© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2002
Arson causes $25,000 damage to Largo home
LARGO -- Investigators are probing a Friday morning arson that caused about $25,000 damage to a two-story home.
Firefighters were summoned to the single-family home, 369 Fifth St. NW, at 7:48 a.m. The house is only about 15 blocks from the fire station, so the first crews arrived two minutes after they were dispatched, said District Chief Pat McGinley of the Largo Fire Department.
The owner of the home, Lori Moraglia, 29, was outside when firefighters arrived. She said she was inside when the fire started. She told firefighters she was able to get out and also call 911, McGinley said.
Firefighters encountered fire in a bedroom spreading into a hallway. They kept flames from a stairwell and climbing to the second floor, McGinley said.
The fire was under control at 7:54 a.m. Moraglia was taken to Morton Plant Hospital for observation for smoke inhalation, McGinley said.
Moraglia has three elementary school-age children, two girls and a boy. Grandparents took them into their care as their mother was in the hospital and the house was not habitable, McGinley said.
He said investigators determined an arsonist started the blaze but would not say more about the investigation because it is still in progress. He said the home was undergoing remodeling at the time of the fire.
LARGO -- A grand jury has indicted a man suspected of killing his 2-month-old baby earlier this month.
Grand jurors this week handed up a first-degree murder indictment against Michael D. Christians, 29, who lived in Largo for only about a week when his son, Michael Christians Jr., died.
Largo police say Christians became frustrated when his son would not stop crying on the night of March 5. He grabbed the boy and shook him, then thrust the baby into his chest, causing the infant's head to snap against his collarbone, police said.
Christians swung the boy quickly from arm to arm, then tossed him on a bed, where the boy bounced, police said.
The boy's crying slowed, but he turned cold and pale. The child later was taken to All Children's Hospital, where he lay in critical condition for three days before life support was removed. The baby showed very little, if any, brain activity.
An examination showed the baby suffered from shaken-baby syndrome.
Christians, who is being represented by the Public Defender's Office, has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Christians moved to Largo from Illinois, where he also had come under investigation after the child suffered a fractured right forearm.
LARGO -- A grand jury has indicted two men in connection with the shotgun slaying of a man outside a Largo tavern.
Grand jurors this week handed up first-degree murder indictments against Eric D. Gordon, 30, and Thomas J. Brown, 32, in connection with the Feb. 24 shooting death of Zergeria Lee Gamble, 37, of Clearwater.
Pinellas sheriff's detectives said Gordon and Brown had argued that night with a man at Gus's Place, 1263 Baskins Crossings Road. Gamble broke up the fight. Gordon and Brown left but returned about a half-hour later with a sawed-off shotgun, detectives said.
By this time, Gus's had closed and the third man involved in the original dispute had left. Gamble stood in the parking lot, talking to another person, his car door open as he prepared to leave.
Brown walked toward Gamble, shielding Gordon behind him, investigators said. Gordon, who held the shotgun, then jumped out and said, "Is this him?" and shot Gamble in the back of the head, killing him, sheriff's officials said.
The pair ran away, but Gordon later turned himself in to investigators at the sheriff's administration building on Ulmerton Road. Brown turned himself in two days later at the Pinellas County Jail on 49th Street.
Both men are represented by the Public Defender's Office and have entered written pleas of not guilty.
LARGO -- A third man has been charged in connection with an inmate's March 10 escape from the Pinellas County Jail.
John H. Banks, 37, of St. Petersburg was arrested Thursday afternoon on a charge of aiding an escape. Pinellas sheriff's investigators say Banks helped Richard Lloyd, 30, devise a plan to escape from the jail.
Lloyd, who was being held on a robbery charge, worked out a deal with another inmate, Adrian Cox, 33, who was set to be released on bail that day. Cox gave Lloyd his inmate bracelet and allowed him to impersonate him, sheriff's officials said.
Lloyd then was released from jail in the early morning hours of March 10, pretending to be Cox, deputies said. Jail officials didn't discover the ruse until shortly after Lloyd was gone. Lloyd and Cox look quite a bit alike, officials said.
Investigators say Banks then picked up Lloyd at a gas station on Ulmerton Road and drove him around St. Petersburg. Lloyd's taste of freedom lasted only about 18 hours, however. Sheriff's deputies captured him that evening at a home in St. Petersburg and charged him with escape.
Cox, who was in jail for burglary, also was charged with aiding an escape. Sheriff's internal affairs detectives continue to investigate how it happened.