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Tampa Bay briefs

By Times staff reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001

Arsenal found in home of man claiming to be cop

TAMPA -- A St. Petersburg man with a felony record has been arrested on charges of impersonating a law enforcement officer and keeping a large stash of guns, ammunition and hand grenades inside his home, police said.

Russel Franklin Sirmons, 49, of 2047 53rd Ave. N, was trading guns in the parking lot of the Florida Marine Patrol on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa shortly before 6:30 p.m. Saturday when he was approached by officers, police said.

Sirmons told the officers he was a captain with the Marine Patrol, police said. After a search revealed a concealed weapon in his right front vest pocket, he was arrested on a concealed weapon charge.

Sirmons also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Police said they found 23 guns at his home, including assault rifles, as well as three live hand grenades, 2,500 live rounds of ammunition and military-style bulletproof jackets and helmets.

Sirmons, who listed his occupation as a self-employed artist on jail records, designed the Tampa Bay Estuary license plates for the state and is well-known in the fishing community. He was released Sunday on $9,500 bond.

Sickles student cleared of writing death threat

A 16-year-old Hillsborough County high school student accused of writing a death threat letter to his special education teacher last week is no longer a suspect, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office said Wednesday.

The student was on a 10-day suspension from Sickles High School when he was pinpointed as the culprit. The letter's author blamed the teacher for getting him expelled; Assistant Principal Jake Russell said the original suspect's handwriting matched the handwriting in the letter.

However, deputies now are looking at other suspects, Lt. Rod Reder said.

Despite being cleared, the student is being moved to another school after school officials reviewed his file Wednesday, district spokesman Mark Hart said. The meeting was scheduled after his suspension and before the letter appeared, he said.

Hart said the letter probably was a hoax but must be treated seriously. The teacher is back at Sickles, he said.

Corey drawbridge gets stuck again

ST. PETE BEACH -- For the second time in three days, one side of the Corey Causeway drawbridge was stuck in the up position Wednesday afternoon, which caused traffic jams in every direction.

St. Pete Beach police squeezed all traffic on the causeway onto the two lanes on the functioning side of the drawbridge.

Engineers with the Florida Department of Transportation got the bridge to go back down about 3:45 p.m. They suspected that moisture in a hydraulic control panel caused an electrical malfunction, DOT officials said.

Once they got the drawbridge down, DOT officials, worried that it would malfunction during the evening rush hour, left it down and closed the causeway to boat traffic. A DOT consultant was scheduled to examine the bridge this morning. It was unclear when the drawbridge would reopen for boats.

Fatal I-275 fall victim identified

ST. PETERSBURG -- A woman who died after dropping from the 54th Avenue N overpass onto Interstate 275 has been identified as Lois A. Lewis, 54.

It appears she climbed a short fence and jumped from the overpass at 8:41 p.m. Tuesday.

Her son, Scott Lewis, said Wednesday that his mother suffered from mental illness and was released a week ago from a hospital.

Mrs. Lewis, who lived in St. Petersburg, was hit by several cars on the roadway, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Man accused in scheme to defraud

ST. PETERSBURG -- A 28-year-old St. Petersburg man was arrested and charged with defrauding at least three people who applied for loans through Long Key Mortgage Holdings Inc.

The State Attorney's Office charged Jason S. McKenzie, of 8069 33rd Ave. N., with scheming to defraud, a third-degree felony.

McKenzie took $18,175 in customer payments for loan fees through the St. Pete Beach mortgage company, according to an arrest affidavit.

McKenzie, who was arrested on a warrant, was being held in Pinellas County Jail on $10,000 bail.

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