Matt Albucher, Times Staff Writer

A native of Long Island, Matt Albucher arrived in St. Petersburg in 2008 and covers local news. Previously, Albucher worked as a reporter for the New York Post and before that contributed to the Long-Islander, a weekly paper in his hometown of Huntington, N.Y. He is always looking for news tips from his readers. Albucher speaks Spanish and English.

Phone: (727) 893-8150

E-mail: malbucher@tampabay.com

  1. Sunset Beach benches are gone, but why?

    Bizarre News

    TREASURE ISLAND — Michael Hilla was fuming when the city took away the benches and picnic tables on Sunset Beach about two months ago.

    An admitted beach bum, Hilla was convinced that the amenities were removed to discourage people, especially the homeless, from having a place to rest and enjoy the beach.

    "We almost considered marching on City Hall," said Hilla, 63, of Madeira Beach. "I've been coming to this beach since 1963, and I can tell you that everyone used those benches and tables. We were all mad when they took them; it was definitely wrong for the city to do that," he said....

  2. Custody battle brewing over Woody's restaurant

    Business

    Since the 1940s, diners at Woody's Waterfront Cafe and Beach Bar., a small seaside restaurant in St. Pete Beach, have enjoyed fresh seafood while taking in the relaxing sights and sounds of the gulf. While loyal Woody's customers still flock to the restaurant daily to enjoy blackened fish sandwiches and the scent of the sea, there may now be a sour hint of strife in the air as well.

    According to papers filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, David George and Marlene George, the husband-and-wife co-owners of the establishment, are involved in a bitter divorce that has taken a toll on the restaurant. Allegations of public drunkenness and verbal abuse on restaurant premises have been leveled in the dispute, and now both parties are battling for control of the business. David George, 61, and Marlene George, 65, have been married since 1972 and have owned Woody's since 1989. ...

    Patrons have lunch at Woody’s Waterfront Cafe and Beach Bar in St Pete Beach on Tuesday. The owners are suing each other for control.
  3. Scenes from Williams Park: 'I've had to grow up hard and fast'

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Kymberly Hill-William stood shivering near a bench in Williams Park just before dawn one brisk morning last week. Barely strong enough to stand, she leaned over a shopping cart containing all her worldly possessions. Her head was hung low, her eyes glazed over. Her face was blank, emotionless.

    The 50-year-old epileptic said she gave birth to her first son when was 15. "Ever since then, I've had to grow up hard and fast, and I never stopped getting old," she said, exhausted from spending a cold night sleeping outside City Hall. ...

    Charles Roach Jr. holds Kymberly Hill-William’s hand during one of her epileptic seizures.
  4. Scientist helps Sanderlin fifth-graders better understand biology and the environment

    Education

    Casey Turner watched as two buckets of fresh pond water — full of writhing bloodworms, mosquito larvae, water bugs and other aquatic wildlife — were heaved into the center of his fifth-grade classroom on a recent Wednesday.

    The 10- and 11-year-olds were mesmerized when that biological soup was then poured onto the floor in the center of the class, releasing an army of pond insects and crustaceans. Turner, a teacher at James B. Sanderlin Elementary School, was wringing his hands: "This is the part when I worry about my classroom having an 'Eau de Pond' fragrance for the next couple of months," he said....

    Fifth-grader Josephine Hooks, 10, center, and classmates look for critters left behind after the pond they created is emptied into a bucket.
  5. St. Petersburg's Cocoanut Grove sits empty

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Cocoanut Grove, a once-thriving shopping center on Fourth Street N, now resembles a ghost town.

    Just two years ago, the strip mall's spaces were packed with tenants including a Greek restaurant, a kitchen remodeling center, a golf store and a home mortgage company. Now all that's left is an empty parking lot and "We Have Moved" signs on storefront windows.

    Some of the businesses that once called Cocoanut Grove home say they were essentially forced out of the location by the company that manages the site. ...

    The smaller “For Lease” sign at the far right is more accurate than the big Cocoanut Grove sign at the once-thriving shopping center on Fourth Street N in St. Petersburg. The businesses listed have left.
  6. Age can't ground this couple

    Human Interest

    Don't expect to find Gilbert "Gil" Fortune, 85, or his wife Mary Fortune, 75, content playing bingo or catching the early bird special.

    Instead, they can be found soaring 4,000 feet over Tampa Bay during their free time. Gil, a licensed pilot, typically flies Mary to Fort Lauderdale to visit family or to Savannah, Ga., for recreation. When they're not in the air, they're cruising around Tampa Bay in their sailboat or vacationing around the Southeast. ...

    Mary Fortune, 75, training to earn her pilot’s license, goes through her preflight check Thursday prior to a practice flight at Bay Air Flying Service at Albert Whitted Airport. Her husband, Gilbert “Gil” Fortune, 85, background, began flying in the 1940s while in the U.S. Army Air Forces and has continued ever since.
  7. St. Pete Beach hoteliers rolling in empty rooms

    Tourism

    St. Pete Beach's hotel industry has suffered in the wake of the nation's recent economic troubles. Several resorts are reporting lower occupancy rates and decreasing profits compared to last year's peak season. One resort said business is down 30 percent since last year, with another lamenting that 2008 brought the slowest Labor Day in more than 20 years.

