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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


Twitter: @JVVTimes

  1. In Tampa, Nancy Pelosi criticizes Florida leaders over Obamacare


    Visiting Tampa on Monday, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi criticized state leaders for making it harder for Floridians to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act starting next week.

    It is “drastic” that workers who have insurance information — called “navigators” — cannot provide it unless asked, Pelosi said, referring to the fact that Florida Gov. Rick Scott has barred navigators from county health centers....

  2. Tampa rampage of sex assaults, home invasions ends with suspect dead in shootout

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — a sprawling search for a man accused of multiple assaults near the University of South Florida late Thursday ended with a firefight in front of an east Hillsborough Waffle House.

    Authorities exchanged at least 100 bullets with suspect Charlie "Chris" Bates, 24, midday Friday. He was declared dead an hour later at the hospital. No one else was injured, though Bates left a wake of terror behind him....

    Charlie Bates is taken by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue to an area hospital after he was shot several times by officers Friday. He was declared dead an hour later. A friend said that Bates could become aggressive and used MDMA, known as ecstasy.
  3. Driver's seizure history could lead to charges in fatal Tampa crash

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Police call it a tragedy, but was it also a crime?

    Dozens of people have seizures while driving each year, causing collisions. When they end in death, authorities pull medical records and interview witnesses.

    Sometimes a driver goes to jail. Sometimes charges aren't filed.

    Police are still investigating whether Eric Dewayne McNeil, 42, suffered a seizure Friday when, they say, he lost consciousness, ran a red light and slammed into a minivan, killing a Tampa couple and injuring their 3-year-old granddaughter....

    Two people were killed Friday in Tampa when the vehicle driven by Eric Dewayne McNeil, 42, slammed into their minivan after he may have suffered a seizure. Police are still investigating.
  4. Driver involved in fatal Tampa crash had been monitored, then cleared, by state

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — For three years, state licensing officials corresponded with a Tampa driver who had a medical issue they thought could be a danger to himself and others.

    Midway, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles revoked driver Eric Dewayne McNeil's license, saying his condition made driving unsafe.

    But in December, in a short letter, the state agency set him free to drive. No followup reports needed, a letter states....

  5. Dontae Morris attorney likens Hillsborough jail to Guantanamo

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Dontae Morris' attorney is once again fighting for his client's visitation privileges, this time likening Morris' jailhouse isolation to the treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

    Morris should be presumed innocent and treated humanely despite the emotionally charged case against him, attorney Byron Hileman wrote in a motion filed this month.

    Morris is accused of killing five people, including Tampa police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. The officers were gunned down during a traffic stop on June 29, 2010....

  6. Report says driver in fatal crash also lost consciousness in a 2007 accident

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Driver Eric Dewayne McNeil lost consciousness behind the wheel.

    That's what police said happened Friday just before his pickup crashed into a minivan on Hillsborough Avenue, killing Plant High teacher Nancy Farnsworth and her husband, Webster, and injuring their 3-year-old granddaughter.

    But it's also what happened four years ago and three blocks away, when McNeil rear-ended a stopped car on Armenia Avenue before plowing into two other vehicles in a parking lot, according to a report obtained Monday by the St. Petersburg Times....

    Plant High guidance counselor Terry Hoke organizes cards for Nancy Farnsworth’s family. “She was truly loved,” Hoke says.
  7. Deputies: YouTube video show two Hillsborough women encouraging young relatives to fight


    WIMAUMA — Deputies have arrested two women accused of encouraging their young relatives to fight.

    The fight between the two girls was recorded, and the video made its way to YouTube. Authorities saw it on Thursday.

    In it, deputies say, two adult women can be seen encouraging the young women to fight. Veronica Zertuche, 26, of Riverview, cheered on her juvenile daughter to hit the other juvenile, and Nida Longoria, 28, of Wimauma encouraged her juvenile sister do the same, deputies reported....

  8. Florida reports drop in crime but doubling of murders in Pinellas


    TALLAHASSEE — Crime may be down statewide, but murders are up in Pinellas County.

