News and notes

Published August 19, 2006

Tree 'detonates' after single lightning strike

There's lightning, and then there's this: A single lightning bolt struck a 40-foot pine tree, setting off an explosion that damaged 16 homes in Cape Coral this week. The tree was dead and full of water, which allowed the bolt to travel to the roots. It opened up a 14-foot-long, 5-inch-deep trench, shattered windows, dented cars and broke fences Monday night. Branches were thrown 500 feet. "It looked like someone had detonated a bomb in the middle of the neighborhood," said fire Chief Bill Van Helden.

Palm Bay says no to saying no to illegals

Another Florida town has rejected an ordinance designed to crack down on illegal immigration. The Palm Bay City Council voted 3-2 on Thursday to reject the ordinance, which would have penalized employers of illegal immigrants. Cheers erupted after the votes were cast, the Orlando Sentinel reports. Afterward, opponents kneeled and prayed outside City Hall. Before the meeting, the newspaper reports, a shouting match between supporters and immigrant advocates marred a march by supporters of the ordinance; police had to separate the groups. Palm Bay is a city of about 90,000 in Brevard County, 8,760 of whom are Hispanics. Last month, the Avon Park City Council rejected a similar measure.

Third year's the charm for USF to hit $300M

After inching close to the $300-million mark for two years, the University of South Florida raked in $310-million in state, local and federal research dollars for the budget year that ended June 30, USF president Judy Genshaft announced Friday. That's $23-million more than last year and 65 percent more than five years ago. Among public Florida universities, only the University of Florida brings in more: close to $500-million. USF also improved its ranking in U.S. News & World Report's annual report on America's best colleges, moving from a fourth-tier institution to a third-tier. Robert Chang, USF's vice president for research, already has a new goal - breaking the $400-million mark.

Local bishop to lead discussion of future

Debate about the future of the Episcopal Church rolls on. Now, the chair yields to the Tampa Bay area. The Archbishop of Canterbury tapped Bishop John B. Lipscomb, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida, on Friday to help convene a group of U.S. bishops in September. The clergy plan to gather in New York to discuss issues including the blessing of same-sex unions and the election of a female presiding bishop. Closer to home, Lipscomb begins a series of town hall meetings Sunday at churches throughout the diocese.


Eric James Tate was charged with capital sexual battery in the assault of a 2-year-old girl who later died. Tate has not been charged with the girl's death. A headline in some editions Friday was incorrect.