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. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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....

    “Because of our very limited bus system and lack of an established track record in regard to extensive use of transit by all of our citizens, it would be challenging to just stand up a system tomorrow.”
Mark Sharpe,  Hillsborough County commissioner
  4. 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....

  5. State House, District 61

    Politics

    State House | District 61

    Four Democrats are vying for the District 61 state House seat opening created now that Rep. Betty Reed has reached her term limit. Candidates include a lawyer, an AT&T sales manager, a managed health care consultant and a construction project manager. They range from lifelong residents to a recent transplant. Two have previously run for office, one in this district and another in Tallahassee. Caitlin Johnston, Times staff writer...

    Sharon Carter
  6. Hillsborough's try at Uber and Lyft compromise sets $30 minimum fare

    Transportation

    TAMPA — The agency that regulates cabs and limos in Hillsborough County made its first attempt Wednesday to compromise with ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber, which have been operating illegally for months as they expand here.

    The Public Transportation Commission proposed two changes in hopes of accommodating the companies. But the changes still force Lyft and Uber to charge customers at least $30 and make them order the service at least a half-hour in advance....

    Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft have been operating illegally in Hillsborough County for months.
  7. Hillsborough elected officials divided on timing of potential transit tax

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Expected to bring clarity to when voters will be asked to approve a sales tax for transportation projects, elected officials from throughout Hillsborough County instead made it more murky Tuesday — differing over when a referendum has the best chance of passing.

    The policy group, which includes the seven county commissioners and mayors of the three cities, listened to a proposal from County Administrator Mike Merrill to elicit feedback from the public on a list of hundreds of transportation projects including light rail that could be helped by a 1-cent sales tax....

  8. Tax for rail likely to unlock new sources of campaign cash for politicians

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Serving on the board that oversees Hillsborough County's bus system is not the most glamorous or even most coveted assignment for local politicians.

    That could change in a most lucrative way if powerful voices persuade voters to approve a tax raising billions of dollars and put the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority in charge of it.

    The 10 politicians serving on such a board likely would be catapulted into a campaign cash raising realm not seen here before....

  9. Betty Reed endorses Ed Narain

    Blog

    State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, has endorsed Ed Narain as her successor in House District 61.

    Narain, an area manager for AT&T and former student body president at the University of South Florida, is running against three other candidates in the Democratic primary.

    “I’m supporting Ed Narain to replace me because our concerns for the community are the same,” Reed said in a press release. “Ed has the community roots, the servant heart, and the fighting spirit to carry the torch for Tampa.”...

  10. Founder of Ben's Family Restaurant remembered as taskmaster, softie

    Obituaries

    BRANDON — Ben Crisler was one of the lucky ones.

    Unlike most people, the former owner of Ben's Family Restaurant learned what people thought of him before he died.

    Lying in his hospital bed, Mr. Crisler, 76, read through the messages his former employees had written in a private Facebook group. The account had existed for a couple of years, but his daughter, Lori Faria, had only recently discovered it....

    Ben Crisler poses with his daughter, Lori Faria, during a Seattle vacation. She said her father changed teens’ lives.
  11. HART board unsure how — or whether — to transform into super transportation agency

    Mass Transit

    TAMPA — Two months have passed since a recommendation to greatly expand the role of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to oversee all sorts of transportation initiatives beyond bus service, and it still is unclear what its new board will look like and just what it will oversee.

    At a meeting Monday, the directors of HART were unable to agree on how or even whether to change the board's composition....

  12. Two District 61 House candidates emerge as front-runners

    Local

    TAMPA — Four Democrats are vying for the state House District 61 seat open because of term limits, but two appear to be the clear front-runners.

    Sean Shaw, a Tallahassee-backed lawyer who came to Tampa four years ago, and Ed Narain, a hometown candidate keyed into many Hillsborough County organizations, have big advantages in fundraising and endorsements. The other two candidates — Sharon Carter and Tatiana Denson — lag behind considerably in those categories....

    Ed Narain has support from local figures and says he has area ties.
  13. Tampa Police end Sunday morning standoff

    Crime

    TAMPA — A seven-hour SWAT standoff that prompted police to block streets and evacuate neighbors early Sunday morning ended peacefully in the afternoon with a man's arrest.

    Alex Ray Crouse, 41, barricaded himself in a home in the 1300 block of 18th Avenue, according to Tampa police, in a standoff stemming from a domestic abuse report.

    His girlfriend left the home and ran to a neighbor's to call the police early Sunday. Officers were dispatched at 6:46 a.m. The woman was transported to an undisclosed hospital and treated for minor injuries....

    Police wait in the 1300 block of 18th Ave., Tampa, during negotiations with a man who had barricaded himself inside a house Sunday morning. Alex Ray Crouse, 41, was arrested after officers forced their way into the home.
  14. Tampa bridal show focuses on LGBT market

    Human Interest

    TAMPA

    As the couple walked past the vendors at the wedding planning showcase at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk on Sunday, they couldn't help but envision what their special day would look like in December.

    When it comes to the style of their commitment ceremony and reception, the two women are traditional, they say.

    "I haven't seen her dress," Jessica Marquez, 32, said. "I haven't seen her in it, nor do I want to. It's traditional."...

    A cake made by Sweet Tweets Cakery, a company owned by Leticia and Scott Stovern off of N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, is displayed for brides, grooms and their family and friends at the Equal Plan Bridal Show at the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel on Sunday. The bridal show event was put on by Diana Marie Events in order to showcase LGBT-friendly businesses for same-sex and straight couples, who are planning their weddings. 
  15. Riverview boy mauled by dogs remembered for independent spirit

    Public Safety

    RIVERVIEW — Not expecting 4-year-old Logan Shepard to later wander outside the Riverview home he was visiting Saturday night, the boy's uncle let two pit bull terriers out of their cages to roam the yard. Moments later, they mauled the boy to death, Logan's father said Monday.

    The screams of Logan's mother, who discovered the gruesome scene, attracted the attention of deputies who happened to be nearby....

    Relatives say Logan Shepard was a smart boy who was excited about starting preschool.