Caitlin Johnston, Times Staff Writer

Caitlin Johnston

Caitlin Johnston covers military life, 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. Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden honored for leadership


    TAMPA — Doug Belden credits his grandfather with instilling in him a passion for politics at a young age.

    The Hillsborough County Board of Commissioners honored that passion Wednesday by awarding the county tax collector the 2014 Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award.

    Commissioners commended Belden, a Republican, for improving the efficiency and quality of service within the tax collector's office and for taking pride in the work he's done since he was elected in 1998....

    Doug Belden received the 2014 Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award.
  2. Hillsborough's Social Services undergoing makeover


    TAMPA — In an effort to establish trust with residents, the county's Social Services Department is undergoing an overhaul that includes training, technology and a new motto: Service matters.

    The agency helps residents deal with issues related to education, shelter, transportation, jobs and utilities.

    Part of its rebranding efforts include changing the name of the county's five neighborhood service centers to community resource centers instead....

  3. Politically connected Brandon salon goes Bollywood


    BRANDON — Hair stylists and makeup artists at Divine Designs Salon & Spa will close up shop for three days, pack up their equipment and cater to Bollywood stars in Tampa this weekend for the International Indian Film Academy's Weekend & Awards.

    "We're so excited, you have no idea," said salon director of operations and part owner Akashi Patidar, who was born and raised in India. "We've been preparing for this event since January."...

    Alanna Haskin works on Hira Gohar’s hair Wednesday. On the far right, Daisy Vargas instructs Kris Martinez on the ways of Indian styling.
  4. Two killed, two injured in Tampa park shooting



    Bullet casings and plastic Easter eggs lay scattered in the grass after a gunfight broke out Sunday in a park crowded with families and children celebrating the holiday.

    When police arrived at Alfred "Al" Barnes Jr. Park around 5 p.m., two young men were dead and two others were rushed to Tampa General Hospital with serious injuries.

    A person dressed as the Easter bunny, who had been entertaining families earlier, joined children behind crime scene tape as investigators combed the scene....

  5. SouthShore and Brandon reps promote legislation


    There's more to the two-month state legislative session in Tallahassee than partisan politics and poring over the governor's priorities.

    It also gives each state representative and senator a chance to champion specific bills. Here's a review of some of the legislation being pushed by the primary SouthShore and Brandon representatives.

    Human trafficking: Some legislators led by Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, are trying to crack down on adult establishments that employ minors while also addressing other key issues related to human trafficking....

  6. Go-cart fans get their fix at indoor Tampa Bay Grand Prix



    He gripped the wheel as the go-cart careened through the turn.

    The motorway hummed around him as Dempsey Wilson, 47, pushed the accelerator further, aching to log a quicker lap time.

    As of Tuesday, his name sat atop the leader board for the green track at Tampa Bay Grand Prix's Tampa location. Shortly after noon on April 1, he shot around the quarter-mile indoor track in 17:428 seconds. Halfway through the month, no other racers have eked out a faster lap....

    Already regulars at the Tampa Bay Grand Prix, Lewis Mitchell, 26, left, and Josh Newell, also 26, talk smack as they await their race on the green track last weekend. Most other go-cart racetracks in Tampa Bay advertise speeds of a mere 16 to 25 mph.
  7. Forum keys on more help for victims in fighting human trafficking


    TAMPA — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has seen firsthand the difference a well-run safe house can make in the lives of human trafficking victims.

    Bondi told the audience gathered Thursday at a human trafficking forum of a recent trip she took to Mexico City, where she and other attorneys general discussed prominent issues with Mexican officials and visited a treatment facility for victims....

  8. Disc golf grows in popularity in the Tampa Bay area

    Human Interest


    He stepped to the tee and surveyed the fairway.

    A few trees, some elevation, a par 3. Glancing through his bag, he pulled his driver and scouted his route.

    And then with a step and a release, he let the disc fly.

    Doren Kempher, 49, has played disc golf for several years. The Valrico resident recently started frequenting the disc golf course at Limona Park in Brandon. There's a doubles tournament each Tuesday....

