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Shooting shakes man's faith in justice

In November, Arthur Smallwood he was driving on Interstate 75 when a bullet from a rifle smashed through his car windows and whizzed past 6 inches from his face. Two men who were target shooting near the highway were charged with reckless shooting. But early this month, Smallwood learned that charges against Sean Haas, 21, and Michael Gillette, 21, had been dismissed because the state attorney's office decided there was not enough evidence to prove the men fired the shots that hit Smallwood's car. "They didn't even get a reprimand, a fine or slap on the wrist," said Smallwood, 71. "I think they should do something. You can't just go around shooting guns." Smallwood said he was annoyed but plans to drop the matter. "There's nothing we can do, kid," he said.Ex-police dispatcher sentenced

CLEARWATER _ A former Gulfport Police Department dispatcher was sentenced Tuesday to 25 years in prison for sexually molesting a 3-year-old girl and three boys. Craig Allen Stoffel, 32, of Gulfport, was sentenced after he accepted a plea bargain sparing him from a life sentence. The plea agreement also spared the victims from having to testify. Stoffel pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted sexual battery and two counts of handling and fondling children.

Boys, 14, charged in car theft

BRANDON _ Two 14-year-old boys in a stolen truck led deputies on a wild chase Monday, racing through red lights, dodging curbs, going against traffic on one-way streets, and crossing four major streets and highways at speeds of up to 75 mph, authorities say. The boys were arrested after slamming into a Sheriff's Office cruiser on Causeway Boulevard. Deputy Joe Barbaris suffered a broken arm in the wreck. Among the charges against the driver were grand theft, aggravated assault and aggravated battery. The passenger was charged with grand theft and possession of burglary tools. The teens admitted stealing at least six other cars in the past three days, authorities said. One boy has been convicted of stealing four other cars in the past year. "Obviously, the juvenile system is not doing a good job at rehabilitation," said Sheriff's Lt. Randy Latimer.

Rats gnaw at woman's peace of mind

PORT RICHEY _ For months Nancy Driscoll blamed Pita, her Lhasa apso, for gnawed furniture and noise in the night. Then she saw the real culprits _ rats. "I'm afraid to let the dog outside. I feel like a prisoner in my own home. You can hear them chewing at night," Ms. Driscoll said. She said the rats showed up about the same time construction began on The Piers shopping center nearby. Some neighbors report similar complaints and health officials and exterminators say such projects generally send the rodents scurrying for shelter. Ms. Driscoll said rats have chewed a leak in her $3,500 hot tub, toppled plants, chewed through a wooden record cabinet and even gnawed the concrete blocks of her home. Her husband, Rick, said he complained to the county and was told ""Live with it, it's Florida.' Well, you live with roaches and bugs and sometimes snakes. You say, "that's tropical living.' But rats? I don't think so."

Big plan for courts has big price

TAMPA _ Hillsborough County commissioners approved the concept Tuesday of an $82-million, downtown court complex, but delayed a decision on how to pay for it. Commissioners told the staff to come up with a financing plan for the court complex and the $52-million jail approved earlier. Staffers have recommended a referendum on a sales tax increase or a bond sale.

City might tone down booming cars

BELLEAIR BEACH _ Cars that boom in this Pinellas County city might soon be riding toward a bust. City Council members decided Monday to vote next month on an ordinance making it illegal for music to be heard 50 feet from a vehicle. "I don't think the youth has the right to disturb the people around them," said Council Presiding Officer Kaye Woolcott. Council member Ronald Zimmerman took an opposing view, saying the rule would be hard to enforce. He suggested that a police officer could stop a group of hard of hearing people for singing too loud.

Countywide drug unit to be formed

CLEARWATER _ The Pinellas County Commission is expected next week to give Sheriff Everett Rice $1.7-million for the creation of a countywide narcotics unit. The money would pay for 25 more deputies, increasing the number of narcotics detectives to 67. These detectives would form the core of a narcotics bureau that eventually would include about 90 officers from local, state and federal agencies. There has been no firm commitment from municipal police departments, which would pay for their own officers, Rice said.

_ Compiled by JAY PITTS from staff reports

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