John Woodrow Cox, Times Staff Writer

John Woodrow Cox

John Woodrow Cox, with the Times since 2011, is a general assignment reporter in Pinellas County. He covers an array of topics, producing dailies, investigations and features. He also writes the "Dispatches from Next Door" series for Floridian magazine. A package of his 2013 stories was named a finalist for Scripps Howard's Ernie Pyle Award for Human Interest Storytelling.

He graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor of science in journalism and a master of science in management. He now works as an adjunct at UF's College of Journalism and Communications, where he teaches a course in narrative writing.

Email or call him to suggest a story idea.

Phone: (727) 893-8472

Email: jcox@tampabay.com

Twitter: @JohnWoodrowCox

  1. Dr. Beach visits Fort De Soto's beaches, talks about his annual rankings

    Environment

    Barefoot, of course, the man who has for two decades told us which beach is best stood on the soft white sands of Fort De Soto Park and explained to five TV cameras how it all works.

    "Scientifically," he told them.

    Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, is more famously known as "Dr. Beach." His website boldly proclaims him "America's Foremost Beach Expert," and on his business card photo, he is standing on a beach wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sugary sand cascading from his fingers. He has officially ranked beaches for more than two decades....

    Professor Stephen Leatherman, center, a.k.a. Dr. Beach, takes researchers and geographers on a tour of Fort De Soto beach.
  2. Homeless military veterans find help, hope at VA medical center

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — At the end of a long, fluorescent hallway, a deputy emerged from the bustling office and told Harry Cooper his turn had come.

    Cooper stood and leaned down to the camouflage backpack he'd been given earlier that day. Already stuffed with fresh clothes and toiletries, he added the contents of his pockets: a wallet, a lighter, a pack of 305-brand cigarettes and a chain of keys with one painted like the American flag. He removed his baseball cap, too, revealing a long, white pony tail that matched his handlebar mustache. On the dark green hat, two words were printed in bold black letters: "VIETNAM VETERAN."...

    Former U.S. Marine Robert Derry, 51, center, joins other veterans getting wellness exams Saturday from C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center nurses.
  3. St. Pete Beach on east coast? Hernando mermaids in Ocala? So says this tourist advertisement

    Human Interest

    It sounded like a good idea.

    Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, struck a deal with Coastal Living magazine to persuade people to, well, visit Florida. At a reduced rate, visitor bureaus and resorts from the Panhandle to Key West chipped in to buy a seven-page glossy advertising section. On the first page, a barefoot, wispy-haired boy stands on a pristine beach and holds a lemon yellow kite over his head. Above a distant breaking surf, at the top of the page: "Florida — STAY & PLAY GUIDE."...

    On the first page of Visit Florida’s advertising section in Coastal Living magazine, a barefoot, wispy-haired boy stands on a pristine beach and holds a lemon yellow kite over his head. Above a distant breaking surf, at the top of the page: “Florida — STAY & PLAY GUIDE.” The trouble is, if you used the subsequent pages as an actual guide, you would in several cases neither stay nor play anywhere near the places you intended.
  4. Dispatches From Next Door: The cabana boy grows up

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER BEACH — His rusting Nissan puttered up the Memorial Causeway Bridge, its engine wheezing. Mike McIntosh peered at purple clouds swirling just south. "I don't like weather looking like this," he said, his voice a slow-grinding blender. That wind, Mike knew, would make a hard day harder. He coughed and flicked his cigarette out the cracked window.

    Once, when he first dug an umbrella into the sand 18 years ago, he wouldn't have cared. Back then, his stomach was taut, skin bronzed. He sprinted the beach, renting out more than 250 chairs a day. He wore no shoes, no shirt, no lotion, no sunglasses. Mike was on the bucket lists of single, vacationing women — "I made out with a cabana boy" — and he knew it. He had a smile that charmed and the patter to go with it. Most nights began at Shephard's tiki bar (though he had quit drinking at 22) and more than a few ended in hotel rooms. He used to tell people he would die on the beach, and when he did, they should just kick sand over his body....

    Mike McIntosh has worked at Clearwater Beach for nearly two decades. But time and tide stop for no man, and Mike can’t be the cabana boy forever.
  5. Sen. Jeff Brandes asks DOT to investigate spending by PSTA for Greenlight Pinellas

    Politics

    Sen. Jeff Brandes has asked the Florida Department of Transportation's inspector general to investigate how Pinellas County's mass transit agency is spending public money to inform voters about Greenlight Pinellas.

    In a letter sent Tuesday to DOT Secretary Ananth Prasad, Brandes asked the agency to review how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is spending about $800,000 to educate voters about the Nov. 4 referendum that seeks a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for new bus routes and a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater....

    Brandes accuses the campaign of using taxpayer money for propaganda purposes.
  6. Small plane crashes on McMullen-Booth Road in North Pinellas; one dead, two girls injured (w/video)

    Accidents

    It was 40 degrees in Chicago on Friday evening when they squeezed into the red and white single-engine airplane, their minds on a place much warmer.

    Jeffrey Bronken and his daughter, Katie, of Round Lake, Ill., had made the same trip to Clearwater a year ago; "#lovehim," she wrote of her dad on Instagram. The girl also posted photos with two friends who came along: smoothies in the sand, tie-dye shirts, a stop at the pier....

    A single-engine plane crashed in the median of McMullen-Booth Road early Saturday, killing the pilot, a Chicago-area man who was bringing his teenage daughter and her friend to Clearwater. The two girls survived the crash and were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa.
  7. Florida could see abuse rise with super potent painkiller Zohydro (w/video)

    Health

    As 2012 neared its end, those on the front line of Florida's battle against a ferocious, decade-long prescription drug epidemic finally glimpsed hope. Though the progress came with a caveat — overdose deaths were still claiming an average of nearly six lives a day — the numbers had dropped for a second straight year and reached their lowest totals since 2007.

