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Christopher O'Donnell, Times Staff Writer

Christopher O'Donnell

Christopher O'Donnell is a general assignment and local government reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. He was born and grew up in London, England, where he worked for IBM and Citi as a computer programmer and IT analyst. After moving to Florida in 2001, he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida before landing a job with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. During a seven-year stint there, he earned a Florida Society of News Editors award for his coverage of K-12 education. Before joining the Times, he spent three years with the Tampa Tribune and covered city government in both St. Petersburg and Tampa and led coverage of the Tampa Bay Rays' quest for a new ballpark. Away from work, Chris rides his road bicycle on local trails and is an avid soccer fan.

Phone: (813) 226 3446


Twitter: @codonnell_Times

  1. Pepin land deal hits roadblock but future of equestrian center still up in the air

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Wealthy beer distributor Tom Pepin ran into a barrel full of criticism when he proposed that Hillsborough County give him land close to Race Track Road where mentally and physically disabled people ride horses as a form of therapy.

    His land swap proposal would have moved the Bakas Equestrian Center 31 miles away to Seff­ner, a location that parents of disabled children said was too far for them to visit regularly....

    Tom Pepin, president and CEO of Pepin Distributing Co., in November asked the county to consider a landswap deal to move Bakas Equestrian Center to Seffner.
  2. Local agencies say Trump's budget would hit poor communities


    TAMPA — Money for federal programs intended to raise up low-income neighborhoods has become scarce in recent years as Congress has looked to reduce the nation's deficit.

    But local government and housing agencies say they weren't prepared for the elimination of those programs as proposed by President Donald Trump in his first budget.

    Among those on the chopping block are the Community Development Block Grant and the HOME Investment Partnership. They help local governments pay for brick-and-mortar projects such as the construction or repair of affordable housing and new roads or street lighting in low-income neighborhoods....

    The city of Tampa used $500,000 from a Community Development Block Grant to help build Perry Harvey Sr. Park.  President Donald Trump's first budget would eliminate the program. LOREN ELLIOTT | Times
  3. From a low of leg amputation, redemption comes on two wheels

    Human Interest


    There are kids who break things and then there are kids like Leo Rodgers.

    The son of a former U.S. Army helicopter mechanic, tinkering came easy to him. He made a Knight Rider steering wheel out of Connex bricks and was soon cannibalizing bicycle parts to soup up his BMX bike.

    By the time he was 23, thrills came from pulling wheelies, sometimes at 100 mph, on a high-performance Suzuki motorbike....

    Rodgers rides in the bike lane on 40th Street en route to work last week. Passing Tampa motorists do a double take and reach for smartphones to video him.
  4. Tampa police won't enforce county ban on sex offenders living in same house


    TAMPA — The presence of about 140 sexual offenders and predators in a one mile radius around V.M. Ybor has long been a worry for parents in the eclectic, mixed-income neighborhood.

    Drawing many of the offenders are cheap rooming houses on Nebraska Avenue where tenants sleep in bunk beds in shared rooms. Some properties have upward of 30 bunks and are far enough away from schools and day care centers for offenders to comply with laws that restrict where they live....

    Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick wants the council to consider its own ordinance on restricting where sex offenders live rather than rely on a Hillsborough County rule that city police have rejected. [Times file, 2011]
  5. Mother may have seen daughter kill self on social media


    A Miami foster child who committed suicide live on social media may have been watched by her mother, according to a Florida Department of Children and Families report released Monday.

    Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami girl, hanged herself on Jan. 22 and broadcast her death on Facebook Live. Her three-hour broadcast was watched by hundreds of people, some of whom pleaded with the girl to reconsider her decision....

    Gina Caze, mother of 14-year-old Nakia Venant, who livestreamed her suicide on Facebook, pauses as she talks about her daughter during a news conference in January. The Florida Department of Children and Families says Caze may have been one of the people watching the live video. [Alan Diaz | Associated Press]
  6. Lawsuit reveals failed relationship between developer and Tampa Housing Authority

    Local Government

    TAMPA — One of the city's signature urban renewal projects is embroiled in more controversy.

    The Housing Authority is being sued by a developer who agreed to a $7.4 million contract to buy land and develop a hotel and residential block as part of the Encore project on the northeast edge of downtown.

    The Housing Authority in July terminated its contract with Pinnacle Group Holdings after giving it two years to close on the deal, officials said. The Tampa development firm, owned by Frank DeBose, had paid a $50,000 deposit for the land and subsequently paid $250,000 in additional deposits to extend the closing date....

    The Reed at Encore, a seven-story senior living center on the edge of downtown Tampa,  shown under contruction in June 2016. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
  7. Foster mom charged in toddler's death was meant to be his lifeline


    TAMPA — There was little in the history of Latamara Stackhouse Flythe that would have led child welfare workers to question placing a toddler with the 43-year-old single mother.

    She lived in a respectable Riverview neighborhood in a home she shared with two children, a dog and a rabbit named Hip Hop. A college graduate, she had no criminal record, and her daughter was in the National Honor Society....

