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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


Twitter: @cljohnst

  1. Top Tampa Fire Rescue official retires after quarrelling over evaluation, saying money was missing


    TAMPA — A Tampa Fire Rescue assistant chief retired last week after quarreling with Chief Tom Forward about a performance evaluation and a cash fund the assistant chief said was missing thousands of dollars.

    Forward issued a special order on Friday announcing that Assistant Fire Chief for Administration Michael M. Gonzalez had retired after 30 years with the department.

    The executive aide who oversaw the cash fund, Maureen Patricio, retired Tuesday. Patricio was first hired by the department in 1975. ...

    Michael M. Gonzalez retired last week from his position as Tampa assistant fire chief.
  2. Half-cent tax would get Hillsborough transit plan rolling


    TAMPA — If county officials have their way, a successful half-cent sales tax referendum in 2016 will bring in $117 million annually for transportation improvements.

    But for those with much grander transportation ambitions, that revenue is only the beginning.

    If the experiences of other cities are any indication, this potential referendum could be the kick-start needed to slowly build and fund a full-fledged transportation network over the coming decades....

  3. Photo gallery: Fans welcome Lightning players home (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes


    Neal Lewis waited patiently, Lightning trading cards clutched in his hands, to welcome the team back on Tuesday after Tampa Bay's thrilling run in the Stanley Cup final came to a disheartening halt.

    As Victor Hedman made his way down the line of selfie-snapping fans, Lewis, 36, extended the card with the defenseman's statistics on it and made small talk with the Swede.

    "Thank you, Victor," Lewis said. "I absolutely love watching you play."...

     The airplane carrying the Tampa Bay Lightning arrives at the Tampa Jet Center. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
  4. Fans nearly fill Amalie Arena for final Lightning watch party

    Lightning Strikes


    With each Stanley Cup final away game they came, the watch party crowds swelling as the Tampa Bay Lightning advanced. That was until the rain washed out the last one entirely.

    So the Lightning opened up the doors to the cool, comfortable Amalie Arena for one last gathering Monday night. And 17,000 people showed to cheer on the team against the Chicago Blackhawks.

    As the pipe organ led the crowd in a "Let's Go Bolts!" chant and the pump-up videos played on the giant screen, it was almost possible to forget that a game wasn't actually being played there....

    Fans fill Amalie Arena for at watch party during Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final on Monday. [Luis Santana | Times]
  5. Hillsborough transportation plan leaves room for light rail


    TAMPA — The dream is still alive for those clamoring for light rail.

    Hillsborough County officials have recommended a transportation plan built around a half-cent sales tax projected to generate $3.5 billion over 30 years. Though consultants suggest nearly two-thirds of that would be spent on building and maintaining roads, they've also given the city of Tampa the go-ahead to use its share of the funds as it sees fit....

    “You have to build a starter line, for lack of a better term, that people can see and touch and ride and appreciate,” Tampa Mayor Buckhorn said of light rail. “And what has happened in other jurisdictions, be it Denver or Phoenix, is that once they see it and they ride it and they realize the value of it, that communities start to clamor for it to come to their neighborhoods.”
  6. Hillsborough hopes 10-year slate of transportation projects will entice voters in 2016


    TAMPA — Voters in Hillsborough County should have a much stronger sense of what transportation projects will be built than they had in 2010 if they approve a 30-year sales tax for road and transit projects.

    County Administrator Mike Merrill presented a new transportation plan to city and county officials on Thursday based on a half-cent sales tax that would generate $117.5 million for transportation projects annually....

    Hillsborough County staff presented a transportation plan to county and city officials on June 11 that, if passed, would bring in more funding for transit options, such as MetroRapid buses. The plan calls for a half-cent sales tax referendum to be on the ballot in fall 2016.
  7. Hillsborough to recommend half-cent sales tax for transportation needs


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County officials fear voters could once again reject a 1-cent sales tax needed to fund a long list of transportation needs, just like they did in 2010.

    But maybe, officials hope, voters will go for a half-cent tax instead.

    County Administrator Mike Merrill is set to present a new transportation plan to county and city officials today that will propose just that. The half-cent sales tax proposal is projected to last for 30 years and generate $117.5 million for transportation projects annually....

    Kathleen Scott writes suggestions on an interactive map of Temple Terrace during a March 10 public meeting at the Omar Lightfoot Center to gather input for a new transit plan. At right is Parsons Brinckerhoff senior planner Christina Kopp, who was gathering the information.
  8. Game 3 Stanley Cup final watch party gets thunderous at Curtis Hixon Park (w/video)

    Human Interest


    It wasn't even two minutes past 6 p.m. and Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park was already teeming with Tampa Bay Lightning fans.

