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Plea deal or no, teacher sex saga won't end here

By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published June 16, 2005

Has the state gotten close to a plea deal for Debra Lafave, the 24-year-old former Greco Middle School teacher accused of having a brief sexual affair with a student last June?

An answer could come this morning, when Lafave and attorney John Fitzgibbons are scheduled to appear before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Wayne Timmerman.

Lafave is charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery, second-degree felonies punishable by as long as 15 years in prison for each count. Her trial is scheduled for July 18.

But Fitzgibbons and prosecutor Mike Sinacore have said they would rather avoid a trial - given the anticipated media frenzy and the stress and embarrassment it could bring for the student, who would be called to testify.

At issue are two opposing psychological evaluations for Lafave. Fitzgibbons' psychologist says she has "issues," and he is pursuing an insanity defense. The state's psychologist concluded she was not insane when the alleged acts occurred.

No matter the outcome of Lafave's case here - plea deal, trial, jail time or a less severe sentence - she won't be finished with her journey through the court system.

Amid all the attention on the charges against her in Hillsborough, it's easy to forget that Marion County authorities also charged Lafave with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and one count of lewd and lascivious exhibition involving the same teen.

Authorities there say she and the teen, 14 at the time, had sex in the back of her silver SUV while the teen's cousin, 15, drove them around Ocala last June.

Marion County prosecutors filed the charges against Lafave shortly after her arrest last June in Temple Terrace, but they are waiting until Lafave's case in Hillsborough wraps up to move their case through the courts up there.

In other words, when the Lafave circus wraps up here, it will move north to Ocala.

POLICE DEPARTMENT HONORS ACTIVIST: David West, the longtime community activist and neighborhood watch leader who died of cancer in March, was everywhere all the time.

He led antidrug marches, attended neighborhood picnics and dedications for new street signs, and accompanied police and code enforcement officers through drug-infested neighborhoods. For that, he was honored Wednesday. At the annual Tampa Police Department awards ceremony, Mayor Pam Iorio and Chief Steve Hogue presented West's mother with a plaque naming him the 2005 Citizen of the Year.

Helen West, a slight, frail woman, cried as she stood with Hogue and Iorio for a picture.

"He was a man who was quiet but very strong," Hogue said. "He gave back to his community every day."

Also honored during the ceremony was Officer Greg Hattle, who got the community policing award for his work in Sulphur Springs. Cpl. Larry McKinnon, a 24-year veteran, was named officer of the year. Communications supervisor Edward J. Durkin, brother to department spokesman Joe Durkin and police union president Kevin Durkin, was named employee of the year.

Det. Richard Diaz, whose many years of undercover narcotics work have led to the seizure of more than $7-million in heroin, was honored. So were reserve officer Kevin Burke and volunteer Betty Wick.

Assistant State Attorney Curt Allen, who has won convictions for 90 percent of his jury trials, was honored as a "champion of law enforcement." The WestShore Alliance was named the Police Department's 2005 business partner of the year.

"What you saw today is the absolute best of the best," Hogue said.

SOON HE'LL BE SENDING THEM TO THE OLYMPICS: Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee is taking this whole fitness thing very seriously.

Just a few months after banning smoking and vowing not to hire deputies who are out of shape, Gee and his administrators have a new incentive for those who take on the agency's 2 1/2 mile fitness course.

Deputies who finish the course at the agency's training range in southern Hillsborough within a set time will get eight hours of comp time, plus a T-shirt and a pin, said Col. Carl Hawkins.

The winners in each age group also will go down in history, receiving plaques bearing their names.

All this fitness talk has heated up the competitive spirit among Gee's top brass.

Hawkins told the Times he recently finished the course - which includes running, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 6-foot wall that must be scaled at the end - in 20 minutes, 30 seconds.

"I only know a couple who have beat me so far this year," Hawkins said.

Gee, for the record, finished in 25 minutes, 30 seconds.

"I'm happy with it," said Gee, 46. "It's OK - for an old guy."

Contact Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler at 813 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

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