By Times staff writers
Published December 28, 2003
[Times photo: Mike Pease]
Deb Havre looks at a burned personal item she found as she walked through the charred remains of her house May 15. Havre and her husband, Charles, plan to move with their 5-year-old son rather than rebuild on their lot. "It's not the country anymore," she said.
Part two in our look back on stories of 2003, and what became of the subjects since we last wrote about them.
Too late to rebuild
PEBBLE CREEK - At night, Deb and Charles Havre and their 5-year-old son Henry would gaze at the stars and listen to the rustle of wild animals.
For nine years, they lived in the rustic town of Branchton on 8 acres of wilderness off Morris Bridge Road. Bobcats, wild turkeys and hogs regularly roamed the estate.
On April 25, a bolt of lightning zapped their 40-year-old home, sparking an inferno that destroyed everything.
A Tampa fire station five minutes away never received the call that night. Instead, the dispatcher directed the call to a county fire station 20 minutes away in Thonotosassa. The dispatcher was using an old map that didn't show that Cross Creek Boulevard had been extended to Morris Bridge.
Deb Havre can't stop thinking what would have happened if the city fire station had responded instead. She planned to have the house demolished by January.
"It doesn't sit too well with me," Havre said. "All those memories. That's the first house we bought. That's where we had Henry. It's the whole idea of home."
Now the Havres live in a rented house in deed restricted Pebble Creek - about five minutes away from the blackened remains of their home.
"We really don't like living in big housing developments," Havre said. "We like to go out and be by ourselves instead of being surrounded by people."
New Tampa's growth was creeping into Morris Bridge even before the fire. That's why the Havres do not plan to rebuild on their lot. Instead, they will move.
"At night, it's a lot brighter now," Havre said. "You hear the Publix trucks coming in at all hours. It's definitely different than when we moved there. It's not the country anymore."
- MICHAEL VAN SICKLER
Katia prepares for transplant
CARROLLWOOD - The Carrollwood Meadows preschooler whose family led a public drive for a bone marrow donor was headed for a stem cell transplant at year's end.
Katia Solomon, who will celebrate her fourth birthday on Jan. 26, has been battling leukemia for two years. She is scheduled to undergo a transplant Jan. 13 at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, said her father, musician Myron Solomon.
A stem cell transplant is similar to a bone marrow transplant, except that the cells do not come from a live donor. In this case, they come from an umbilical cord. That means that if Katia needs a second transplant, or a "booster," doctors will have to find another source.
And before the procedure, Katia will need more radiation and chemotherapy.
"We are still nervous, but excited," said Solomon, who led an exhaustive and very public search this past year for a bone marrow match.
The campaign for bone marrow testing continues, for the sake of other children and because it might net an even better match for Katia.
Solomon also is having to raise money publicly to help defray Katia's medical expenses. A nonprofit foundation, which supports both Katia and the national bone marrow effort, has an account at Bank of America.
- MARLENE SOKOL
Young filmmakers can take a hint
TAMPA PALMS - For six weeks in May and June, University of Florida film student and former Tampa Palms resident Vincent Vittorio shot a low-budget feature film in Tampa Palms' Oak Park.
Though Vittorio followed proper permitting procedures, homeowners in the Stonington Village were outraged. What was to be a 10-day shoot was more like six weeks. Speeding became a problem. And the 16-acre park became a film set, campground and port-a-potty all in one, residents said.
Since the brouhaha, Vittorio and crew returned to the Tampa Bay area in late October to tweak scenes for Little Men, the tale of boys and girls fighting over a clubhouse.
Last month they were invited to sit on a panel at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, where 133 films from 25 countries debuted. Vittorio showed a trailer from the film and answered audience questions.
"It was somewhat intimidating," he said, noting that the panel included people involved with multimillion-dollar films. Little Men cost $50,000.
Three buyers - two in California and one in Arizona - have expressed interest in the film. Vittorio would not disclose their names.
And there have been private screenings in Gainesville.
However, Little Men still has not found its way to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
"We want to secure some kind of interest before we send it out to festivals," he said.
Vittorio is working with a composer in Orlando on the film's score, and he wants to conduct more test screenings before sending out a copy of the film to buyers.
Could this be the next Blair Witch Project?
"I don't know," he said. But "it's going to get back what it cost to make it." - RODNEY THRASH
One pound at a time
TOWN 'N COUNTRY - Debra Miller is down 67 pounds; Angeline Fern, 116. And the weight's still dropping.
That's good news for the two women who earlier this year underwent gastric bypass surgery at Town & Country Hospital. "I have a lot more self-confidence and my self-esteem has gone up," Miller said. "I'm not tired anymore."
Gastric bypass, sometimes called stomach stapling, reduces the stomach's capacity by 80 to 90 percent.
