SPRING HILL — Jamie Smiley's phone rang before dawn Friday.
It was his sister. Her home was burning with most of the family inside. She said to come quickly.
Smiley raced less than a mile to find the double-wide mobile home on Old Shady Hills Road engulfed in flames. The front gate stood open from where his brother-in-law burst through it in his pickup truck to get the family out. Fire rescue crews were already there dousing the flames....
As polls closed Tuesday, Republican David Jolly had overtaken Alex Sink's initial lead, setting up a cliff-hanger.
By 7:20 p.m. Jolly was leading with 48 percent of the vote to Sink's 47 percent. But the race is expected to be close, with scores of voters casting ballots in person Tuesday.
The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections estimated voter turnout at 39 percent through 6 p.m. That includes the unofficial early voting turnout of 27.6 percent and 11.4 percent turnout at the polls....
James Wolfe answered his wife's phone call early Monday and heard the fear.
"I could hear the panic in her voice,'' he said. "She was freaking out."
Jennifer Wolfe's minivan had veered off northbound 28th Street N about 12:30 a.m., crossed southbound lanes and slid down an embankment into a retention pond.
Now the 2004 Honda Odyssey was sinking, and his wife was unable to open the door....
ST. PETERSBURG — As 91-year-old Beverly Landrey tried to yank a carjacker from the driver's seat of her crossover, she thought immediately of her husband.
"He loves the Venza," Landrey said. "And I wasn't going to let anyone get our Venza."
Landrey was driving to the Fresh Market on Thursday afternoon to buy blackberry ice cream for her husband, Bill.
On the way, a pickup driven by a young man bumped the rear of the Toyota crossover. She got out, scolded the man about texting while driving, then drove away....
PINELLAS PARK — Police arrested 11 men during an unannounced probation and parole sweep at a motel late Wednesday.
The men were on probation for crimes including sexual battery on a child, attempted unlawful sex with a minor, and lewd and lascivious assault.
They were accused of having items ranging from a samurai sword to a smartphone, synthetic marijuana, a spring-loaded knife and pornography....
02/27/14 Local Government
Democrat Scott Orsini announced Thursday that he will run for state representative in the House District 69 seat held by Republican Kathleen Peters.
In November, Peters lost the congressional District 13 primary to David Jolly. Orsini joins Republican challenger Leo J. Govoni and Libertarian Randy Taylor, who have already filed to run.
Orsini, 48, founded the Orsini & Rose law firm in St. Petersburg in 1996. He focuses on civil, consumer and family law and said his practice keeps him grounded. "I am middle class, and most of my clients are middle class," Orsini said. ...
02/24/14 Human Interest
Monday marked the start of the 35-day construction period required for workers to turn downtown streets into a 14-turn, 1.8-mile IndyCar track for the Fire-stone St. Petersburg Grand Prix.
The race, which will be held March 28-30, will go along an Albert Whitted Airport runway, wind around the Dalí Museum and up First Street SE, then snake around Pioneer Park and down Bay Shore Drive. Its creation will require 20,000 feet of steel-reinforced concrete barriers and 44,000 feet of chain-link fencing....
A St. Petersburg man was arrested on attempted murder charges Thursday after deputies said he shot his mother in the face while chasing her in a car.
Eric James Garcia, 22, fired into his parents' vehicle around 98th Street and Bryan Dairy Road in Pinellas Park on Thursday night, a Pinellas sheriff's office report states. A bullet struck his mother, 62-year-old Renee Garcia, who was driving, in the face. Garcia "continued to drive and transported herself to Largo Medical for treatment," the report states....
02/20/14 Public Safety
ST. PETERSBURG — Homicide Detective Kenny Miller and CASE Detective Paul "Jacques" LaMonde are this year's winners of the Police Department's top honor, the Ned March/Bud Purdy Award.
Miller, 36, is a 13-year agency veteran who worked in patrol, community, street crimes and burglary units before moving to homicide. Originally from Orlando, he said he has always wanted to be a homicide detective and began building community contacts long before he took his current post. ...
ST. PETERSBURG — A two-alarm fire drove out residents at a St. Petersburg housing complex Monday afternoon.
The fire was reported just after noon in the back of one of the two buildings that make up Cara House, 450 Fifth Ave. N. The building has 12 units; all 12 residents were safely evacuated without injury, St. Petersburg Fire Rescue acting division chief Brett Ciskoski said. The fire reached into the attic, and witnesses said flames stretched toward the sky. ...
Seizing on a project that sat idle for years, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that he will make $131 million available to build an elevated expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19, the second major transportation project he has pledged to fast-track in an election year.
At a news conference, Scott said that because of Florida's improving economy, the state now has enough money to build the expressway, a project that local planners have been discussing for more than a decade. Expected to cost nearly $338 million, the elevated toll expressway would allow motorists to travel quickly between the county's two major arteries, I-275 and U.S. 19. It would also take them from I-275 to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and the Bayside Bridge. ...
TAMPA — Nichole William and her niece expected to leave Sarasota about 6 p.m. Wednesday for a flight to North Carolina.
By the time they actually get in the air, they will have logged more than 27 hours in two airports.
If all goes well.
"I'm not an airport person," said the niece, 19-year-old Kayleigh Burke, curled up in a chair at Tampa International Airport.
As airports across the United States scrambled to deal with winter weather Thursday, Florida's snow-free airports were not spared. More than 70 flights were canceled Thursday at TIA....
The driver of a semitrailer truck involved in a fatal accident that sent a car off Interstate 75 and into the Alafia River early Wednesday has a troubled driving history that includes more than two dozen infractions in the past 10 years.
Wayne Damari Waldon, 30, who was driving an ABC Fine Wine & Spirits truck, also has had his driving license suspended six times, records show.
An applicant's previous driving history cannot disqualify him or her from getting a commercial license, said Lt. Jeff Frost of the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. Only a written test and vehicle skills test are required, he said....
TAMPA — As he drove home on Interstate 275 early Sunday, Ryan Butler nearly collided with the white SUV speeding down the highway against the flow of traffic. He swerved, and so did other drivers, but the SUV didn't veer off its course.
"It just kept going," said Butler, 30, of Tampa. "There were no brake lights, there was no nothing."
Moments later, Butler saw an eruption of flames in his rear-view mirror. Just north of the Busch Boulevard exit, the southbound SUV collided with a Hyundai Sonata carrying four people: Dammie Yesudhas, 21; Jobin Kuriakose, 21; Imtiyaz Jim Ilias, 20; and Ankeet Patel, 22....
Of Paul Rowles' victims, she is the only one who lived.
She was 15 in 1994 when Rowles crawled through a window in her family's Clearwater apartment and forced her at knifepoint to leave with him. He bound her with duct tape and drove her to his Jacksonville apartment, where he sexually assaulted her.
When he let her go into another room to get a drink, she unlocked the front door with one hand and used the other to move the tire he had used to bar the door. She ran to a neighbor's for help. She thinks the escape took 10 to 15 seconds....