RUSKIN — It is still and quiet here. The water ripples as mullet pop out of the water. Birds nest in clumps of mangroves. In the distance, a seagull squawks, and a man with a fishing pole sings a "yo-ho" pirate tune as his boat rumbles toward the gulf. This is Little Cockroach Bay, a hidden treasure of south Hillsborough. It is still and quiet here, but trouble lurks beneath the surface. Serious sea grass scarring has turned this peaceful piece of Old Florida into a battleground....
Pastel colors cover the walls. Babies gurgle and cry. Parents coo and cradle them for the first time. Lives begin in the labor and delivery unit at Brandon Regional Hospital. • But in a storage room down the hall, it is quiet. There are bins stuffed with bonnets and booties, plastic bottles with "Holy Water" labels, doll clothes in pale shades of pink and blue. • This is where Laurie Van Damme goes when a baby dies. • Today the baby has a name. He is 15 ounces and 10½ inches. He died after 20 weeks in his mother's womb. Today he will wear blue. He will lie beside a blanket. He will hold a rattle in his hand. • The beeping of Van Damme's digital camera will be the only sound in the room....
At the height of the building boom, Mark Brandon crisscrossed the state and closed deals daily. • He helped secure mortgages for eager buyers. He wore suits as he signed off on sales. • Now the 41-year-old Riverview resident — a descendant of Brandon's founders — wears T-shirts and shorts on the job. Banks call him and ask for help. And this is how his days begin: "I walk into a house and think, 'Man, what happened to them?' " Then he gets to work. • The stench of rotten meat hangs in the humid summer air. Brandon stands beside stacks of trash bags covering the garage floor of a three-bedroom stucco house. As a field supervisor for his family's company, Total Clean & Restore, he secures and cleans up foreclosed properties so banks can put them back on the market. ...
07/10/08 Mass Transit
PLANT CITY — As the evening express bus pulls into a tiny church parking lot, County Commissioner Al Higginbotham sits in the third row.
But when officials decide the future of public transportation in Hillsborough County, Higginbotham will sit at the front of the room. He started occasionally riding local buses when he was running for office.
"I'd done it before on vacation, but never in my hometown," he said. "I had this impression — we don't do it here."...
RUSKIN — State officials gave Lennard High School higher marks this week, a year after it received Hillsborough's first failing high school grade.
Lennard, which received a D, still ranks near the bottom of district high schools when it comes to students' Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores.
But school leaders said the better grade is a sign that the school is on the right track. ...
RUSKIN — A divided County Commission has approved Little Harbor's request to allow daily rentals in 158 condo units.
In a meeting earlier this month, representatives of developer Earthmark Inc. said the change would help make the Ruskin resort more appealing to tourists and decrease the project's impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
But several residents who live near Little Harbor disagreed, arguing that late-night parties and traffic jams would destroy their peaceful community. ...
BRANDON — Dr. Ali Shreve rushed toward the examination table, cradling the owl in her arms. She pressed a stethoscope gently against its feathers.
"He's gone," she said, shaking her head.
Two hours before, the owl had been sitting on its perch. The night before, it had started to hoot again.
On June 8, Jean Pearce's car struck the owl on a dark stretch of Nichols Road near her Lithia home. When the 68-year-old bird-lover pulled over to check on the owl, a Ford Explorer hit her. She died at the scene. For nine days, the barred owl survived....
SEFFNER — The developers of a proposed water ski park have asked county officials to postpone consideration of their application.
Tampa attorney Judi James, representing McCormick Road LLC, said the company wants to wait for planners to finish their study of the Interstate 4 corridor before county commissioners vote on the company's proposed land use change.
County planning commissioners voted unanimously to grant the request Monday....
BRANDON — Couples have started to say "I do" daily here, between two potted plants perched on white pedestals.
Just down the hall, they can file for divorce.
"We're a one-stop shop," said Kim Muga-Barnes, director of the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office in the new Brandon Regional Service Center.
The $4.2-million, 18,000-square-foot building also includes a kiosk for paying water bills and a meeting room that seats more than 300 people....
LITHIA — A one-legged buzzard. A pigeon from New Orleans. A baby blue jay who needed a nest.
All of them spent nights in Jean Pearce's spare room.
"They can't help themselves, so she helped them," her husband, Clarence Pearce, 73, said Tuesday.
The 68-year-old often took in injured birds. So when she hit an owl with her car on the way home from Wal-Mart on Sunday night, it was no surprise she pulled over on the dark country road. A 2003 Ford Explorer struck her as she stood in the middle of Nichols Road, bending over the bird, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. The impact sent her into the hood of a Honda van. She died at the scene....
TAMPA — Bright orange flames and dark plumes of smoke engulfed a Seminole Heights landmark Sunday evening, destroying a family-owned hardware store where clerks greeted customers by name and a gray cat often sat on the counter.
Dozens of residents looked on as firefighters pointed streams of water at Tampa Bay Hardware, 5511 N Nebraska Ave. They watched the roof of the building cave in. They saw its charred facade start to crumble....
ELLENTON — Days after a tanker truck explosion destroyed a portion of Interstate 75 and caused massive traffic delays, officials opened southbound lanes on I-75 late Sunday night.
Earlier in the weekend, two lanes on U.S. 301 had been opened.
Crews worked through the weekend, clearing debris, moving barriers and paving new median crossovers to allow two lanes of traffic to flow in each direction on the northbound I-75 bridge, which remains structurally sound....
ELLENTON — A fuel tanker plunged off an Interstate 75 overpass and exploded on the highway below Wednesday evening, closing both roads indefinitely.
Flames and black smoke shot into the air, burning the interstate overpass and dropping chunks of the bridge onto U.S. 301 in Manatee County, paralyzing traffic for hours.
The tanker driver, Raymond Neumman, 54, of Brooksville, was flown to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition with severe burns. Two drivers of other vehicles involved in the crash refused medical treatment, authorities said. ...
RIVERVIEW — As her mom talks on the phone, Savannah Anselmo giggles and blurts out one of her favorite words.
To the nearly 18-month-old toddler, "everybody on the phone is Da-da," her mother, Ana Anselmo, says.
Last year, phone conversations held their family together. For weeks, Robert Anselmo remained in Florida, working while his wife and daughter stayed near Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Together they prayed for the only thing that could save Savannah's life: a new liver....
RIVERVIEW — Customers once bought hammers and nails in this metal-walled building on a prime spot along U.S. 301.
In a few months, the store's new owners will start selling roasted pork and plantains.
Jorge L. Gonzalez, 51, of Valrico, said he plans to open a Spanish-American grocery store in the 4,800-square-foot space once occupied by Otto's Hardware.
Plans and permits for the store, at 9613 U.S. 301 S, are still in the works. Gonzalez said he hasn't come up with a name yet....