Helen Anne Travis, Times Staff Writer

Helen Anne Travis

Helen Anne Travis covers breaking news, Dade City government and anything else she can get her hands on. She's always looking for story ideas.

Phone: (352) 521-6518

E-mail: htravis@tampabay.com

  1. Giraffe Ranch is a private zoo on rolling hills

    Human Interest

    DADE CITY — The baby scimitar-horned oryx watched the lumbering bus of spectators from behind the safety of an adult in the herd. These desert antelope, once plentiful in the arid plains of northern Africa, had been hunted to near extinction for their meat, hide and magnificent horns.

    Now they are thought to exist only in captivity. And a newbie has joined their ranks in an unlikely place: the rolling hills of northeast Pasco, just past the outer fringe of the Green Swamp....

    A friendly camel comes up to the tour bus at Giraffe Ranch, a private zoo owned by former Lowry Park Zoo director Lex Salisbury and his wife, Elena Sheppa, on Friday. “She knows people mean food,” said Sheppa, who says the zoo is not canned or fake.
  2. Miss Zephyrhills pageant winners past and present reflect on the crown

    Human Interest

    Since the 1920s, becoming Miss Zephyrhills was a dream for many local girls. They wanted the status, the coveted spot in the Founders' Day parade. Once queen, the young women aspired to outshine their evening gown-clad rivals from Dade City in the Miss Pasco pageant.

    But in the past 80 years, interest has waned. The pageant was canceled for a while in the late 90s. To boost entrance numbers the competition was eventually opened up to women who lived outside of Zephyrhills. ...

    Ashley Ramsey of Tampa is the current Miss Zephyrhills.
  3. Friends plan to honor Land O'Lakes student Noelle Park with hospital benefit

    Human Interest

    LAND O'LAKES — Noelle Park had brain cancer at age 9 and again at age 15. During both bouts, music was her comfort.

    MTV kept her company during her semester home from school. Lyrics about loss and heartache reminded her that everyone suffers. An uplifting chorus gave her a boost during the darker days.

    Now 16, Noelle says music is still a source of solace. It helps with the stresses of high school: choosing a college, AP classes and dating....

    Noelle Park, 16 and a junior at Land O’Lakes High, squeezes in some practice during her volunteer hours at the Land O’Lakes Library last week.
  4. New Port Richey residents, Mount Dora man, accused of defrauding Zurich Insurance Group


    Five people were arrested Sunday on charges they filed false claims and defrauded Zurich Insurance Group out of more than $240,000.

    According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, former Zurich claims adjuster Donald Alfred Toohey III, 30, of Mount Dora created the fictitious claims on behalf of "clients" who did not have a real policy with the company.

    Brian Frederick Kneifer and Anthony Michael Kneifer are 26-year-old twins. Scott Addison Kincaid, 43, and Tricia Ann Allen, 27, are cousins....

  5. Port Richey police officer accused of peddling oxycodone


    PORT RICHEY — The Port Richey police officer who was arrested last week is the target of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation involving the illegal distribution of oxycodone, officials said Monday.

    According to a DEA report, James Ruland, 33, met with an informer three times this year and agreed to sell more than 1,000 pills of the potent prescription drug. The meetings, which were audio recorded, happened while Ruland was on duty as a police sergeant, the DEA said....

  6. It's a battle of the bargains at two Wesley Chapel thrift stores

    Human Interest


    In the past year, two thrift stores have opened up in the fertile crescent of high-end housing developments sprinkled around Interstate 75. Salvation Army entered the scene in February 2009. A Goodwill Superstore followed suit earlier this month. Both stores resell refuse from the residents of Plantation Palms and Seven Oaks. On a good day, you'll find plenty of brand names hidden among the 5K road race T-shirts and 1980s sweaters. But when it comes to presentation, layout and selection, Goodwill and Salvation Army have a totally different approach to discount retail. Let the thrift wars begin! ...

    Salvation Army: A New York & Company shirt for $4.99 and a bag for $6.99.
  7. Pasco libraries woo teens with battle of the bands

    Human Interest

    Crashing cymbals. Rock guitar. Heavy metal lyrics.

    Welcome to your local library.

    This week Pasco County libraries kick off the online component of their annual Rockus Maximus battle of the bands competition. Each week, the libraries will debut a new video featuring the eight competing bands participating in interviews, promoting causes and playing prerecorded gigs in the library.

    Voters have until the week of the big concert showdown next month at Crews Lake Park in Shady Hills to decide which band has the best online presence....

