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. Tampa woman dies in yet another wrong-way crash

    Accidents

    DADE CITY

    A 25-year-old Tampa woman died early Monday after she drove the wrong way on Interstate 75 and collided with a semitrailer truck, authorities said, bringing to 11 the number of people killed so far this year in wrong-way crashes on Tampa Bay's interstates.

    Jessica Rey Mahn was driving a 2012 Nissan sedan north about 4:30 a.m. in the southbound lanes near the State Road 52 exit in Pasco County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. She struck the broad side of a semi carrying food and drinks and careened across the roadway onto a concrete wall....

    A 25-year-old Tampa woman died early Monday morning after she was involved in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 75 in Pasco County, according to Florida Highway Patrol reports. [Florida Highway Patrol]
  2. Troopers arrest Chamberlain High teacher driving wrong way on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — A high school teacher drove the wrong way early Sunday on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway and Interstate 75, state troopers said — but this time, it ended in an arrest, not a deadly crash.

    Kevin Thomas Smisor, 24, a social studies teacher at Chamberlain High School, was booked into the Hillsborough County jail on a misdemeanor driving under the influence charge and, the patrol said, was cited with driving the wrong way on a limited-access roadway....

    Kevin Thomas Smisor [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department]
  3. In campus rape cases, victim often blamed for failure to prosecute

    College

    TAMPA — Since 2007, only one of 19 rape cases involving students investigated by the University of South Florida police has faced prosecution.

    That case resulted in 10 years of probation and no prison time for the assailant, who pleaded guilty to raping his roommate's friend.

    This lack of prosecution in campus rape cases is a statewide phenomenon. Records collected from USF and eight other Florida universities found that prosecutions are nearly nonexistent. In 2012 and 2013, only two cases out of more than 50 reported have faced prosecution. Both of those cases involve the same suspect at Florida Gulf Coast University....

    Georgia Cappleman is the chief assistant state attorney for Tallahassee.
  4. Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful cleanup yields an embarrassment of castoffs

    Water

    TAMPA — The divers found the green sea turtle floating just south of the Ballast Point Pier, its left fin shredded and its body slightly bloated.

    The turtle had likely been dead for a day or two, said Christine Fisher, a volunteer with the Florida Aquarium, who came to the pier Saturday with about 70 others for the 27th annual Hillsborough River & Coastal Cleanup.

    "This is why we do the cleanups," said Dan Fisher, president of the Tampa Bay Green Consortium. "Even though we don't know what the cause of death is now, a majority of the sea turtles that come in suffer from injuries that happen from fishing nets and hooks. We hope by cleaning up the marine debris that we reduce the amount of injuries that happen to sea turtles and birds."...

    Volunteers Jenny Lane, left, and Lila Bellucci sort the debris found during the Hillsborough River & Coastal Cleanup.
  5. Hearing officer in Hillsborough fines Uber, likens ride-sharing service to taxis

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The smartphones used by Uber's ride-share drivers in Hillsborough County are essentially serving as taxi meters and their vehicles are largely functioning as cabs, a hearing officer ruled Wednesday.

    Hearing officer Susan More presided over a Sept. 8 hearing in which Uber contested nine tickets issued by the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission to the company for two types of citations: operating a for-hire service without a proper permit, and allowing or causing drivers to operate a public for-hire vehicle without the proper driver's license....

    The PTC has put up a billboard on Interstate 4 to warn people about illegal transportation providers, such as Uber.
  6. Deputies arrest suspect in death of Riverview man missing for two weeks

    Crime

    RUSKIN — Deputies on Sunday arrested a suspect in the murder of Octavio Reyes, a Riverview man whose body was discovered over the weekend, two weeks after he disappeared.

    Reyes, 36, was reported missing Aug. 31. Earlier that day, Hillsborough County Sheriff's deputies found his 2000 Ford F-150 burned on Shell Point Road in Ruskin.

    On Sunday afternoon, investigators identified his body, which was found Saturday in a shallow grave along a wooded area near the Little Manatee River and U.S. 41....

    Javier L. Bermudez Jr., 20, is charged with the murder.
  7. Ride-share supporters pack Hillsborough transportation meeting

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Supporters of the ride-share company Lyft wore pink mustaches and matching T-shirts Wednesday as they packed a boardroom to urge county regulators to let its drivers operate here legally.

    Lyft users, identifiable by the company's logo of a pink mustache, joined fans of competing ride-share company Uber at a Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission meeting, sitting alongside members of the taxi and limousine industry who want the companies regulated. ...

