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Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Tony Marrero

Tony Marrero covers breaking news and general assignment stories in Hillsborough County. A Baltimore native, he joined the Times in 2009.

Phone: (813) 226-3374

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @TMarreroTimes

  1. Head-on crash kills Wesley Chapel teacher and Zephyrhills man


    TAMPA — Two men, including a high school math teacher, were killed Monday in a head-on crash on Morris Bridge Road, deputies said.

    Howard William Hawkins Jr., 50, of Zephyrhills was driving south on Morris Bridge Road near the Pasco County line about 6:45 a.m. when his Kia Forte crossed the center line and struck a northbound Ford Fusion, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office....

  2. Backlog of immigration cases stymies immigrants in Florida


    It was supposed to be a routine green card renewal for a Thai woman who has called Central Florida home for years.

    Instead, federal immigration authorities took her into custody for a decade-old blemish on her criminal record, putting her on a potential path to deportation. The mother of two has been waiting in a detention center since April for a hearing to make her case to stay, said her attorney, John Gihon....

    Attorney John Gihon represents a man targeted by ISIS.
  3. "Someone is terrorizing'' Seminole Heights after third slaying in 11 days


    TAMPA — When asked Friday if Tampa police believe a serial killer is stalking the residents of Seminole Heights, interim Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan paused for a moment.

    "We can call it what we want," said a clearly frustrated Dugan, who called a news conference to talk about the discovery Thursday of yet another body, the third person to be shot and killed in the neighborhood in 11 days. "If that brings attention to it, that's fine."...

    A pedestrian walks by the Fodder & Shine restaurant on North Florida Avenue in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa.  [GABRIELLA ANGOTTI-JONES  |  Times]
  4. Police and FBI hunting possible serial killer 'terrorizing' a Florida neighborhood


    TAMPA — The third victim in a string of killings in Seminole Heights was a 20-year-old man shot dead after he got off the No. 9 bus, interim Police Chief Brian Dugan said Friday.

    Anthony Naiboa, a graduate of Middleton High School, got off at the wrong bus stop after work and was walking north on 15th Street to another bus stop when he was shot, Dugan said. Officers on patrol in the area heard the shots and rushed to the area, but by then the shooter was gone. Naiboa died at North 15th and Conover streets, about 100 yards from one of the other shootings....

    The three victims of what police are calling a series of connected murders in Seminole Heights.
  5. Brothers' fatal shootout at Plant City ranch draws lawsuit from survivor


    TAMPA — George "Terry" Long escaped with his life last spring when his wife's ex-husband tried to gun him down at Plant City's Rocking V Ranch.

    Now, Long is suing the estate that owns the cattle ranch, claiming the family operation failed to protect him from Milton Varn, the "dangerous and violent" man who shot him.

    "In the absence of a specific warning from Rocking V Ranch LLC, (Long) would not have been aware of the extreme personal danger he was in by entering the property while Milton Varn was present," the complaint filed Oct. 9 in Hillsborough County court says....

    Milton Varn fatally shot his brother Perry during a confrontation April 15 the Varn family ranch in Plant City. Trouble had long been brewing between the brothers, apparently reaching a deadly climax when Milton's ex-wife Joanne  showed up with her husband to check out a horse. [Courtesy of Brad Sparkman]
  6. Tampa police link two shootings, tell Seminole Heights residents to avoid walking alone


    TAMPA — One was a 22-year-old African American man. The other was a 32-year-old white woman.

    Both died mysteriously of gunshot wounds in southeast Seminole Heights last week. Now police are asking nervous residents to be alert, avoid walking alone at night and to come forward with any information that might help solve the crimes....

    A small memorial sits in the grassy lot on East Orleans Avenue in Seminole Heights where 32-year-old Monica Hoffa's body was found Friday. Hoffa had been shot to death, and Tampa police say they believe her killing is related to the shooting death of Benjamin Edward Mitchell, 22, at a bus stop near N 15th Street and E Frierson Avenue on Oct. 9. There are no clear motives, however, and police have asked to residents to be on the lookout for anything suspicious and avoid traveling alone at night. JONATHAN CAPRIEL/Times staff
  7. Feds to certify Pasco deputies in deal that may boost deportations

    Public Safety

    The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is taking steps to turn jail deputies into federal immigration agents.

    Sheriff Chris Nocco has signed an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to join a controversial program that give deputies the power to check the immigration status of people booked into the county jail and to serve warrants on suspected undocumented inmates — a process that could lead to deportation....

    Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco says his agency agreed to participate in the 287(g) program with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to make for a streamlined, legally viable way to remove dangerous criminal immigrants from the county. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times (2015)]
  8. Miami man arrested in Sarasota in connection with fatal Tampa shooting


    TAMPA — A 32-year-old Miami man has been charged with murder in connection with the April shooting death of Darius Jaquan Harris, court records show.

