By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2001
Police endure famine, feast, food poisoning
The Tampa police union complained vehemently last month that numerous officers were forced to work the Gasparilla parade without food or drink.
So the union took over the care and feeding of the troops for last Saturday's Knight Parade.
The result: Dozens of officers wound up sick from apparent food poisoning. Many missed work and some have filed workers' compensation claims.
About 50 officers got sick, police said, and the culprit appears to be Cuban sandwiches.
More specifically, the mayonnaise on those sandwiches.
"A bunch of us got sick, and that's the only thing we could think it would be," said Detective Marty Gonzalez.
Gonzalez said he was handed a sandwich, chips, an apple and a copy of the latest police union contract by Police Benevolent Association President Jim Thompson, who is campaigning for re-election.
By Sunday afternoon, Gonzalez said, he was feeling very ill. "I was achy, with flulike symptoms," he said. "I was sick for probably a day and a half before I could eat anything."
Many officers missed at least a day of work.
Thompson wrote a scathing letter to Police Chief Bennie Holder last month about complaints from officers who did not get food or drinks during the Jan. 27 Gasparilla Pirate Fest invasion and parade.
The union usually handles that task, but stepped aside in favor of Eventmakers, the parade promoter. After the complaints, Thompson insisted on handling food and drink for the Knight Parade.
It is not clear who made the sandwiches. Thompson could not be reached for comment.
Every public school in Hillsborough was evacuated Friday morning after someone called in a bomb threat to Williams Middle School.
The caller did not say where the bomb had been placed, prompting the district to evacuate 170,000 students about 9 a.m.
Police searched buildings, lockers and roofs before allowing students back into their schools about noon. Students were given letters to take home to their parents explaining what had happened and asking for help in finding the caller, who officials said sounded like a teenage boy.
The bomb threat was the sixth this week and the 45th this year. Last year the district had 40 threats all year.
Thursday, a call to the student CrimeStoppers led authorities to two 13-year-old boys at McLane Middle School in Brandon.
They have been suspended for 10 days for making a bomb threat against the school. They also face expulsion or transfer to an alternative school and a felony charge of making a bomb threat.
Anyone with information about Friday's bomb threat is asked to call CrimeStoppers at (800) 873-TIPS, or their local law enforcement agencies.
A nun who runs a non-profit adoption agency specializing in troubled children is the top choice to win the 2001 Hillsborough Moral Courage Award.
A citizen's advisory panel on Friday recommended Sister Claire LeBoeuf from among nine nominees for the annual award that recognizes people who "courageously challenged government for the betterment of the county and its citizens."
Hillsborough County commissioners must still accept the recommendation, but it's usually a formality.
LeBoeuf, 58, has worked more than 20 years with abused and neglected children. She spent 11 years with New Life Dwelling Place, a residential center that helped mothers regain custody of their children by helping them clean up their lives.
But she discovered that not all mothers were willing or able to raise children.
So in 1998, through the St. Francis Foundation, she founded Everyday Blessings in Thonotosassa, which specializes in helping to speed the adoption of such children.
Children who are abused or neglected by family can languish for years in state foster care while lawyers and welfare workers debate what to do with them. Oftentimes they bounce from one crowded foster home to another.
LeBoeuf advocates speeding up that transition. Through Everyday Blessings, she trains couples willing to adopt these sometimes troubled children.
TAMPA -- Three people have been charged with trafficking in cocaine after undercover officers arrested them near 78th Street and Palm River Road with 350 grams of the drug, officials said.
Lazaro Sauchay, 32; Alcides Yagues, 45; and Lazaro Fernandez, 48, were arrested about 9:40 p.m. Thursday. All gave their address as 7029 Glenview Drive in Tampa.
A search of that address led to the arrests of Cristina Wongden, 33; Caraballo Lloydas, 26; and Ayde Pino, 31. Deputies said they confiscated another 36 grams of cocaine, three firearms and $4,700.
All have been charged with trafficking in or possession of cocaine. Sauchay and Yagues also were charged with conspiracy to traffic in cocaine.
The value of the cocaine seized was estimated at $14,000.
CLEARWATER -- The U.S. Coast Guard ended its search Friday for a diver who disappeared Wednesday afternoon off Clearwater Pass.
Vincent "Kenny" Auletta, 26, a firefighter with the Lealman Fire Department, disappeared while diving with four other firefighters. The Coast Guard had searched for him ever since.
His mother said Thursday she thinks he is dead.
The search was called off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, and there are no plans to resume it, the Coast Guard said.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A St. Petersburg man was arrested Thursday and charged with DUI manslaughter in connection with a car crash last year that killed a 20-year-old woman.
