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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. Hot dog eating contest puts joy of victory, agony of defeat on display (w/ video)

    Human Interest


    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.
  2. Legislation filed that would allow Uber, Lyft to operate legally in Florida


    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. 
  3. Video suggests Apryl Foster's death was an accident, friends say


    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. ...

    A surveillance camera at an Open Field Loop home next to the Mango Lake boat ramp captured Apryl Foster’s car going into the lake.
  4. Officials say body in submerged car is likely missing Brandon woman (w/video)

    Public Safety

    BRANDON — A fervent 10-day search for Apryl Foster, who disappeared after a night in Ybor City, came to an end Sunday afternoon when Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies found her car submerged in a lake.

    Authorities said they recovered a body from inside the car and have "no reason" to believe it was anyone other than Foster, 33. She was last seen Feb. 13 wearing clothing that matched that of the recovered victim....

    Apryl Foster’s parents, Craig and Peggy Beman, speak to reporters at Mango Lake, where officials believe their daughter’s body was found in her submerged car.
  5. Federal judge to rule on validity of Scientology's refund process

    Special Topics

    TAMPA — A federal judge on Thursday urged both sides in a lawsuit over the Church of Scientology's fundraising tactics to settle matters on their own before he is forced to make "a difficult decision" after two days of hearings.

    If they don't come to an agreement — and there was no indication they would — U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore said he will focus on whether the church has a valid procedure in place to arbitrate money disputes with former parishioners....

    Plaintiffs Luis and Rocio Garcia  spent $1.3 million on church services and causes.
  6. Former Scientologist disputes church claims about granting refunds

    Special Topics

    TAMPA — A closely watched lawsuit over the Church of Scientology's fundraising tactics is expected to reach a pivotal point today in U.S. District Court.

    Attorneys for the church and two plaintiffs who say Scientology staffers pressured and deceived them into making large donations are expected to question more witnesses and complete their arguments, ending two days of hearings.

    At issue: whether Scientology's internal justice system takes precedence over the U.S. legal system when it comes to former church members who want their money back....

    A judge will decide whether Scientology’s internal justice system takes precedence over the U.S. legal system when it comes to former church members who want their money back.
  7. Jeff Brandes: 'Time to abolish Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission'


    State Sen. Jeff Brandes told his Facebook followers Thursday that it is time to abolish Hillsborough's Public Transportation Commission in light of regulators' efforts to seek a court injunction against rideshare companies Uber and Lyft.

    "First-class cities, like Tampa and St. Petersburg, deserve first-class services, like Uber and Lyft. Regulators should not stifle innovation," the post said. "It's time to abolish the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission."...

  8. Steinem in Tampa: Women can make real change happen

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Washington may get more attention, but real social change happens at the state level, and women have the power to make it happen, feminist icon Gloria Steinem said Wednesday as she received an award named for former Florida legislator Helen Gordon Davis.

    Steinem, 80, is the first recipient of the Helen Gordon Davis Waves of Change Women's Leadership Award, given at a sold-out luncheon in Tampa. Though Davis could not attend, her daughter, Stephanie Davis, told the crowd her mother said Steinem was her immediate choice for the honor....

    Author and activist Gloria Steinem, right, holds a first copy of her Ms. magazine that was donated for a raffle by retired Hillsborough County Judge Charlotte Anderson, left, at Wednesday’s Helen Gordon Davis award luncheon in Tampa.
  9. Hillsborough regulators seek injunction to stop Uber, Lyft


    TAMPA — Even with threats and fines, Hillsborough County hasn't been able to get ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft off the streets.

    Now it wants a judge to shut them down.

    The county on Wednesday joined cities such as Las Vegas, Miami and Portland, Ore., in calling for the court system's support in the ongoing battle between regulators and ride-share companies.

    Board members voted during Wednesday's Public Transportation Commission meeting to pursue injunctive relief against Uber and Lyft after both ride-share companies failed to comply with a cease-and-desist letter issued at the end of December....

    BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 01: In this photo illustration, the new smart phone app 'Uber' logo is displayed on a mobile phone next to a taxi on July 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Taxi drivers in main cities strike over unlicensed car-halling services. Drivers say that is a lack of regulation behind the new app. (Photo Illustration by David Ramos/Getty Images) 500166293
  10. As Florida State Fair opens, depositions reveal chaos of 2014 Student Day

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Three Hillsborough County deputies paint a scene of chaos in depositions about student day at the Florida State Fair last year, where about 100 people, mostly teens, were ejected, including one who died hours later.

