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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. Transit 'town hall' draws plenty of comments

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — As the bus rumbled down Nebraska Avenue on Thursday, Kelvin Allen told U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor that he switches buses three times to get home from school most days.

    Castor, D-Tampa, asked Allen, 25, to detail just how long and complicated the routes could get.

    "He said it was a two- or three-hour trip to MacDill each day," Castor told Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority chief executive Katharine Eagan....

    Passenger Delwin Cole, left, talks with Tampa City Council member Mike Suarez as U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor chats with Kelvin Allen on Thursday. They were on HART’s MetroRapid route from downtown to the University of South Florida.
  2. Mayor says Tampa Fire gender issues not systemic, but changes in the works

    Fire

    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn does not believe there are systemic gender issues within his city's fire department, but he said Tuesday he has instructed the fire chief to look into changes that would give female firefighters more privacy.

    Meanwhile, Tampa Fire Rescue Chief Tom Forward has issued a memo saying firefighters need to wear gym shorts and proper undergarments when in the department's open dorms, where both male and female firefighters sleep during their 24-hour shifts....

    An open dormitory at Tampa Fire Rescue Station 1 in Tampa is used by both men and women. The mayor wants to know the costs of having privacy curtains installed at all stations.
  3. HART board discusses transportation priorities, goals and budgets

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The county's transit agency began a three-month process Monday of reshaping its goals and budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including placing more emphasis on collaboration with other agencies.

    Board members for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority discussed its vision and core values as part of crafting a new strategic plan. While CEO Katharine Eagan presented a comprehensive view of the organization's current objectives — continuing to be an employer of choice, transportation agency of choice, and change agent for the area — board members chimed in with other objectives they'd like to see highlighted....

  4. Women face multiple hurdles within Tampa Fire Rescue

    Fire

    TAMPA — Nearly 40 years after the first female firefighter began working at Tampa Fire Rescue, a majority of the city's fire stations still lack designated women's bathrooms and private changing areas.

    Many male firefighters wear boxers when they sleep in the open dorms at firehouses. But some female firefighters who sleep in T-shirts and underwear have become targets for vulgar and sexist insults....

    Tampa Fire Rescue’s Station 19 in Port Tampa offers partitioned sleeping areas. Only five other stations offer this arrangement.
  5. Women's Final Four draws enthusiastic crowd in Tampa

    News

    TAMPA — As thousands gathered on the Amalie Arena plaza on Sunday, Jamie Shonk dribbled past cut-out guards and sank two lay-ups in a simulated game.

    "We were surprised to see all of this activity and all of the people out here already," said Shonk, 40, of St. Petersburg, a former Division III college basketball player. "It's very cool to see women's basketball getting so much attention. It's come a long, long way."...

    Thousands of fans flocked to Tampa for the Women’s Final Four and its festivities, including Tourney Town, all at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  6. Tampa Fire Rescue personnel chief retires amid sexual harassment investigation

    Fire

    TAMPA — A Tampa Fire Rescue personnel chief retired with full benefits this month amid a sexual harassment investigation, and the woman who made the allegations is now facing a backlash on social media.

    The fire department opened a formal investigation of David Solorzano, 55, when sworn firefighter Hannah Gray, now also retired with an on-the-job disability, told a lieutenant about the chief's actions. The lieutenant then filed a complaint. ...

    Personnel chief David Solorzano retired last week amid a sexual harassment investigation. [Tampa Fire Rescue]
  7. Ceremony notes 50th anniversary of start of Vietnam War

    Veterans

    TAMPA — People will have the chance to say "thank you" on Saturday to Vietnam veterans who never got a proper welcome home reception, unlike troops today who return to fanfare and gracious communities.

    The Veterans Council of Hills­borough County in partnership with local leaders will honor these veterans, and the more than 58,000 troops killed during the conflict, on Saturday at Veterans Memorial Park. The ceremony is in conjunction with the Department of Defense's commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War....

    Rolling Thunder members, from left, Dave Braun, spokesman; Jimmy Linesberry, president; and Larry Caldwell participated in the 2014 Veterans Day event at Serenity Meadows.
  8. New southbound Interstate 275 lanes to open Saturday

    Roads

    TAMPA — The nightmarish commute between downtown Tampa and the Westshore area should finally improve this weekend as three spanking new lanes open on southbound Interstate 275.

    Motorists on the 4.2-mile stretch will navigate fewer construction cones and have better sight lines. Two exits that were moved to the left will be shifted back to the right. The result, officials say, should be a less stressful drive....

