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Coach pleads no contest to firearm charge, criminal mischief


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2001

LARGO -- A veteran Pinellas school wrestling coach who became enraged after he said he caught his wife and a neighbor in a compromising position pleaded no contest Thursday to two misdemeanors.

Earl "Sonny" Blackwelder, 57, pleaded no contest to improperly displaying a firearm and criminal mischief and was sentenced by Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews to two years probation.

The judge withheld a formal finding of guilt.

Blackwelder was arrested Dec. 6 after he barged into the South Pasadena home of Thomas Cuddihy, who was sitting on a couch with Blackwelder's wife, Nancy Blackwelder. Mr. Blackwelder said he saw them in a sexual position, though Mrs. Blackwelder told police they were only kissing.

Cuddihy told police he and Mrs. Blackwelder, who was also a school employee, were watching television.

Mr. Blackwelder began yelling and throwing objects around the house.

Police said Blackwelder and his wife returned to their home where, police said, he ordered her to sit on the couch and pointed a gun at her.

"Now tell the truth about everything," he ordered, according to police.

Their two daughters called police.

Prosecutor Pat Siracusa said Mrs. Blackwelder and Cuddihy agreed with a probation sentence.

The Blackwelders are seeking a divorce.

Blackwelder must pay $3,600 for damaging Cuddihy's house, keep away from his wife and Cuddihy and give up six guns he owns.

A School Board employee since 1973, Blackwelder worked at Dixie Hollins High School. He now is on sick leave as school officials decide if he should keep his job.

Mrs. Blackwelder, 48, who oversaw school bus routes, retired this year rather than be fired.

She was accused of trading love notes and racy jokes with her boss, Michael Fleming, and leaving the office with him for hours without telling their staff where they were going or how to reach them.

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