1. Archive


EMISSIONS TESTS: Despite lobbying by asthmatics and the American Lung Association, the Legislature voted to end auto emissions testing in six Florida counties, including Pinellas and Hillsborough. The day the testing ended, state officials notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the air in Tampa Bay was bad enough to flunk tough new pollution standards.

LETHAL INJECTION: Terry Melvin Sims, the first Florida inmate to be executed by lethal injection, died Feb. 23. Nudged by a string of botched executions and potential action by the U.S. Supreme Court, state lawmakers reluctantly decided in January to give inmates a choice between electrocution and lethal injection. Sims, 58, was sentenced to death for the murder of an off-duty volunteer deputy with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. He was the first of six inmates executed by lethal injection this year.

MOTORCYCLE HELMETS: Although highway safety experts recommended against it, the Legislature voted to allow motorcyclists who are at least 21 years old to ride without helmets. The new law requires that bikers have at least $10,000 in personal injury insurance, but opponents say $10,000 will do little to pay the giant medical bills that come from catastrophic head injuries.

HIGH-SPEED RAIL: Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that orders the state to start building a high-speed rail network by 2003. Now it's up to the Legislature to come up with the money to fund the project and to decide which of the state's five biggest cities will be linked. Florida has flirted with high-speed rail for years. After Gov. Jeb Bush killed the latest bullet-train proposal, a Lakeland man, C.C. "Doc" Dockery, spent millions of his own dollars to get the issue on the Nov. 7 ballot _ where voters ordered up the fast train.

ELECTING JUDGES: Floridians voted to keep electing county and circuit judges instead of changing the law to make them all appointed. The issue came up because a 1998 constitutional amendment gave voters around the state a chance to decide the issue this year.

WILDERNESS CAMP DEATH: The state Department of Juvenile Justice sent 12-year-old Michael Wiltsie to a wilderness youth camp for rehabilitation after he was charged with several crimes beginning at age 8. Instead, the 65-pound boy was killed in February when he became disruptive and his 300-pound counselor, Joseph Cooley, restrained him. A Marion County grand jury did not indict Cooley, but the Department of Juvenile Justice later called Cooley's actions "improper, unauthorized and inappropriate." The Department of Children and Families classified the death as a case of abuse.

EVERGLADES RESTORATION: Overcoming political divisions, bureaucratic jealousy and scientific questions, Congress and the state Legislature both signed off on sharing the cost of a $7.8-billion project designed to restore the Everglades and provide water for South Florida's population, which is expected to double over the next several decades.


DROUGHT CONTINUES: The La Nina-driven drought in west-central Florida reached disaster proportions as month after month set all-time records for low rainfall. Lake, stream and aquifer levels dropped lower than at any time in history. The situation got so bad toward year's end that water regulators openly talked about the possibility of proposing a total ban on outdoor watering early in 2001.

BAYFRONT FIGHT: Bayfront Medical Center officially left the BayCare Health System today, after it was voted out of the hospital alliance in October following its lengthy dispute with the St. Petersburg City Council. The city and hospital had been in litigation since April, when the city sued over concessions Bayfront made to Catholic members of BayCare, including banning abortions. Bayfront had hoped that buying its land from the city would end the church-state conflict, but the city wouldn't sell.

SAM: The Alabama Supreme Court ruled in November that Mark and Tracy Johnson must hand over Sam, their 4-year-old adopted son, to his biological father, Christopher Vietri of New Port Richey. Sam, who has lived with the Johnsons since he was 3 days old, had never met Vietri. In a highly unusual ruling this month, the Alabama court then directed Vietri and the Johnsons to work with a mediator to seek "a solution of this matter."

DEADLY ENCOUNTERS: The year 2000 was marked by several fatal animal attacks in the Tampa Bay area. In January, Kenya the elephant trampled to death former circus acrobat Teresa Ramos, 52, at a family circus compound in Hillsborough County. The elephant died nine days later, apparently of natural causes. In June, an 18-day-old baby was killed after being bitten by a family dog while she was sitting in her baby swing in St. Petersburg. And in September, Thadeus Kubinski, 69, was fatally bitten by a bull shark after he jumped off his dock in St. Pete Beach. It was the Tampa Bay area's first fatal shark attack since 1981.

