By Times Staff Writer
Published September 28, 2003
CRYSTAL RIVER - Frank Hanson, a 67-year-old from Crystal River, had been sick for weeks before doctors determined he had the county's first case this year of the West Nile virus.
Since Sept. 11, the day he was admitted to Citrus Memorial Hospital, Hanson had suffered from aching legs, breathing difficulty and weakness. He nearly died at one point, said his granddaughter, Stacy Perkins, 27, also of Crystal River.
Hanson never even knew he'd been bitten, Perkins said. He was released from Citrus Memorial Hospital on Wednesday and now is recuperating at a rehabilitation center.
Though health officials can't confirm it, Perkins thinks her grandfather contracted the virus near his home on a wooded portion of County Road 495 in Crystal River. A retired police officer, Hanson does a lot of yard work.
Officials recommend staying indoors at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active. Health officials suggest those who must be outside wear long sleeves, pants and repellent that contains DEET.
Pasco kids will get chance to "vote' alongside parents
NEW PORT RICHEY - By Election Day 2004, if not sooner, schoolchildren will cast mock ballots in their parents' precincts in Pasco County.
Called KidsVoting Tampa Bay, the effort aims to educate students in grades K-12 about the political process. It culminates on Election Day, when children are encouraged to go to actual polling precincts to cast their own mock ballots while their parents vote. The St. Petersburg Times will partner with nonprofit, nonpartisan KidsVoting USA, as well as local schools and election officials, in the effort.
The ultimate goal is to change a dismal number: Currently, about 50 percent of eligible U.S. citizens don't participate in presidential elections, and 65 percent forgo local elections.
Times editor and president Paul Tash said Pasco County, with 150 polling places and almost 55,000 students, provided an ideal launching ground for an effort he hopes eventually to expand to Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hernando and Citrus counties.
Organizers say the program often has a trickle-up effect as kids start talking to their parents about voting and civic participation.
Whooping cranes and their flight crew ready to soar south
CRYSTAL RIVER - With an eager flock that seems even more ready for the challenge than last year's group, the whooping crane reintroduction team from Operation Migration has set Oct. 8 as the departure date from Wisconsin.
Weather and all other variables permitting, ultralight aviators in their crane costumes will crawl behind the wheels of their aircraft that morning and lead 16 whooping cranes into the sky.
During the weeks that follow, the birds will fall into formation behind the aircraft winding their way south for as many miles a day as they can fly and the weather permits until they finally arrive in their prepared winter home deep inside the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge in Citrus County.
A total of 20 birds have made the flight and return trip in the past two years. Twelve of them were hanging around Necedah earlier this week, and the others were in nearby areas, scientists there said.
Ultimately, the crew hopes the birds will begin breeding in a few years and teaching their own youngsters the flight path. By 2010, the ultralights might not be needed any more.
Deputy says he is a target of drug dealers
DADE CITY - The Pasco County sheriff's deputy who initiated a car chase that investigators say might have triggered a young man's rage and led to a deputy's shooting told attorneys that he was warned after the chase that drug dealers were gunning for him in revenge.
According to a deposition in the case of Alfredie Steele Jr., who is charged with first-degree murder, Deputy John Ardolino said it was common knowledge in the Sheriff's Office that he was rumored to be targeted by someone upset with the car chase, which ended in the death of Michael Anthony Reed, 23.
Less than a month later, on June 1, Pasco County sheriff's Lt. Charles "Bo" Harrison was shot to death as he sat in his patrol car in Trilacoochee.
When 19-year-old Steele was questioned after the shooting, investigators say he confessed. Deputies say Steele told them he was upset at seeing a newspaper photograph taken of Reed after the crash. Steele said he went drinking to shake the haunting image from his mind.
Law officials say after drinking, he shot Harrison.
Ardolino no longer patrols Pasco County's east side.
Council bows to mayor's wishes and permits prayer
CRYSTAL RIVER - At Crystal River City Council meetings, Mayor Ron Kitchen opens things up by praying to Jesus. On Monday, by a 4-1 vote, he received the blessing of the council.
Before Monday night's meeting, City Attorney David LaCroix privately told the mayor that the practice could expose the city to legal action.
Kitchen, admittedly upset by the attorney's warning, decided to get council members to weigh in on the issue.
And weigh in they did, with a passionate discussion.
"We are a Christian nation," council member John Kendall said. "They've taken God out of so many things."
Howard Simon, director of Florida's American Civil Liberties Union, backed the city attorney's stance.
"I think the mayor is treading on very, very thin ice," Simon said. "For God's sake, it's 2003. Wake up and recognize that we are a religiously diverse country, and it has been inappropriate for a long, long time to endorse a particular religion, even if it's the religion that most members in that community profess."
In short . . .
- DUNEDIN - Some wily coyotes have been hunting house cats in Dunedin's Royal Oak subdivision. So far, about 10 cats have turned up missing over the past month. County officials suspect the predators are migrating from nearby Hammock Park. Coyotes are between 25 and 50 pounds and tend to be tan or reddish like German shepherds. With no natural predators in an urban area, they tend to multiply.
- SEMINOLE - St. Petersburg College and the University of Florida got a $1.13-million gift Tuesday to help build their pharmacy education center on SPC's Seminole campus. Eckerd Corp. made the donation - the company's single largest gift to pharmacy education - to the two schools during a ceremonial groundbreaking to celebrate the construction of the 8,500-square-foot Eckerd Pharmacy Education Center.
Coming up this week
- Despite a potential lawsuit and the loss of its venue, the rock group Hell On Earth has said it still plans an onstage suicide during a performance at an undisclosed location in St. Petersburg on Saturday. The suicide stunt by a terminally ill person, intended to promote doctor-assisted euthanasia, will be the topic of an emergency meeting Monday for the City Council.
- A huge piece of the Titanic will be a part of the Museum of Science and Industry's new exhibit, which opens Saturday. The hull piece came from the starboard side of the 882-foot ship near the spot where the ship broke in half while sinking. The exhibit will run at MOSI through spring 2004.
- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.