    Andrew Joseph III, 14, was hit by a car and killed while attempting to cross Interstate 4. But the sworn depositions relate to two other teenagers, brothers Hassan and Amir Abdullah, who were arrested the same night. Tampa lawyer Barry Cohen is representing the teens in addition to Andrew's parents, who are filing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Florida State Fair Authority and the Sheriff's Office....

    Andrew Joseph III, 14, was killed crossing I-4 on foot after begin ejected from last year’s fair.
  11. More than a 16,000 pounds of recyclables collected at Gasparilla

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For those who missed out on the pirate festivities Saturday or whose memories failed them the day after, it was not hard to piece together the events of the invasion by taking a look at Bayshore Boulevard on Sunday.

    Beer cans. Cigarette butts. Plastic syringes that delivered alcohol-infused Jell-O into eager mouths. Feathers. Eye patches. Silver doubloons. Boxes that once carried bags which once carried the infamous beads....

    Rafael Taveras , Marcie Connors, and Chelsea Gomez, collect and count trash found along the Gasparilla parade route on Sunday February 1st, 2015. 

Volunteers from the Florida Aquarium and other organizations participated in the 5th annual day after Gasparilla clean up on Sunday February 1st, 2015. The volunteers worked in zones along the parade route and the surrounding areas. They identified and tallied what they collected to keep track of the trash data.

  12. Date set for movie theater shooting trial


    DADE CITY — A judge Thursday set an Aug. 24 date for the murder trial of Curtis Reeves, a retired Tampa police captain accused of shooting and killing a man in a Wesley Chapel movie theater last January.

    Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa said he expects the trial to last three weeks, closing on Sept. 11.

    Reeves, 72, is charged with second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the Jan. 13 shooting of Chad Oulson, 43, at the Cobb Grove 16 Theatres. The men were at a matinee show with their wives when they argued over Oulson texting his young daughter's babysitter during previews....

    Defense attorney Richard Escobar, right, and movie theater shooting suspect Curtis Reeves listen during Thursday’s hearing.
  13. Florida State Fair announces new safety measures due to teen's 2014 death

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — The Florida State Fair Authority ramped up security measures for the fair's annual student day in response to the death of a 14-year-old Riverview boy who was killed after being ejected from the fair last year.

    Andrew Joseph III died while trying to cross Interstate 4 after he was kicked out of the fair on student day, along with about 100 other young people ordered to leave because of rowdy behavior. Rather than call his parents for a ride, he tried to run across the busy highway....

    The State Fair Authority held a media briefing about ramped up security measures this year in light of the death of Andrew Joseph III last year. His father, Andrew Jospeh II, held a sign before the meeting of his son, with the words "I died for a change." Joseph supports the changes, but says it's not enough. Also included are photos of a new Joint Operation Command Center with extra lights and cameras outside of it, and the survellience cameras on the inside.

Caitlin Johnston | Times
  14. USF under federal investigation for handling of rape case


    TAMPA — The University of South Florida is under federal investigation for possibly mishandling a sexual assault case, making it the second Florida school to face scrutiny since the White House created a task force on campus rape last January.

    The accuser, a 22-year-old woman who spoke with the Tampa Bay Times this month, said the university failed to properly investigate her case, which she said happened last February when she was still a student. ...

    The University of South Florida is under federal investigation for possibly mishandling a sexual assault case.
  15. Elliott Fuentes, thoroughbred racehorse breeder, dies at age 86


    TAMPA — Elliott Fuentes, a thoroughbred racehorse breeder who was instrumental in 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck's early years, died Sunday morning of natural causes. He was 86.

    Mr. Fuentes was recognized nationally as a top Florida thoroughbred breeder and consignor to prestigious bloodstock sales companies. But his love for horses started in the 1930s, back when dirt roads and dairy farms covered the area where Raymond James Stadium now stands....

     Elliott Fuentes, the local thoroughbred breeder who broke and trained 1985 Kentucky Derby winner Spend A Buck, died Sunday morning. He was 86. Fuentes was recognized nationally as a top Florida thoroughbred breeder and consignor to prestigious bloodstock sales companies, but his love for horses started in the 1930s, back when Dale Mabry Highway was a dirt road and dairy farms covered the land on which Raymond James Stadium now stands.  [Family photo]