    Zachary Alexander Williams was arrested Thursday in Sarasota County and booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on charges of first degree murder and illegally possessing a firearm as a felon, jail records show.

    According to a Hillsborough County grand jury indictment filed Sept. 28, Williams shot Harris, 24, "with a premeditated design" on April 23....

    Zachary Alexander Williams, 32, was arrested Thursday on a first degree murder charge in connection with the April 23 shooting of Darius Jaquan Harris, 24, in Tampa. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  9. Victim of fatal shooting found near East Tampa bus stop


    TAMPA — Police are investigating after a 22-year-old Tampa man was fatally shot in East Tampa.

    Officers found Benjamin Edward Mitchell lying near the bus stop at 15th Street and East Frierson Avenue about 9 a.m. with at least one gunshot wound, according to Tampa police. Mitchell was taken to a local hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

    Detectives were working Tuesday to identify a suspect and motive in the shooting....

  10. People wait hours for food assistance in wake of Hurricane Irma



    Hela Garcia and her mother, Gloria Ferrales, sat on folding chairs Monday under a small white tent, taking a brief respite from the midday sun beating down on the Plant City Stadium grounds.

    A few minutes earlier, mother and daughter had walked out of another tent with a debit card that Ferrales will use to buy nearly $400 worth of food over the next two months. The money, courtesy of the federal government, is meant to help the 87-year-old disabled Tampa resident make up for the frozen steaks and other provisions she had to throw out when Hurricane Irma knocked out power at her home for three days....

    Traffic snakes near Plant City Stadium on Monday. There were similar scenes in Seminole, the Food for Florida site in Pinellas, which closed Oct. 2.
  11. Plant City police officers cleared in fatal shooting of 35-year-old father of four

    Public Safety

    PLANT CITY — A man fatally shot by Plant City police officers in July came at one in a "shooting stance" with a glass pipe and a rolled-up shirt in his hands, but officers feared he was holding a gun.

    These details are included in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigative report that the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office used in part to decide that officers Gerald Baker and Derek Hartmann were justified in shooting 35-year-old Jesus Cervantes on July 6. ...

    Family members and friends of Jesus Cervantes gather July 8 for a vigil at the BP station at Park Road and Alsobrook Street in Plant City. [Photo courtesy of Greg Cruz]
  12. Chronister takes on 'privilege' of serving as Hillsborough sheriff (w/video)

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — It wasn't too long ago, in career terms, that Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee called Col. Chad Chronister into an office and asked if he'd try to succeed him.

    Chronister said yes. On Friday, he took over sooner than anyone expected.

    As Gee and a roomful of friends, family, dignitaries and Sheriff's Office staff watched, Chronister took the oath of office.

    "It is truly an honor, and I know what a privilege it is to be the sheriff of Hillsborough County," Chronister, 49, told an audience of about 150 people after taking the oath in the cavernous Courtroom 1 of the Edgecomb Courthouse....

    Chief Circuit Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, left, swears in Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Chad Chronister, right, to replace outgoing Sheriff David Gee, who decided to retire early. JAMES BORCHUCK/ Times
  13. Local Puerto Ricans providing relief to relatives suffering on island


    Oxalis Garcia finally heard her father's voice on Sunday, when he managed to get through to the mainland four days after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island of Puerto Rico.

    Augusto Garcia did not sound like the strong man his daughter knew.

    Things are really bad over here. Please get me a plane ticket.

    "He is very reserved, but for the first time in my life, I could hear the concern and the desperation in his voice," said Garcia, a 37-year-old St. Petersburg attorney. "To see him so vulnerable, it was very emotional for me."...

    Lavinia Rodriguez, a Land O'Lakes psychologist, worked days to secure plane tickets from Puerto Rico to Florida for her mother, two brothers and five other family members who live on the island. [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]

  14. Tampa charter school teacher charged with firing handgun at ground


    TAMPA — A charter school teacher was arrested Sunday after, police say, she fired a gun into the ground during a dispute with her boyfriend.

    Melody Patrice Bing, a teacher at Vision of Excellence Academy, fired at least two rounds from a silver handgun during an argument with her boyfriend about 1 p.m. in a vacant lot behind 402 W Columbus Drive, according to a Tampa police arrest report....

  15. Yankees executive Jessica Steinbrenner seeks restraining order against ex-husband


    TAMPA — Jessica Steinbrenner, a top executive with the New York Yankees and a daughter of the team's late owner George Steinbrenner, is seeking a restraining order against her ex-husband.

    In a petition filed in Hillsborough County last week, Steinbrenner alleges that Felix M. Lopez Jr. has been stalking her since their marriage formally ended in February. According to the complaint, Lopez has made unwelcome attempts to contact Steinbrenner by calling, sending text messages and making at least two unannounced visits to her Tampa home earlier this month....

    New York Yankees executive Jessica Steinbrenner filed for a restraining order last week against her former husband, Felix M. Lopez Jr.