NEW TAMPA LAWN CASE GOES TO COURT: The ongoing legal battle over a yellow lawn got its first dramatic conclusion Friday after a jury sided with a homeowners association that replaced the sod after warning a couple several times to fix their yard.
Ed and Billye Simmons must pay the Pebble Creek Homeowners Association $2,212 to pay for grass that the association laid down, the jury found, because the Simmonses breached their obligation to keep a first-class landscape.
However, the case continues to be bogged down with legal issues, including a countersuit filed by the Simmonses that will likely end up as another jury trial, lawyers from both sides said.
"The case goes on and on," Ed Simmons said.
The Simmonses' lawyer contended that the yard on Fox Hollow Road in Pebble Creek was the victim of the worst drought in recorded history and that the Simmonses were targeted by the association.
Meanwhile, a lawyer for the association argued that the Simmonses' lawn was the worst of the worst and that they had an obligation to maintain it, just as everyone else did in this deed-restricted community in New Tampa.
"I'm obviously pleased," said Michael Carricato, the former association president. "All we were trying to do was make our community look better."
Before announcing their verdict, jurors slipped the judge a question: "Should legal fees be added to the amount of damages by the jury or the court?"
Judge Cheryl Thomas scribbled back: "the court."
Jury foreman Jeff Olivier said they asked the question because they did not want the Simmonses to bear the burden of the expenses.
TOWN 'N COUNTRY YOUTHS KILLED IN GANG SHOOTING: The fight began last weekend at a middle school carnival. It ended Monday night with a gang-related shooting that killed two troubled former Leto High School students, one of them a few weeks shy of his 17th birthday.
Two men, 18 and 19, told sheriff's detectives they fired "warning shots" while facing off against a dozen or so teens near Woodbridge Elementary School. But by the week's end, authorities had not charged the men in the deaths of 16-year-old Sebastian C. Luengas and 20-year-old Michael Lee Roberts.
Instead, investigators were conferring with the state attorney's office and trying to find all of the witnesses and participants in Monday's standoff.
"There are some issues with self-defense that we are exploring," sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said.
Detectives called the shooting gang-related but did not specify which of western Hillsborough's dozen or so known gangs were involved. The Town 'N Country area is a focus of efforts by Sheriff David Gee to crack down on gang activity in unincorporated Hillsborough, where the Latin Kings and Sur-13s each have more than 100 known members. In September, Gee announced that a six-month push by his newly created task force led to the arrests of 105 gang members and associates.
Monday's shooting was the sort of incident that the task force works to prevent.
Callaway said the shooting was the culmination of a fight between two groups of teens Saturday night on the grounds of Webb Middle School at a carnival to raise money for the school's PTSA. On Monday night, with retaliation in mind, 10 to 12 teens, including Roberts and Luengas, piled into three vehicles and drove to a house on Woodgrove Circle, Callaway said. The two sides started throwing rocks, bricks and bottles, detectives and witnesses said. The 18- and 19-year-old, whose names have not been released, each pulled out a shotgun and fired, Callaway said.
Roberts died in front of Woodbridge Elementary School, about a mile from his home. Someone drove Luengas to Town & Country Hospital where he died.