Dan DeWitt, Hernando Times Columnist

Dan DeWitt

Dan DeWitt has worked as a reporter or columnist for the Times in Hernando County since 1989. He and his wife, Laura, live with their two sons south of Brooksville.

DeWitt previously worked for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. A Cincinnati native, he attended Kenyon College in Ohio and received a master's degree in journalism from the University of Michigan.

Phone: (352) 754-6116

Email: dewitt@tampabay.com

Twitter: @DDewittTimes

  1. Imported beetles consuming air potato plants in Hernando


    It may be the happiest beetle invasion since the Beatles.

    And it's almost as hard to miss.

    All you have to do is look around for towering, tree-strangling strands of potato vine. Their usually bright-green, heart-shaped leaves are, in much of the county, wilted and lacy — or, as scientists say, "skeletonized."

    The fleshy parts of the leaves have been consumed by small, red beetles called Lileoceris cheni, which in 2002 were found munching on potato vines in Nepal, part of the plant's massive native range....

    More than a decade after it was found feeding on potato vines in Nepal, the leaf beetle is dining in Hernando.
  2. Florida's 'sinkhole alley' homeowners struggle with insurance overhaul (w/video)


    In the heyday of the Great Florida Sinkhole Lottery, Iris and Harry Irizarry would have had all the ingredients for a big cash payout:

    A sinkhole policy from state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp.; visible cracking in the walls and floors of the Spring Hill home they bought new in 2003; and a sinkhole confirmed by both an engineer and the Hernando County Property Appraiser's Office.

    But the era of easy sinkhole claims is over, slammed shut by a 2011 overhaul of the state insurance law. Based on the new law, the same engineering firm that found the Irizarrys' sinkhole — and recommended that it be filled with grout — deemed that it wouldn't qualify for an insurance claim....

    A crack runs through the floor of Harry and Iris Irizarry’s home in Spring Hill. An engineer confirmed the presence of a sinkhole, but an overhaul in state insurance law has led to the retirees’ claim being denied and their homes’ value plummeting.
  3. Rep. Richard Nugent's talk at odds with his record


    If you're fed up with our brick wall of a Congress — and polls say about 85 percent of you are — hearing this from a lawmaker might make you want to cheer:

    "I was opposed to the whole idea of shutting down the government," U.S. Rep. Richard Nugent, a Republican from Spring Hill, told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week. "That was, in my estimation, the dumbest idea."...

  4. News flash: There's stuff to do in Brooksville


    I have news that might change your whole perspective on living in Brooksville:

    Now there's stuff to do here.

    Specifically, you can go out at night on the weekends, choose a glass of wine or beer from a thoughtfully put together list and eat the sort of meal that used to require an hourlong commute to Tampa. On some evenings, you can find live music or a wine tasting.

    The advantages include avoiding that commute or another option that is almost as much of a drag — getting a decent-but-predictable meal at a faceless chain restaurant in Spring Hill....

  5. Pasco hit-and-run crash inspires calls for bicycling safety


    DARBY — Mike Long said that last Sunday morning's collision between a sport utility vehicle and his longtime cycling friend, Julio Vivo, "was the most horrifying thing I ever saw."

    But as Long stood on the side of the road next to Vivo, who lay unconscious, struggling to draw a breath, Long witnessed another sight almost as shocking.

    The SUV slowed enough for the driver to see that Vivo, 56, of Tampa was seriously injured, Long said, "and then he just accelerated away."...

    Julio Vivo, 56, of Tampa is a respiratory therapist and veteran cyclist who remains hospitalized with a broken back and neck.
  6. Tourism turkey brings Hernando back to square one

    Local Government

    You may remember that one of the early names given to Hernando's tourist development project — if it really is a project and not just a free-floating lump of state funding — was "educational plaza."

    That's appropriate because the one benefit I see in this fiasco is that it can teach us a lesson:

    Why turkeys are bad.

    This allocation isn't technically a turkey, I was told last spring, because it appeared as a small item in a legislative committee budget before ballooning into the $3 million allocation ultimately approved by the governor....

  7. DeWitt: Let's stop the handouts to Big Business


    If Dick's Sporting Goods had to pay for its new Spring Hill store's full impact on nearby roads, the price would be about $385,000. Thanks to the Hernando County Commission, however, the national chain won't pay a dime.

    Just across the street from the under-construction Dick's is a new Burger King, which, as a fast-food restaurant, generates traffic like no other use of its size. It, too, received a free pass on road impact fees, which according to a county consultant is a gift worth about $253,000....