    Around the same time, those same people — drug abuse experts, law enforcement officials, pharmacists, doctors and families of the dead — directed their focus to a conference center in Maryland where a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee had gathered to discuss the future of Zohydro, a potent capsule of pure hydrocodone designed to release its pain-deadening ingredient over 12 hours rather than all at once....

    An ad for Zohydro ER touts the drug’s lack of acetaminophen, which can damage the liver. Experts, however, say there are already enough painkillers without it on the market.
  8. No charges to be filed against blogger Peter Schorsch after sheriff's investigation

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — After a four-month investigation, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Friday that his office would not criminally charge local blogger and political consultant Peter Schorsch.

    A 2½-year-old dormant inquiry into Schorsch was renewed in November after the Tampa Bay Times interviewed five people active in politics who said that Schorsch, 38, had tried to pressure them for hundreds or thousands of dollars in exchange for good stories or the deletion of bad ones on his website....

    Peter Schorsch, 38, declined to speak with detectives.
  9. Group needs $1.2 million by July for St. Petersburg's historic YMCA

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG — Stymied by missteps, the group trying to save downtown's Historic YMCA must raise $1.2 million in the next four months to avoid losing its contract — a failure that may result in the building's destruction.

    On Saturday, members hosted an 11 a.m. news conference (attended solely by a Tampa Bay Times reporter) in which the group's organizer, Tom Nestor, announced that they had shifted their fundraising strategy: Instead of seeking a single investment, they would ask 12 people to each put up $100,000....

    A local music promoter obtained a purchase agreement in 2012 to buy the former YMCA building for $1.4 million.
  10. Rays fans flock to Tropicana Field for team's annual Fan Fest

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Bella Erwin hopped, anxiously, from one foot to the other. With both hands, she pressed to her chest a photograph attached to a lanyard around her neck. She held it gently, careful not to fray its edges.

    She and her father, Kevin, stood near the back of a slow-moving line at Tropicana Field during their first trip to Rays Fan Fest. Lost in thought, her brown eyes stared off into nothing. Bella, who is 8, considered what she would say when she reached the front, where her favorite player, Wil Myers, was signing autographs. She already had the general idea. But the phrasing. The phrasing was important....

    Thousands crowd into Tropicana Field for Saturday's Tampa Bay Rays 2014 Fan Fest.
  11. Trial begins in case against man accused of killing mother of two

    Criminal

    LARGO — Ebony Stewart died on the dark tile floor of a home in St. Petersburg, prosecutors say, because one man she didn't know owed money to another man she didn't know.

    Three years ago, one of those men walked into a Pinellas County pawn shop and spotted his own bracelet for sale. The man asked who had pawned the piece of jewelry, and he was given a name: Ronnie Betts.

    Incensed, he confronted Betts, who is his cousin. Betts, a felon on probation, insisted he would make it right. He had a plan....

    Ronnie Betts, 24, fatally shot Ebony Stewart at a home in St. Petersburg in March 2011, officials say. 
  12. Plant City Commissioner calls for state investigation to clear his name

    Local Government

    Accused of interfering with the inquiry that led to the firing of his community's police chief, Plant City Commissioner William "Billy" Keel has called for an independent investigation that he hopes will clear him of wrongdoing.

    On Friday, in a letter to City Manager Greg Horwedel, Keel wrote: "…this whole thing puts a cloud over the city, and puts my fellow commissioners in an untenable position to be pressed to take investigative action of some kind against a fellow commissioner."...

  13. Tiffany Sessions' family gets possible answers, but they need more

    Human Interest

    GAINESVILLE — Beaming, the woman dressed in all black strolled past thatch palms and mossy oaks until she reached the end of the dirt path. Seventeen TV cameras pointed at a lectern under a green tent. Photographers readied lenses, and reporters opened notebooks.

    As organizers prepared for the news conference to begin, Hilary Sessions, the mother of one of the most famous missing persons in Florida history, walked through the crowd and up to a strand of yellow crime scene tape strung between two trees. Behind the tent, a yellow excavator tore into the ground. Its arm raised and the bucket tilted down. A stream of dirt cascaded back to the earth....

    For two weeks investigators have been digging for Tiffany Sessions' body at a site — a little under 2 acres — in a wooded area near U.S. 441 and Williston Road in Gainesville.
  14. South Pasadena man goes to trial for killing his partner

    Criminal

    LARGO — The man trying to get John Michael Hill put to death and the man trying to save his life agree on this: five years ago, Hill stabbed his longtime partner more than 50 times, eventually plunging the 13-inch butcher knife so deeply into the man that the blade wasn't found until autopsy.

    Prosecutor Michael Marr called it first-degree murder.

    Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez called it "an accidental and an unfortunate tragedy."...

    Hill
  15. Dispatches from next door: A new stage in life

    Human Interest

    TEMPLE TERRACE — The young woman gripping the microphone glided onto the stage, her 4-inch black heels thumping the thin carpet. "Check, check, check," she said. "Mike one." That evening in Temple Terrace, she prepared to headline a concert for kids in a church hall no bigger than a double-wide mobile home. It had low ceilings with fluorescent lights and the stage was just a raised section of floor. But up there, as she tested the rattling acoustics in a nearly empty room, Terri Saffold beamed as if that was where she most belonged. As if she had never been far from a church's holy stage. But Terri had....

    Gospel rapper Terri Saffold, a.k.a. Terri Vee