tampabay.com

Week in Review

News summary from the past week.

By Times Staff
Published March 26, 2006


LAFAVE AVOIDS PRISON: The criminal case against Debra Beasley Lafave, the former Temple Terrace teacher who gained worldwide notoriety after being accused of sexually assaulting a student, ended Tuesday as bizarrely as it began.

First came a Marion County judge's rejection Tuesday morning of a plea deal, risking a sensational trial and as many as four decades in prison for Lafave. Next came the stinging response from a prosecutor, who criticized factual errors in Judge Hale R. Stancil's rejection order.

Then Tuesday afternoon, the State Attorney's Office for the 5th Judicial Circuit dropped charges of lewd and lascivious battery and lewd and lascivious exhibition against Lafave, 25, after concluding that the emotional welfare and privacy of the victim was more important than sending Lafave to prison.

Had Marion prosecutors not dropped the charges, Lafave and the former student from Greco Middle School would have had to go forward with a trial guaranteed to draw media from around the world. The victim, now 16, likely would have had to testify in detail about his sexual encounters with Lafave when he was 14. If convicted, Lafave could have been sent to prison until she was in her 60s.

Instead, Lafave will live under the terms of a plea deal she reached in Hillsborough County in November. She is serving three years of house arrest followed by seven years of probation in exchange for pleading guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery stemming from her conduct in June 2004.

"I only pray the young man and his family will be able to move on with their lives," Lafave said Tuesday.

Prosecutors had the blessing of the victim's mother, who did not want her son to go through a trial in which his identity might be revealed.

According to investigators, Lafave and the teen had sex on a couch in her portable classroom at Greco Middle School, in the Riverview townhouse she shared with then-husband Owen Lafave, and in her Isuzu sport utility vehicle. Lafave was 23; the victim was 14, and had just graduated from Greco, where Lafave taught reading. She was arrested June 21, 2004, in the teen's Temple Terrace driveway, where police waited.

In the nearly two years since, Lafave lost her job and divorced. She recently got engaged to a former boyfriend, Andrew Beck, and is working as a waiter at a Sun City Center diner. Lafave said Tuesday that she has been getting treatment and counseling for bipolar disorder.

FIRE IN NEW TAMPA: A fire burning in New Tampa destroyed about 7 to 10 acres off Cross Creek Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon. It took about a dozen firefighting units to control the blaze, said Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Bill Wade. The fire got within a few hundred feet of several houses, Wade said, but crews managed to protect the houses.

MAN CHARGED WITH BREAK-IN, CHASE: A Tampa man was arrested early Monday after authorities say he broke into a business, then led deputies on a brief chase. That chase ended when the man drove his car onto the State Road 54 median, according to a Pasco Sheriff's Office report, and a sheriff's dog brought him down after he tried to run away.

Wendell Mickler, 34, of 12403 Northeast Lake Drive was charged with grand theft, burglary of a business, criminal mischief, fleeing and eluding, reckless driving, and resisting arrest without violence. He was being held in the county jail in lieu of $16,500 bail.

According to the report, a deputy saw the incident while responding to an alarm at Taylor Rental at 21516 Carson Drive. Mickler used two large landscaping blocks to break open the front window, according to the Sheriff's Office, and stole more than $3,000 in goods, including seven fishing poles.