    They walked. They biked. They jumped out of minivans at the corner of Polk Street and N Ashley Drive, slung beach chairs over their shoulders and searched for a prime spot.

    But when the eager fans entered the park, they were met with a crowd of hundreds who had already secured their seats an hour or two before the official start time of the Game 3 Stanley Cup final watch party. The crowd would swell to thousands by the opening faceoff....

    Luis Santana  |   Times (6/8/15, Tampa FL)   Thousands of fans who braved the brief rain downpour cheer in celebration of a Tampa Bay Lightning Win against the Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.  An estimated 8,000 people packed Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa to watch the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals.[Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  9. Hillsborough approves $1.4 billion in transportation improvement projects


    TAMPA — The Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization board approved a 5-year plan Tuesday that outlines $1.4 billion worth of projects, including widening U.S. Highway 301 in Sun City Center and synchronizing 255 traffic signals in Tampa.

    The projects, funded primarily with state and federal transportation dollars, include improvements for roads, bridges, intersections, sidewalks, trails and transit. ...

  10. Teen boy killed in Tampa


    TAMPA — Another teen was killed in east Tampa on Sunday afternoon and police are working to identify a suspect and motive.

    Edward Harris, 14, was killed at N 32nd and E Diana streets near Woodland Terrace Park, near his home.

    It's unclear whether the teen was shot or stabbed, but Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said he suffered upper body trauma. Police who arrived on scene tried to revive Harris before he was transported to Tampa General Hospital where he died from his injuries....

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn talks Sunday with resident Faye Moseley, left, about how the community could address violence. “It’s not just Tampa; it’s all over the country,” Buckhorn said. 
  11. Proposed Hillsborough transportation plan expected June 11

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Three months of public meetings aimed at developing a plan to fix jam-packed roads and improve limited transit offerings have come to an end, and now consultants have to reconcile transportation priorities that often vary with where commuters live.

    Hillsborough County paid Parsons Brinckerhoff about $1 million to organize outreach and put together a detailed transportation plan, which it will present to local leaders on June 11 at the policy leadership group meeting. County commissioners will then have to decide whether they want to put a referendum on the 2016 ballot and, if so, what sort of tax they would ask voters to approve....

    Community members attended a Go Hillsborough meeting on Monday in Town ’N County, where they were asked what the ideal transportation plan should be. There was disagreement.
  12. Road project bulldozer aims for new Tampa Heights community center


    TAMPA — Sometimes it's possible to imagine the interstate isn't there.

    Standing between the ferns and cabbage, when traffic isn't backed up from downtown, the Tampa Heights Community Garden is an oasis.

    But the Florida Department of Transportation recently told residents that the garden, along with a neighboring park and new community center, could be torn down in the next few years to make way for road improvements....

    A rehabbed Tampa Heights church is set to open next month as a community center. Residents say it cost $1 million to renovate.
  13. Tampa Bay a hot market for nonprofit CEOs


    TAMPA — Tampa Bay is a new hot spot for aspiring nonprofit leaders.

    More than a half-dozen nonprofits in the area, ranging from museums to zoos to economic development centers, are searching for chief executive officers.

    That could become a challenge, experts say, depending on the depth of the candidate pool here and across the United States.

    Some say each of the organizations has different missions, and thus will attract different types of applicants. But the possibility that some of these organizations will be trying to snag the same people is very real....

    Tampa Bay Partnership chair Brian Lamb says nationwide searches help promote Tampa Bay.
  14. On trek to Machu Picchu, journey proves better than the destination (w/video)



    I shouldered my pack and looked out at the path that would lead me to Machu Picchu.

    The Urubamba River snaked through the Andes Mountains, showing us the way. Multicolored birds called out from the trees and snow-capped peaks winked through dense clouds. We surveyed it all, eyes squinting into the sun and hands grasping eagerly at the straps of our packs. We were ready to depart on our grand adventure....

    Residents of an Andean village pick potatoes along a hillside. Hikers who book with Wayki Trek can spend a night before the trek in a local village, helping with chores and learning about the culture.
  15. Renovated Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa renamed for Bucs' Bryan Glazer

    Human Interest


    The Tampa Jewish Community Center on Monday celebrated the launch of its $26 million project to transform the historic Fort Homer Hesterly Armory into a new community center.

    The organization also unveiled a new name for the facility: the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, in honor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman who has pledged $4 million to the project.

    When work is completed next year, the armory at 522 N Howard Ave. should have more than 100,000 square feet of community space. The center is expected to open in September 2016....

    With Bryan Glazer at Monday’s announcement of the Bryan Glazer Family JCC to be built at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory are Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, left; Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg; Tampa JCC director Jack Ross; and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa.