A judge set bail at $55,000 Sunday for the man suspected of setting almost half of the fires in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood that left residents living in fear for the past 18 months. Kenneth Brian Smith's first appearance in court lasted only seconds as he stood in front of Circuit Judge Jack Espinosa Jr. via closed-circuit television from the Orient Road Jail. Smith, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with handcuffs around his wrists, made no comment. He remained in jail Sunday night, records show. Smith, 43, was charged with the Jan. 29 arson at 1412 E 21st Ave. and is a suspect in four other fires at the same location, police Chief Jane Castor said Friday. He is a suspect in 13 fires, she said. Smith was arrested Thursday in Chicago, where he waived an extradition hearing. He arrived in Tampa late Friday and was booked into the Orient Road Jail on one count of arson and driving with a suspended license. There have been more than 20 fires ruled arsons around Ybor City, officials said.
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Familiar robber hits Mobil station
A man suspected of robbing 10 other gas stations and convenience stores hit a Mobil gas station in Valrico late Saturday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said. The man, wearing a black hoodie, black ski mask and red-and-white gloves, and armed with a semiautomatic handgun, entered the store at 2510 E Brandon Blvd. and forced the clerk to give him an undisclosed amount of cash. The robbery was captured on surveillance video. The Sheriff's Office said it believes the same man has robbed other mini-marts and convenience stores over the past several months. Anyone with information about the robberies is asked to call Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477) or the Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200.
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Motorcyclist killed in crash with SUV
A 26-year-old Pinellas Park man driving a motorcycle was killed Saturday night after colliding with a sport utility vehicle, police said. Bobby Joseph Paonessa, who lived on 70th Avenue N, died at the scene of the crash on Missouri Avenue in Clearwater. Clearwater police said Paonessa was headed south on Missouri about 10:30 p.m. when he collided with a Dodge SUV driven by Lacy Smithson, 27, of Clearwater. She was headed north on Missouri Avenue and tried to turn left onto Belleair Road. Paonessa was wearing a helmet and driving a Megelli motorcycle. Investigators have not yet determined who was at fault in the crash.