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Police say pregnant woman used son to steal from store

A pregnant woman used her 12-year-old son to steal nearly $400 in clothing from a store in Tarpon Springs as three other children waited in a car, Tarpon Springs police said. Lawanda D. Bennett remained in the Pinellas County Jail late Friday on charges of grand theft, retail theft and child abuse. She was held in lieu of $5,525 bail. Her son was taken to the Juvenile Detention Center on grand theft charges. The other children are with their grandmother. The boy went into the Dollar General Store on U.S. 19 N about 5 p.m. Thursday and took two packs of garbage bags, said police Officer Romando Black. He said the store's manager saw the boy and threatened to call police, but the boy's mother backed her car out of the parking lot so the manager could not copy the license tag. The family then drove across the street to the Family Dollar Store, Black said. Bennett and her son went into that store, while Black said he began looking for a white Buick. He said he found the car outside the Family Dollar Store. "The trunk was already opened," he said. "I looked in the trunk, where I saw several items of clothing. It looked like they hadn't been paid for because they still had tags on them." Black said he walked toward the store as Bennett was leaving. The boy followed behind her, and Black said he detained them until another officer was able to get the store manager from Dollar General to identify them. In talking to the woman, who is about seven months pregnant, Black said he realized the boy had been coaxed into helping his mother shoplift. "She stated that she told her child to go in there and take those items," Black said. Among the $392.77 in clothing taken were warmup suits, shorts sets and jackets.

Gasoline poured in sewer

prompts school evacuation

An elementary school in Palm Harbor was evacuated Friday after gasoline was poured into a sewer system, causing authorities to fear a possible explosion. Pupils at Lake St. George Elementary were allowed to return to class after spending an hour on the playground because of the scare, officials said. A crew inspecting the sewer pump station near County Road 95 and West Lake Road smelled a strong odor of gasoline shortly before noon. Crews also discovered an odor at a second pump station near Lake St. George and Lakeshore drives. "With such an explosive situation and all the fumes confined, all you would need is a spark of some kind and you would have a real serious problem," said Fire Capt. David Cole. As a precaution, firefighters ordered the school evacuated. The Pinellas County Hazardous Materials Team and firefighters eventually flushed out the sewer system, Cole said. They determined that a gallon of gasoline was poured into a drain at Euro-Tech Services, a car repair company on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. Marianne Pasha, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, said the company's owner would be cited for illegally disposing of a hazardous chemical.f

DRIVER DIES AFTER TRUCK SLAMS INTO TREE, EXPLODES. On Interstate 75, about a mile north of State Road 50 in Hernando County on Friday, a semitrailer truck with a Maine license plate exploded after gliding off the road and smashed into a tree about 12 yards from the road. Rick Cushman of Dunnellon was driving north at 1:23 p.m. and saw the accident. Cushman, a firefighter of 16 years, tried to save the driver. Cushman said, "When he hit the pine tree I started praying: "Please let him get thrown out.' I walked around looking for him. After the second explosion, I gave up. I knew there was no way he could still be alive." Officials have not identified the truck driver, said the Florida Highway Patrol.


CHECK FINE PRINT ON FREE WATER TEST. If you receive an "important bulletin" advertising a free water test as part of a "public awareness program," you might want to check the fine print. This offer is not coming from any public agency, the Southwest Florida Regional Water Management District warns. Materials from Hillsborough Water Consultants and Pinellas Water Consultants "appear to represent government bodies, but the district is not aware of any such program," the agency says. In fine print, the bulletin does say the water test is being offered by "a private business."

RECALL CAMPAIGN GROUNDS TO A HALT. Nearly two months after it started, a campaign to force a recall election of Clearwater City Commissioner Fred Thomas has pretty much ground to a halt, said one organizer. When last contacted by the Times, campaign leader Lindsay Colton said a petition drive that would officially launch the effort was to begin in two weeks. Four weeks have passed since her statement without much action. Since announcing its campaign Aug. 31 on the steps of City Hall, the Committee to Recall Fred Thomas has not held a meeting, according to committee member Buddy Rogero, a downtown property owner. Helen Wheelis, a committee member whose role is to recruit volunteers, said she has been out of town for a month and has "no idea" about the campaign's status. But she added that a lawsuit filed by Thomas shortly before she left town had a "chilling effect" on the effort. The lawsuit contends that Stuart violated several provisions of Florida's recall election laws when he paid for newspaper ads critical of Thomas.

BANK ROBBER STRIKES AGAIN, POLICE SAY. A bank robber sentenced to house arrest two weeks ago returned to the Tampa bank he robbed in August and robbed it again Thursday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. Joe Nathan Pugh Jr., 21, of 8707 Polak Drive in Tampa, was sentenced to house arrest for an Aug. 12 robbery at Barnett Bank, 9601 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., according to the Sheriff's Office. The bracelet alarm he was required to wear sounded Thursday, when he left his home and disappeared. The same day, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said, the Barnett Bank Pugh robbed in August was held up again. "Basically, it was the same thing," Carter said. "He walked in and gave them a note. "Nothing should amaze us anymore."