    Lyft drivers Angela Lang, left, Lisa Roberts and Cate Colgan listen to comments at Wednesday’s meeting in Tampa.
  8. Uber challenges Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission tickets

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The debate over whether ride-share outfit Uber is a transportation or technology company continued here Monday as Uber's attorney appealed nine tickets issued to the company since July.

    The hearing was the latest installment in a battle over the legality of the ride-share service and the first in a three-step appellate process that could end before the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Hearing officer Susan More said she expects to issue her ruling to the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission within the next week or two....

  9. Audio of 911 call released in fourth fatal wrong-way crash in Tampa

    Accidents

    TAMPA — Crashes involving wrong-way driving, like the one that left three people dead Sunday, are occurring in the Tampa Bay area at twice the national rate.

    Though Sunday morning's crash may have seemed a horrifying aberration, it is the fourth such accident this year on the same stretch of Interstate 275. Federal and state experts say they are at a loss to explain the spate of wrong-way driving crashes, which fits into a broader and disconcerting picture of the region's traffic problems....

    Sunday’s crash on Interstate 275 killed two sisters and a male passenger when their car went the wrong way and hit a truck.
  10. Three dead in wrong-way crash on I-275

    Accidents

    TAMPA — Two sisters and a male passenger died Sunday morning in the fourth wrong-way crash along the same stretch of Interstate 275 this year, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

    Sunday's accident raised to 10 the number of fatalities in the four crashes, including all of the wrong-way drivers.

    "Statistically, sometimes there are clusters like this that aren't really explainable," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit group that seeks to use scientific research and education to reduce deaths, injuries and damage from roadway crashes....

    Accident investigators examine wreckage left behind in the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 after three people died Sunday morning in a wrong-way crash south of Bearss Avenue.
  11. Battle between Uber and Hillsborough regulators goes public

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Both sides in the battle between local regulators and ride-share company Uber are taking their fight to the public, despite claims of an imminent compromise.

    Uber sent an email blast to its riders last Tuesday urging them to contact Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist telling him they "want access to safe, affordable, and reliable rides like Uber." Crist's office said it received more than 750 emails by the end of the day....

    A billboard visible from Interstate 4 in Tampa warns about unregulated transportation providers such as Uber and Lyft.
  12. Ed Narain wins District 61 state House race

    Local

    TAMPA — Ed Narain, an area manager for AT&T and former student body president at the University of South Florida, beat out three other Democratic candidates vying Tuesday to replace state Rep. Betty Reed in House District 61.

    Though he faces a write-in candidate in November, the primary results have almost certainly ushered Narain, 37, into the Legislature as the next representative from District 61. He claimed about 41 percent of the votes, while Sean Shaw, a Tallahassee-backed lawyer, came in second with 35 percent....

    Ed Narain, 37, won about 41 percent of the vote, while lawyer Sean Shaw came in second with 35 percent.
  13. Experienced skydiver from Tampa dies during jump in Zephyrhills

    Accidents

    ZEPHYRHILLS — An experienced skydiver performing a practice jump as part of a team died Saturday after landing in a pond at high speed, according to information from Skydive City, where the team launched.

    Keith Murray, 50, of Tampa was performing a jump with three other team members and a videographer, according to a statement released by Skydive City president and general manager David TK Hayes. ...

    Keith Murray, 50, made at least 900 jumps at Skydive City in Zephyrhills. He is being mourned by the skydiving community.
  14. Study: Hillsborough must boost bus service before getting light rail grants

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — A study commissioned by Hillsborough County government cautions that improvements are needed in public bus service before the community could compete for light rail grants under new federal criteria.

    The recent study dismayed advocates of a plan to put a tax-for-transportation referendum on an upcoming ballot, perhaps in 2016. But county staff cautioned the report is more of a checkup than an indictment, and that a more comprehensive study is needed once a specific transportation plan is developed....

    A study says Hillsborough County must build on its current transit offerings before expecting to qualify for federal grants to fund light rail.
  15. Scott talks transportation at campaign stop in Brandon

    Gubernatorial

    BRANDON — Gov. Rick Scott discussed statewide transportation policies during a campaign stop Wednesday morning, but made no mention of the ongoing debates on both sides of Tampa Bay over potential sales taxes to help pay for local transportation projects including rail.

    The stop at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce was part of Scott's "Let's Keep Florida Moving" tour, which highlights transportation policies, including investments in Florida's airports, seaports, road networks and space industry....