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FHP has followed proper procedures in investigations

Editor: I am writing in response to the series of newspaper articles that recently appeared in the Pasco edition of the St. Petersburg Times questioning the actions of the Florida Highway Patrol in its investigation of a fatal traffic crash involving Mr. Louis Rapisarda and a 1997 fatal traffic crash involving Mr. Daniel Kettlety. Permit me also to address the recent articles relating to Trooper Danny C. Bowers and his relationship with Ms. Melanie Bowie, who has been criminally charged with DUI and is awaiting a January trial for her involvement as the driver of the vehicle that struck and killed Mr. Rapisarda.

The case involving Mr. Rapisarda is clearly unfortunate for all involved, especially the family of the victim. The actions of Trooper Bowers during the months subsequent to his role in the investigation of the crash are clearly unacceptable to this agency, and have been dealt with through termination procedures established through career service rules and regulations, and the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Bowers' behavior is an embarrassment to all of the men and women who wear the uniform of the Florida Highway Patrol.

One newspaper article indicated that we had known about the "rumored" relationship between Trooper Bowers and Ms. Bowie for months and failed to investigate. That is simply not the case. The Florida Highway Patrol initiated a criminal complaint investigation on Trooper Bowers in August of this year subsequent to information received from the State Attorney's Office in Pasco County regarding the "rumored" relationship. Our attempts to obtain a witness statement from Ms. Bowie regarding this issue have been stymied for two reasons: 1. She refused to be interviewed until permission was received from her attorney, which we have been unable to obtain; and 2. to ensure that the received criminal case against Ms. Bowie was not compromised by an internal FHP investigation, we were advised by the State Attorney's Office that no investigative subpoenas would be issued concerning Ms. Bowie until the conclusion of the pending criminal case regarding the Rapisarda fatality.

On Nov. 15, 2000, Trooper Bowers submitted to an interview with one of your reporters, Mr. Cary Davis, during trial proceedings of the Melanie Bowie case at the Pasco County Courthouse. The article reported Bowers' admission of a personal relationship with Ms. Bowie in the months subsequent to his investigation of the Louis Rapisarda fatality. As a result of his admission to your reporter, our agency took immediate steps to initiate an administrative investigation into the comments in the article attributed to Trooper Bowers. As a result of this administrative investigation, Bowers was notified that he would be terminated from the Florida Highway Patrol on Dec. 15, 2000.

Newspaper articles have insinuated that the proposed dismissal of Trooper Bowers was a result of the stories written by the staff of the St. Petersburg Times. Indeed, the Nov. 16, 2000 article that contained Bowers' admission to this inappropriate relationship provided us an avenue to initiate an administrative investigation without compromising the ongoing criminal trial involving Ms. Bowie; however, the dismissal action was initiated and completed in compliance with agency policy, career service rules and regulations, and the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Let me also emphasize that we proceeded with this administrative investigation only after assurance from the State Attorney's Office that the criminal case against Ms. Bowie would not be compromised.

Concerning the Daniel Kettlety traffic fatality investigation that occurred on Nov. 10, 1997, a Nov. 27, 2000, article in the St. Petersburg Times indicated that the family of Mr. Kettlety was dissatisfied with the Florida Highway Patrol's handling of this investigation. The traffic homicide investigator assigned to this case had followed up on over 40 leads in the case and continues to actively investigate this matter. Unfortunately, this case involves a hit and run vehicle, and we have very little evidence to assist us in locating the vehicle and person who struck and killed Mr. Kettlety and then fled the scene.

The Times article inaccurately reported that FHP failed to act on information provided by an informant about a possible suspect who had disassembled a truck shortly after Mr. Kettlety's death. In fact, our investigators obtained a search warrant and impounded pieces of the disassembled vehicle and submitted them for laboratory analysis. Although the analysis did not link the vehicle and its driver to the Kettlety fatality, our investigators did solve a separate hit and run case involving that particular vehicle.

