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

E-mail: cjohnston@tampabay.com

Twitter: @cljohnst

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  1. Riverview Chamber expects 10,000 for Trick or Treat Street

    Events

    RIVERVIEW — Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce officials expects close to 10,000 kids and adults to descend upon Riverview High School for the 26th annual Trick or Treat Street on Saturday.

    The event, sponsored by the chamber, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Hillsborough County Parks, Recreation & Conservation and Riverview High School, will run from 4 to 8 p.m. and include candy, costume contests, booths, dodgeball and other activities....

    The Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce’s Trick or Treat Street event drew between 6,000 and 8,000 people last year.
  2. Hillsborough's tax-for-transportation referendum might not specify rail

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — If Hillsborough County voters are asked in 2016 to approve an extra sales tax for transportation, the ballot question might not mention the words "light rail" — or any other specific mode of mass transit.

    In a move that sharply differs from the Greenlight Pinellas referendum, a Hillsborough plan that could be the backbone for a referendum here would refer only to "fixed guideways" — a term that includes bus rapid transit and all types of rail, including heavy, light or commuter....

    “In terms of transit projects, it would be focusing on corridors rather than specific modes of transit,” Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill says.
  3. 10 things to understand about Lyft and Uber

    Transportation

    Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft have generated a lot of discussion since they launched here in April. The services, which allow smartphone users to summon nearby drivers, have faced scrutiny nationwide for not complying with regulatory systems aimed at taxis and limousines.

    While local regulators and state officials determine how and if the companies will operate in Florida, here's what you need to know about the latest transportation option to hit the Tampa Bay area....

  4. Two former House reps square off in District 63 rematch

    Kyc

    Florida House | District 63

    This rematch pits an incumbent, Mark Danish, against a former representative, Shawn Harrison. Harrison served two years in the House of Representatives and then was defeated by Danish in 2012 after the district was redrawn. By Caitlin Johnston, Times staff writer

    Mark Danish, 60Shawn Harrison, 49
    PartyDemocratRepublican
    Experience Danish is a longtime Hillsborough County teacher who took a leave of absence from his job at Benito Middle School in 2013 as he sought to make an impact in education policy while in Tallahassee. Danish, who lives in New Tampa, helped pass legislation this past session related to education, disability services and medical marijuana. Prior to his election, Danish advocated in Tallahassee on behalf of teachers with the teachers union. Harrison, who has lived in New Tampa his entire adult life, is an owner in his Tampa law firm and largely represents nursing homes. He and his wife, Susan, own a business that does background screenings for the long-term care industry The former Tampa City Council member was first elected to the Florida House in 2010. He sponsored several bills, including one that became Amendment 9, the Florida Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouses.
    EducationBachelor's degree in earth and environmental science/secondary education from City University of New York (Queens College).Bachelor's degree in political science from the University of South Florida; law degree from the University of Florida.
    What would your top priority be if elected to the Florida House?"My first and foremost priority as a legislator is to ensure that our public school system is fully funded. An additional major priority is going to be fully funding spring restoration and Everglades projects.""Job creation." Harrison said he would like to revamp a bill he filed in 2011 that would create an apprenticeship program for college students in exchange for a tax break for businesses. He said he values entrepreneurship and small business.
    How would you change the state's tax system? "I believe that Florida should be taxing Internet sales for out-of-state merchants. I also believe in reducing taxes for the middle class and small businesses. Additionally, large corporations shouldn't be handed tax giveaways without being held accountable for the jobs they have promised.""I don't think we need any changes right now. Everything works pretty good. We weathered a pretty difficult storm in 2011 and 2012. I don't think we need to make any major changes to our tax structure." He does not support taxing out-of-state merchants....

    Harrison
  5. HART names three board members

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — County commissioners have named three members to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board whose terms will be effective Nov. 1.

    Karen Jaroch and Wallace Bowers were reappointed to the board and architect Mickey Jacob was selected to his first term. Seventeen people filed with the county to fill the three open spots on the 13-person panel. The positions are unpaid.

    "That was the highest they've had in a very long time," spokeswoman Sandra Morrison said. "I guess being part of the HART board is a hot option now."...

  6. State regulator says Uber meets Florida insurance requirement

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Ride-share outfit Uber is one step closer to operating legally here now that the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation says the company's policy provides legally binding coverage that meets state requirements.

    The company's $1 million commercial insurance policy has been a major point of contention in the fight to bring the service to the Tampa Bay area. The Public Transportation Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough County, has opposed the ride-share company since its launch here in April, citing concerns about insurance and licensing, along with insufficient background and vehicle checks....

