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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


Twitter: @TMarreroTimes

  1. University of Tampa divers help pull up nearly 100 pounds of Gasparilla beads from Seddon Channel


    TAMPA — In the murky depths off Davis Islands, Matt Gamache scanned the bottom of the Seddon Channel for sunken trash that had once been treasure.

    And there it was, like a string of colorful pearls nestled among the silt-covered rocks and oyster shells: a strand of Gasparilla beads. The University of Tampa freshman gently pulled with a gloved hand, the single necklace having become entangled with several other strands. He placed the plastic baubles in a mesh bag and continued his hunt....

    Five members of the University of Tampa diving club pose with some of the nearly 100 pounds of Gasparilla beads they helped fish from the bottom of the Seddon Channel on April 23. The students were among 25 divers who volunteered for the inaugural Gasp-Our Beads cleanup and survey project. From left are Matt Gamache, Stephanie Walker, Ally Marter, Josh Santucci-Smith and Brianna Sierra.
  2. Polk deputies: Boy, 13, dies after drunk former cop plows into five kids at school bus stop


    Jonathan "J.J." Quintana's daughter called him after she stepped off the school bus Thursday, just like she always does, to let him know she was walking home.

    Then she started screaming.

    "Dad, dad, help me!" said Quintana, a deputy with the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

    Quintana sprinted barefoot a few blocks to the bus stop on Allegheny Road in Poinciana and saw children and backpacks scattered along the roadside. His daughter was okay, but she said a black car had hit the other kids and kept going....

    The students from Dundee Ridge Middle Academy in Polk County were hit Thursday as they walked along this road.
  3. TSA finds four loaded handguns at Tampa International security checkpoints


    TAMPA — In a sign that more people are traveling with firearms, the Transportation Security Administration discovered four loaded handguns in separate incidents at Tampa International Airport checkpoints Tuesday.

    That's the most handguns found in a single day at the airport, said Mark J. Howell, a TSA spokesman.

    "It's a simple equation," Howell said. "We've got more people traveling than ever and you also have more people carrying guns. More guns plus more people traveling equals more guns at airports. What we're trying to do is educate people about the right way to travel with guns....

    This is one of four guns that  security personnel discovered in one day at  Tampa International Airport security checkpoints. [Transportation Security Administration]
  4. Boy, 2, drowns in pool at Valrico home, deputies say


    VALRICO — A 2-year-old boy drowned in his family's pool Monday, deputies said.

    Keygan Reese was at home playing on Emerald Creek Drive about 12:45 p.m. when his father Morgan Reese realized he couldn't locate the boy, according to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office.

    Morgan Reese first checked the garage and, when he saw that the door was down, rushed to the pool, said sheriff's spokeswoman Cristal Nuñez....

  5. Ominous question preceded Tampa man's murder charge: "Did you find her?"


    TAMPA — As Hillsborough sheriff's deputies led him to a patrol car, blood spattered on his clothes and legs, Hector Acevedo asked an ominous question.

    "Did you find her?" the 24-year-old convicted felon asked moments after his arrest Saturday on a weapons charge, according to a Tampa police report.

    Acevedo initially wouldn't explain what he meant or talk about the blood. Then, according to the report, he confessed to attacking his girlfriend, Shyeanne Lewis....

    Hector Acevedo confessed to attacking girlfriend Shyeanne Lewis, a police report says.
  6. Tampa mother charged with child neglect after leaving infant in hot car at courthouse


    TAMPA — A 23-year-old Tampa woman was arrested Friday after she left her infant daughter in a hot car at the Hillsborough County courthouse, police said.

    Brandi Leigh Guggino was charged with child neglect after she returned to her black Kia parked near the courthouse on Twiggs Street, according to a Tampa police report.

    Concerned passers-by who saw the child left unattended in the car flagged down an off-duty Plant City police officer, who noted the girl was sweating and had a red face. Because the infant appeared to be in distress, the officer entered the car, removed the girl from the car seat and placed her in his air-conditioned car until a Tampa Fire Rescue crew arrived, the report states....

    Brandi Leigh Guggino, 23, was charged with child neglect.
  7. University of Tampa's media services director charged with sexually battery on minor


    TAMPA — A director on the staff of the University of Tampa was arrested Sunday after police say he had sex with a minor against her will.

    John Paul Stepro, director of media services at the university, is charged with sexually battering a person between the age of 12 and 17. Stepro, 43, had sex with the girl, performed a sex act on her and forced her to perform a sex act on him, a Tampa police arrest states. Stepro knows the girl, according to the report....

    Booking photo from Tampa Police Department
John Stepro, director of media services at the University of Tampa, was arrested Sunday and charged with sexually battering a minor.
  8. Lawsuit against Tampa police in diabetic man's death shifts to another court


    TAMPA — A family's effort to hold the Tampa Police Department responsible for the death of a diabetic man during a traffic stop has shifted from federal to circuit court.

    Lena Young, the widow of longtime Tampa Heights resident and community activist Arthur Green Jr., has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Tampa on behalf of his estate. The suit, filed this month in Hillsborough Circuit Court, accuses two officers of using excessive force while trying to arrest Green and failing to recognize he was in the grips of a medical episode. He stopped breathing and later died....