Antonio M. Ramos, 28, drank two six-packs of beer Sept. 22, said St. Petersburg police Officer Mike Robertson. He then got behind the wheel of a 1994 Nissan Stanza and drove west on Ninth Avenue N.
Witnesses said Ramos did not have a safe distance but tried to turn left onto 13th Street anyway. He drove into the path of a pickup truck carrying passenger Jennifer Umbenhour, who was killed, police said. She attended Lakewood High School and worked as a telemarketer.
Blood alcohol tests on Ramos showed a level of 0.227 and 0.224, according to an arrest affidavit. Florida law assumes impairment at 0.08 for drivers.
Ramos, of 2168 Eighth Ave. N, Apt. 1, is being held in the Pinellas County Jail on $25,000 bail.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A 28-year-old St. Petersburg man has been charged with animal cruelty and felony battery after he fatally shot a neighbor's dog last year, police said.
On Sept. 10, Alphonso "Dirty Pete" Williams got into a fight with the dog's owner, Kenneth Baker, at the Something Different Club in St. Petersburg, police said.
The sister of the dog owner, Catherine Baker, tried to break up the fight, but Williams punched her in the eye, opening a cut that required six stitches, police said.
Four days later, Williams walked to the back of Kenneth Baker's house, pointed an assault rifle at their Rottweiler and shot its two front legs, according to an arrest affidavit.
Williams, of 1035 16th Ave. S, is being held in the Pinellas County Jail on $15,000 bail.
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Downtown Optimist Club of St. Petersburg, a civic organization that promotes youth programs, hosts a softball tournament beginning at 9 a.m. today at Fossil Park, 6635 M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, St. Petersburg.
Along with softball, the all-day event includes guest speaker John Welbourn, a tackle/guard for the Philadelphia Eagles. Spectators are invited. For information, call Jerri Paul, 321-3217.
12 arrested at one Tampa club, 9 more at others
TAMPA -- Tampa police arrested 12 people Thursday night and charged them with violating the city law requiring nude dancers and customers to stay at least 6 feet apart.
The six men and six dancers were arrested at the Mons Venus on Dale Mabry Highway about 10 p.m.
In addition, nine women were arrested at Diamonds, Stilettos, Thee Dollhouse Lounge, Library Lounge and Starlite Lounge for violating a law that prohibits the exposure of breasts in establishments where alcohol is served.
Police have arrested several dozen people at strip clubs since local judges upheld recent legal challenges to the city's ordinance.
CLEARWATER -- U.S. Coast Guard units from Florida and Ohio are in training for harbor defense duties in the Middle East, the agency said Friday.
These reservists and active-duty personnel provide security from the water and from shore at strategically critical ports worldwide.
For several weeks, more than 230 men and women from units based at St. Petersburg and Port Clinton, Ohio, have been training in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.
On Sunday, they head to Camp LeJeune, N.C., to complete training for assignments under U.S. Central Command in the Middle East later in the year, said Lt. Cmdr. Ron LaBrec at the Coast Guard's Miami station.
TAMPA -- Tampa police rescued a family of five, including two children ages 5 and 7, from the water off Picnic Island on Friday night after their boat began to sink.
Sean and Mary Ann Kinsman of Tampa, their sons, Vannon and Connor, and the boys' uncle, Russell Charles, climbed into a life raft after their johnboat started to take on water about 9:30 p.m., Mary Ann Kinsman said. They used a cell phone to call 911 from the raft.
Cpl. Thomas Beury, who was among the first officers to arrive at the Picnic Island boat ramp, said he and other officers commandeered a 19-foot fishing boat belonging to three men from St. Petersburg and headed out to find the raft.
Officers carried the two boys, shivering and wrapped in towels, off the boat and into a waiting ambulance. Although they were wet and cold, nobody in the family was injured.
Kinsman, 30, said the family intended to camp out that night on one of the islands in the bay. It was the boys' first trip out in the boat, she said.
CLEARWATER -- Citing insufficient evidence, prosecutors will not charge former Clearwater economic development director Bob Keller with misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Clearwater police found 2.3 grams of marijuana in two plastic bags in an open briefcase as they searched for fingerprints related to the December break-in at Keller's Countryside home.
Possessing such a small amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor. Having 20 or more grams, by contrast, warrants a felony charge.
Keller, 59, was out of town when the marijuana was discovered. There were no fingerprints on the bags, no admission of ownership of the marijuana and no circumstantial evidence linking him to the drug, said Lydia Wardell, assistant County Court director with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office.
The burglary complicated the matter. Someone ransacked the home and left the opportunity for others to walk inside. Police found the bags of marijuana on papers inside the briefcase, Wardell said.
Reached at his home, Keller said he was surprised he had not heard about the decision made by the state attorney's office last Friday. He wasn't surprised, though, by the decision and said he is moving on with his life.