03/24/17 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....
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....
03/20/17 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....
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....
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....
03/10/17 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....
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....
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....
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....
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....
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. ...
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....
02/23/17 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....
Parents of disabled children vow to take on beer distributor Pepin in fight over horse therapy center land02/21/17 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....
02/16/17 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. ...