  8. Longtime tax collector remembered as capable, efficient, honest


    BROOKSVILLE — When Leona Bechtelheimer won her first race as Hernando County tax collector, in 1976, payments were still handwritten in blue ledgers "big enough that they covered the desk," said her sister, Juanita Sikes.

    The county was home to about 28,000 people, and the center of population was still shifting west from Brooksville to Spring Hill.

    Mrs. Bechtelheimer was the first tax collector to open an office there, starting with tables set up in the Spring Hill Community Center in 1977. By the time she retired, in 2000, her office had been fully computerized for years, and much of Hernando, which by then was home to about 130,000 residents, was covered by suburban sprawl....

    Leona Bechtelheimer, who saw Hernando boom, is remembered as efficient, exacting and honest.
  9. Hernando sheriff still doesn't get it: People have a right to know


    As you have no doubt heard, there was a tragedy in south Brooksville two weeks ago.

    Police say that a man with a long criminal record went on a rampage, shooting four people and killing three of them, including his longtime girlfriend and an 81-year-old woman who had helped raise him.

    Within a few hours, we in the media knew, and therefore the public knew, the names of the people involved and how they were related. We knew the basic chain of events. We had the story....

    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis tends to be extraordinarily stingy with information he releases.
  10. Slaying of beloved elderly woman mystifies Brooksville



    It was just after 9 o'clock Aug. 29 when Vickie Blount's niece called with the news that one of the victims of a shooting rampage in south Brooksville was Jannie Taylor.

    Taylor was an 81-year-old, churchgoing woman whom Blount had known for nearly 40 years. She baked cakes and cooked picnic lunches for family and friends. She had called Blount three days earlier to check on how she was recovering from throat surgery. She even helped to raise the man charged with killing her....

    A memorial card bears a photo of Jannie Taylor on her front porch, a favorite spot, holding a relative. The 81-year-old and two others were fatally shot at the Taylor home Aug. 29.
  11. Mystery behind robocall easily explained by politics of power


    People who received robocalls targeting Hernando School Board candidate Jay Rowden last month might have wondered who was behind them.

    The answer, apparently, is David Ramba, a veteran Tallahassee lobbyist and chairman of Voter Interest Group, the electioneering organization identified as paying for the calls.

    Which raises more questions:

    Why would Ramba be interested in a nonpartisan Hernando County School Board race?...

  12. Dewitt: Only a few voters care to steer future of schools

    Local Government

    Ho-hum. The only thing at stake was the financial future of the Hernando County schools.

    Also, there was solid evidence that incumbent School Board candidate John Sweeney pulled strings to change his son's grades, an outrageous case of meddling by an elected official.

    But why bother filling out a ballot? Why send a message or make yourself heard? Somebody else will take care of it.

    I guess that's what the great majority of voters who stayed away from the polls were thinking Tuesday. Of course, I can only guess because you can't interview people at the polls if they don't show up....

  13. Brooksville renews fight for red-light camera citations


    BROOKSVILLE — The city of Brooksville is trying to revive its long-dead chances of defending red-light camera cases in court.

    But the biggest news for drivers might be what is missing from the city's legal argument.

    At least for now, assistant City Attorney Cliff Taylor said, the city will only prosecute traffic citations against drivers who travel straight through intersections — not those making a careless right turn on red....

    One Hernando judge ruled that red-light cameras could not be used for right-on-red violations and another questioned using photos in court.
  14. Hernando man whose death sentence was overturned refuses to delay new trial


    BROOKSVILLE — In a move that surprised his own lawyer, a man who spent 28 years on death row has refused to wait any longer than necessary for the start of his retrial.

    Paul Hildwin, 54, whose first-degree murder conviction and death sentence for a 1985 Hernando County murder was overturned in June, had been expected to waive his right to a speedy trial when he appeared before Circuit Judge Stephen E. Toner on Thursday....

    The decision by Hildwin, who spent 28 years on death row, gives lawyers little time to prepare.
  15. County should act to protect neighbors of hunting camp, gun range

    Local Government

    It would be nice if we could just ignore Ron Ritter.

    It would be nice if not paying attention to Ritter, who runs a hog-hunting camp in Ridge Manor, would do what that supposedly does to loudmouths — quiet him down. Even nicer if it stopped him from creating problems for neighbors of the property he leases off U.S. 98, south of State Road 50.

    But it hasn't.

    For the past year, the county has taken a mostly hands-off approach to Ritter. ...

    A notice about the state’s agritourism law is posted on Ron Ritter’s property in Ridge Manor. The idea behind the law was to allow farmers to make some money, to bring in visitors, to teach people about how food is produced. Ritter has benefited from Hernando County’s generous interpretation of the law.