  7. Tampa costume shop Features closing after 27 years

    Retail

    TAMPA — For years, browsing the rows of Features costumes in search of the perfect Halloween outfit has been a tradition for Mary Hanyok.

    But things were different Tuesday as she passed by the witches hats and vampire teeth, knowing that this was the last time she would find a costume at the Tampa staple that has been serving customers for 27 years.

    "I'm very upset," Hanyok said, as she thumbed through a row of costumes including cowgirls and a saloon dancers. "I can't believe they're closing. This is an annual visit for me."...

    Features Costumes, at 3015 W Barcelona St. in Tampa, has been the spot for Gasparilla and Halloween costumes for nearly three decades. Now, as the owners try to retire, the store is closing. Costumes are selling for their rental prices.
  8. Tampa man killed in motorcycle crash

    Accidents

    TAMPA — A man died early Sunday when he lost control of his motorcycle on an Interstate 275 overpass, hit a wall and was thrown to the street below.

    Ian Andrew Harris, 24, was speeding northbound on I-275 south of Interstate 4 on his 2006 Yamaha when he failed to negotiate a curve and crossed all northbound lanes, colliding into a wall on the right shoulder of the highway, according to the Florida Highway Patrol....

  9. SouthShore businesses begin to see change from Amazon center

    Business

    RUSKIN — The signs of change are small, but residents can see them if they look closely.

    More home sales and rentals. An uptick in traffic and property values. A line around the building at a local job fair. Infrastructure improvements, like a new gas station and traffic light.

    It's not the boon that SouthShore residents and business owners are hoping will eventually come from the new Amazon center, but it's a start. ...

  10. Hillsborough regulators want own smartphone app, without Uber and Lyft

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Regulators who oversee Hillsborough County's for-hire vehicles want to create a countywide transportation smartphone app similar to ones used by Uber and Lyft — only without including those ride-share companies in it.

    At Wednesday's meeting, the Public Transportation Commission heard pitches from two companies proposing the agency get its own app featuring legal transportation options — such as licensed taxi and limo companies and buses — rather than the ride-share services currently operating here against the rules....

  11. Girl treated in Tampa is Florida's first case of enterovirus D68

    Health

    TAMPA — The Florida Department of Health confirmed Tuesday the state's first case of the contagious enterovirus D68 respiratory illness after a 10-year-old girl was treated at Tampa General Hospital last month.

    "She has been treated and released here in Hills­borough, is under the care of her family physician and is doing well," said Steve Huard, spokesman for the state Health Department in Hillsborough County....

    An image of an enterovirus grouping from an electron microscope. [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]
  12. Taxi CEO accuses Tampa Bay Partnership of showcasing support for Uber and Lyft, demands public apology

    Blog

    Yellow Cab Company of Tampa President Louie Minardi has sent a letter to the Tampa Bay Partnership chastising the group for hosting a Sept. 24 transportation forum where panelists gave full-throated support to ride-share companies Uber and Lyft....

  13. Police have 'person of interest' in Centro Ybor shooting

    Crime

    TAMPA — A teenager is recovering after being shot in the head near the Centro Ybor entertainment complex in Ybor City on Saturday night, authorities said.

    Tampa police have identified a 15-year-old male as a "person of interest" in the shooting. That teen was briefly detained after the incident but was subsequently released as officers continued their investigation, Tampa police Lt. Rick Ubinas said....

  14. Hillsborough transit advocates hope for wins in Pinellas, Polk

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County leaders are carefully eyeing neighbors to the east and west as they prepare a potential 1-cent sales tax of their own to pay for transportation improvements.

    County officials have time and again said the fate of any initiative in Hillsborough is linked to the votes Pinellas and Polk county residents cast in November.

    "In no uncertain terms, all of us need to do whatever we can to help these two counties pass," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said at a recent transportation forum sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership. "The successful passage (of these referendums) will allow us moving into 2016 to really come into that environment with a lot of positive support."...

  15. Nativity's Novemberfest moves to weekend before Thanksgiving

    Human Interest

    BRANDON — Bigger rides, more entertainment options and new dates closer to Thanksgiving are all part of the lineup for this year's Novemberfest, one of the biggest annual events in the Brandon area.

    Sponsored by Nativity Catholic Church, Novemberfest is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year from Nov. 20 to 24. Previously, the event, the Brandon community's largest annual event, has run the week before. But event organizers decided to move the dates closer to the Thanksgiving holiday in order to secure the best rides from the midway operator....

    Deuce Atkinson rides the carousel during last year’s Novemberfest at Nativity Catholic Church in Brandon. This year the event will be held closer to Thanksgiving.