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Widow still in court fight

Published Oct. 18, 2005

Two months have passed since Loretta Downing's case appeared on the court docket, and still the widow's ordeal continues. Downing owes $22,800 to neighbors whose property was destroyed in a fire she accidentally set. The 65-year-old woman can't afford to pay her debt. And lawyers are haggling over how the matter should be resolved.

On Wednesday, the lawyers will gather again before County Judge Gary Graham to discuss the case.

Downing's attorney, Gary Poe, had asked permission to inspect the property that Larry and Kim Pedota and Kim's parents, John and Roberta Coons, say they lost in the blaze, court records show.

Meanwhile, prosecutors have asked to see Downing's federal income tax returns for 1987, '88 and '89, her recent bank records and her application for food stamps.

Poe has argued that Downing had to seek state aid after the court ordered her to repay the victims of the April 27 fire. He said the victims massively inflated the amount of their damages.

The state points out that the court ordered payment of restitution as part of Downing's sentence for allowing a fire to escape.

Sign ordinance awaits fee amendment

CRYSTAL RIVER _ A debate over fees has sidetracked a sign ordinance amendment that would have ended a ban formally on portable signs.

The City Council banned the 4-by-8 foot signs last year but suspended the ban after small-business owners complained. Last week, the council was ready to approve an amendment allowing one such sign per property, but two members noted that staff had omitted a $10 monthly fee for the signs.

The council rejected the amendment and asked City Manager Merv Waldrop to come back with an amendment that includes the fee. Before the vote, the Crystal River Chamber of Commerce said it opposed portable signs for aesthetic reasons.

Garbage find slows down road plans

CRYSTAL RIVER _ The Eighth Avenue extension, a project that has been on the drawing board for years, has run into another delay because of the site's history as a landfill.

The city had planned to create some wetlands not far from the planned road to replace wetlands that must be filled for the project. But the proposed new wetlands site has garbage under it, and the cost of removing the buried garbage would have been prohibitive.

Now the city is proposing to the state Department of Environmental Regulation (DER) that new wetlands be created near the city maintenance garage. If the DER approves the garage site, construction of the road could begin in several months, City Manager Merv Waldrop said.

_ Compiled from reports by Jim Ross and Ken Moritsugu.