Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.
• The weekend will be beautiful, but first we have to get through today. A cold front will roll in today and bring with it a strong chance of afternoon rains, according to the National Weather Service. The chance of rain increases the further north you live in the Tampa Bay region. Saturday and Sunday will be sunnier, cooler and drier. Saturday morning lows will be around 60s, and then it’ll climb into the mid 60s. Saturday night into Sunday will see temps in the 50s. Sunday will see slightly warmer weather in the 70s.
• Here are the top things to do in Tampa Bay.
• The best journalism in the bay area is all in one place. Check out all the Tampa Bay Times investigations and special reports.
• Details are emerging in the horrific crash on Interstate 75 near Gainesville on Thursday. Two big rigs and two passenger vehicles collided and spilled diesel fuel across the highway Thursday, sparking a massive fire that killed seven people, authorities said. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.
• Everyone in the Florida Panhandle who was impacted by Hurricane Michael has a story of loss as they struggle to describe and recovery they cannot yet comprehend. Many have not pursued any kind of therapy, even as some people in Mexico Beach have begun to talk of “hurricane brain” — flashes of pain or panic or frustration. Hurricane survivors in the Florida Panhandle talk of stress or despair, which experts say can lead to anxiety and depression.
• The state attorney’s office that prosecuted Tommy Zeigler for the murders of his wife, in-laws and another man at his furniture store on Christmas Eve 1975 says it is taking a fresh look at his case. And a Florida state representative says he wants to introduce legislation to address both prosecutorial misconduct and problems with access to forensic science, including DNA testing. Zeigler, who has been on death row for 42 years, was recently the subject of a multi-part investigation in the Tampa Bay Times. He has asked six times for advanced DNA tests of clothing, fingernail scrapings and guns still in evidence at a climate-controlled locker in Orlando. The 73-year-old’s lawyers have agreed to pay for the testing.
• For two weeks, President Donald Trump has partially shut down the government over Congress' unwillingness to set aside $5.6 billion for a wall on the southern border. The wall is needed, Trump has said, to stop migrants from crossing into the United States from Mexico. Yet, in a bit of irony not lost among those who work closely with migrant communities, the country's immigration network has been hit hard by the shutdown. Its ramifications could be felt from court rooms to farm fields throughout Florida.
• In 1979, a registered Democrat named Mel Sembler and his wife Betty hosted a fundraising reception for Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush. That November afternoon at the Semblers’ Treasure Island home raised only about $10,000 for Bush, but started a lifelong bond between the Sembler and Bush families and spawned one of the most successful and influential money men in state and national Republican Party history. Adam C. Smith talks to the Semblers about their influence in state and national politics and how the establishment Republicans are getting along in a Trumpian world.
• One of Tampa Bay’s first real estate listings of the new year is a blockbuster — a bayfront estate with private islands priced at $18 million. But it’s in Gibsonton, which isn’t usually associated with luxury waterfront homes. Susan Taylor Martin reports on the so-called Victory Mansion, the 200-acre estate with a private beach and unobstructed views of downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.
• Malcolm Beard, who was elected Hillsborough County sheriff four times before stepping down for a second career in the Florida Legislature, died Wednesday at the age of 99. Read the obituary of the former legislator and sheriff who ran and won the last competitive race for Hillsborough sheriff way back in 1964.
• Amanda Nicole Antonio may be alive today because she stayed relatively calm while trapped upside down in a car as it slowly sank into a ditch of cold, muddy water in the dark hours before dawn on New Year’s Day. She gives credit, in part, to the hours she has spent watching television shows about 911 rescues. But more important to her survival was the reassuring tone of real-life 911 operator Cheyanne Allen. Antonio met Allen and the deputies who helped save her life on New Years’ Day, and Paul Guzzo was there.
• Columnist Sue Carlton tells the tale of how two prominent Tampa attorneys ended up picking trash along the side of the road.