    Arthur Green Jr., a diabetic, shown with wife Lena Young, died during a traffic stop in Tampa in July 2014.
  9. Tampa police ask residents and businessowners to register their surveillance cameras to help fight crime

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — After a thief stole his lawn mower from a shed and another tried to break into his historic bungalow in Tampa Heights, Justin Ricke figured it was time to get security cameras. He has since upgraded to high-definition models that peer out from under the pale yellow home's eaves.

    "As a deterrent, it's great thing," said Ricke, who lives in the house with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. "I know that if anything occurs in front of my property, I have a peace of mind that I'm going to have some kind of record of that."...

    Tampa homeowner Justin Ricky speaks to reporters about the Tampa Police Department's new Rec program as TPD Sgt. Kelley Spanglo looks on during a Tampa Police Department news conference Thursday. Through the Rec program, which stands for "Register Every Camera," Tampa residents and businesses can volunteer the existence and location of security cameras on their property so that investigators can be aware of potential footage in the event of nearby crime. Police will not be able to tap into a live feed, and camera owners are free to refuse requests for footage if they feel so inclined, Spanglo said. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times

  10. Deputies on ranch shooting: Woman shot ex-husband in self-defense after he killed his brother

    Public Safety

    PLANT CITY — Milton and Perry Varn grew up on Rocking V Ranch, working cattle together as kids and later as men. When their father died, they took the reins of the operation.

    At times, records indicate, the sprawling ranch on the road that bears the family name wasn't big enough for the two of them. Milton was arrested twice, both times accused of punching his older brother. Two years ago, Perry asked the court for a protective injunction, claiming his brother threatened to mete out some "cowboy justice."...

    A Hillsborough County Sheriff patrol car rides down Varn Road Saturday, April 15, 2017 in Plant City. Brothers Milton and Perry Varn were shot and killed during a family dispute in the middle of one of their pastures. The Varn family owns hundreds of acres of farm land in Plant City.
  11. Tampa man treated for hypothermia after hiding from deputies in A/C duct


    TAMPA— File this one under "Hiding Places that Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time."

    Deputies who arrived at 4004 W. Hamilton Avenue looking for Larry G. Puleo Thursday evening didn't see Puleo, who was wanted on outstanding warrants for violating probation, but they did hear someone scurrying around in the attic above them, according to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office. Figuring it was Puleo they ordered him to surrender....

    An image from sheriff's investigators shows Larry G. Puleo, 47, stuck in an air conditioning duct while trying to hid from them, the sheirff's office said. Puleo was being sought on outstanding warrants. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  12. 'Of course I'm a miracle,' says beloved Plant High grad who was given just hours to live

    Human Interest


    About 24 hours after an ambulance rushed Dustin Kurth to the hospital, his heart stopped.

    As doctors and nurses pumped their son's chest, Cindy and Steve Kurth stood in the corner, struggling to understand how this could be happening. It was Jan. 22, and just days earlier, Dustin was fighting a cold.

    But the cold turned out to be the flu, the flu became pneumonia and then organ failure. Now, the 23-year-old Plant High School graduate's doctors were telling his family to say their goodbyes....

    PDQ co-workers welcome Dustin Kurth, 23, back to work on April 5 after his recovery from a life-threatening infection.
  13. Hillsborough sheriff creates new Brandon-area district to help improve response times

    Public Safety


    For two decades, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office has divvied up the sprawling county into four patrol districts.

    That changes May 8, when a fifth district goes live.

    Patrol District V — the Sheriff's Office uses Roman numerals — includes most of Brandon and the communities of Bloomingdale, Palm River-Clair-Mel, Grant Park, Orient Park and Progress Village....

    Maj. Kyle Robinson, a 22-year-veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, will lead the agency’s newly created Patrol District V from the district’s new headquarters on Windhorst Road. 

  14. Navy lieutenant at MacDill charged with torching his house for insurance payout


    TAMPA — After fire gutted his home three years ago, Navy Lt. Nolen Zander told investigators the burns on his face and hands were from the radiator in his Volkswagen Jetta.

    On Tuesday, the intelligence officer stationed at MacDill Air Force Base was arrested and charged with first-degree arson and burning a building to defraud an insurer. Investigators say that on March 17, 2014, Zander used gasoline to set fire to the house at 6512 36th Ave. S he owned with his wife, then filed a claim for damages with his insurance company, Tower Hill Insurance....

Authorities say Navy Lt. Nolen Zander set fire to this house on 36th Street S in the Palm River-Clair Mel neighborhood of Tampa in March 2014 after increasing his insurance coverage. This Google Street View image was captured in June 2015.
  15. Hillsborough deputies: Ex-boyfriend fatally shoots woman, then turns gun on himself


    WIMAUMA — Joanna Morales was sitting in her grandparents' living room Tuesday night when she heard arguing in the bedroom shared by her mother's friend, and the friend's 7-year-old son.

    "Then I heard someone go, 'Ahhh,' and heard three gunshots," Joanna, 13, said. They boy ran to the living room, yelling "They killed my mom, they killed my mom."

    Santos Simiona Gonzalez-Lopez, a 32-year-old migrant worker from Mexico, was fatally shot three times by her ex-boyfriend, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office....

    A woman was killed by her ex-boyfriend in a domestic dispute in Wimauma on Tuesday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. [TONY MARRERO   |   Times]