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Week in Review

By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

MYSTERY REMAINS UNSOLVED AT TIA: Aviation officials are not likely to find the man whose suspicious carry-on bag triggered the evacuation of Airside A at Tampa International Airport on Tuesday, and delayed or canceled flights for up to 3,000 passengers.

Christopher White, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said Wednesday the agency probably never would know more about the man or the possible weapon he carried to a security checkpoint at 5:20 a.m.

Something in the bag that looked like a handgun on the X-ray screen caught a screener's attention, but the man grabbed the bag and disappeared.

"Again, the objective was to clear the terminal and re-screen everyone to make sure nobody got aboard an airplane with a weapon," White said. "Once that was done, that was pretty much the end of it. We might never know more than we know now."

Investigators have security videotape showing the man entering the gate area, but they have not released his photograph. They say they are not looking for him because the object in his bag might not have been a gun, and even if it were, there is no way to prove that now.

The man, identified only as tall, white and wearing a light-colored shirt, was an early morning passenger at Airside A, which houses Southwest, Continental, Northwest, America West and Gulfstream airlines. He put his carry-on bag on an X-ray conveyor belt but did not go through the metal-detecting arch.

The screener saw something that resembled a handgun and stopped the belt. A supervisor also thought the object to be a gun. Airport police were called, but before they arrived, the man reached into the X-ray machine and grabbed his bag.

Without anyone noticing, he slipped away and moved to another line, where he cleared security without question. Officials didn't realize he had done that until they reviewed a security videotape later.

MISSING DOG LIKELY STARVED: Three weeks after escaping from Pebble Creek Animal Hospital, a Shetland sheepdog has been found dead beside a Hunter's Green bike path.

The sheltie, named Megan, is the second dog to perish in recent months after running away from the hospital. The owners of the first dog, a 15-pound terrier mix named Dizzie, have filed a lawsuit against the veterinarian who owns the hospital.

Megan's owners said it appears their pet died of starvation. "We cannot imagine the torment she must have gone through," said Bob Hill, who boarded Megan and her sister sheltie Molly at the hospital when he and his wife went on a seven-day cruise last month.

On Monday, a Hunter's Green resident found the dog lying dead beside a bike path between Flatwoods Park and Hunter's Green.

Veterinarian Paul Langston, who owns the hospital at 1961 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., said he has dismissed the technician who was responsible for Megan when she escaped from a slip leash and darted into the woods during a walk.

"We're real sorry about what happened," said Langston, who ran ads, posted fliers and offered a $400 reward for Megan's return.

Langston said changes such as portable fences and more secure leashes used by pets' handlers "will ensure it never happens again."

BERKLEY PREP LETS TEACHER GO: A veteran history teacher is no longer with Berkeley Preparatory School because of an FBI investigation into allegations of improper contact with a student via e-mail, school officials said.

On Monday, headmaster Joseph Merluzzi either fired or accepted the resignation of 48-year-old Robert Yarnell after learning of the investigation from FBI agents, according to school officials. They would say only that Yarnell is "no longer officially associated" with the school.

FBI spokeswoman Sara Oates said she could not confirm or deny the investigation.

But according to a written release from the school, Yarnell is being investigated for "improper communication" with an unnamed student.

"While evidence showed that there was no improper physical contact between Mr. Yarnell and the student, the teacher divulged privileged information to the student that could possibly compromise the academic integrity of the school," the release said. "This act is a clear violation of our school policy, as well as our mission."

Yarnell taught sixth-grade geography and seventh-grade U.S. history.

He coached the middle school speech and soccer teams and girls varsity golf team. He was also a member of Hillsborough County's Historic Resources Review Board.

Berkeley officials said Yarnell's tenure was exemplary. "At this point, we're still kind of reeling," said spokeswoman Karen Humphrey.

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