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Published Aug. 27, 2005

MORE BILLBOARDS AHEAD: After a nearly 20-year hiatus from Hillsborough County, billboards are on the verge of staging a dramatic comeback.

Earlier this month, county commissioners settled a lawsuit brought by Maverick Media that challenged the county's 1985 ban on billboards on county roads. The deal gives the company conditional approval to add 29 billboards in the county.

Eighteen billboards would be allowed along Interstates 75 and 275. In the next 60 days, commissioners will agree on another 11 sites _ mostly along strips such as Dale Mabry Highway, Hillsborough Avenue, the Veterans Expressway or Ehrlich Road _ before the lawsuit is officially settled.

This comes after the county settled earlier lawsuits with two of the largest billboard companies in the country, Viacom and Clear Channel, that allowed them to keep their 65 billboards in place despite the ban.

FALSE ALARMS GET COSTLY: Blaring, false burglar alarms have become such a nuisance in Hillsborough County that the Sheriff's Office says they're distracting deputies from real crime fighting and costing taxpayers more than $2-million in wasted time.

So, beginning in October, county commissioners have agreed to slap stiffer fines on businesses and homes with trigger-happy alarm systems.

Owners of alarms in the unincorporated county are now allowed three false alarms over a year. Each false alarm after the third costs the owner $25.

Under the ordinance passed unanimously Wednesday, alarm owners will get only two free passes. Then they will be fined $50, $75, $150 and $300 for the next four false alarms. Seven or more bogus alarms, and the owners must pay $500.

Under the new Hillsborough ordinance, owners who don't pay will get a lien placed on their business or home.

"There's going to be a sticker shock, but we're not doing this to sneak up on anybody with fines," said sheriff's Cpl. Richard Eldridge. "But we felt we had to do something. The number of false alarms we get now is phenomenal, and we figured the ultimate responsibility lies with the users."

WOMAN SUES THEME PARK OVER PEACOCK ATTACK: A South Florida woman is claiming that a peacock attack at Busch Gardens more than three years ago has left her with "permanent bodily injuries and neurological damage," according to documents filed Wednesday in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

The complaint alleges that a male peacock attacked Elinita Thacker, a Broward County resident, during a visit to the North Tampa amusement park sometime in June 2000. The attack occurred with such force that Thacker was "violently knocked to the pavement," according to court documents.

Thacker's Fort Lauderdale attorney, Clement R. Dean Jr., said in the complaint that Busch Gardens failed to properly train its employees to manage aggressive peacocks, and that the bird had a "propensity" to attack humans because it was mating season.

"We're not aware of this suit," said Gerard Hoeppner, director of public relations for Busch Gardens. "If and when such a suit is served, we'll review and respond accordingly."