ON THE CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER — The rains poured down in late January. Twelve inches in all, 11 inches more than normal.
Clewiston and Belle Glade flooded, as did thousands of acres of sugarcane and vegetable fields. Lake Okeechobee reached 15 feet, then 16, threatening to break free of an aging dike.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates lake levels, knew it had to do something drastic to protect Clewiston and other small towns to the south....
Robert Valdez is 71 years old and mentally ill. He's never had much trouble with the law — until he set a neighbor's shed on fire in 2014. Something was going on inside his head.
It had been years since he had seen a psychiatrist for his condition. Were his medications still working?
No one seemed to know, and Florida's criminal justice system was not set up to figure out what was wrong. It was designed to get him to court, mete out his punishment, to bring his case to a close. If that meant prison, so be it....
Several mental health advocacy organizations have begun a campaign to pressure state lawmakers to restore cuts to Florida's mental health programs, including the $100 million from hospitals that was the focus of an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
GAINESVILLE — Anthony Barsotti looks on the verge of death. His skin is ashen, his face gaunt. His mouth gapes as he stares at the ceiling, sporadically sucking in breaths.
Three hours earlier, Anthony was a physically healthy 23-year-old living in the state's care at a Gainesville mental hospital.
Then he took a swing at another mental patient and a hospital orderly launched him head-first into a concrete wall. Workers at North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center have a good chance to save his life this night in July 2010....
Luis Santana died at a state-funded mental hospital at age 42.
Officials at the Department of Children and Families say they investigated his death in July 2011, but they won't say more.
They don't have to. Under Florida law, DCF can withhold information about people who die in its care, so long as the agency decides no employees were to blame.
So, state officials won't tell you that in the hours before Santana died, his caretakers at South Florida State Hospital suspected he was having a psychotic episode. They won't say they gave him five powerful drugs to calm him down, then left him alone in the bathtub....
Many nights, Tonya Cook made her rounds alone.
She walked the halls of one of Florida's most dangerous mental hospitals clutching her clipboard to her chest, trying not to think too much about the patients in her care.
All of them were men. Many were schizophrenic, violent. One had chopped up a diabetic amputee and scattered him in parts through the woods of Dixie County.
One night in 2012, she walked the ward again, a single orderly watching over 27 men. Her nearest co-workers were upstairs, out of sight. They didn't see what a security camera captured — a patient holding a radio antennae fashioned to a jagged point....
Tommy Zeigler turns 70 this month. He has lived more than half his life on Florida's death row.
He has always said he did not kill his wife, her parents and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. But time and again, one appeal after another, the courts have not believed him.
Now may be his best chance to prove his innocence. It may also be his last.
Attorneys filed a motion this week seeking court approval to use a special DNA test to examine evidence presented at the trial. The technology allows experts to analyze skin cells that can be left on one person when they are touched by another. It has been used to free other inmates across the country....
10/31/14 Human Interest
One day several years ago in Kenya, Dr. Doug Stein performed vasectomies on 53 men who had fathered a combined 358 children. Afterward, the men were waiting beneath a corrugated roof for a bus to take them back to their villages when a filmmaker who was making a documentary on Dr. Stein gathered them together to take a picture.
"We support World Vasectomy Day!" the filmmaker yelled, urging the men to repeat that. The men's voices grew louder as they said it over and over....
07/15/14 Human Interest
By Leonora LaPeter Anton
Times Staff Writer
"Where are we going?" 91-year-old Dolores "Dee" Lane asked from the back seat of the Honda Odyssey.
Her pale green eyes were framed by gray-white curls. Her leopard print blouse was buttoned to the neck. Her cane was folded in the seat pocket.
Rain pelted the family van as it crawled across the Howard Frankland Bridge. The answer didn't matter. They were going somewhere. Together....
05/28/14 Human Interest
The man with the ominous tattoos perched on a metal box in a dusty welding booth, sparks spraying on his jeans and white T-shirt as he ground down another mistake.
Moments before, his instructor at the Pinellas Technical Education Center had shone a flashlight inside the pipe and pointed out a shadow the size of a pinprick. If this had been his final welding test — which was just a week away — he would have automatically failed....
05/01/14 Human Interest
The pain emerged during her morning exercise in the hall of her apartment building. She felt a sharp pinch on her left side, just below her back. It followed Iris Kroener as she rolled her walker up and down the worn azure carpet on the ninth floor, about a mile in all, and it was still there after she rode the bus to the Gulfport Senior Center for lunch and played Rummy 500 and went to her salon and sat quietly in the chair as the stylist teased her hair into frosted strawberry blond curls, all the while prattling on about her son, who had gotten a role in some movie. Around 5 p.m., the hairdresser dropped Iris and her walker home. She rode the elevator up the nine floors to her apartment and put on her pink pajamas and got in bed....
04/04/14 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — Since the 1980s, Nancy Yates had charmed neighbors at the Peterborough Apartments with her British accent and steely independence.
The woman they knew simply as Nan had started the library at the complex, which caters to seniors, and seemed highly alert despite being one of the building's oldest residents at 96. Though hospitalized at least twice in recent months, she had bounced back, working out in the gym of the city's Sunshine Center across the street....
TAMPA — A Hillsborough County judge postponed making a decision Thursday morning on whether a lesbian couple can divorce.
Circuit Judge Laurel M. Lee told attorneys representing the women to come back at a later date prepared to argue their positions on the case, which could challenge the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Attorneys for Mariama Changamire Shaw, 47, and Keiba Lynn Shaw, 45, have reached a marital settlement agreement and wanted Judge Lee to grant the uncontested divorce. Mariama Changamire Shaw showed up for the hearing; Keiba Lynn Shaw did not. ...
TAMPA — A few months ago, Mariama Changamire Shaw called the courthouse in the small town of Sunderland, Mass., where she married her wife four years ago. Could she file for divorce in Massachusetts even though she and her wife now lived in Florida, she asked.
The answer exposed a reality that few gay couples consider when they wed in one of the 17 states that allow same-sex unions: a move to a new state can make it almost impossible to legally end the marriage....
02/27/14 Human Interest
The class ring. It is often one of the first items of value we get when we are young; it is also one of the first items of value we lose — because we are young.
But this is the age of class ring recovery.
In the past month alone, a dozen people across the country have been reunited with class rings found by metal detectors and treasure hunters, in front yards and back yards, at the bottom of a lake and in the bowels of a car, by a teen cleaning his apartment and a boy burying his dog. In Wyoming, a 94-year-old woman was reunited with her 1936 class ring, which was recovered from the South Pacific crash site of her husband's B-17 bomber....