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COACH IS IN JAIL AFTER SEX CHARGES

The Newsome High coach had a relationship with a 17-year-old student, the Sheriff's Office says.

A Newsome High School soccer coach was arrested Thursday night on seven counts of unlawful sex with a 17-year-old girl.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies arrested Ronald Lewis, 37, after investigating reports that he had multiple sexual encounters with the teenager between February and November 2007.

Authorities did not say how Lewis and the teen met. When asked if the girl was a student at Newsome, school district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said, "That's my understanding."

According to the Sheriff's Office, Lewis in January admitted the affair to a juvenile witness, saying he and the 17-year-old had been having a sexual relationship since February 2007. She is now 18.

The trysts occurred in Lewis' Valrico home at 1505 Crooked Stick Drive, and also in his Jeep Wrangler, officials said. The teen also acknowledged the relationship to investigators.

Lewis was arrested at his home and taken to the Orient Road Jail, where he was being held late Thursday in lieu of $52,500 bail.

Lewis, a computer lab manager and coach who has worked at the east Hillsborough school since August, was removed from a classroom Wednesday - the same day an assistant principal received a tip from a parent claiming that Lewis had engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student.

He is suspended with pay pending the outcome of an investigation, said school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. Any decision to fire Lewis must be made by the School Board.

The allegations about Lewis came as a surprise to Steve Jarosz, president of the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League, where Lewis held coaching jobs in 2006 and 2007.

Before the league fired Lewis in December over a personnel issue, Jarosz said Lewis was known as popular coach who had a moody side.

As coach of the Brandon Flames in September, for girls younger than 18, Lewis sulked after the team suffered multiple losses, Jarosz said. He was moved to coach a younger boys team, then fired in December over his role in scheduling conflicts between Newsome High and the league's soccer events.

Even so, Jarosz considered Lewis to be playful and charismatic.

"He was more in tune with players than with the adults, and that rubbed some adults the wrong way," Jarosz said.

Lewis was not the only teacher to run afoul of authorities Thursday. At South Tampa's Plant High, physics teacher Christopher Gillis, 22, was removed from the school following allegations that he sent inappropriate e-mails to a female student.

Gillis, who began teaching with the school system in August, was at Plant on Thursday, but was pulled from the classroom so district officials could investigate, Cobbe said.

School officials removed a laptop from his home, but do not know how long the investigation will take. Gillis could not be reached for comment.

As School Board employees, both Lewis and Gillis passed previous background checks.

"Fingerprint checks tell you whether somebody had any misbehavior in their past," Hegarty said. "It doesn't tell you whether they have any in their future."

Letitia Stein can be reached at lstein@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2431.

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