Rodney Thrash, Times Staff Writer

Rodney Thrash

Since Rodney Thrash joined the Times in 2003, he has written about an eclectic group of people: sassy nuns, baby mamas, gay high school activists, handcuffed kindergarteners, war mothers, racists, national African-American icons and hazed fraternity pledges.

He lives in the northwest Hillsborough suburbs and reports from the Clearwater bureau.

Phone: (727) 445-4167

Email: rthrash@tampabay.com

  1. Pink army walks for the cure

    Human Interest

    MADEIRA BEACH

    There are three words Ellen Wilkerson never wants her 13-year-old daughter to hear:

    "You have cancer."

    Wilkerson, 52, has heard those words twice, in January 2002 and in March 2005.

    The first time, she cried, but knew God would pull her through it. The second time, she asked why.

    "I have three friends who are currently going through treatment," she said. "I don't want to see anybody else go through this."...

    Tampa’s Maria Simon, left, and Andrea Peterson, right, comfort Lisa Heil, center, during a pit stop on Treasure Island on Saturday. Heil lost her mother last week. This is Heil’s fourth year participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.
  2. Plan envisions new, quieter fields for East Lake Youth Sports Association

    Growth

    EAST LAKE — The ballfields in East Lake never rest.

    "They are used basically year round," said Rick Watson, president of the East Lake Youth Sports Association. "That's the reason we're trying to add a couple more multipurpose fields."

    Pinellas County park officials think they've finally found the perfect spot for the fields and hope that, this time, it won't spark the uproar that previous suggestions have generated....

    The East Lake Youth Sports Association says its five baseball fields, three soccer fields and two football fields are taxed from years of overuse. Two new ones planned for nearby won’t be lit or fitted with loud public address systems.
  3. Safety Harbor Resort and Spa files for bankruptcy protection

    Business

    SAFETY HARBOR — One of the state's largest and oldest spas filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, officials announced Thursday.

    Safety Harbor Resort and Spa plans to honor all reservations, memberships, events, bookings and gift cards as it attempts to dig out of more than $30 million in debt.

    "Their big problem has been the mortgage," said resort lawyer Steven Berman. "The mortgage debt is around $30 million, and there's additional unsecured debt to trade creditors."...

    Safety Harbor Resort and Spa plans to honor all reservations, memberships, events, bookings and gift cards as it works to resolve its financial problems. 
  4. Polk outlawing of synthetic marijuana K2 has Tampa Bay area shop owners on edge

    Crime

    A day after Polk County made the sale of synthetic marijuana a third-degree felony, worried Tampa Bay convenience store owners scrambled Wednesday to find out if the ban applied to them.

    Randy Heine temporarily pulled K2 off the shelf.

    "I e-mailed (Pinellas) Sheriff (Jim) Coats this morning asking him what his intentions are," said Heine, who sells K2 from his Rockin Cards & Gifts store in Pinellas Park....

  5. Man who claims he'll buy, restore Biltmore has questionable past

    Growth

    BELLEAIR — This weekend, Thomas Gavin was anything but shy.

    He fired off an e-mail to Belleair Mayor Gary Katica in which he introduced himself as the "next and final owner" of the Belleview Biltmore.

    He boasted that he had enough money to purchase and restore the historic hotel and golf course.

    And he requested a phone meeting with Katica, and the mayor and town manager made it happen Monday morning....

  6. Potential buyer for Belleview Biltmore steps forward

    Growth

    BELLEAIR — A man who introduced himself to the mayor as the "next and final owner" of the Belleview Biltmore said he will close on the historic hotel this week.

    "Trust me," Thomas Gavin wrote in an e-mail late Friday to Belleair Mayor Gary Katica. "I am in contact with the present owners of the Biltmore and ready to sign a contract this week to purchase and close this year."

    Gavin described himself as the chairman of Lifestone Capital Corp., a company that is not listed in Florida corporation records. ...

  7. Oldsmar leads Pinellas County in voluntary annexations

    Growth

    OLDSMAR — Oldsmar had more voluntary annexations last fiscal year than any other city in Pinellas County, according to a report released this week.

    Between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010, Oldsmar acquired 165.9 of the 273.7 acres annexed by all Pinellas municipalities, said Michael Schoderbock, who prepared the report presented on Wednesday to the Pinellas Planning Council.

    "For 2009, they only annexed 4.07 acres," said Schoderbock, a program planner with the agency....

