Claire Wiseman, Times Staff Writer

Claire Wiseman

Claire Wiseman covers breaking news for the Times. She grew up in Liberty, Ind., and graduated from Indiana University. She has previously written for the Dallas Morning News.

Phone: (727) 893-8804

E-mail: cwiseman@tampabay.com

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  1. St. Petersburg stoplights thrown out of synch by computer upgrades

    Transportation

    ST. PETERSBURG — It isn't just bad luck.

    Thanks to a computer upgrade, all the stoplights in the city's downtown corridor — once heralded as impressively synchronized — have become un-synched.

    At one time, 80 percent of St. Petersburg's 300 signalized intersections were synched, meaning easy travel from one intersection to the next with few red lights in sight....

    A necessary computer upgrade has messed up the lights’ typical 80 percent synchronization in downtown.
  2. Most seem pleased with policing shift in St. Pete Beach

    Crime

    ST. PETE BEACH

    At City Hall, the community policing deputy arranges his bike and cooler in the back of his white Chevy Tahoe.

    "The city's crime is not real rampant," Deputy David Mancusi says, half joking. "It's a fairly quiet, very nice, peaceful city."

    It has been more than 18 months since St. Pete Beach dissolved its police department and replaced it with a Sheriff's Office contract. ...

    Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Deputy David Mancusi cruises St. Pete Beach in April. One year ago the Sheriff’s Office took over policing at St. Pete Beach. Mancusi says, “It’s a fairly quiet, very nice, peaceful city.”
  3. Area tax collectors report confusion over $25 cut in auto tag fees

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Gov. Rick Scott's much-touted $25 cut in auto tag fees will kick in on Sept. 1, but the rollback isn't eliciting a chorus of cheers at area tax collectors' offices.

    It's mostly sparking confusion.

    People with September renewals who want to pay now can't — unless they forgo the discount. The state's system will not allow renewals to be processed at a discount before Sept. 1....

  4. About 380 'pay it forward' at local Starbucks

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — A small act of kindness snowballed at a local Starbucks on Wednesday and broke a store record for "paying it forward."

    Store manager Grant Drain said the long line of generosity began about 7 a.m. at the store at 2186 Tyrone Blvd. N. A regular pulled up to the drive-in window and asked to pay for the person in line behind him.

    That person did the same, and more than 260 others had followed suit as of about 1:30 p.m....

  5. City crews responsible for severely cut mangrove at Demens Landing

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — A city grounds crew was behind the butchering of a mangrove tree at Demens Landing, a parks and recreation department spokesman said Tuesday.

    "We had a crew that was far too aggressive in its trimming style," supervisor Mike Jefferies said.

    The marina had put in a work order with the city to trim the mangroves to allow a boat to fit in a nearby slip. A mangrove specialist with certification from Pinellas County was supposed to oversee the work, Jefferies said. Instead, that person sent a crew to the downtown marina last week and went to a different site....

    A mangrove tree at Demens Landing in St. Petersburg was cut down so far that it violated county code. 
  6. Demens Landing residents angered by mangrove's severe cutting

    Environment

    ST. PETERSBURG — An investigation is under way to determine who improperly trimmed a large mangrove tree down to its roots last week at Demens Landing.

    The problem isn't so much that someone tried to trim the mangrove as much as the way they trimmed it.

    "That wasn't really trimming, what they did, it was an alteration," said Conor Petren, an environmental specialist for Pinellas County. "Which means, you change the basic nature of the tree by cutting it down to a stub, pretty much."...

    Mangroves, foreground, next to Demen’s Landing gate 4 were cut down last week without the city arborist’s permission. Healthy mangroves, which can grow up to 25 feet, can be seen in the background, center.
  7. Storms, rain threaten snag traffic and threaten weekend

    Weather

    The booms were hard to miss.

    Thunder shook buildings, torrential rain filled streets and bridges backed up across Tampa Bay Friday morning as a line of strong storms moved northeast across the region.

    "It never really let up," Bay News 9 Traffic Reporter Chuck Henson said. "There was always some big crash going on all the time."

    The madness began early Friday, Henson said. A driver was killed about 2:45 a.m. when they slammed head-on into an ambulance while driving the wrong way on I-275. The accident congested southbound lanes of the interstate for hours, and other accidents backed up the Selmon Expressway and Veterans' Expressway ...

    Storm clouds build Friday morning over Clearwater Beach. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  8. NTSB releases initial report on plane crash near Venice that killed two

    Accidents

    The father and his young daughter killed by a plane making an emergency landing off Caspersen Beach last month were playing in about 4 feet of water when they were struck.

