11/27/13 Human Interest
I had floated for hours in a warm mineral spring in Florida, interviewing Eastern Europeans in Speedos and floppy hats. For a reporter, it was an idyllic kind of day.
Back at the office late in the afternoon, gritty and sun-bleached, I sat down to look through email. I had just published an article about a Spring Hill woman named Gretchen Molannen. For 16 years, she had lived with an embarrassing genital arousal disorder that had left her destitute and in pain....
10/31/13 Human Interest
Rashida Strober's sneakers squelched as she hurried along the sidewalk in a downpour. She pulled a flier from her backpack and handed it to a young black man in a doorway.
"It's for a play," she said, "that deals with the relationship between dark-skinned black women and men."
He nodded. "I'll give it to my mama," he said.
Rashida, 35, moved along, stuffing fliers in doorjambs....
10/09/13 Human Interest
By Leonora LaPeter Anton
NORTH PORT — One day in early September, Frank and Lana Usherenko set out from their gated stucco home on an exploratory mission.
Lana, 65, wearing a floppy green hat and fuchsia lipstick, had wrapped an aching ankle in an Ace bandage. Frank, 73, a Soviet wrestling champion, hiked one step ahead of her.
As the sun broke past the horizon, they walked down the deserted residential street, past weedy driveways and consecutive For Sale signs. It felt like a faded Florida ghost town....
The surf board was beneath me and all I had to do was stand up on both feet and ride a wave. I'd pushed aside my fear of sharks and sting rays. I'd forgotten that a few minutes earlier, I'd fallen in 3 inches of water and come away with a bloody knee.
I'd come with half a dozen other moms to learn surfing with our tween/teen daughters. The daughters were flying. The moms, well, we were trying....
08/28/13 Human Interest
Before my daughter was truly Lauren, she was a gymnast.
She was 7 when she joined her buddy Elizabeth for a tumbling class at Tampa Bay Turners. She had nice clean lines and a kind of rubber band flexibility, so they moved her into their competitive program quickly. I still have her first leotard. It's a purple velvet number speckled with silver flecks. It would fit an American Girl doll....
Richard Bell Jr. was hanging up his polo shirts in his metal locker, when his new roommate walked in.
The two men regarded each other warily.
A nurse had told Bell, 65, that his roommate was gay. This was not something he wanted to hear. Bell, a grandfather of four, was "homophobic." In 1969, while in the Air Force in Thailand, a gang of men sexually assaulted him. He had come here to heal. How would this help?...
08/16/13 Human Interest
DNA has failed to connect two men featured in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood to the 1959 murders of a family of four in Osprey, but relatives still think all the evidence points to notorious killers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.
"I'm still 99 percent sure they done it," said Pat Myers, half-brother of Christine Walker, who was raped and killed at the ranch house where she lived with her husband and two young children. "Just because DNA doesn't show they done it, there's too much other evidence."...
07/03/13 Human Interest
Monday morning, a school day, after the bell has rung. Willow Tufano jumps up and down on the trampoline in her back yard, trying to land her hot pink Osiris sneakers on a flipping skateboard.
After a while, she drops on her back, staring up at the periwinkle sky, her purple- and pink-dyed hair forming a starburst around her on the black trampoline.
From the lanai, her mom breaks her reverie....
06/16/13 Human Interest
CLEARWATER — Robert Utley sat on the front porch with his mother one last time. They stared out at a row of decaying trailers, all silent as tombstones.
His mother broke the quiet with promises. Cyntthia Sterba, 48, vowed to keep his bedroom the same, to purchase him some phone cards, to write often.
"Can I give you a hug tomorrow?" she asked. Her eyes were red and swollen from crying. ...
The two girls met playing high school basketball in a small community on the east coast of Florida and had a sexual relationship.
Now the older girl, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt, is charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery on a child 12 to 16, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Her parents have mounted a campaign to have the charges reduced and are saying the prosecution is motivated by anti-gay prejudice....
OSPREY — One Saturday a week before Christmas 1959, a young ranch hand, his wife and their children spent the day running errands.
They picked up cigarettes, Cokes and penny candy at the hardware store and stopped at the ranch for cattle feed.
The ranch hand's wife, an attractive woman with a figure like Marilyn Monroe, headed home that afternoon in the family's 1952 Plymouth. ...
04/03/13 Human Interest
CLEARWATER -- Terry Power's face tightened as he listened to his wife's attorney tick off their assets on the final day of his divorce trial. He sat in a leather chair at a glass-covered table inside a paneled judicial chamber and he thought not for the first time that her voice annoyed him.
He let his gaze drift briefly to the right beyond the judge, to the view of spindly palm trees swaying slightly in front of the glistening Intracoastal Waterway. How stunning it was out there. How stifling in here....
Owners of dozens of Internet gambling centers in Florida were arrested Wednesday as part of a three-year investigation into Jacksonville-based Allied Veterans of the World, a purported charity group that authorities say collected millions of dollars for itself and little money for veterans.
The probe led to the arrest of 55 individuals in Florida and five other states and prompted the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll. It is the "first wave" of Operation Reveal the Deal, which targets illicit slot machine operators who exploited a loophole in the state's sweepstakes laws, said Gerald Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement at a news conference in Orlando. ...
03/03/13 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — Last November, Ken Conklin sat in a Pinellas County courtroom in his Sperry deck shoes and tried to ignore the men with sallow cheeks who, based on the charges against them, slept in parks, smoked pot and drank lots of beer.
For the second time in a year, Conklin, 41-year-old computer guy and nature lover, had been called to account over the condition of his front yard. The record so far was Code Enforcement 1, Ken Conklin 0. But he was unbowed....
01/05/13 Human Interest
Aging men and women in robes and floppy hats moved purposefully past the ticket gate, through a tunnel that smelled of sulphur, down a path where New Age music piped from speakers hidden in the bougainvillea beds.
The dark spring, surrounded by live oaks and palm trees and a long row of purple chairs, glistened before them in the bright sunlight.
Men in Speedos with protruding bellies disrobed to reveal fading bypass surgery scars — testament, they said, to the water's healing properties. Women in fancy hats with bows and feathers flexed their arthritis-free fingers....