    In the first half of this year, authorities investigated 30 reported murders in Pinellas, compared with 15 for the same period last year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

    Statistics released Friday showed a drop in crime — 2 percent across the board. The only category to see a statewide increase was forcible sex crimes, which rose 1.1 percent....

  9. Hillsborough deputies: Counselor who shot man in her office had filed false insurance claim


    TAMPA — Deputies have arrested the mental health counselor they say shot a 30-year-old man Monday — but on charges unrelated to the shooting.

    While investigating the shooting, detectives say they came across evidence that counselor Sarah A. Hughey, 49, and an unnamed witness sold some of her gold jewelry at a flea market. Then, deputies say, she filed a false police report and false insurance claim on the jewelry....

  10. Relations souring between Occupy Tampa protesters and police

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Relations between Occupy Tampa protesters and police are souring as the protest nears the end of its second week.

    Protesters say police are waking them at 6 a.m., videotaping them while they sleep at night, driving by more frequently and preventing them from sleeping in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park during the day.

    It's harassment, protesters say.

    "It seems like they are tightening the screws," said Derek English, 24, of Tampa. "The more they try to tighten down, the more we're going to push back to get back to that equilibrium. Meanwhile, the rapport is deteriorating."...

    Derek English, 24, of Tampa plays guitar as Austin Coton of Tampa, right, plays the djembe Wednesday on the sidewalk off Ashley Drive. The protesters were awakened earlier by police.
  11. Post offices in East Tampa and St. Petersburg's Midtown will remain open

    Human Interest

    Two Tampa Bay area post offices, among about 3,700 marked for possible closure nationwide, will remain open.

    U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor delivered the news Wednesday at the Morris Milton post office in St. Petersburg. Castor said the post office in the city's Midtown district, as well as the Produce Station post office in East Tampa, are being spared.

    A steady stream of customers flowed into the East Tampa post office Wednesday. Cheryl Hicks, 52, grew up going to the post office with her parents. Now, she runs a house cleaning business and does errands for her customers. She stops by the post office, at 2810 E Hillsborough Ave., usually three times a week....

    Donald Weik of Tampa picks up his mail Wednesday at the Produce Station post office, 2810 E Hillsborough Ave. Weik is a Postal Service retiree who worked as a mail carrier in Tampa. The Produce Station office had been facing closure.
  12. Hillsborough counselor bailed convict out of jail and then, deputies say, shot him

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — About three weeks ago, a 49-year-old woman paid $250 to bail a 30-year-old man out of jail.

    That woman, a mental health counselor, and that man, a former prison inmate, were alone together in an office suite Monday, deputies say, when the woman grabbed her gun and shot the man.

    Counselor Sarah A. Hughey has known Arthur Cornelius Howard for several months, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office reported. It's unclear whether Howard, who was released from a hospital Tuesday, was a client....

  13. Tampa clinic employee charged in staged crash scheme


    TAMPA — Authorities arrested a Tampa clinic employee accused of participating in a staged auto crash scheme.

    The Florida Division of Insurance Fraud recently concluded a six-month investigation into the Best Choice Healthcare Center at 2901 W Busch Blvd. and issued several warrants.

    The first arrest came Monday when Gonzalo Canada Reyes, 47, was apprehended at his Tampa home. State officials say Canada Reyes instructed others to file insurance claims for unnecessary services that were never provided....

  14. Deputies investigate shooting at Hillsborough office


    TAMPA — A mental health counselor shot and wounded a man at her office near Brandon on Monday afternoon, authorities said.

    Authorities did not arrest the counselor, Sarah Hughey, 49.

    Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said investigators were still trying to determine what relation the 30-year-old victim, Arthur Cornelius Howard of Clearwater, had to Hughey's office....

  15. Police seek driver in fatal Tampa bike crash

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — He biked everywhere, so when Michael Swanson started peddling toward Kmart on Sunday afternoon, his sister didn't think much of it.

    He was only a mile from their home when, police say, a car hit him as he crossed Waters Avenue.

    Swanson, 55, managed to get up and drag his bicycle off the road, according to police. But then he collapsed.

    By the time Linda Swanson got the news, her brother had died. And authorities were still searching for the driver. The department asked Monday for the public's help....