    According to some hoteliers, the annual influx of "snowbirds" — Northerners who flock to Florida for the late fall and winter — has ebbed as well....

    Sirata Beach Resort, which includes Rum Runners Bar and Grill, shown here in 2007, has dealt with a decrease in occupancy since the national economic slowdown began, said co-owner Gregg Nicklaus.
  8. City takes another shot at landing restaurant at airport

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city is again trying to attract a restaurant to the second floor of Albert Whitted Airport's main terminal.

    The city spent two years negotiating with the owner of a steakhouse chain to put a restaurant in the new $4-million terminal, but talks fell through in September. Some city officials and those involved with airport operations decried the failure at the time....

    “The place provides a really neat view of the airport, the runway and planes,” says Jack Tunstill, airport advisory committee chairman.
  9. Obama wins St. Petersburg barbershop's poll

    Elections

    If you think John McCain might have a problem winning Florida on Tuesday, consider this — he's losing older, wealthier white men to Barack Obama.

    At least that's the finding in one poll.

    For the past 20 years, Pedro's Tonsorial Parlor, a men's barbershop in downtown St. Petersburg, has set up a makeshift ballot box for a mock poll during presidential elections and for some state balloting. ...

    Bill Lane of St. Petersburg gets a haircut Thursday from Pedro Holladay, owner of Pedro’s Tonsorial Parlor. The shop has a tradition of hosting mock elections. This year, its clients sided with Barack Obama.
  10. Ferg's to let fans lift mugs to Rays on Wednesday

    Human Interest

    Throughout the 2008 baseball season, Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill has been packed with Rayhawks, Rays cowbells, Rays attire and even Rays-themed tattoos.

    Even though the team's magical season came to a disappointing end last week, diehard fans will flood into Ferg's on Wednesday night to salute their 2008 team one last time.

    "I think Rays fans feel very blessed. Coming into this season, we were just hoping to finish with a .500 record. We never imagined we'd be in the World Series," said Ferg's owner Mark Ferguson....

  11. Belief in guardian angels behind group's seminar

    Bizarre News

    ST. PETERSBURG — Have you been in touch with your guardian angels lately? If not, there will be a seminar in St. Petersburg this weekend that says it can teach you how to connect with them.

    Didn't know you had guardian angels? According to one believer, we all do.

    "Everyone has a team of about three to five — sometimes more — guardian angels who direct us in life," said Kathleen Ellis, who is in charge of running the class. "Our seminar is going to teach people how to communicate with those angels."...

  12. Old Northeast to chronicle charms in book

    Human Interest

    Local historian Robin Gonzalez possesses the very first menu of the very first dinner ever served at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort — on New Year's Eve of 1925.

    Those first guests had a fairly mundane dinner: Olives, salted nuts, gumbo passe and "stringless beans" were among the selections.

    The artifact is the only one remaining, Gonzalez says, and you'll never guess where she found it....

    Historian Robin Gonzalez, left, and coordinator Robin Reed are producing a family-friendly book detailing the history of the Old Northeast neighborhood.
  13. True-blue Rays fans show style at hair studio

    Human Interest

    Sandra Serrano was contemplating a radical change in hair color Tuesday — from dark brown to bright blue.

    At least the switch would go along with her outfit. She was already wearing a Rays shirt, a team hat and bright blue lipstick. "Why not get the hair blue, too?" she asked. "I have to admit, I'm thinking about it."

    Serrano would likely be taking her 8-year-old son to Legends Hair Studio in south St. Petersburg later Tuesday to have his hair buzzed into a Rayhawk. ...

    Comer Boswell, left, and barber Tad Smith pass the time at Legends Hair Studio. Boswell has a theory about the Rays’ success. “Oh, I know it’s because they dropped the name ‘Devil.’ Ever since they got the ‘Devil’ out of their name, it’s just been all up for them. That’s got to be what it is.”
  14. Snell Isle statue's in good hands after all

    Bizarre News

    ST. PETERSBURG

    Contrary to earlier reports, Fall is getting a facelift. Fall, the statue, that is.

    As Snell Isle residents were mourning what was believed to be the theft of a prized historic statue, Jerry Karlik was laughing hysterically.

    "When I read the article in the paper about the statue being robbed, I just started cracking up," he said, chuckling. "I was looking at the statue sitting right here in my shop!"...

    Chris Karlik applies a permeating bonding agent to the weathered marble of Fall to prevent flaking. The statue reported stolen is in fact being repaired at Florida Statuary & Molds at the behest of the city.
  15. Five Guys Burgers and Fries piles it on in downtown St. Petersburg

    Business

    ST. PETERSBURG

    The wait is finally over.

    Five Guys Burgers and Fries, a national chain of hamburger, hot dog and french fry restaurants, opened its new location at Progress Energy Tower on First Avenue N.

    The chain doesn't call itself a health food store, and for good reason. But the food is all fresh, the fries are homemade and the meat is never frozen.

    "Everything here is prime quality," said Les Pentz, manager of the fourth chain site established in Pinellas County. "We cut the fries ourselves right here in the store, and our buns have a five-day shelf life."...

    Shawn Johnson, 27, of St. Petersburg, right, eats at Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Thursday, his first time in the restaurant. He smelled the food while driving downtown and decided to try it with his 7-year-old daughter, Zhanterria Burrows, center.