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Published October 6, 2006

Alleged mobster forced to switch lawyers for trial

TAMPA - When Ronnie "One Arm" Trucchio goes to trial Oct. 16 on charges of racketeering and conspiracy, he will be represented by a Miami attorney who by his own admission is completely unfamiliar with his case.

George Vila, is an eleventh-hour replacement for Trucchio's regular attorney, who is stuck in an out-of-state trial. Vila asked U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew to put off the trial, but Bucklew, frustrated by repeated delays in the case, refused.

According to a December 2004 indictment, Trucchio is accused of being the boss of a crew directed by the Gambino crime family. They are charged with conspiracy in connection with armed robbery of individuals and businesses, armed home invasions, drug trafficking, extortion and the collection of unlawful gambling debts.

Authorities say the crew carved out a piece of Tampa's valet parking business and owned a company that parked cars at restaurants, hospitals and nude dance clubs, court records show.

Council moves to get road project out of harm's way

TAMPA - New Tampa residents have clamored for years for a new road to ease congestion on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Now city officials want to make sure a controversy involving the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority doesn't shelve the so-called East-West Road, which would connect Interstate 275 to Bruce B. Downs near Interstate 75.

On Thursday, the City Council asked city staffers to explore alternate ways to get the road built.

The Expressway Authority earlier this year came up with a plan for building the toll road in conjunction with a private investor. But now state and federal agencies are investigating the authority for possible violations of ethics laws and questionable billings.

A first: Lowry Park Zoo tops 1-million visitors

TAMPA - For the first time in its history, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo exceeded 1-million visitors for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

That is a 7 percent increase over 2005 attendance, and the fourth consecutive year of attendance growth. Zoo leaders attribute the growth to the addition of exhibits, including the Wallaroo Station children's area in 2002 and Safari Africa in 2004.

Semiautomatic rifle seized from dorm room at USF

TAMPA - University of South Florida police found a semiautomatic rifle in the dorm room of a male student Wednesday morning.

The 18-year-old student's name has not been released because he was not charged with a crime, but the State Attorney's Office is reviewing the case. Possession of a firearm on school grounds is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Police said they also seized 40 rounds of ammunition.

Couple escape, two dogs die in Clearwater house fire

CLEARWATER - Two dogs died Thursday when fire gutted a Clearwater home. An elderly couple escaped.

Clearwater Fire Rescue was called to 2951 Bethany Place at 5:40 p.m. Firefighters found the house in flames and needed 25 minutes to control the blaze. Seventeen units responded, including some from Palm Harbor and Safety Harbor. The cause is being investigated.

The couple, who were not immediately identified, said they were in their garage and smelled smoke. They tried to get into the house to save the dogs, but the smoke drove them back. The man was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

The house was a total loss, with damage estimated at $500,000. The Red Cross is helping the couple.


[Last modified October 6, 2006, 01:26:44]

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