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Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Tony Marrero

Tony Marrero, a native of Baltimore, joined the Times in 2009. He covers breaking news, crime and courts in Hernando County.

Phone: (352) 848-1431


Twitter: @TMarreroTimes

  1. Handyman arrested in murder of Tarpon Springs doctor


    TARPON SPRINGS — Police have made an arrest in the case of a 74-year-old doctor who was killed inside his home last year.

    Anton Stragaj of Palm Harbor is facing a first degree murder charge in the death of Dr. Steven Patlin Schwartz on May 28.

    Schwartz's wife arrived at their home at 1310 Belcher Drive and found the house had been burglarized. She called 911 and police dogs found Schwartz's body near the garage....

    A Pinellas County Sheriff's Office forensics specialist carries equipment to the scene of a homicide investigation at a Tarpon Springs mansion.
  2. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn skeptical of county transit tax success in 2016

    Local Government

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, one of the region's biggest cheerleaders, is not optimistic about the chances of a successful Hillsborough transit referendum next year.

    "If the election were held today in Hillsborough, it would lose and it would be, I think, defeated just as badly as the Pinellas referendum was," Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Monday. "That's sort of the reality with which we're working. Can we change that dynamic over the next year and a half?"...

    Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says voters are “not yet secure in their economic existence.”
  3. As Hillsborough forges ahead for 2016 transit vote, silence in Pinellas

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — As Hillsborough County plows toward a 2016 transit referendum, whatever hope remained for a parallel campaign in Pinellas likely died Wednesday when the county's transit authority board praised a strategic plan that doesn't include a ballot initiative next year.

    As part of a presentation on a suggested "path forward" for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, chief executive officer Brad Miller recommended the agency make it clear that a referendum is not in the cards for 2016....

    “PSTA’s about moving people with buses, and we’re focused on a customer-oriented bus service and making improvements every day,” PSTA chief executive Brad Miller said. 
  4. Pinellas transit board agrees to bypass transit referendum next year


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Any remaining hope for a Pinellas County transit referendum in 2016 likely died Wednesday when the Pinellas Transit Suncoast Authority board agreed on a road map for the next two to three years that doesn’t include another ballot initiative. 

    As part of a presentation on a suggested “path forward,” chief executive officer Brad Miller recommended the agency make it clear that another referendum is not in the cards next year....

  5. Pinellas resurrects financial assistance program for low-income residents

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County is set to resurrect a program aimed at helping low-income residents pay rent or keep the lights on during a financial emergency.

    The County Commission on Tuesday approved a six-month pilot partnership with 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares Inc. to run the Adult Emergency Financial Assistance Program. The one-time payments are meant to help adults without minor children head off foreclosure, eviction and the loss of utility service, among other crises....

  6. Despite lobbying, funding for rapid bus service in St. Pete isn't in Senate budget


    Pinellas County transit backers had high hopes that state lawmakers would carve out $1.25 million in the state budget to fund a rapid bus service pilot project for the city's Central Avenue corridor. 

    It didn't happen. 

    Despite active lobbying by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, the budget released Friday does not include the money for the fledgling bus rapid transit, or BRT, service....

  7. Pinellas projects pepper Senate budget


    From the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, Pinellas County projects are sprinkled throughout the Florida Senate's version of the 2016 budget released Friday.

    It's not surprising since Republican Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg hold so much sway. Keep in mind, though, that the allocations must survive the budget conference process with the House and then Gov. Rick Scott's enthusiastic veto pen....

  8. How they voted on Pinellas bed tax cap


    CLEARWATER -- The debate over how much Pinellas tourist tax money should be spent on capital projects such as aquariums and sports stadiums continues.

    The Tourist Development Council voted 7 to 4 Wednesday to recommend that the County Commission cap capital expenditures at 40 percent of the total revenue, which is currently about $35 million per year. The council, comprised of local elected officials and tourism professionals, said the 50 percent cap favored by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and three others would take away too much money that should be spent on marketing. The full story is here. Here's how they voted:...

  9. Pinellas tourist council favors lower cap for spending on capital projects

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's bid to dedicate more tourism tax dollars to capital projects countywide suffered a setback Wednesday when it failed to win the endorsement of the Pinellas Tourist Development Council.