  8. Pinellas deputies arrest student in East Lake High fire

    Crime

    EAST LAKE — A 15-year-old East Lake High student was arrested Wednesday in connection with a fire at the school this week.

    Students and staff had to be evacuated Tuesday afternoon when a fire in a second-floor boy's bathroom started near the end of the school day.

    No one was injured in the 1:53 p.m. incident, but the fire and smoke caused damage to an adjacent wall.

    Pinellas County Sheriff's Office school resource officers reviewed security cameras and said the footage showed Phillippe Rynders entering the boy's restroom Tuesday afternoon....

  9. Belleair to look at tax incentives for Biltmore's redevelopment

    Growth

    BELLEAIR — Buoyed by a Miami investment team's recent interest in the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, the deputy mayor asked the town attorney to research tax incentives that Belleair could offer to redevelop the historic hotel.

    "It's time that we do something that's proactive … so that a vehicle could be in place when a redevelopment team comes to town," Deputy Mayor Steve Fowler said during Tuesday night's town meeting....

    Investors want to redevelop the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, shown here under construction in 1896. The hotel is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  10. Synthetic marijuana is strong, accessible — and legal

    Public Safety

    "Dude," they told him, "blink if you're alive."

    Angelica Romero, 16, and six other teenagers had gathered at a lake near Westfield Citrus Park mall this past spring and gotten "really, really high."

    One of her friends sat on the grass, "just chilling," Romero said. "And then he just laid back and after a while, he was moving his hands in the air, and he was like, 'I need water! I'm thirsty! I can't see' " ...

    This 1-ounce batch of Smoke XXXX sells for $280 at Randy Heine’s Rockin Cards & Gifts in Pinellas Park. Several bay area stores carry synthetic marijuana, which is profitable.
  11. After years of struggle, Oldsmar water plant breaks ground

    Water

    OLDSMAR — At times, city officials thought they'd never see the mound of dirt, the shovels, the hard hats.

    The road to Friday's ground-breaking of the city's $20 million water treatment plant began more than a decade ago with a question:

    Do you think we can develop our own water supply?

    Feasibility studies were commissioned. Grants were requested, then denied. Twice, former Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed funds designated for the project. Costs rose....

  12. Pinellas deputy foils Largo armed robbery attempt

    Crime

    LARGO — A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy foiled an armed robbery at a Largo gas station Friday morning, authorities said.

    Just after 11 a.m., customers at the Citgo gas station, 8195 Ulmerton Road, reported a suspicious man in a black and white bandana, a hoody sweatshirt and a knit cap, authorities said.

    He hid behind an ice machine and a rack of propane tanks in front of the store. He held something that they could not see....

  13. Clearwater man rams Pinellas sheriff's cars

    Crime

    LARGO — Pinellas County sheriff's deputies have arrested a 29-year-old Clearwater man who they say rammed two undercover vehicles, struck a private vehicle and fled on foot.

    The incident began just before noon Thursday as investigators attempted to make contact with Marlon Durand Cooper in an undercover narcotics investigation, authorities said.

    Detectives exited their vehicles at the parking lot of the Belleair Place Apartments, 1704 Clearwater/Largo Road. As they approached Cooper's vehicle, he put the car in drive, rammed the undercover vehicles and left the scene, authorities said....

  14. Police: 9-year-old accompanied Dunedin man, woman on drug run

    Crime

    DUNEDIN — A 51-year-old Dunedin man brought his 9-year-old stepson on a early morning drug run, authorities said.

    According to an arrest report, Andrew Ralph Sturm got into a vehicle driven by his 28-year-old stepdaughter at 4 a.m. Thursday. Sturm knew the woman, Sarah Beth Martin, was under the influence of a narcotic, the report said. She'd just pulled his wife's hair and pushed her. Karen Sturm was holding a 3-year-old child in her arms at the time....

  15. Drug discount program begins Friday in Dunedin

    Human Interest

    DUNEDIN — Dunedin will roll out a prescription drug discount program that has saved the uninsured and under-insured millions over the last two years.

    Beginning today, the city will issue free prescription drug discount cards to any resident of the city, regardless of age or income.

    "We're seeing a lot of unemployed people going to the library, using our Internet, searching for jobs, asking the reference librarians for sites to search for positions," said Nancy Duggan, Dunedin's human resources director. "A lot of those people may not have health insurance right now."...