12/27/14 Public Safety
TAMPA — Charles Kondek held his wife's hand everywhere they went. He made funny faces to cheer his kids up, blasted AC/DC, cheered for the New York Jets and did a SpongeBob SquarePants dance for his daughter's second-grade class.
"Charlie K," as his fellow police officers called him, worked the midnight shift, ribbed his co-workers, told the same jokes over and over, and liked teaching rookies how to do the job right....
LITHIA — The illness hit Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. William A. Hines in 2010 like no enemy he had ever experienced.
Assigned to the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion headquarters in Tampa, Hines went on a 4-mile run, something he had done hundreds of times in more than two decades as a Marine. But afterward, he couldn't catch his breath. He felt pressure on his head and couldn't focus.
Another Marine rushed Hines to Tampa General Hospital, where doctors would ultimately find blood clots in his lungs....
BY WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
Department of Veterans Affairs leaders often talk proudly about how the agency polices itself when medical mistakes occur, saying they inform veterans who are seriously harmed, apologize and even tell them how to file a financial claim for damages.
But a VA report to Congress in April showing the agency made 76 "institutional disclosures" involving veterans who were hurt by delays in treatment of gastrointestinal cancers might reveal that this confession policy is often not followed, according to interviews and congressional records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times....
TAMPA — The family of a 5-year-old girl who died in 2013 after she was taken into foster care filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri saying his office's failure to provide a medical screening for the child ended with her death from untreated tonsillitis.
The suit filed by the parents of Elizabeth Holder disputes a finding by the Pinellas Medical Examiner's Office that the girl died Jan. 19, 2013, of a heart ailment that was aggravated by her tonsillitis....
TAMPA — Tom Kugler hunted German submarines as the bombardier on a B-24 Liberator during World War II. Some people are surprised when they hear where he did it.
In the Caribbean, often quite close to Florida.
"I don't think the few young people I talk to have an understanding of what went on with the Germans in World War II except in Europe," said Kugler, 94, a Kansas resident who was based at what was then called MacDill Field in Tampa at the start of the war....
Folks feeling overwhelmed by the flood of advertising pleas to part with their dollars on Black Friday or Cyber Monday get a change of pace today.
It's "Giving Tuesday," a day of charity wedged in a season of buying.
It's a day organizers bill as a reminder that the season of giving need not be limited to cash registers of favorite retail outlets. Instead, more than 18,000 participating charities, nonprofits and corporate partners are urging people to consider a gift in money or time to groups working to improve their communities....
WESTCHASE — A 45-year-old man was shot and killed by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office SWAT team Thursday after a five-hour standoff during which he fired several shots at deputies, the Sheriff's Office said.
Sheriff's officials said Matthew P. Cormier, of 9641 Magnolia Blossom Drive was pointing a gun out a window of a condominium where he lived when he was shot and killed by the SWAT team about 6 p.m....
Kerrie Witty says the Department of Veterans Affairs does not tolerate retaliation or intimidation against employees who speak out about problems at the agency.
Witty, director of the VA's regional benefits office near Seminole, said Friday that her office "encourages employees to bring to the attention of their managers and supervisors shortcomings in the delivery of services to veterans or any perceived violations of law or official wrongdoing."...
TAMPA — A conference of 200 military planners from 33 nations to discuss strategies on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria closed Friday at MacDill Air Force Base with military leaders declaring "enormous progress" in the fight against a group that has terrorized the region.
The 10-day conference was held at U.S. Central Command, which has headquarters at MacDill, and ends two days after Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, estimated it would take four years for a U.S.-led coalition to defeat ISIS....
11/17/14 Public Safety
TAMPA — Three shots were fired into the back of a private school bus occupied by four teenagers Monday near Waters Avenue and 17th Street as they were being driven home, Tampa police said. Nobody was injured.
A spokesman for the school said two men approached the bus on bicycles and at least one of them opened fire. No arrests have been made.
The bus was shot just before 4 p.m. with what appears to have been a medium- to high-caliber handgun, according to Tampa police. The motive is unknown, police said....
A week after a "no confidence" vote by an employee union, the chief of the Department of Veterans Affairs regional benefits office at Bay Pines says she wants to win back the confidence of any employees who doubt her leadership.
But director Kerrie Witty's response to the Nov. 5 vote may have further enraged the union leaders she was trying to mollify.
Witty sent by email Wednesday a statement to Local 1594 of the American Federation of Government Employees saying she would "take appropriate actions to gain back that confidence." Witty then launched an attack on the union, saying it communicated the vote to her in an "unprofessional and disrespectful manner."...
11/11/14 Human Interest
Richard Hardesty can tick off the countries he visited during his 25 years in the Air Force the way some folks list favorite vacation spots.
Vietnam. Korea. Iran. Morocco. Germany. France.
It could be brutally hard service. Hardesty, 81, of Seffner recalled the astonishing cold and relentless enemy in the Korean War. He spent Christmas 1953 on a troop ship off Seattle. It was not his last holiday overseas. And he said he would do it all again....
The employee union at the Department of Veterans Affairs' regional office at Bay Pines has taken a "no confidence" vote against the director of the office and accused managers of a hostile relationship with union workers.
Local 1594 of the American Federation of Government Employees took the vote last week against Kerrie Witty, the director of the VA's regional office near Seminole that handles disability claims for veterans from most of Florida, the Caribbean and part of Georgia....
The C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center boasted this week that an independent accreditation group found the facility followed the patient-scheduling rules of the Department of Veterans Affairs and used no inappropriate practices.
The Joint Commission's nationwide review of scheduling practices was ordered earlier this year after allegations that some hospitals cooked their books, using prohibited bookkeeping practices to make it appear veterans got medical care faster than was true....
A former doctor at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center who said he was ousted in 2008 for his outspokenness on patient safety and workplace discrimination issues has won a $500,000 settlement of his federal lawsuit.
The settlement by Dr. Jacques Durr, 66, who worked as a kidney specialist at the Seminole hospital, may be the largest individual settlement of a workplace discrimination lawsuit nationally against the Department of Veterans Affairs since at least 2009, according to a Treasury Department database of settlements....