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Jessica Vander Velde, Times Staff Writer

Jessica Vander Velde

Jessica reports on law enforcement and crime in Tampa and Hillsborough County for the Tampa Bay Times.

Phone: (813) 226-3433

Email: jvandervelde@tampabay.com

Twitter: @JVVTimes

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  1. Low blood sugar cited in death of prominent community leader's husband after Tampa police traffic stop

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Officers responding to calls of an erratic driver suspected he could be suffering a medical episode, a police spokeswoman said Thursday, but briefly put him in handcuffs anyway because he was resistant.

    The driver, Arthur Green Jr., 63, of Tampa was uncuffed when he stopped breathing after the Wednesday incident and later died at St. Joseph Hospital. According to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office, he suffered from an extremely low blood-sugar level and his pulse stopped while being detained by police....

  2. Polk County teacher accused of having sex with student faces Hillsborough charges, too

    Crime

    A 29-year-old Lakeland teacher accused of having sex with one of her 17-year-old students now also faces charges in Hillsborough County.

    Sheriff's deputies say Jennifer Christine Fichter, a teacher at the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, had sex with a male student in her vehicle three times in eastern Hillsborough between January 29 and April 8.

    She had previously been arrested Monday and charged with six counts of unlawful sexual activity with a minor in Polk County. She and the teen began a romantic relationship in November 2013, according to a Lakeland Police Department report....

    Jennifer Christine Fichter, 29, has been suspended. 
  3. Tampa police: 4-year-old boy walking with mom shot in the arm (w/video)

    Crime

    TAMPA — A 4-year-old boy was caught in the crossfire during a feud between two men Monday morning outside North Boulevard Homes.

    Renaldo Moore, a skinny little boy known as "Stanky," was hit in the left tricep.

    He was in fair condition Monday afternoon.

    Police flooded the area, searching for suspects, bullet casings and witnesses willing to talk. Chief Jane Castor and Mayor Bob Buckhorn came to the area, known for neighborhood violence. In 2011, a 3-year-old girl was unintentionally hit in the leg during a shooting. A pregnant woman was fatally shot there in October....

  4. Authorities declare two Hillsborough shootings justified

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — A 26-year-old man is gunned down by his father after the pair fight in their Lutz yard. Another young man, Daniel Crespo, is fatally shot in Town 'N Country as he argues with a man twice his age.

    Both shootings happened in Hillsborough County last fall. Sheriff's deputies investigated, and in Crespo's case, prosecutors deliberated. Each time, the shooter was not charged.

    Authorities said there was not enough evidence to disprove the shootings were self-defense, authorities said....

    Daniel Crespo, 21, was fatally shot during an argument.
  5. Student in critical condition after being hit on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An 18-year-old student from Gary Adult High School was critically injured after being hit by a car Wednesday afternoon while running across E Hillsborough Avenue, Tampa police said.

    The accident was the second in just more than three weeks involving student pedestrians on the busy road. Last month, two sisters were struck crossing another part of E Hillsborough Avenue near Middleton High School. One of them, Norma Velasquez-Cabrera, 15, died four days after being hit....

    William Hogan, 18, was hit by a car Wednesday.
  6. More charges for Tampa mother accused of abusing, starving children

    Crime

    TAMPA — Authorities have filed additional charges against Jamie Hicks, the Tampa mother accused of starving and abusing at least seven of her children during the past eight years.

    The latest medical reports confirmed allegations of abuse by Hicks' 12- and 13-year-old boys, Tampa police said.

    The 13-year-old had bruises over his body "consistent with being hit and kicked," police said. The 12-year-old has permanent scarring on the roof of his mouth, which police said is due to Hicks repeatedly sticking her fingers down his throat to force him to vomit....

    Jamie Hicks is accused of beating and starving her children.
  7. New Tampa police bureau to conduct agencywide audits

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — For 11 years, the Tampa Police Department has focused on crime reduction, pushing every year for fewer reports.

    This year, police Chief Jane Castor wants to target something different. On Tuesday, she announced a new Professional Standards Bureau that will conduct "mini audits" through 2014.

    Castor wants to improve training, standardize procedures, check equipment and reduce complaints. "This, in my opinion, is the final element in making this organization the best it can possibly be," she said....

  8. Police: Tampa mom starved, tortured children

    Crime

    TAMPA — Neighbors never saw the eight children venture outside the metal gate at their Tampa home.

