Lorri Helfand, Times Staff Writer

Lorri Helfand

Lorri Helfand has been working for the Times since June 2000. She has covered a variety of stories, ranging from Hulk Hogan's menagerie to Largo City Manager Steve Stanton's transition to Susan.

Phone: (727) 445-4155

E-mail: lorri@tampabay.com

  1. SPC, preparing to approve its budget, uses a more transparent process this year


    St. Petersburg College is slated to approve its annual budget next week. And this time around, the college has initiated a more transparent budget process.

    Last year, the Times reported that none of the college trustees saw a complete budget before they voted to approve it. It also took the college nearly two months to provide a line-item budget to the Times.

    This year, budget staff publicly presented budget highlights in April. And each trustee got a copy of the proposed budget about two weeks before the board's May meeting, where the budget was reviewed again....

  2. Lawsuit claims doctors' mistakes caused Palm Harbor girl to die after tonsillectomy


    Nearly two years ago, the death of a Palm Harbor 12-year-old after one of the most common surgeries for children shocked many who thought tonsillectomies were routine.

    Carly Jane Liptak's parents have now filed a lawsuit against Mease Countryside Hospital and her doctors, claiming a series of mistakes and a dangerous mix of drugs led to her death.

    The medical negligence suit, filed last month in Circuit Court in Pinellas County, seeks compensation for mental pain and suffering and medical and funeral costs. The parents are now speaking out, offering new details about what occurred the day Carly died. ...

  3. Oldsmar officials delay decision on Heroes Hope project


    OLDSMAR - The city has delayed a decision on a controversial development near Lafayette Boulevard and State Street.

    A local businessman wants to build a community of 30 homes there called Heroes Hope. And the City Council was slated to consider the rezoning of parcels on Tuesday. But city officials said there are some issues with the development agreement and rezoning request that need to be straightened out first. One entity applied for the development agreement and another owns the properties. And the city needs the man in charge of the development, Todd Adams, to inform the city that the applicant has authority to act on behalf of the property owner before the agreement can be finalized and rezoning can move forward. Another issue needs to be clarified as well. The legal description of the property for the rezoning includes a sliver of land that wasn’t part of the prior development agreement....

  4. Oldsmar man sentenced to prison for mortgage fraud in Tampa townhouse project


    TAMPA — An Oldsmar businessman has been sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for mortgage fraud conspiracy.

    Richard Cartagena, 44, who pleaded guilty in March, faced up to three years in prison for his role in the conspiracy that involved La Encantada Villas, a project with seven townhouses in historic Hyde Park.

    Cartagena "attempted to correct his mistakes by being completely forthcoming with law enforcement" and helped authorities investigate others, according to a motion requesting a more lenient sentence....

  5. Biltmore owners deny demolition by neglect

    Local Government

    BELLEAIR — The firm that owns the Belleview Biltmore insists it is not letting the historic hotel rot, but it is willing to come up with a plan to minimize future damage anyway.

    On May 3, Town Manager Micah Maxwell wrote a letter accusing owner BB Hotel LLC of demolishing the hotel by neglect. He said the owner's failure to make necessary repairs has allowed the 115-year-old structure "to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair."...

  6. Veteran housing plan stirs debate

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — Todd Adams says he wants to create a community for wounded veterans.

    But many of his neighbors don't like much about the project that he's proposed for their east Oldsmar neighborhood.

    About 20 of them showed up at Tuesday night's City Council meeting. They told city leaders they were worried that the plan would decrease property values, cause flooding, displace wildlife and increase traffic....

  7. San Jose Elementary students release butterflies in memory of Kassidie Rae McMillin

    Human Interest

    DUNEDIN — Schoolmates of a 10-year-old girl who died tragically a year ago found an uplifting way to remember her this week.

    They released dozens of monarch butterflies Monday at the school Kassidie Rae McMillin attended, San Jose Elementary.

    Kassidie died May 14, 2011, two days after her mother shot her and then fatally shot herself in their Dunedin home.

    Most of the approximately 30 children who clustered in Kassidie McMillin Memorial Garden at the school were members of the Girlfriends of Pinellas County, a club that seeks to bolster young women's self-esteem and improve their achievements in school....

