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Rich Shopes, Times Staff Writer

Rich Shopes

Rich Shopes is a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times covering government and politics in Pasco County.

Before coming to Florida in 1999, he lived in Philadelphia and New Jersey. He worked at the Tampa Tribune before joining the Times in 2012 to cover Plant City. He currently lives in Manatee County with his lovely wife, Sandy, and their squirrel-obsessed Norfolk terrier, Charley.

Phone: (727) 869-6236

Email: rshopes@tampabay.com

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  1. Veterans help line program might expand statewide

    Veterans

    TAMPA — A support line that has counseled hundreds of Tampa Bay area veterans since its launch last year may be expanded statewide under a bill moving through the state Legislature.

    Begun in late October at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, the Florida Veterans' Care Coordination Program has so far counseled more than 500 vets on issues from substance abuse to chronic unemployment to post-traumatic stress disorder....

  2. Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa makes custom wheelchairs

    Health

    TAMPA

    Five days a week, the sick and disabled stop by Craig Kraft's workshop on the bottom floor of Shriners Hospitals for Children.

    Toddlers with spindly legs. Children with contorted spines. Bodies weakened and wrenched by diseases like spina bifida, cerebral palsy, dwarfism and muscular dystrophy.

    Anywhere from five to 20 show up every day. They travel from southern Georgia, Key West, Miami, Pensacola, New Port Richey, Clearwater and Tampa to marvel at the rows of brightly painted, customized wheelchairs in Kraft's workshop....

    Rayland Camp received a free custom-made stroller from Shriners Hospitals for Children in Tampa. The 2 1/2-year-old boy suffers from a rare and fatal form of dwarfism. 
  3. Saint Leo University to march in New York's St. Patrick's Day Parade

    Human Interest

    ST. LEO — Frank O'Keefe was homesick for New York when he and another student organized a St. Patrick's Day parade at Saint Leo College in 1974.

    O'Keefe, serving as grand marshal, sat in the back of a LeMans convertible. He chuckled at the memory of riding around San Antonio, a small, rural town in Pasco County.

    "I don't think people knew what was going on," he said.

    Fast-forward 41 years and the Bronx native's love for the parade still burns brightly. Only now, he wants Saint Leo students, faculty and alumni to join him and march in the real thing in Midtown Manhattan....

    Frank O’Keefe, with his grandson Brendon, helped get Saint Leo University’s spot in this year’s event.
  4. Tampa Police to get more defibrillators

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Tampa police will soon have more patrol cars outfitted with portable defibrillators.

    The Rotary Club of Tampa has provided Tampa Police with 22 of the life-saving devices since last April. With a $15,000 donation Tuesday from Florida Hospital in Tampa, the club will now be able to boost that number to 100 defibrillators.

    Altogether, the club has raised $100,000 since launching its "centennial project" last year. Before that, it donated $40,000 to the city for the Water Works Park project....

  5. Dunedin man walking to Yankee Stadium to help Wounded Warrior Project

    Human Interest

    DUNEDIN — He bleeds Yankees blue and travels the country to watch the Bronx Bombers, so far hitting 24 of 30 stadiums.

    His son says he's "crazy," so naturally when retired math teacher Richard Albero said he planned to take a hike — 1,200 miles from the Yankees' spring training home in Tampa to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx — nobody doubted his conviction.

    Maybe his sanity came into question. A little....

  6. Jackie Faircloth continues slow recovery after hit and run

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Three months after being struck by a pickup truck, Plant High senior Jackie Faircloth is making "baby steps" in her recovery, her father said.

    "She's definitely progressing,'' John Faircloth said, ''but it's going to be a long road of baby steps."

    The 18-year-old cheerleader suffered a traumatic brain injury Nov. 29 in Tallahassee after a truck hit her then took off. She was in town to see a Florida State University football game with her brother....

    “Pray for Jackie” signs, like this one at Plant High School in Tampa, support Jackie Faircloth, who was hit by a pickup.
  7. Strawberry Festival 'ambassadors' hard at work as event opens

    Events

    PLANT CITY

    Terry and Tamara Allen field all kinds of questions, but the trickiest come from folks like Janice George of Valrico, who combed through dozens of vendor stalls Thursday to find a bottle of Honey Bee healing lotion.

    Many of the thousands who come to the Florida Strawberry Festival every year arrive with specific aims — to watch the pig races, catch a big musical act or work through multiple servings of strawberry shortcake, ice cream, even strawberry hamburgers....

