1. Archive

A look at year's tragedies, triumphs

(ran PC edition)

The end-of-the-year stories you've been seeing in the pages of the Pasco Times as we close out the first year of a new century fall into categories.

Kids in peril. Out with the old, in with the new. Protecting the environment.

But some stories, no less important, defy easy categorization.

Take, for example, the suburban nightmare come true for Maria Pittaras, 28, of Land O'Lakes, who awoke one August morning to find neighbor Robert Metz in her bed, attacking her. She snatched a handgun off a bedside table and shot Metz, 47, killing him.

Metz, a family man with a wife and children, was well-liked by other neighbors. Although he had a history of depression, ultimately nothing could explain what drove him to break into Pittaras' home and attack her.

A tragedy in November had an explanation: A 21-year-old woman told a Times reporter that she was high on drugs when she slammed into the car carrying Barbara Mercer, 53, and the family Mercer was helping to get into a Habitat for Humanity house. Mercer died.

The driver who is blamed for the crash, Shanna West of Brandon, has an extensive history of traffic infractions.

West still held a valid license until Dec. 15, when it was suspended by the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles.

The relative tranquility of the Willow Bend subdivision turned into a media circus in October as police investigators swarmed in a fruitless search for the remains of Sabrina Aisenberg, the infant who disappeared from her family's Valrico home in 1997. The search, while it didn't yield any discoveries, did keep the neighborhood buzzing with reporters on lawns and the chop-chop of TV helicopter rotors overhead.

In May, a state prison psychologist in Zephyrhills averted one tragedy, and then accidentally caused another.

Thomas Straight, 60, talked his adopted son, David Charles Hood, 36, out of killing himself with a shotgun. Hood took the 12-gauge from his mouth, handed the gun to Straight and said it wasn't loaded. "If you don't believe me, pull the trigger," Hood reportedly said.

Straight tested the claim, and shot Hood in the head. Police charged Straight with manslaughter.

But the news wasn't all bad in the year 2000.

The sport of kings brought the spotlight to Dade City in March, as the town became the focal point for steeplechase aficionados to the first races on the Little Everglades Ranch. It proved so successful that national race officials expect it to become one of the country's premier tracks.

In April, Jack and Kathy Somoano of Wesley Chapel didn't just have kids, they had a crowd. Kathy Somoano gave birth to quintuplets Alyssa, Brianna, Dante, Evan and Cody.

In May, the Zephyrhills Bulldogs baseball team broke a home run record on its way to the state final four for the first time in 30 years. Despite the 9-0 loss to Jacksonville Bishop Kenny that dropped the Bulldogs from the championships, the team's accomplishments rallied a community.

And what didn't change in the year 2000?

U.S. 41 still isn't finished.

State Road 54 still isn't finished.

Collier Parkway still isn't widened.

Land O'Lakes still doesn't have a movie theater.

And Caliente, the much ballyhooed nudist resort that would challenge Paradise Lakes, is as unbuilt now as it was when plans were first presented in 1996.

Maybe next year.

_ Wes Platt is the central and east Pasco bureau chief. He can be reached at (813) 226-3454. Send email to Send faxes to (813) 226-3455.