Saundra Amrhein, Times Staff Writer

Saundra Amrhein

Saundra Amrhein has been a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times since December 1999. She has covered local government, growth and development, crime, and social services. She currently writes about general news in eastern Hillsborough County, with a focus on immigration and retirement issues.

Phone: (813) 661-2441


  1. Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch: A cattle drive into history


    The Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch takes visitors through 20 preserved and restored historical buildings, providing a glimpse of pioneer ranching life a century ago.

    More than a century ago here in Immokalee – before the busy commercial Main Street with auto parts stores, the shops like Little Guatemala, and the casino down the road – hundreds of cattle crossed right through one of the biggest homestead ranches in the state, in an area populated with cowmen, Indian traders, missionaries and hunters who scratched out an existence up against the Big Cypress Swamp....

    Lee Mitchell, manager of the Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch, wears a replica of the uniform worn by Capt. Francis A. Hendry, a Confederate officer who was once a rancher in Florida and the namesake for Hendry County.
  2. Eye surgery brings focus to Iraqi refugee family's future

    Human Interest


    He came with his family seeking refuge from war, but couldn't see his way in his new home.

    Hayder Abdulwahab arrived in Tampa two years ago, an Iraqi refugee, blind in one eye, his sight almost gone in the other due to a bomb blast in Baghdad that he'd barely survived.

    With limited vision, everything proved daunting if not impossible: finding a job in the recession, learning more English, walking his sons to school. ...

    Hayder and Iman Abdulwahab, center, are joined by Mandi Ruscher, left, and other friends as they dance around
6-year-old Hussein and his birthday cake at a party for Hayder and Hussein at the family’s apartment.
  3. Immigrant veterinarian ruined by paperwork mistake

    Human Interest

    One day last fall, Dr. Salvador Galindo walked into immigration offices in Tampa expecting that in an hour or so, he would leave with a green card.

    It would be one more milestone in a life filled with accomplishments. He had lifted himself out of poverty in rural Mexico to become a veterinarian, featured on Tampa's nightly news for saving a dog's leg and admitted to one of the best surgical residency programs in the country. ...

    A court ruling based on paperwork errors put Salvador Galindo on track for deportation as he went to get his green card. After weeks in detention, he was on a plane that was about to take off for Mexico when his lawyer finally got a judge to allow him to stay.
  4. Phone scammers target Sun City Center residents

    Life Times

    SUN CITY CENTER — Sheriff's deputies have a message for elderly residents: Beware of persons asking for money over the phone.

    The deputies' concern comes after a recent telephone scam in which a caller posed as a New York City police officer and convinced a local couple their grandson would go to jail if they didn't wire him thousands of dollars.

    The caller told the couple, who live in Sun City Center, he was a police officer working on a crash that involved their grandson, said Hillsborough Sheriff's deputy Rob Thornton. Believing him, the couple volunteered their grandson's name. The caller said the young man drove a rental car without insurance and that he was injured in the wreck. He told them they had to wire $3,000 or police would transfer their grandson to jail from the hospital for driving without insurance....

  5. Sun City Center residents weigh responsibilities of golf course ownership

    Life Times

    SUN CITY CENTER — They are retired scientists, school teachers, government workers and grandparents.

    Sun City Center residents fit all sorts of descriptions. But should they add this one to the list: golf course owners?

    The question rests before the community as it prepares to respond to the announcement last month that WCI Communities, working its way out of bankruptcy court, put three local golf courses on the market for $3.9 million....

  6. After years of waiting, finally a green card for Tampa resident

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Felicitas Morales-Roque feels like she's finally out of the shadows. And not the way she expected.

    "You'd think after 20 years, there'd be so much more," she said last week after gaining her green card, or permanent residency.

    Morales-Roque, now 24, spent the last six years studying for a dual bachelor's degree in business administration and international studies, wondering if she would ever work legally in this country....

    Felicitas Morales-Roque, 24, may join the Marines or Air Force, but her long-term goal is a State Department position.
  7. Project Lifesaver's radio tracking devices come to Tampa Bay area and can find wanderers with dementia, autism and Alzheimer's

    Human Interest

    Carol Solomon stood in the street, squinting over a long walkway toward the front door of a vacant house.

    That can't be him, the Sarasota police volunteer thought as she tried to decipher what looked like a pile of towels propped on the stoop. That can't be the 90-year-old man with Alzheimer's disease reported missing from his home on Father's Day, a scorching Sunday in June. ...

    Hillsborough sheriff’s Cpl. Jeff Massaro shows an antenna and receiver that pick up Project Lifesaver signals. He taught a recent class at the Brandon Senior Center about the device.
  8. Legal services offered for abandoned, orphaned and homeless immigrant children

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — By the time Xiomara Medrano broke down in design class that day at Leto High School, she had been living on her own for years.