Doctors remove a small portion of the stomach and staple it to form a small "sack." Next, they cut the small intestine from the larger portion and reattach it to the "sack" so food can continue to pass through the intestine. Patients supplement their greatly diminished diets with vitamins.
Town & Country is the only hospital in northwest Hillsborough performing the surgery, having performed more than 100 this year.
"I do water aerobics every morning, a half hour of bicycling and I walk on the treadmill 3 miles," said Fern, a grandmother of three who weighed 326 pounds when she underwent the surgery last February. "I never thought I would be so active. I am amazed."
Her goal is to get down to 175.
Miller, who weighed 250 pounds at the time of her surgery in August, expects to lose even more than she has by the end of next summer.
"I can go all weekend and don't have to take a nap or anything," Miller said. "I went shopping with my mom the day after Thanksgiving and she said next year that she wouldn't be able to keep up with me. That made me feel really good."
- JACKIE RIPLEY
Homeowner wants a big tree
LUTZ - The wide, flat stump of a missing laurel oak sits untouched in the back yard of Mike and Helen Conigliaro. A lawsuit is growing in its place.
Almost 19 months ago, a tree service cut down the oak, climaxing a communications breakdown among the Conigliaros, their homeowners association, the association's property manager, the tree service and Hillsborough County's natural resources inspectors.
Last January, the Conigliaros sued everybody but the county. They settled with University Properties, the management company, but remain at odds with the others.
"Our negotiations, in terms of mediation, did not resolve the matter," said Ron Cotterill, attorney for the Crystal Lakes Manors Homeowners Association. "I suppose one of these days, it's going to have to go to trial."
The tree service offered to plant a pair of trees with trunks 6 inches thick, plus eight smaller trees, on the Conigliaros' property.
But Mike Conigliaro refused. He wants a tree comparable to his 65-foot laurel oak. Such a tree could cost $70,000 to $90,000.
"We're continuing to build a case, and looking forward to getting to a jury," Conigliaro said.
The problem started early in 2002 with cracks in the entrance wall at Crystal Lakes Manors. The homeowners association decided tree roots were pushing it up. They e-mailed Helen Conigliaro to say Independent Tree Service would remove the oak on "the other side of the wall from your home."
But the tree service sought a permit from the county to saw down the Conigliaros' oak. The Conigliaros knew nothing of that until county tree inspectors left a door-hanger denying the permit. The tree was healthy, the inspectors decided.
Helen Conigliaro notified homeowners president Sharon Espinola. Espinola wrote to the property manager, who was on vacation. Independent Tree Service never got word that its permit application was denied. They cut down the tree in May 2002.
The Conigliaros lawsuit triggered two more. The homeowners association sued the tree service. The tree service sued both the homeowners association and the property manager, University Properties.
Since then, University has settled with the Conigliaros for an undisclosed sum. University no longer manages Crystal Lakes Manors, though it's not clear if the laurel oak was a factor.
Conigliaro says the association and tree service should settle too. "If the other parties wind up getting charged for very high attorneys fees and a high judgment, shame on them," he said.
- BILL COATS
The rest goes to the lawyers
CARROLLWOOD - Half of Sugarwood Grove's $27,000 yearly budget is paying for a concrete wall that surrounds the subdivision, while the other half is paying lawyers to fight a civil suit filed against the community.
Members of the special taxing district say money is tight. They can't afford to mow the grass. Their wall hasn't been cleaned in two years.
The Sugarwood Grove special taxing district was among several individuals and government agencies named in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal car crash in which Francisca Payrol was killed just outside the subdivision in June 1999.
As she was turning left from Fulmar Drive out of Sugarwood Grove, a car slammed into her on the driver's side. Her father, Rolando Payrol, alleges his daughter died because Sugarwood Grove's wooden entrance sign and subdivision wall blocked her view of traffic on Ehrlich Road.
Daniel Perez, who represents the Payrols, said he recently dismissed the lawsuit against Len Soniat, an IBM software engineer. Soniat was being sued as president of the tax board and individually.
However, Perez said the lawsuit against the Sugarwood Grove community remains in full effect.
"This is an accident that never should have happened," Perez said. "It could have been prevented by inexpensive means. The goal in this case is to prevent this from happening to anyone else in the future."
The Payrols also are suing the Hillsborough County government. The county has refused to help defend Sugarwood Grove, leaving the 273-home subdivision with no lawyer to advise or represent it.
"Every board meeting we have is an update on how the lawsuit is doing because we can't do much else because of it," Soniat says.
"I was cutting the grass along the wall with my own lawnmower. Me and some board members were. But we stopped when a lawyer advised us that we could be liable for damage or injury to cars on the highway."