• For Stella Bilirakis, releasing the dove at her city’s annual Epiphany celebration is family tradition. Her grandmother, Evelyn Bilirakis, was chosen to be the dove bearer in 1957. Her older sister, who shares her grandmother’s name, had the honor in 2013. And this year, Stella will join that dynasty when the 15-year-old releases the dove over Spring Bayou for the 113th annual Epiphany ceremony on Sunday.
• The Florida Senate paid $900,000 in legal fees to settle a complaint filed by a high-ranking staffer who alleged she was retaliated against for accusing former state Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual harassment, according to documents released by the Senate President Bill Galvano on Thursday. Read the story on the latest fallout from the fall of Latvala, once a powerful Pinellas Republican.
• Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor and potential presidential candidate, visited St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and awarded the city $2.5 million to bolster its efforts to combat climate change. But as Adam C. Smith reports, Bloomberg said he had not heard of St. Petersburg’s infamous sewage and wastewater spills.
• For the latest in Florida politics, make sure to check The Buzz.
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Read the Tampa Bay Times new online Sports page with the latest news about the Lightning, Bucs, Rays, Bulls, Gators, Noles and high school sports.
• For the sixth straight year, legendary Bucs safety John Lynch has earned a space among the final 15 players nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rick Stroud reports that Lynch is a finalist to join the hall’s 2019 class later this year, while cornerback Ronde Barber failed to advance from his status as a semi-finalist to the hall.
• Five of the eight NFL coaches fired this season were black, leaving just two black coaches in a league that has long struggled in getting its coaching staffs and front offices to match its players. The Bucs have started their coaching search by interviewing one of the top assistant coaches out there, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in Kansas City, who is also a minority candidate. Columnist Martin Fennelly notes that the Glazers have a good track record when it comes to hiring minority candidates to lead their football team.
• Speaking of the coaching search: What if it was approached in an NFL playoff format? While Tampa Bay is interviewing candidates, we're down to our final four.
• Columnist John Romano outlines four approaches the Glazers could take in finding the Bucs next head coach.
• The Times can keep you up-to-date on the Lightning’s quest for the Stanley Cup: Click here for the latest news throughout the season. For the latest updates on @Twitter, follow Lightning beat writers Diana C. Nearhos at @dianacnearhos and Nick Kelly at @_NickKelly.
• An extended five-on-three typically carries a sense of inevitability. Even more so when the league's top power play is playing one of its worst penalty kills. With a double-minor, the Lightning scored twice in 85 seconds of two-man advantage and went on to beat the Kings 6-2.
• While Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are headed to the NHL All-Star Game, Brayden Point is not. At least not yet. One player from each team is nominated, and fans vote for one in each division to join that team through Jan. 10. Diana C. Nearhos makes the case for Point for make the team.
• Check out the latest episode of the Times sports podcast Sports Day Tampa Bay led by veteran sportswriter Rick Stroud.
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The Tampa Bay Times online Arts and Entertainment page tells you everything you need to know about what to do, see, eat and experience around town.
• A new year means a new slate of concerts to circle in red ink on our calendars. Jay Cridlin lists the 10 Tampa Bay shows we’re most looking forward to in 2019.
• The slower tourist season in January once again brings deals for Florida residents at the world’s busiest theme park. Walt Disney World has announced that its Discover Disney discount tickets are back. Sharon Kennedy Wynne explains how the price break works for what have become some very expensive tickets.
• The Florida Orchestra now employs a 23-year-old from Clearwater and her 67-year-old former teacher. Christopher Spata tells the story of how the mentor earned a place right beside the woman who taught her to play.
• Listen to our new podcast, Life of the Party, that keeps you caught up just enough to get by in small talk. Times staffers Stephanie Hayes and Brittany Volk will discuss what’s going on, from celebrity news to movies and music, plus offbeat info that will make you the most interesting person in the room.
• Don’t just write the right way — write the Lane way. Keep up with Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Lane DeGregory’s podcast, WriteLane, and learn about her approach to the craft of storytelling.
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Check out the Tampa Bay Times online Business page for the latest on the economy, jobs, real estate, retail and workplace culture.