    She'd bounced from one stranger's home to the next — about a dozen in 18 months, working as a waitress to pay rent. Then the restaurant fired her, fearing repercussions over her illegal immigration status.

    She worried that if she told adults her problems — that her mother couldn't support her — they'd both be deported to El Salvador....

    Adriana Dinis, left, of Gulfcoast Legal Services applauds as Leto High School counselor Kathy Wiggins, middle, hugs Xiomara Medrano, 18, a recent graduate. Xiomara came from El Salvador and had no legal status.
  9. Iraqi refugee receives disappointing news about his vision

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — His family phoned from Iraq to say they were praying for him. Call as soon as you know something, they told him Monday morning.

    A few hours later, Hayder Abdulwahab entered the University of South Florida Eye Institute to learn if he would regain his vision.

    Abdulwahab, 30, was a bodyguard for U.S. forces in Baghdad until a car bomb exploded in front of his home in 2004. He lost his left eye in the blast and was told doctors could save his right eye with proper surgery....

    Hayder Abdulwahab absorbs the news Monday from retina specialist Dr. Peter Pavan at the USF Eye Institute that scaring on his retina leaves little hope of his vision improving.
  10. WCI selling three golf courses; Sun City Center has first shot

    Life Times

    SUN CITY CENTER — The Sun City Center community association's board of directors has less than a month to decide whether to buy golf courses recently put on the market by WCI Communities Inc.

    WCI informed the association of its plans to sell the North Course, Sandpiper and Caloosa Greens executive course in a letter last week, said John Luper, WCI's regional general manager of amenities....

  11. U.S. 301 golf cart crossing plan in Sun City Center moves ahead

    Human Interest

    SUN CITY CENTER — County employees expect to reveal designs for a golf cart path by the end of the month that would connect Del Webb Boulevard with U.S. 301 and allow residents to drive their golf carts to the Wal-Mart Supercenter.

    A plan for a golf cart path across U.S. 301 near State Road 674 has been discussed since the store opened more than two years ago. Several thousand residents signed petitions in favor of the idea. Many of them now drive their carts to Publix and want the option to cross the highway to shop at Wal-Mart....

    Golf carts and automobiles share many of the roads in Sun City Center. Here’s a sign on Sun City Boulevard at Kings Point.
  12. Sotomayor debate hits home for Latinas

    Human Interest

    The phrase "wise Latina woman" has become inextricably linked with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. The jurist again faced tough questions Wednesday about the meaning behind those words, which she used in a 2001 speech to law students at the University of California at Berkeley. In her speech, Sotomayor seemed to suggest that a "wise Latina woman" might reach better conclusions than a white man. ...

    “Background is not just your heritage,” says Maria Aranda of Westchase. “It’s your gender, your family dynamics. … I don’t know how you parcel that out.”
  13. Scarred, nearly blind Iraqi refugee Hayder Abdulwahab gets long-awaited eye exam

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Hayder Abdulwahab sat patiently Tuesday through the poking at his eyes, dabbing a stream of liquid drops from his cheeks.

    He answered politely as an eye technician asked about the bomb blast that stole his vision. His boyish laugh spilled out at the interpreter's jokes.

    But in a quiet moment he looked down at his hands, the calm exterior belying a burning question in the moments before the doctor walked in:...

  14. Four seriously injured, including state trooper, in I-4 crash


    SEFFNER — There were flashing directional arrows, crash protection trucks and blue police lights.

    But still a truck driver plowed into a construction crew Monday, sending two workers and a Highway Patrol trooper to a hospital and shutting down the westbound lanes of Interstate 4 for three hours. The crash occurred about 1:40 a.m.

    State Trooper Maurice Hensley, 45, of Tampa was listed in fair condition Monday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa....

  15. Given up for dead, Iraqi refugee struggles to survive in Temple Terrace

    Human Interest

    Hayder Abdulwahab's life as a refugee can be traced to the day he awoke on a pile of bodies in a Baghdad morgue.

    That morning in 2004, he had stepped onto the balcony of his apartment, a 26-year-old Iraqi man ready for work. He was a bodyguard for an American employee with the U.S. military. But American soldiers in the street warned him to stay inside. In that moment, a car bomb exploded, shredding his body with metal and launching him on a journey to a small apartment near Tampa. Along the way he would endure broken promises from people he trusted, he would beg for help and hate himself for having to beg, he would struggle to decipher a bureaucracy that seemed indifferent to the medical care he needed most. ...

    Hayder Abdulwahab helps his wife, Iman, as she dips into the pool at their apartment complex in Temple Terrace on July 3. Iman can’t swim so Hayder helped her along and carried her around the pool. The Iraqi couple, who have two children, have been unable to find work, and the family is dependent on government assistance and help from social service agencies.