    Southbound traffic will be shifted to three straighter, flatter lanes when the section of I-275 from downtown to West Shore Boulevard reopens Saturday morning. [LARA CERRI | Times]
  9. Public input helps shape Hillsborough transportation plan

    Transportation

    TAMPA — If it wasn't clear before that people in different parts of Hillsborough County have different transportation needs, it is now.

    Ruskin and Sun City Center residents bemoan the state of their intersections. Those in Lutz say better multiuse trails are good for families and allow more options for bicyclists and pedestrians. And over in West Tampa, attendees clamor for light rail....

    Kathleen Scott writes suggestions on an interactive map of Temple Terrace during a March 10 public meeting to gather input for a new Hillsborough transportation plan. At right is Christina Kopp, senior planner at Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consulting firm hired to gather the information.
  10. Tampa teenager killed in shooting during birthday party

    Crime

    TAMPA — Family members and friends gathered Sunday night to remember a 14-year-old boy who was shot and killed late Saturday during a birthday party in Sulphur Springs.

    Richard Newton, 14, was at the outdoor birthday party, at 8105 Ninth St., when a fight broke out that escalated to gunfire around 10:30 p.m., according to Tampa police.

    Newton was struck and died at the scene. Another person was shot and taken to the hospital, Lt. Richard Blasioli said....

    Richard Newton, 14, was an eighth-grader at Van Buren Middle School in Tampa.
  11. Great-grandmother calls death of 2-year-old 'a tragic accident'

    Accidents

    PLANT CITY — The woman who was driving the minivan that ran over and killed her 2-year-old great-granddaughter shook with grief Thursday as she asked a judge to be reunited with the two other children in her care who call her "Mama."

    Alice Barber, 69, struggled to tell the court the terrible details of how Izbella Bronson fell through the open door of the van.

    "I would die in Izbella's place if I could," Barber told the judge, gasping through tears. "I have to live with what I did. I didn't know. I didn't mean to … I would give my life for her if I could."...

  12. Federal judge sides with Scientology on refund issue

    Civil

    TAMPA — A federal judge has ruled in favor of the Church of Scientology, saying two former members must go through the church's internal arbitration process if they want a refund of more than $1.3 million in donations.

    U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore issued a 21-page order Friday stating that plaintiffs Luis and Rocio Garcia are bound by contracts they signed during their 28 years with the church that require them to use the arbitration process to get their money back....

    Luis and Rocio Garcia, former Scientology members, sued the church in 2013, alleging fraudulent tactics.
  13. Hot dog eating contest puts joy of victory, agony of defeat on display (w/ video)

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    By the barest of margins — a quarter of a hot dog, bun included — Nathan "Nasty Nate" Biller won the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest qualifying event Sunday night at the Florida Strawberry Festival.

    Biller downed 23 dogs in 10 minutes. As he was declared the winner, the runner-up marched off the stage while the others cheered. To the audience, it looked like anger. But it was a more involuntary reaction than that....

    Female winner Mary Bowers receives a trophy from emcee Sam Barclay after downing 10 hot dogs during the contest.
  14. Legislation filed that would allow Uber, Lyft to operate legally in Florida

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Ride-share companies Uber and Lyft could operate legally in Florida if legislation filed Wednesday by Sen. Jeff Brandes passes this session, bringing an end to nearly a year of feuding with regulators in Tampa, Orlando and Miami.

    Uber and Lyft have quarreled with regulators over whether they meet requirements for insurance, background checks and other safety issues. The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission ordered a cease and desist and sought a court injunction against the two companies. Authorities in Miami-Dade impounded vehicles belonging to Lyft drivers, and Orlando passed regulation calling for a vehicle registration fee and a higher minimum fare for Uber and Lyft....

    Uber and Lyft started operating in Tampa in April. The Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission has deemed the services illegal. 
  15. Video suggests Apryl Foster's death was an accident, friends say

    Accidents

    BRANDON — In the darkness at the end of a straight, tree-lined road, Apryl Foster's car passed through an open metal gate, flashed its turn signal and turned right.

    That was how two of Foster's friends described the moments before the car slid down a boat ramp into the waters of Mango Lake, as recorded on a surveillance video from a nearby home.

    The video, which sheriff's officials showed to Foster's family and friends after her body was found Sunday, convinced them that the 33-year-old's death was nothing other than an accident. ...

    Police are using surveillance video from a home at 1814 Open Field Loop, which is next to the Mango Lake boat ramp where divers found Foster’s submerged Chevy Aveo.