    Ommy Irizarry's young son was also in the water nearby and ducked to avoid the plane, which was gliding in silently after its engine failed. Irizarry's wife, Rebecca, saw it out of the corner of her eye, but didn't see it hit her family....

    The Piper Cherokee that killed two people after it made an emergency landing at Caspersen Beach near Venice on July 27 had not been used in about 31/2 months, an NTSB report says.
  9. Epilogue: Beloved Maverick Masters leader couldn't help but coach

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — As a coach and friend, Paul Hutinger didn't go easy on fellow swimmers. He never hesitated to tell someone how they could improve. Friends and family who remember Hutinger say he motivated with genuine interest, and that's what made him so special.

    "He was always concerned," said Charles Schlegel, head of the Maverick Masters swim team. "He always went a little deeper. ...

    Paul Hutinger was the
longtime coach of the Florida Maverick Masters. He died July 17 at age 89.
  10. Tony Holloway sworn in as St. Petersburg's new police chief

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tony Holloway was officially installed Wednesday as the city's new police chief.

    Judge Morris Silberman administered the oath of office to Holloway, 52, at an 11 a.m. ceremony at Fox Hall at Eckerd College, the new chief's alma mater.

    "Chief Holloway is a leader, and he knows what needs to be done, and he knows how to do it," Mayor Rick Kriseman said. "I'm confident that he will return this department to the prominence it once had. It's time for a change, so let's let the change begin, and let's get this chief sworn in."...

    With wife Andra Dreyfus looking on, Tony Holloway, left, is congratulated by Mayor Rick Kriseman on Wednesday.
  11. Longtime owner of Pepin Restaurant, Jose Cortes, dies at age 79

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — For nearly 30 years, Pepin was a staple of the city's restaurant scene. It was a place to grab a light business lunch, or sip sangria as Spanish as its owner. It was a favorite of the city's power brokers, but its bare wood tables were just as popular with families.

    "I think there were more financial deals closed in that restaurant than there were in any bank in St. Petersburg," longtime customer Eddie Dunn said....

    Jose Cortes at The Dali Museum 28th Annual Benefit Dinner in 2010. [Times files]
  12. Florida leads the nation in deadly lightning strikes (w/video)

    Public Safety

    On Aug. 3, a dazed motorcyclist wandered into a St. Petersburg gas station. He had sought shelter under the station's awning and was struck by lightning.

    When paramedics arrived, the man had recovered enough to refuse treatment. He was lucky. Though rare, fatal lightning strikes this year have been more prevalent in Florida than any other state in the nation.

    Lightning doesn't capture as many headlines as, say, a shark attack, but can be deadlier. So far this year it has killed in a Milton blueberry patch, on two rooftops, at the edge of a Plant City lake and on a Fort Myers beach....

    Jonathan Farmer survived an indirect strike in a Brandon Sam’s Club parking lot in 2007.
  13. Dead dog in suitcase was actually sad story of love, couple say

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — The hard-shell blue suitcase was floating in a canal south of downtown when the boat rental worker fished it from the water.

    Inside, the body of a black and gray pit bull appeared severely beaten.

    Police launched an animal cruelty investigation, and tracked down the suitcase owner using a number written on the luggage. She said she had thrown it into a community trash bin months ago....

    Samuel Orsini and Gina Glass say they didn’t have $55 for the SPCA to pick up Beloved, so they laid her to rest in a canal.
  14. St. Petersburg nursing home gets reprieve

    Civil

    ST. PETERSBURG — A St. Petersburg nursing home avoided an effective closure last week when a federal judge granted it a restraining order against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    A notice of involuntary termination was sent to the owner of the Rehabilitation Center of Saint Petersburg, after federal inspectors saw violations in July that they said warranted suspension of Medicare and Medicaid provider statuses. "Conditions in your facility also constituted immediate jeopardy to residents' health and safety and substandard quality of care," it said....

  15. Pilot didn't see the man and his daughter walking along the beach before he struck them

    Accidents

    ENGLEWOOD — The pilot never saw them.

    Karl Kokomoor and a friend had taken off from an airport six miles away for a Sunday afternoon of sightseeing. Suddenly, he said, the Piper Cherokee's engine failed. The plane lost altitude. He had seconds to scout an emergency landing. Kokomoor eyed a beach, but it looked filled with people. He diverted to another strip of sand.

    At that moment on that same strip of sand, witnesses say, a man and his daughter were on a walk. The nearly silent plane glided in from behind them, its sound drowned out by crashing waves and blowing wind. The nose halted at the water's edge....

    This screen grab of Rebecca Irizarry's Facebook page shows the family enjoying the beach before the accident.