    Their mother, Jamie Marie Hicks, 43, homeschooled them. They played inside the yellow concrete block house, or in the yard.

    Their isolation masked extreme abuse, Tampa police said Friday.

    Over eight years, Hicks hit the children with various objects, choked them to the point of unconsciousness, held their heads under water, fed them spoiled food and withheld food from them for as long as three days, police say....

    Vernon Courtney Lovell, 53, faces accusations of child neglect.
  9. Seven men accused of being gang leaders in Hillsborough, Polk counties

    Public Safety

    A seven-month investigation into gang activity in Hillsborough County yielded racketeering charges against seven men, the Sheriff's Office said Wednesday.

    The men, whom authorities identified as members of the Southern California-based Sur 13 gang, are accused of being active gang leaders based in east Hillsborough and Polk County.

    They were charged Wednesday with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, according to the Sheriff's Office. Known as RICO, the law is intended to combat ongoing criminal enterprises....

  10. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor to stay on a year after May retirement

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn has asked Tampa police Chief Jane Castor to stay on for one year past her May retirement, and she agreed.

    Castor, 54, would have been required to leave as chief by May 6 because she is a part of the city's Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), which sets a non-negotiable retirement day.

    But Buckhorn is offering a contract that would extend Castor's tenure until at least May 2015. She would continue to make her $156,000 salary while receiving her pension....

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, left, and police Chief Jane Castor laugh along with the rest of the audience as Pastor T.W. Jenkins jokingly refers to the city of Tampa as a multireligion church. Buckhorn gave his third State of the City presentation when he announced that Castor will stay on in her position for one more year. Castor was set to retire in May.
  11. Police: 6-year-old girl with spina bifida shot after bullet travels through intended victim

    Crime

    TAMPA — A felon with a gun shot into a car with children early Monday, police say.

    James Brookins' bullet pierced his 23-year-old target, according to Tampa police. Then it grazed the arm of Zakayla Newsome, a 6-year-old with spina bifida.

    Brookins' 5-month-old son was nearby, in the back seat.

    "You don't have any respect for the law. You don't have any respect for life," Zakayla's grandmother, Zhelma Washington, 45, said later. "Your son could have been killed."...

    Police say James Brookins shot Albert Brown, but Zakayla Newsome was also hit.
  12. Tampa house fire ruled arson

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Fire officials have ruled last week's fire at 8109 N Semmes St. to be an arson.

    Investigators have not named any suspects. However, they said Monday that the Tampa Fire Rescue Fire Marshal's office has determined that, at some point, someone illegally entered the home and poured a flammable liquid in a bedroom.

    A fire broke out at about 3:30 a.m. Friday, and the property suffered about $45,000 worth of fire and smoke damage....

  13. Cops: Tampa executive filmed women using toilets and showering at his company (w/video)

    Crime

    TAMPA — Over the past several years, a man secretly recorded more than 200 instances of women using toilets and showering at his company, Tampa police said Friday.

    Authorities arrested James Stanton, 39, of Trinity, who they said is the chief financial officer of MaintenX at 2202 N Howard Ave.

    Police executed a search warrant there Friday after being tipped off by an information technology employee, who left the company several months ago. One of the videos shows a man — Stanton, police say — enter a bathroom and move the camera....

    Authorities arrested James Stanton, 39, of Trinity, who they said is the chief financial officer of MaintenX at 2202 N Howard Ave.
  14. Van hits pole, blocking entrance to Britton Plaza in South Tampa

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Police were directing traffic Thursday afternoon on S Dale Mabry Highway after a van hit a traffic light pole Thursday afternoon, partially blocking an entrance to Britton Plaza.

    Police believe the one-vehicle crash was medical-related.

  15. Rescuers free man trapped waist-deep in mud at Apollo Beach construction site

    Public Safety

    TAMPA

    After three hours of heavy labor, rescuers safely pulled a construction worker out of a muddy hole that entrapped him Thursday afternoon at an Apollo Beach subdivision.

    He was working on piping in a man-made pit at home construction site near Big Bend Road and Waterset Boulevard when, about 3 p.m., the ground gave way, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

    The man became stuck waist-deep in the hole as water seeped in around him....

    After rescue workers freed the man, who was not identified, he was airlifted in fair condition to Tampa General Hospital.