NIGHT LIFE: Long-awaited dining and entertainment complexes opened on both sides of Tampa Bay. In St. Petersburg, the downtown BayWalk complex with its cinema, restaurants and stores opened in November _ or at least some of it. About two-thirds of the shops and restaurants were expected to open over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, most of the new Centro Ybor complex, which also features theaters, restaurants and shops, opened in October in Ybor City, where it aims to draw more than just the bar crowd to Tampa's Latin district.

AIR TRAVEL: Tampa International Airport recorded 40 percent growth in five years, making it the third fastest-growing airport in the country. Many of those passengers were fuming as they flew this year. Labor actions and severe weather caused massive flight delays and cancellations during the peak summer travel months of May through September.

OLYMPICS: Tampa revved up its efforts to bring the 2012 Olympics to Florida, submitting a bid to the U.S. Olympic Committee that calls for a stadium to be built downtown on the site of some public housing. The mayors of every large city in Florida pledged their support for the bid, one of eight the USOC will choose from in 2002. The Legislature has agreed to cover up to $150-million in Olympic-related losses if the games end up losing money.

TERRI SCHIAVO: A Pinellas judge granted Michael Schiavo permission in February to remove his wife's feeding tube almost a decade after the St. Petersburg woman suffered a heart attack and slipped into a a persistent vegetative state. Terri Schiavo's parents want to keep her alive in hopes that she will improve. They have appealed.

TREEHOUSE BATTLE: Faced with a national media frenzy that included a public scolding from Today host Katie Couric, the Tampa Palms Owners Association, which had threatened to take down a sick child's treehouse in January, agreed to let it stay as long as the family got a doctor's note. "They said as long as it is deemed medically necessary, he can keep it," Tammy Sassin said of her then 6-year-old son Brage's backyard retreat, which helped him cope with his leukemia. "I am just so grateful."

FRONT PORCH FLORIDA: Gov. Jeb Bush's Front Porch Florida program to help the state's poorest urban areas ran into problems before it really got off the ground in St. Petersburg. During the summer, the state Department of Juvenile Justice hastily spent $500,000 on programs intended to help keep youths away from crime, but it made many questionable decisions, including giving a grant to a company owned by a felon on probation. Then, in November, the governor's manager of Front Porch summarily fired the community-appointed council in charge of Front Porch after the group spent much of its time fighting.

FISCHER WON'T RUN: In December, St. Petersburg's mayor of 10 years, David Fischer, surprised many in the city when he announced plans to step down at the end of his term in March 2001 rather than seek re-election.

AL-NAJJAR FREED: After being detained for more than three years by U.S. immigration authorities as a suspected terrorist, former University of South Florida instructor Mazen Al-Najjar was freed in December after supporters waged a long fight against the use of secret evidence to jail him. He still faces a deportation hearing in January.

SCIENTOLOGY CASE: Pinellas prosecutors in June dropped two criminal charges against the Church of Scientology relating to the 1995 death of church member Lisa McPherson. The first criminal case ever filed in the United States against the church was dropped after prosecutors said inconsistent statements by Medical Examiner Joan Wood had jeopardized their ability to prove their case.

LOTTO JACKPOT: Each week, 10 members of the staff at the Whispering Pines Nursing Center in New Port Richey liked to put a few bucks into a birthday pool to buy cakes, drinks and gag gifts for each other. Sometimes, they bought Lotto tickets. In March, the group discovered that it held a ticket worth $81.6-million _ the biggest single winning ticket in Florida Lotto history.

ECKERD COLLEGE: The small private college found itself in troubled financial waters this summer after trustees found that nearly two-thirds of the college's $34-million endowment had been spent on various campus expenses without their approval. The sudden retirement of Eckerd's longtime president Peter Armacost followed the announcement about

the endowment.

DOWNTOWN PLAN: In July, Clearwater voters soundly rejected what would have been the largest redevelopment of the downtown's waterfront bluff in history. The $300-million deal would have created a new library, movie theater, restaurants, a hotel and apartments, but voters disdained the idea of leasing the city-owned land for 99 years at a $1 per year.

NURSING HOME SUIT: Pinellas County jurors returned the largest verdict against a nursing home in Florida history when they socked Extendicare Inc. with $20-million in punitive damages and compensation after deciding the company left Charles McCorkle Jr. in a Kenneth City nursing home helpless, hungry and dehydrated, with bedsores that cut to the bone.