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Law school or Grand Ole Opry?

Christopher Goffard and Amy Herdy
TAMPA UNCUFFED
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Amy Herdy
Christopher Goffard
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2002


That could be the choice facing Erica Larson, a 20-year-old receptionist at the State Attorney's Office. Larson, having won a WQYK-99.5 radio contest by inhaling helium, singing karaoke and juggling vegetables, got to spend a weekend near Nashville in December as part of a Patty Loveless-Travis Tritt video.

"It was a hell of a lot of fun," she says. The video is scheduled to appear this Sunday on County Music Television, accompanied by footage following Larson from her family farm to her desk at the prosecutor's office.

Larson studies criminology and public relations at the University of South Florida and has plans for law school. If the video wins attention, however, she wouldn't mind hosting a country-music video-countdown show or the Grand Ole Opry.

Her ideal outcome? Showbiz pays for law school.

BITTERSWEET RECOGNITION: Here in Hillsborough County we have the sad distinction of having the most drunken driving fatalities of anywhere in the state.

We also have cops like Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Robert Rodriguez and Tampa police Officer Raymond Fernandez.

The two took top honors at a M.A.D.D. ceremony earlier this week in Tallahassee for nabbing the most drunken drivers last year. Rodriguez got 279, while Fernandez finished with 250.

Not surprisingly, most drunks aren't very gracious about being taken off the road.

"They'll do everything -- pee in the car, spit through the cage," Rodriguez said. "One guy bit the vinyl off a rear door."

Although their hunting grounds differ -- Rodriguez likes Fletcher and Nebraska avenues and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard while Fernandez favors Adamo Drive -- they find most drunks start from the same place: Ybor City.

"Even if I arrest them on Gandy Boulevard, they're coming from Ybor," Fernandez said.

As Rodriguez put it, "Ybor produces a lot of customers."

Both men have honed their job into an art. While drunks do weave in traffic, they say, they mostly look for someone driving stupidly -- running red lights, turning the wrong way on a one-way street.

Or someone driving really, really slow.

"Twelve miles an hour in a 40 mph zone is always a good candidate," Rodriguez said.

Both men love their jobs, and for them, the satisfaction is in looking at the bigger picture.

"It's the most rewarding thing, getting a drunk driver off the road that night," Fernandez said. "You change things, keep them from killing somebody. "I feel like we make a difference."

SEVEN DEGREES OF GEORGE: Forget Kevin Bacon. . . . A stronger case can be made for Tampa police Officer George McNamara.

Through the years, "Mac," as he is known, has graced the pages of newspapers and the evening news probably more than any officer or deputy in this town.

Pick a crime scene -- there's Mac. Heard about that old homicide case? It was Mac's. Watch the news lately? There's Mac, either talking to a national news magazine or grinning while working a local parade.

Take a look at the latest list of promotions out of TPD and there's Mac, too, but now he is a captain.

"I'm a people person," he said when asked about his high profile. "I'm not one to go stand in a corner."

-- Got a tip about courts? Call Christopher Goffard at 226-3337, or goffard@sptimes.com. Got a tip about cops? Call Amy Herdy at 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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