When Pinellas County chiropractor William LaTorre made headlines again — this time, with news of his suicide Thursday at age 73 — we remembered his trial. How could we not?
The horrific boat wreck 25 years ago left four teenagers dead. And it was the first criminal case I ever followed that utterly changed from what we were sure we knew at the beginning, the verdict inevitable, into something completely different. Before O.J. and Rodney King, even....
10/16/14 Human Interest
Those annoying lists that rank cities are everywhere lately. They can be relevant, like the one about which towns you're most likely to die in while riding a bicycle. (Okay, here.) But they can veer off into the absurd, too, like, say, towns in which people are most likely to show up to court in flip-flops. (Okay, also here.)
Travel + Leisure magazine's recent list of America's Snobbiest Cities starts out predictably enough: New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Boston. Glam, culture, snoot, sophistication, history. Got it....
ST. PETERSBURG — To his friends, William LaTorre was a man driven by a quest to heal and ease others' suffering. Yet his greatest trauma — the day he killed four teens in a high-speed boating crash in 1989 — will forever define his life for many in the Tampa Bay area.
The prominent Pinellas chiropractor shot himself in his office on 49th Street N Thursday morning, police said. Employees of the LaTorre Wellness Center found the 73-year-old dead when they arrived at work. Investigators found a gun at the scene but no note. His wife, Wendy, told police they had planned to celebrate their 38th anniversary that evening....
The story that Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist told on the dais that day — the one with him rushing to the hospital in his pajamas — sounded a little suspicious to some.
Could this be Crist's attempt to muddle the hotly controversial item — whether to set up a registry so unmarried people, gay or straight, could designate their partners to make decisions in times of medical emergency or death — before them? Was he trying to water down the important vote at hand?...
A thriving, bustling medical school smack in the middle of downtown Tampa? As Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn puts it, this would be a game changer. (If you don't mind a sports analogy about downtown that has nothing to do with actual sports, or baseball, or baseball downtown.)
A very big buzz about downtown Tampa's future has long been baseball — specifically how to land the much-loved Tampa Bay Rays here from across the bay one day....
TALLAHASSEE — The judge from Tampa stood in the cool museum hush of the Florida Supreme Court, waiting Wednesday morning for it to be over.
The impressive courthouse at the state capitol can quicken the pulse of even the most seasoned lawyer — all those tall pillars and polished marble, the looming ceilings and gleaming wood. It is a place, as one lawyer put it, that leaves no doubt about the seriousness of why you are here....
When it comes to Hillsborough County's specialized court for sex crimes, has the judge there done his time? Even gone over the line?
For the record, specialty courts make a lot of sense. Set up to deal with specific crimes, they're an efficient way to handle probation violations for which defendants offer up bad excuses or plausible explanations, to give first-time drug offenders a second chance, even to deal with dog bites in animal court. Judges and lawyers get well versed on all the particulars....
10/03/14 Human Interest
The first act of urban guerrilla art occurred in broad daylight, with a chain saw.
Drivers headed across the N Boulevard bridge toward downtown Tampa saw him: a tall guy studying a dead pine by the sidewalk. He carried a smallish chain saw I would later learn he calls "Little Precious."
As he worked, a bold face and body emerged in the bark, a deep-carved, detailed wooden tiki. Then Jeff Chouinard, the guy with the chain saw, was gone. To the store for a Popsicle, it turns out, random roadside art being thirsty work....
The late Judge C. Luckey Jr. — Hillsborough County's longtime Southern-drawling public defender — had a saying about political campaigns. In his experience, he would tell you, the best way to run for office was (pause): "Unopposed."
Don't politicians know it.
Just when it looked as if Tampa's full-speed-ahead Bob Buckhorn would sail smoothly to a second mayoral term — fitting an unopposed election into his datebook somewhere between cutting another ribbon and reshaping downtown — came a recent plot twist....
Once upon a time, the Hillsborough County courthouse was a fascinating place.
Oh, it's still pretty interesting, what with all the murder trials and big-money lawsuits and such. But in recent years, people in trouble there tended to be defendants rather than, you know, judges.
Back then, a stream of them left the bench under assorted clouds — a tawdry affair with a bailiff, a sneaky creep through an enemy judge's chambers after hours, that sort of thing....
Man of the Moment Jeff Vinik — Tampa Bay Lightning owner, current co-architect of what downtown Tampa will one day look like, philanthropist and gazillionaire — gave some notable quotes recently regarding how he likes to hire for important jobs.
Said Vinik in a recent piece in the Tampa Bay Business Journal headlined How to Hire Like Jeff Vinik:
"I like to take people for high level positions — I like to go out to dinner with them and their wife and me and my wife," Vinik, a former hedge fund manager, said. "I like to see how they treat their wife, and I like to see how they treat the waiter. I think that gives insight into character."...
At the Athena Society, made up of some of the most powerful women in town, a single word is causing quite a stir — and maybe even the resignation of some judges from its ranks.
Funny, but the word is "nonpartisan," which is supposed to mean not political — in theory, at least.
Even if you are not familiar with Athena — described by a newspaper reporter at their meeting a quarter-century ago as Tampa's most influential women "wearing impressive titles like nice shawls" — you would surely recognize names on its roster....
Four years ago, Florida's third-of-a-century-long ban on gay adoption finally fell. And remarkably, the family unit as we know it has not crumbled. Life has continued. For some kids, it surely got even better.
By now, it seems crazy in retrospect: Until an appeals court overturned the ban in 2010 and public officials declined to fight the ruling, two qualified adults who wanted to make a family were denied by a law that no longer stood in any other state in America....
Truly, it is hard to pick the most unabashedly loaded question in the Bell Shoals Baptist Church's official 2014 Voter Guide.
Maybe it's question No. 4, posed by the influential Brandon megachurch to candidates ranging from the gubernatorial down to your local school board, the only possible answers being yes, no or unsure:
Do you agree that the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees an individual the right to own and possess firearms and this right should not be infringed upon in any way?...
The most intriguing political conversations in town once took place over fragrant plates of Sea Bass A La Rusa served on white linen at Valencia Garden — where everyone who was anyone broke Cuban bread until the place sadly closed.
(A respectful pause to recall Valencia's oversized menus presented with flourish, the man-hugs and air-kisses between tables and the careful noting of who sat where and with whom. There will never be another Valencia.)...