    Mary Roberts, right, helps Grazia Moyers of Virginia Beach, Va., find the Hershey’s Strawberry Tent at Thursday’s opening day.
  8. State attorney: No charges for stray bullets hitting Lithia house

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County firefighter and sheriff's deputy at the center of a target-shooting incident in Lithia last month will not be prosecuted.

    In a Feb. 19 letter, Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Christopher Moody told Sheriff's Maj. Robert Ura, the head of criminal investigations, that not enough evidence exists to level charges after several bullets hit landscaper Dawn Bryan's house on Jan. 24....

  9. Officials say body in submerged car is likely missing Brandon woman (w/video)

    Public Safety

    BRANDON — A fervent 10-day search for Apryl Foster, who disappeared after a night in Ybor City, came to an end Sunday afternoon when Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies found her car submerged in a lake.

    Authorities said they recovered a body from inside the car and have "no reason" to believe it was anyone other than Foster, 33. She was last seen Feb. 13 wearing clothing that matched that of the recovered victim....

    Apryl Foster’s parents, Craig and Peggy Beman, speak to reporters at Mango Lake, where officials believe their daughter’s body was found in her submerged car.
  10. Doctor says she was fired for reporting low staffing at Brandon Regional ER

    Health

    TAMPA — A Tampa doctor is suing HCA Inc., alleging she was fired from a physician-staffing company because she complained about low staffing levels at the emergency room of the chain's Brandon Regional Hospital.

    In her lawsuit, Dr. Wanda Espinoza-Cruz, 44, alleged that so few doctors were available during a January 2014 night shift that a man with "obvious stroke symptoms" was forced to wait four hours for medical care. A CT scan later showed blood on his brain, her suit says....

  11. Annual Knight Parade lights up Ybor with family-friendly revelry

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Revelers hooted and danced. They jumped with outstretched arms.

    The throngs who crowded 7th Avenue in Ybor City for the Knights of Sant'Yago Parade on Saturday night didn't leave disappointed.

    Revelry flowed onto 7th Avenue for the annual parade, a tamer cousin to the raucous, drunken Gasparilla, which draws hundreds of thousands.

    Unlike Gaparilla's "wet zone," which stretches along the parade route on Bayshore Boulevard in south Tampa, drinking at the 40-year-old parade is restricted to Ybor's bars. Scores of children also joined the revelers, giving the event a family feel as the illuminated floats chugged past....

    Father Leo Markert, 78, a Catholic priest from Schenectady, N.Y., receives a rose from a parade participant — plus lots of beads.
  12. State looks into alleged financial problems at Tampa retirement community

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — State fraud investigators have issued an order barring the University Village retirement community from signing up new tenants amid a wide-ranging inquiry into alleged financial irregularities.

    The Office of Insurance Regulation issued an initial order of suspension Friday after investigators received a tip Jan. 21 that the community's reserve account had been underfunded by $370,324....

  13. Hoping for a special candlelit night with your sweetie at McDonald's? Not this year, sadly

    Food & Dining

    Valentine's Day couples last year noshed their Big Macs to LED candles and flowers, but sadly the McDonald's at 6717 N Dale Mabry Highway pulled the plug on this year's romantic escape under the Golden Arches.

    General manager Ernesto Izquierdo said it wasn't for a lack of commitment on the part of the restaurant, which took reservations and retrained counter employees as waiters to ramp up the romantic experience. Last year's event gained attention Friday when the popular website Drudge Report linked to a 2014 tampabay.com story about the event ( tbtim.es/e6a)....

  14. Second Hillsborough jail inmate in a week dies after medical crisis

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Another inmate has died after suffering a medical problem at the Hillsborough County jail on Falkenburg Road, the second such death in less than a week, authorities said Wednesday.

    Troy A. Zimmerman, 25, of Tampa was serving a 364-day sentence at the jail after his arrest Aug. 16 on burglary and assault charges, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. He died at 2:45 p.m. at Brandon Regional Hospital....

  15. Hillsborough County inmate found unresponsive, dies later at hospital

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — An inmate died Saturday after he was found unconscious in his cell at the Hillsborough County jail on Falkenburg Road, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

    Jeffrey L. Young, who turned 67 on Friday, was being held on a warrant for failing to appear in court after he was charged with driving with a suspended license in Sarasota County.

    Jail medical staff making routine checks at 3:25 a.m. found Young unresponsive in his cell at the jail's infirmary. Staff tried to revive him and he was transported to Brandon Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:02 a.m., the Sheriff's Office said....