ST. PETERSBURG — Bishop Robert Nugent Lynch stood under the dome of the cavernous cathedral he rebuilt and looked out at the faces of priests he had ordained over the years. The sun was setting; the sky changed color through the glass walls he had commissioned. If ever there was a physical apex of his legacy in his last year at the helm of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, this was it.
It had been 20 years to this day, Jan. 26, that he lay prostrate at this altar at St. Jude the Apostle, inheriting a flock of more than 325,000 Roman Catholics in five counties stretching north to Citrus. That day, in 1996, he thought he knew what this job would bring....
11/11/16 Human Interest
The brass medal rested between satin and crushed gold velvet on a junk table at a dusty Orlando flea market.
The seller wanted $10.
Ken Gifford, sales manager for Independence RV in Winter Garden, saw it there one Saturday morning a decade ago when he stopped in on his way to work. He picked it up and ran his fingers over the smooth brass profile of George Washington. He turned it over. Etched on the other side were the words For Military Merit and beneath that, Wallace J. Allen....
At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, a supervisor poked her head out of the double doors of a voting precinct in the University of South Florida student center. "Ladies and gentlemen," she announced, "the polls are closing." Four minutes too late, a young woman showed up, in tears. All she or anyone else could do now was wait.
It was a cool, clear evening in Tampa Bay, home to some of the most crucial counties in one of the most crucial states in the most divisive election in modern American history....
Inside Room 420 at Florida State Hospital, two roommates clashed in the dark.
Anyone who paid attention to their recent behavior, who compared their size and age, could see they should not have been together in the same bedroom.
Ruben J. Quinones, a 60-year-old who weighed less than the average woman, had spent most of his life in a mental hospital. He was severely schizophrenic, sometimes ate from the trash and walked with a limp. Within the span of a few months, he had been the victim of two documented incidents of aggression. ...
09/01/16 Human Interest
LEALMAN — In July, the Tampa Bay Times ran a story about a woman struggling with food addiction. Cheryl Dixon, 44, shared how she sometimes ate 14 times a day and struggled to stop herself from topping 300 pounds.
The day the story was published, Cheryl read it and saw what others saw. She felt sick.
"The article gave me a mirror to look at, where I saw how bad I got," Cheryl says. "I was in complete disgust, and it made me want to change my life."...
She's not at the Olympics — yet — but this 6-year-old swimmer is learning what excellence takes (w/video)08/17/16 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — She's sitting on the pool deck, chin between her knees, gazing at her feet. She peeks at the swim heats written on her arm in black Sharpie. Time for her favorite, the butterfly.
Her father is volunteer head timer. He tries to stand there nonchalantly amid the throng of onlookers, but he is tense. Forty years ago, this was him. Now it's her.
Brinkleigh Bo Hansen, 6, dives into the North Shore Pool just as the whistle goes off, but she hits the water belly first, and there goes her momentum....
07/24/16 Human Interest
LEALMAN — From a faded green recliner in her tiny mobile home, Cheryl Dixon punched a number into her phone. Behind her, kitchen cabinets burst with Hamburger Helper and ramen noodles, bags of doughnuts and Cocoa Diamonds cereal.
"I'm Cheryl from St. Pete," she said. "Can I share?"
In the past year, for the first time in her life, she had reached almost 300 pounds. She was 44 and already diagnosed with diabetes. Her doctor warned that if she didn't change her eating habits, she would likely die....
Florida will hire a top-level administrator to find ways to curb violence and improve medical care at state mental hospitals.
The new position will oversee Florida's three remaining state-run mental facilities, including the flagship Florida State Hospital with nearly 1,000 patients.
Department of Children and Families officials on Tuesday said the change will put one person in charge of monitoring and improving patient care, and will allow DCF to standardize policies at the hospitals it oversees....
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....