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Week in review

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 12, 2002

FATHER MORRIS REINSTATED -- A popular Catholic priest returned to work in Lutz on Wednesday, cleared by the Diocese of St. Petersburg after a 10-day suspension over allegations of sexual improprieties in the late 1980s.

Parishioners at St. Mary Catholic Church in Lutz were delighted, calling each other with the news that the Rev. Bob Morris had been reinstated. Morris, 45, said he was relieved and thankful. "I've basically been on hold for the last 10 days."

The reinstatement surprised his chief accuser, Bridget Watkins Kolodziej, 27, of Largo. "You've got to be kidding," she said, when told by a reporter. Then she called her attorney.

Morris' reinstatement was ordered Wednesday morning by Bishop Robert Lynch. The diocese said its 10-member response team had found "absolutely no credible evidence to substantiate any of the allegations."

Kolodziej accused Morris of fondling her 14 years ago, when he was a 31-year-old seminary student working at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Clearwater and she was a 13-year-old member of the church youth group. In addition, a California college instructor who was a part-time secretary at St. Catherine in 1989 accused Morris of making a lengthy obscene telephone call to her that year. The complaint was reported to the diocese at the time.

Last week, the response team concluded the incident was properly investigated and Morris properly cleared. The diocese said more than 25 people were interviewed in its latest investigation, including church members and employees at St. Catherine from the 1980s.

In a letter to parishioners at St. Mary, Lynch said Morris passed a polygraph test that showed his denials were truthful.

Asked about his accusers, Morris said, "I pray for them, just as I would pray for anyone else."

NEW NAME FOR CITRUS PARK MALL -- Westfield Shoppingtown Citrus Park is where you'll now go for Pottery Barn, Gymboree and other upscale shopping needs. The Australian Wesfield Group last week completed its purchase of the former Brandon TownCenter, Citrus Park Town Center and Countryside Mall, and is now changing all their names.

"We've called our properties in Australia 'shoppingtowns' since the 1960s," said Stephen Fluhr, general manager of newly renamed Westfield Shoppingtown Brandon. "In Australia, a mall is a shoppingtown."

Work crews last week began sticking the new names on doors and customer service booths at the malls. Pylon signs at mall entrances will be changed to match the rest of the company's portfolio of 61 U.S. malls and shopping centers.

Westfield, which is traded on the Australian Stock Exchange, acquired the Tampa Bay area malls along with 11 others from Rodamco North America, a Dutch real estate company. The $2.5-billion transaction was completed Monday.

Locally, Westfield is changing more than the names. Mall management teams are being shuffled. And Westfield added free red balloons for kids, strollers that look like fire trucks and red vests for its mall customer service workers.

FIRE IN PORTABLE AT LETO -- A portable classroom at Leto High School was destroyed by fire Tuesday and another was damaged by heat.

Fire officials said there were no injuries in the blaze, which was reported at 12:20 p.m. The portables were in a storage area behind the football field and were not being used as classrooms.

Fire investigators were at the school Tuesday trying to determine what caused the fire.

DRIVER DROWNS IN TAMPA PALMS -- A 34-year-old mortgage lender drowned in a pond in Tampa Palms on Wednesday night after he lost control of a sport utility vehicle and careened into the water, police said.

Thomas Alcorn was driving home from a workout when he lost control of his Blazer on Tampa Palms Boulevard. He crashed into a pond near the intersection of Tampa Palms Boulevard and Londonderry Road.

Alcorn was driving the wrong way in the eastbound lane when the accident occurred. Tampa police are not sure exactly what happened, but Alcorn, who had a history of seizures, may have experienced one while driving.

He did not try to escape from the vehicle once it entered the water, said Joe Durkin, Tampa police spokesman. Tampa police listed his death as a drowning. Drugs or alcohol were not involved. Alcorn was wearing a seat belt.

"This doesn't appear to be anything more than a tragic accident," Durkin said.

CHEMICAL ACCIDENT AT USF -- A University of South Florida employee dropped a bottle containing 2 pounds of mercury Wednesday, forcing officials to evacuate an engineering building.

The employee, Eric Lo, said he did not know the bottle contained the toxic substance when it slipped from his hand and crashed to the floor about 3 p.m.

The mercury splashed away from Lo, and he left the room. About 15 other people in the building also were evacuated.

A hazardous material team responded but did not have the right equipment and a private company had to be brought to clean it up.

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