    Tanner Wilson, 13, of Brandon throws his disc from the tee pad at a doubles tournament Tuesday at Limona Park in Brandon.
  9. At 89, Ybor native crafts book of poetry

    Human Interest

    Mary Elizabeth "Bettie" Perez has writing in her blood. She's the granddaughter of a newspaper founder and the mother of two newspapermen (one who works for the Tampa Bay Times). Now, at age 89, she celebrates her first nationally published book of poetry. Perez spoke with Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston about the importance of listening, the concept of fresh and the changing tides in Ybor City. ...

    Mary Elizabeth “Bettie” Perez, 89, is the author of How Old Is Fresh, a book of 28 poems. It’s published by Finishing Line Press (finishing Also pictured is her friend Chanci Harrow.
  10. Brandon All-Stars will hit the big screen


    BRANDON — The Brandon All-Stars will be featured in a nationwide film celebrating the athleticism of cheerleading and the determination of its athletes.

    The movie, Cheer Night Out, will focus on the Nfinity Champions League, a national competition this weekend in Atlanta when the Brandon All-Stars will compete against 27 other teams. It is the first all-star competition to be filmed and shown in theaters nationwide....

    The Brandon All-Stars cheerleading team will compete this weekend in Atlanta.
  11. Appeals court upholds bribery conviction of former Hillsborough County commissioner


    TAMPA — A federal appeals court has upheld the bribery conviction and prison sentence of former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Florida announced Monday.

    White, 49, was convicted by a jury of federal bribery and corruption charges in 2011. In 2012, U.S. District Court Judge James Whittemore sentenced him to three years in prison, telling White that his crimes "overshadowed all the good you have done for your constituents."...

  12. In tiny Hampton, national shame will be hard to shake



    For years, she saw signs that something was awry in her quiet city.

    Linda Godwin saw the city clerk grabbing cigarettes and drinks at the local convenience store, telling the clerk something and then walking out without paying.

    Her son-in-law told her of riding into Gainesville in a city vehicle with the city clerk's son, watching him rack up bills at Walmart on the city credit card. He suspected the expenditures were personal....

    Steven Brad Varnum, 27, a native of Hampton who moved back to care for his parents, works on his short game, hitting golf balls into the flooded portion of his yard in Hampton on March 18. Large salaries paid officials and revenues gathered from traffic tickets did nothing to fix flooding or sidewalks in the city.
  13. Bucs' Mike Williams stabbed in leg, search on for his brother


    TAMPA — Troubled Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Williams had another 911 call to yet another lavish home he is renting Sunday evening. This time, he was the one who needed help.

    Williams, 26, was hospitalized briefly after witnesses said his brother stabbed him in the thigh while roughhousing, according to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

    He was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital and released after what was described as a relatively minor laceration....

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams sits on the bench as the Carolina Panthers control the field during the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium on Oct. 24, 2013.
  14. Fatalities raise concerns about proposed development on Bloomingdale Avenue


    VALRICO — Recent fatalities on Bloomingdale Avenue have some residents concerned the already-overcrowded corridor can't handle even more traffic.

    But there will be more traffic if a proposed big-box development is built near the Bloomingdale Library.

    Bloomingdale, a major east-east corridor for the county, has seen four fatalities in 2014.

    The deaths occurred between Jan. 4 and Feb. 28 and though they didn't occur during peak traffic time, Hillsborough County deputies noted that the fatalities took place within a segment of Bloomingdale Avenue known for having a high frequency of accidents each month....

  15. Valrico area to get three traffic lights, two near schools


    VALRICO — Hillsborough County has approved funding for three traffic signals in the Valrico area and will begin construction on one within the month and the other two at the end of this summer.

    The signals are part of a Bloomingdale area transportation improvement plan that includes revamping main intersections and expanding congested roads.

    Two of the new signals are near Burns and Mulrennan middle schools, and the third is at Durant and S Valrico roads, where eastbound traffic often backs up at the four-way stop in the afternoons....