In addition, throughout the Kettlety investigation, our supervisors and traffic homicide investigators assigned to the case have had multiple discussions with the Kettlety family to keep them informed of the progress of the investigation. In January of this year, FHP supervisors and the lead investigator in this case met with Kettlety's parents and provided them an opportunity to review the Traffic Homicide Investigation Report, including photographs taken at the scene of the crash. We were confident that Mr. Kettlety's family was satisfied with our role in this difficult investigation, even though no arrest has yet been made in the death of their son. Please be assured that this case remains open, and we will continue to follow any leads that are developed until we successfully conclude the investigation.

I am confident that the articles recently appearing in the St. Petersburg Times were written in good faith and according to information available to your reporters. However, I am hopeful that this correspondence has provided you with a different perspective on our role in these cases and provided you with additional information regarding measures taken by this agency to resolve these unfortunate situations. Although information in these articles reflects unfavorably on some individuals, our agency will continue to perform its duties in an exemplary manner consistent with the high expectations of the Florida Highway Patrol and those we serve.

To facilitate more open communication of information between the local media and the Patrol, I am in the process of implementing positive media-related changes in the Tampa Bay area. I expect to have those measures completed by mid-January of 2001.

Thank you for allowing me to respond to the recent St. Petersburg Times articles concerning the Florida Highway Patrol.

Col. Charles C. Hall, director

Florida Highway Patrol

Tallahassee

This isn't progress, it's madness

Editor: I cannot take one more "woe is me" from the developers and large land owners who run the Pasco County government.

Most recently would be Bud Bexley's comments to the environmentalists and concerned citizens who oppose the Ridge Road project. While his words were "You don't own this property, I do," he might as well have said, "You don't own this county, I do." As one of the people he so nicely referred to in the past as "trailer dwellers who don't have nothing," I find his attitude and disrespect toward his fellow human beings appalling.

Just because you own land doesn't mean the world owes you something. If you want some respect, you had better start giving it.

Also, it's really noble of Don Buck to admit, after the damage is done, that his workers destroyed and disrupted wetlands while plowing the way for the latest leg of his Meadow Pointe megahousing projects. I'm sure the fine will mean he won't get caviar for Christmas dinner. He must be crushed.

Now we have one revelation that just shocked me. I read that Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher complained that existing roads are inadequate to handle the growth spurt that is expected to add more than 20,000 homes to Land O'Lakes and 15,000 homes to Wesley Chapel in the next decade. Well, duh!

But don't destroy one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the state to satisfy that craving for asphalt. Ridge Road is a great idea but the wrong place. Just like Connerton. Let's back off approving all of the 1,599-home specials that show up on the county commission meeting agenda and stop feeding the craving for roof tops. Pasco County is a roof-top junkie that has to have its asphalt fix. And in order to feed this craving, the county officials deprive the citizens of anything that resembles a quality of life. All of this is not progress, it is madness.

Debbie Blackwell

Lutz

Don't privatize veterans' nursing homes

Editor: On Dec. 16, the St. Petersburg Times wrote a column stating that Mrs. Wiggins, the secretary of the state of Department of Veterans Affairs, may become the next national secretary of Veterans Affairs under the Bush administration.

In a recent move to privatize a state veterans nursing home in Broward County, she has shown herself as a person who is not a friend of the veterans of Florida. This is a slap in the face to all veterans and active personnel serving their country.

Any past moves to privatize prisons and nursing homes has proved to be a complete failure. In the case of nursing homes, the health of all patients is the primary issue.

Once they open the veterans affairs nursing homes to the lowest bidder in the private sector the first cuts will be the nursing staff. Then they will use nurses assistants in place of the licensed nurses.

Leading the drive to stop the privatizing of veterans nursing homes is national commander of the Disabled American Veterans Armando Alvarran, along with its tens of thousands of members across the United States. All eyes are on Florida once again.

The state Veterans Planning Group (a group of veterans representing all veterans units in Florida) has come out loud and clear with a stern no to the privatizing of the veterans nursing home.

So I ask you to write or call President-elect Bush at the White House and his brother Gov. Jeb Bush in Tallahassee, and your federally elected senators and representatives. They dole out the money for the nursing homes and care. Voice your displeasure with privatizing veterans nursing homes.

Walter O'Reilly

New Port Richey

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