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    By Times staff reports
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 13, 2002


    Jeep crashes into trees, killing Lutz firefighter

    TAMPA -- A 20-year-old Lutz volunteer firefighter died Friday night after the Jeep he was driving crashed into trees along U.S. 41.

    The accident occurred at 10 p.m., while John Hamilton Saunders Jr. and passenger Mike Malendez, 18, were driving north, said the Florida Highway Patrol.

    Saunders lost control of the Jeep after bumping the curb, the FHP said.

    Malendez was listed in critical condition. Neither man was wearing a seat belt, the FHP said.

    John Saunders had been with the Lutz Volunteer Fire Department for about 18 months and spent his free time playing safety in a touch football league, said Ed Davis, the department's chief. He had proposed to his girlfriend in South Florida last month, Davis said.

    Firefighters and paramedics from Saunders' unit arrived at the scene before discovering that a colleague was involved.

    Saunders is survived by his parents and three sisters. Services will be held Tuesday at the Oakwood Community Church, 11209 Casey Road, Carrollwood.

    Former chief judge released from hospital

    TAMPA -- Former Hillsborough Chief Judge F. Dennis Alvarez was released from St. Joseph's Hospital on Saturday, after being treated for chest pain.

    Alvarez was hospitalized Friday. Five days earlier, he had undergone heart surgery at that hospital. After resting a day, he was back at work, determined to keep up his pace less than a week after declaring he will run for mayor of Tampa.

    On Tuesday, after his first operation, Alvarez hinted that his health may force him to change his plans. He said Tuesday he would meet with his doctor and his family to evaluate whether he can withstand the rigors of a race.

    Alvarez could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

    On Monday, doctors at St. Joseph's performed an angioplasty on Alvarez to restore blood flow to part of his heart.

    In the operation, doctors threaded a balloon through blood vessels and inflated it to clear a clogged area. Doctors also inserted two mesh tubes, called stents, to keep the blood vessels open.

    Alvarez, 56, has suffered heart problems most of his adult life. He underwent his first major heart bypass surgery at age 34. Five years later, he suffered a heart attack.

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