    Brynn Agminalis, 23, was arrested March 2 on charges of child neglect.
  8. Detective: toddler in foster care likely suffered extensive head injuries before death


    TAMPA — A 17-month-old boy who died just weeks before a likely adoption had head injuries that appeared to be the result of a great amount of force, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office detective testified Friday in court.

    Aedyn Agminalis was rushed to the hospital after becoming unresponsive on Dec 7. Doctors found he had sustained trauma to the head that resulted in hemorrhaging and death. A doctor also noted hemorrhaging of the spinal column....

    Latamara Stackhouse Flythe enters the courtroom with her attorney, John Grant, during Flythe's bail hearing Friday. She is accused of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of a 17-month-old foster child. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  9. Fatal injury occurred just minutes after child welfare worker left home, detective says


    TAMPA — Aedyn Agminalis was awake and alert when a child welfare worker left the toddler's home at 7:50 p.m. on Dec. 7 after a routine visit, a Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office detective testified in court Friday.

    Just seven minutes later, Aedyn's foster family called 911 to report that the 17-month-old boy had slumped forward and was unresponsive. He was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital for Children, where doctors found head injuries along with hemorrhaging of his brain and spinal column....

    Latamara Stackhouse Flythe, the child’s foster mother, is charged in Aedyn’s death. She was accompanied in court by attorney John Grant.
  10. Once set for demolition, Mary Bethune apartments may rise above West River



    The Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments provided low-cost housing for Tampa seniors for 50 years before it was scheduled for a date with a wrecking ball.

    Demolition of the apartments and of the sprawling North Boulevard Homes public housing project was to make way for the West River project, the authority's ambitious plan to revitalize the area west of the Hillsborough River with a walkable community....

    The 150 units of the eight-story Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments, including this two-bedroom apartment, would be renovated under a plan by the Tampa Housing Authority.
  11. Foster mom arrested in death of boy headed for adoption


    TAMPA — A foster mother has been arrested in the death of a 17-month-old boy who suffered apparent head injuries just weeks before he was likely to be adopted.

    Latamara Stackhouse Flythe was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of Aedyn Agminalis, who died Dec. 11 after he was rushed to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. The child had been in Flythe's care since September. ...

    Aedyn Agminalis, seen in this undated photo, was described as unresponsive when he was rushed to the hospital. He died on Dec. 11.
  12. That six-seat electric car you see around downtown is officially a limo


    TAMPA — A "stretch golf cart" is one of the more irreverent descriptions of the six-seat electric cars that putter around downtown Tampa.

    But now the Downtowner can officially claim the cachet of being a limousine, albeit a low-speed, non-luxury one.

    Public Transportation Commission board members approved that designation in a recent decision to regulate the fleet of 12 electric cars that give free rides around downtown. It was done at the request of the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which launched the service in October....

    Tyanna Griffith, a University of Tampa student, says she often uses Downtowner cars to get to school instead of walking.  
  13. Hillsborough landowner says she didn't know moving a center for special-needs kids was part of deal

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — As the grandmother of an 8-year-old autistic boy, Kay Burgess knows firsthand how hard it is to raise special-needs children.

    So her heart goes out to the parents who fear that their disabled children will no longer be able to ride horses at an equestrian center that may be moved 31 miles away as part of a deal pitched to the county by wealthy beer distributor Tom Pepin.

    Burgess and her husband own the Seffner site where the center would move. She said she would never have agreed to the $430,000 sale if she knew it meant uprooting disabled children from the Bakas Equestrian Center, which has been operating in northwest Hillsborough County for close to 30 years....

    Kay Burgess’ sympathies now lie with parents of kids at Bakas.
  14. Parents of disabled children vow to take on beer distributor Pepin in fight over horse therapy center land

    Human Interest


    Parents call the Bakas Equestrian Center their "little slice of heaven."

    Located on an idyllic 22-acre plot off Race Track Road, the center offers horse riding for mentally and physically disabled children and adults, helping them develop balance and coordination.

    But now the land, owned by Hillsborough County, is at the center of a tug-of-war between parents and the well-connected owner of one of Florida's largest beer distributors....

    Tom Pepin stands for a portrait at Pepin Distributing in Tampa on March 14, 2011. Pepin, the CEO of Pepin Distributing Company, wants the county to give him the land used by Bakas Equestrian Center in northwestern Hillsborough County in exchange for building a new equine therapy center in Seffner. [Times file photo]
  15. Community, deputies rally to bring a lost little girl home to Brandon

    Public Safety

    BRANDON — Sometime after 9 p.m. Tuesday, 11-year-old Jenna Irmler grabbed her plaid, monogrammed backpack and slipped away from home as her parents and three sisters went to sleep.

    Those who know her say she's shy, but few knew she also struggled with Asperger's syndrome, which can cause behavioral problems. It would be 37 hours before a passing stranger and a store clerk spotted the girl some 30 miles from her Brandon home and still on the move. ...

    Jenna Irmler, 11, was found near a convenience store in Pasco County, some 30 miles from her home.