge pricing — a term describing how the company raises rates during peak hours and events — was in effect and had reached 10 times the normal rate. What would have been a $9.71 ride rang in at $97.10. It wasn't until Gutierrez-Brewster was out of the car and received a receipt via email that she saw what the 3.4 mile ride had cost. "I thought, 'Good Lord, this is pretty crazy,' " said Gutierrez-Brewster of Tampa. "We haven't taken Uber since."...

  13. Growth, innovation connects 2014's biggest Hillsborough stories


    The mix of stories that topped the news in 2014 show Hillsborough County as an area in transition.

    Reinvigorated pockets reflect a recovering economy, and innovation highlights new efforts to help the area fulfill its potential.

    Yet with growth comes a mix of problems begging to be managed, from transportation to infrastructure to schools.

    Here are the stories that emerged from that unique mix....

    The 1-million-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center in Ruskin shipped its first package in September.
  14. Two remain hospitalized after Bucs lightning strike (w/ 911 calls)


    TAMPA — Two of the seven people injured by a lightning strike after Sunday's Buccaneers game remain hospitalized, one in critical condition and the other with non-life threatening injuries, officials said Monday.

    All of the victims were taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa after lightning struck an SUV in parking lot 14 of Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Fire Rescue said.

    Five were treated and released Sunday night, hospital spokeswoman Nancy Gay said....

  15. Hillsborough commissioners approve nearly 20 percent raise for county administrator


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved a nearly 20 percent raise for County Administrator Mike Merrill on Wednesday, bringing his salary to $260,000.

    Merrill's contract was not set to expire until December 2015, but commissioners, who issued rave reviews about the administrator, did not want to wait and risk losing him to a better offer.

    "I am humbled and really appreciative," Merrill said after the vote. "I wasn't expecting this, so thank you very much."...

    Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill needs a web-only caption, please. [Times files (2011)]