  8. St. Petersburg College not sure if trustees are really trustees


    LARGO — On Tuesday, St. Petersburg College said goodbye to longtime trustee Ken Burke at a peculiar Board of Trustees meeting, where no vote was taken because officials weren't sure if three of the trustees were legally trustees.

    The board was supposed to consider a full agenda, including a proposed $145 million budget and a 5 percent tuition increase.

    But because of a paperwork foul-up, SPC officials weren't sure if Timothy North, Robert Fine and Deveron Gibbons were officially trustees....

  9. Determination, optimism help Clearwater 20-year-old recover from brutal stabbing

    Human Interest


    Melissa Dohme started getting calls and texts around 2:30 a.m. Her ex-boyfriend said he had to see her. He was crying, saying he missed her. She told him to stop — she had class at 9:30 — but he kept calling and texting. Around 3 a.m., he said he was near her house. He only needed two seconds. He just wanted a hug.

    Melissa grabbed her cell phone and pepper spray. He had hurt her before, but she wasn't scared. He sounded sad and vulnerable....

  10. Oldsmar's single stream recycling program is doubling participation

    Local Government

    OLDSMAR — More Oldsmar residents are embracing curbside recycling.

    Early this year, Oldsmar kicked off its new "single stream" system that commingles all recyclables so residents don't have to do their own sorting. And so far, participation has doubled, according to city staff.

    "It's doing better than we expected," said assistant public works director Bob Cyr.

    Previously, 32 to 36 percent of single-family households participated in curbside recycling. As of last month, 70 to 75 percent were taking part....

  11. Pinellas Humane Society medical director leaves post after boyfriend's arrest

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER — The medical director at the Humane Society of Pinellas left her post late last week, days after her live-in boyfriend, a former Humane Society employee, was arrested on suspicion of possessing child pornography and having sex with their dog.

    The nonprofit animal shelter, citing a policy against commenting on personnel issues, was tight-lipped about Katerina Williamson's departure and wouldn't say whether she was fired or left her job voluntarily. Shelter officials also wouldn't say whether her departure was related to her boyfriend's arrest on May 1. ...

  12. St. Pete Beach police: Cabbie struck after turning down patron in wet swimsuit


    ST. PETE BEACH — A cab driver was attacked Saturday evening after refusing to transport a man wearing a wet swimsuit, police said.

    Roberto P. Rizzuto and his friends were on Gulf Boulevard seeking a ride to their hotel around 7:30 p.m., according to an arrest report. As one of the men got in, driver Kenneth Comeaux said he couldn't ride because his suit was soaked.

    After arguing, Rizzuto walked over to the driver's side door and punched Comeaux through an open window, the report shows....

  13. Coast Guard rescues injured boater off Anclote Key


    TARPON SPRINGS — The U.S. Coast Guard assisted a 54-year-old boater who was injured after being ejected from a 16-foot pleasure craft late Sunday morning off Anclote Key.

    The Coast Guard station in St. Petersburg received the call about 10:45 a.m. and responded to the area, a mile east of southern tip of Anclote Key, according to Petty Officer Michael De Nyse.

    The crew arrived around 11:15 a.m. and transported the man to an emergency medical unit, which then took him to a local hospital....

  14. Authorities investigate two suspicious house fires in St. Petersburg


    ST. PETERSBURG — Authorities are investigating two suspicious fires that occurred early Sunday.

    Just before 5 a.m., two people sleeping inside a home at 3337 28th St. N awoke to a crackling sound, said St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue Lt. Joel Granata. They were able to get out and were not injured. Some animals at the house, including three cats, also appeared okay, he said.

    The fire started in the utility room and spread. Early Sunday, windows at the house were broken and the awning was singed. A charred washer and dryer and other household items were strewn outside....

  15. Sheriff's Office arrests teenager suspected of shooting another teen in Dunedin


    DUNEDIN — Four teens spent a night drinking beer, smoking synthetic marijuana and playing with a gun. By the end of the night, one of them was dead.

    Wednesday evening, 17-year-old Michael Wayne Parker III shot and killed 18-year-old Justin Blake Cleveland at his home in Dunedin, according to investigators.

    Parker put a gun to Cleveland's head and pulled the trigger, not realizing it was loaded, said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri....

    An investigator for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office gathers evidence at the scene of an apparent homicide Wednesday in Dunedin.