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Sheriff's trial in drug case opens

Ex-Nassau County Sheriff Laurie Ellis was portrayed in opening arguments Wednesday as an innocent who was "sold" to the government by a drug-dealing deputy and as a top cop who betrayed his cause by dealing in confiscated drugs. Federal prosecutors say Ellis and his chief deputy, Rocky Mistler, supplied cocaine and marijuana out of their Fernandina Beach office to Callahan rancher Tony Peterson, who turned it over to a northeast Florida drug network that operated from mid-1990 to late 1991. Ellis, who was in office during that period, is on trial on 10 counts ranging from drug conspiracy to obstruction of justice. Defense attorney Steve Weinbaum told a 12-member jury Wednesday that Ellis is innocent and has been sold out by others in the case in return for lighter sentences.

Man faces jail in neglect of his mother

ORLANDO _ An Orlando man faces up to 3{ years in prison on a no-contest plea to a charge of neglecting his elderly mother, who was found lying in bed with maggots, roaches and feces. Steven Kinney, 34, was arrested when police were called to his house in November after neighbors heard Dorothy Kinney, 66, screaming. The woman was naked in bed, covered with bed sores and yelling, "Help me. It hurts. Get me out of here." The woman, whose condition improved, later asked that charges be dropped, but prosecutors refused. She now lives in a nursing home. Kinney declined comment on the case.

Toddler's death in hot car ruled accident

MIAMI _ The death of an 18-month-old boy after he was left for an hour in a sweltering, closed car was ruled an accident by prosecutors, and the toddler's mother will not be charged with any criminal wrongdoing. The state attorney's office said Tuesday that Marcus Leslie's death June 2 was a tragic event when Tina Mayes left him unattended in a family car in the blistering, midafternoon heat. "In this case, it was so clear by talking to all the witnesses, by talking to her, by her history of love and care for this child, that it was an accident," said Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Mayes, 25, collapsed in tears when she opened the car door and found her baby dead. She said she forgot about him in the car. An autopsy showed the baby died of environmental hyperthermia, or exceptionally high fever. He was asleep on the back seat of his great-uncle's 1984 Oldsmobile with the tinted windows rolled up. The temperature outside was 81 degrees. A test by prosecutors showed that under similar conditions, with the car's windows closed, the temperature rose from 100 degrees to 116 degrees within 22 minutes.

Daytona-sized race track is at issue

TAVARES _ A proposed racing complex rivaling the size of Daytona International Speedway is stirring strong emotions in Lake County. More than 225 people jammed the County Commission chambers Tuesday night to voice their opinions as officials considered preliminary plans on the big project. Since it would be a development of regional impact, the county and state would have to agree on rezoning some 500 acres of farmland off U.S. 27 near County Road 545. The track, which its backers say would create 60 full-time jobs and 3,000 part-time positions, is a proposal of Orlando's Capital Motorsports of America. Residents near the area complained about noise and traffic congestions while others supported the project.

State acquiring more pristine coast land

TALLAHASSEE _ The state has agreed to buy 99 more acres of Topsail Hill, the pristine Gulf Coast area in the Florida Panhandle that once figured in a $102-million savings and loan fraud. The $1.7-million deal approved Tuesday by Gov. Lawton Chiles and the Cabinet would bring the state's beachfront holdings to 635 acres with another 880 acres on its shopping list. The private Nature Conservancy, as it has done with other parcels, will assist by purchasing the property from the Resolution Trust Corp., which disposes of properties obtained from failed savings and loan associations. The conservancy will sell to the state. Conflicting state and federal laws keep the state from directly purchasing the property, which was obtained from Vision Banc of Kingsville, Texas.

Military spent $512-million on Andrew

MIAMI _ The U.S. government's bill for the military response to Hurricane Andrew in south Dade County came to more than $512-million _ the Pentagon's largest bill ever in a single deployment for a natural disaster. But that bill pales in comparison to foreign military operations. Operation Desert Shield-Desert Storm cost $42.6-billion. Among the items the hurricane bill included, according to the General Accounting Office: more than 1-million Meals Ready to Eat left over from Desert Storm and 900,000 hot meals prepared at four field kitchens; emergency medical care for 67,190 civilian patients; operations at four tent cities; movement of over 100,000 tons of cargo by ground and air; removal of 6.2-million cubic yards of debris; and repairs to 98 damaged schools, the Miami Herald reported Wednesday. The tab doesn't include the salaries of 29,285 military personnel _ active duty, reservists, National Guard and civilians _ who were dispatched to south Dade from around the country.