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Cancer patient dies of smoke inhalation

A cancer patient apparently died of smoke inhalation Wednesday night after his burning cigarette ignited the breathing tube from his oxygen tank, according to Tampa police reports. Robert Bennett, 69, of 4714 N Habana Ave. was suffering from terminal cancer and had been taking a painkiller, police said. He fell out of his living room chair, the oxygen tube caught fire and the fire spread to the floor, police said. Neighbors heard the smoke alarm at 5:45 p.m., opened the apartment door, and discovered Bennett, police said. Fire damage to the apartment was minimal, police said.

HRS workers differ

on foster policy

TALLAHASSEE _ Contradicting agency policy, a Tampa office of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services kept homosexuals from serving as foster parents, according to court documents. The testimony came in a lawsuit filed by a Bonnie Lynn Matthews and Elaine Kohler, a lesbian couple seeking return of a 6-year-old they had cared for as foster parents. Olga Peterson, who licenses foster homes for HRS, said she was told a year ago that the Tampa district would not be licensing homosexuals. Peterson said in an Oct. 1 deposition that foster care specialist Mary Carol Hill said that was district policy. But in her statement Hill said the only rule barring the two women was one HRS interprets as prohibiting unmarried couples. Both depositions were filed this week in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

St. Petersburg plans Russian art exhibit

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia _ Civic leaders from St. Petersburg, Fla., signed a letter of intent Thursday to obtain an exhibition of about 400 items from the reign of Nicholas and Alexandra, the last czar and czarina of Russia. The agreement was forged with the Hermitage, one of the world's premiere museums. The Florida Cultural Exhibitions, a non-profit group that will underwrite the exhibit, estimates it will cost $5.5-million to transport, insure and display the works. No public funding of the exhibition is planned. The exhibition is scheduled to begin in February 1993.

Oba Chandler enters

plea to robbery charge

CLEARWATER _ Oba Chandler, named as the prime suspect of the slaying of a Ohio woman and her two daughters, pleaded not guilty Thursday in a $750,000 jewel robbery. Chandler, 45, was charged Monday with robbery with a firearm in a Sept. 11 holdup at the Residence Inn on Ulmerton Road. Chandler was arrested Sept. 25 at his Volusia County home and charged with the May 15, 1989, rape of a 24-year-old Canadian tourist off Madeira Beach. Chandler is accused of taking the woman for a ride aboard his Bayliner powerboat and threatening to kill her if she refused to have sex. Chandler has not been charged in the slayings of Joan Rogers and her daughters, Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14. The women's bodies were found in Tampa Bay bound, gagged, tied to masonry blocks and naked from the waist down a little more than two weeks after the attack on the Canadian woman. Chandler was held Thursday in Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $1-million bail.

Drug charges added

to stalking charge

ST. PETERSBURG _ A 27-year-old man was charged Thursday with stalking a woman by threatening to slit her throat and trailing her every move, even when she went to the Police Department. When police arrested James Ernest Wiggins, they found marijuana in his back pocket, arrest records said, so they added a marijuana possession charge. Then, after Wiggins was dropped off at the Pinellas County Jail, four crack cocaine rocks were found stuffed under the back seat of the police cruiser that carried him, records said. The cruiser had been searched before Wiggins was picked up, the records said. A cocaine possession charge was added to the list. Wiggins of 1646 42nd St. S is unemployed. He was held Thursday night in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $13,100 bail, only $3,000 of which related to the stalking charge.