    The council, of which Kriseman is a member, voted 7-4 to recommend to the Pinellas County Commission that spending on capital projects such as sports stadiums account for no more than 40 percent of the revenue raised by the county's tourism tax. Kriseman favored a second option offered by county staff that would set a 50 percent cap, which would make more money available for projects such as renovating Al Lang Stadium and the recently announced plan to build an 1,800-seat baseball stadium at Walter Fuller Field, both in St. Petersburg....

    St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is seeking more funds for sports venues.
  10. No mention of transit referendum in daylong Pinellas planning session


    ST. PETERSBURG -- The silence is deafening.

    In another clear sign that a Pinellas transit referendum is at least three years away, the Pinellas County Commission met Tuesday for a daylong strategic planning session and no one said a peep about putting a transit tax proposal on the ballot in 2016.

    A portion of meeting at the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center focused on a referenda timetable -- in other words, which ballot questions, such as the renewal of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, are coming on the horizon. It would have been an opportune time for someone to mention another attempt at a transit plan, but there is clearly little or no appetite for such and effort so soon after last November's crushing defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas referendum....

  11. Pinellas Park sexual predator charged in connection with fifth victim


    PINELLAS PARK — A sexual predator accused of battering four children has been charged again after investigators identified a fifth victim, police said.

    Michael W. Shepard, 35, now faces a total of 11 charges, records show: eight counts of sexual battery of a child younger than 12; two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation; and one count of sexual battery on a physically helpless person, according to Pinellas County Jail records. Shepard was being held Friday in lieu of $5.5 million bail....

    Michael W. Shepard, 35, is a sexual predator who was released from prison in December 2013.
  12. Ex-wife charged in shooting death of former St. Petersburg police sergeant


    After an eight-year intermittent romantic relationship with his ex-wife, authorities say, John "J.J." Rush finally felt free.

    The former St. Petersburg police sergeant decided last month that it was time to cut ties with Cara A. Ryan, who sought to keep tight control over her 45-year-old ex-husband, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday. Last month, he moved out of the Indian Rocks Beach apartment he shared with the Clearwater High School teacher. Last week, he took her name off a bank account they shared....

    Cara Ryan, 45, is charged with second-degree murder.
  13. Pinellas shoots for Deepwater Horizon settlement money


    The proposals range from pricey to relatively cheap, flashy to nearly invisible. They include a $330,000 public boat pier, a $600,000 sewer rehab effort and a $1.5 million bike and pedestrian trail.

    Diverse in nature and scope, each project is gunning for an estimated $1.5 million in Deepwater Horizon settlement money coming Pinellas County's way.

    The county is in the process of deciding which applicants will receive a share of the funds available from the $1 billion civil settlement with Transocean Deepwater Inc., one of the three companies deemed responsible for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. A portion of the money from the Gulf Coast Restoration Fund is being doled out to 23 Florida counties to spend on projects that restore the environment and the economy of the Gulf Coast, above and beyond the impacts associated with the oil spill....

  14. Winter Park consultant to lead Pinellas' newly consolidated planning agency

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — Last year, Pinellas County began merging two agencies into one that specialized in transportation and land use issues. Now the new entity has a leader to finish the job, which includes coming up with a catchier name.

    The joint board of directors for the Pinellas Metropolitan Planning Organization-Pinellas Planning Council on Wednesday tapped 50-year-old Winter Park consultant Whit Blanton to serve as its executive director. The board, composed of county and city elected officials, reached a unanimous decision after interviewing and hearing presentations from Blanton and a second finalist, David S. Boyd....

  15. Bucs settle lawsuit over cheerleaders' pay


    TAMPA — For Manouchcar Pierre-Val, going up against an NFL team was not so much about the money.

    The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleader slapped the team with an unfair labor lawsuit last year to highlight how the women put in many more hours than they were paid for.

    "If you work for someone, you deserve to be compensated for the work," Pierre-Val said Friday evening.

    Now Pierre-Val and as many as 93 other cheerleaders will be compensated. The Buccaneers have agreed to pay up to $825,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit....

    Manouchcar Pierre-Val brought the unfair labor lawsuit last year.