  8. Spring election season in Pasco to be quiet for lack of opposition

    Local Government

    All six Pasco cities have elected officials finishing their terms this spring, but only one will hold an election to pick new council members.

    The qualifying deadline passed Tuesday with officials in New Port Richey, Zephyrhills, Dade City, San Antonio and St. Leo keeping their seats for another term for lack of opposition. A couple of candidates picked up seats without a fight because two incumbents are not seeking re-election....

  9. This year's Pasco County Fair offers a sweet deal

    Human Interest


    The Pasco County Fair kicks off this week with a sweet deal, a new ride and a special appearance by some famous baboons.

    Gates open Monday, but on Tuesday, organizers are knocking $5 off the admission price. For $3, guests can enjoy everything but the midway and elephant ears.

    It's the first entry bargain the fair has offered.

    "We're trying to make it feasible for everybody who is a little tight in the wallet," said Tracy Thompson, fair chairman. "Our theme (this year) is How Sweet It Is. We think it's a sweet deal."...

    The Vertigo is a new midway ride this year at the Pasco County Fair. Unlike the traditional swing ride, it lifts riders 100 feet off the ground.
  10. Dade City approves proposal for new city hall, police station

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — Contingent upon grant funding, a new $4 million city hall and police station is likely in Dade City's future.

    At Tuesday night's City Commission meeting, commissioners approved Wannemacher Jensen Architects' proposal to design the new 21,740-square-foot building. Commissioners authorized spending $100,000 for a schematic and final cost estimate that will eventually be submitted for federal grant funding....

  11. Story doesn't jibe on Dade City Commissioner Camille Hernandez's private well

    Local Government

    DADE CITY — City officials aren't sure the story adds up.

    David Hernandez, the husband of City Commissioner Camille Hernandez, has argued the well on the couple's property predates the city's ban on private wells. He said the well was unearthed in 2001 during construction work, and a building inspector named Mike Barthle told them the well could be repaired and put to use.

    But city records show Barthle worked in the city's public works department at the time. He didn't start in the building division until the following year....

  12. Bayonet Point Middle School teaching assistant faces gun charge


    NEW PORT RICHEY — An instructional assistant at Bayonet Point Middle School was arrested Monday morning and charged with using a gun during an argument over a car.

    Pasco sheriff's deputies said Kris Virga, 31, brandished a pistol as he jumped onto a 1995 Mazda Protege as its driver tried to leave his home on Seward Drive in Port Richey on the evening of Aug. 24.

    The vehicle's occupants had reportedly quarreled with a 20-year-old woman living in Virga's home, deputies said....

  13. Pasco driver gets first DUI after driving drunk for 20 years, FHP says


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Daniel Joseph Mahoney, 40, was arrested for his first DUI on Saturday after authorities say he struck a pole in front of the Publix at 9850 Little Road.

    "I've been drinking and driving for 20 years and never got caught before tonight," he told officers, according to the Florida Highway Patrol report.

    Troopers say Mahoney left the parking lot with a broken right front axle and hit a fence on Hilltop Drive. When officials arrived, Mahoney was sitting on his rear bumper....

  14. Stately horse driving event replaces the Steeplechase at Little Everglades Ranch

    Human Interest


    About 40 spectators sat rapt Thursday morning as four horses pulled a carriage across the ridiculously green course at Little Everglades Ranch.

    All was quiet except for the sounds of recorded violin music and the occasional click of a camera.

    The carriage's driver, a woman in a large brown hat, steered as two grooms sat ramrod straight in the back.

    "She did a real nice job," said Joanne Rittenhouse, who had driven with her husband, Joe, from Mt. Dora for the opening day of the Little Everglades Combined Driving Event....

    Derek Beckhoven, originally from Holland but who now lives in Akron, S.C., washes Topper on Thursday at Little Everglades Ranch.
  15. Dade City packs weekend full of festive celebration

    Human Interest


    Anyone who refers to this town as "sleepy" or "quiet" has obviously not checked the schedule for this weekend.

    Little Everglades Ranch is unveiling its first horse racing event since it pulled the plug on the steeplechase. History buffs will enjoy life as it was in the 1840s at the Fort Dade Mountain Man Rendezvous. And the kumquats will be celebrated at their annual festival in spite of a cold snap that wiped out much of the crop....

    Peg Sullivan, left, Clifford Bosworth, center, and their dog, Cooper, all of Sarasota, at the 2009 Fort Dade Mountain Man Rendezvous at Withlacoochee River Park, where it will also be this year.