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    Around the state

    Compiled from Times wires

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


    Authorities catch taunting suspect

    MIAMI -- The 27-year-old suspect who sent detectives a videotape admitting his crimes and challenging them to catch him was arrested Wednesday afternoon.

    Miami and Miami-Dade County detectives arrested Alexander Pena of Miami Beach at his mother's home in Hialeah. Pena surrendered quietly, saying he was relieved the ordeal was over.

    Pena was charged with organized fraud, grand theft and forgery. The non-citizen from Cuba is also facing possible federal charges as an alien career criminal.

    Pena had been on the run since January when he sent the Miami Police Department a videotape, a 20-page written confession, an obscene, taunting note and doctored newspaper clippings ridiculing the detectives' investigative prowess.

    Police said Pena would befriend people, steal checks from their homes or businesses and then cash them. He's suspected of stealing more than $200,000 since 1998.

    Firm fined for leaving divers behind

    MIAMI -- The dive boat service that left a scuba-diving California couple stranded overnight 6 miles off the Florida Keys last winter is being put on probation, placed under Coast Guard supervision and fined.

    The company must also start a training program to help keep other dive operations from accidentally leaving people behind at sea.

    Those stipulations were part of the federal court sentencing Tuesday of Ricardo Investments, owner of Aqua Nut Divers on Key Largo, which pleaded guilty to endangering human life by the grossly negligent operation of a dive boat.

    On Feb. 22, 2000, the Agua Nut Divers II pulled up anchor and left the first of two stops at a reef off Key Largo. Aboard were 23 scuba divers and two crew members.

    Left behind -- still underwater -- were Michael and Linda Evans, then both 51, of Castroville, Calif.

    The Evanses, who were wearing wet suits, spent the night and much of the next day on the platform of a steel light tower that marks the reef, until they were spotted by a passing sailboat.

    Motorcyclist killed after losing control

    LAKE HELEN -- A Wisconsin man became the second motorcyclist killed in the area since the start of Bike Week when he was thrown from his bike and run over by two semitrailer trucks on Interstate 4, police said.

    John Kosakofki, 48, of Chippewa Falls, was pronounced dead at the scene around 3 a.m. Tuesday, Florida Highway Patrol troopers said. He was not wearing a helmet.

    Kosakofki was heading west on I-4 near Lake Helen, about 24 miles southwest of Daytona Beach, when his motorcycle swerved onto a grassy median, a police report said. Trying to get back on the road, he lost control and the bike flipped numerous times. He was thrown onto a westbound lane and hit seconds later by the trucks.

    The truck drivers will not be charged, police said.

    Teen pleads guilty in crane killings

    ST. AUGUSTINE -- A teenager charged with shooting two whooping cranes with a rifle pleaded guilty to killing the birds.

    William L. Bush Jr., 18, was ordered Monday to serve 75 days in jail and perform 200 hours of community service, which may include working with birds, Assistant State Attorney Bryan Shorstein said. Bush was also sentenced to two years of probation, and during that time his driver's license will be revoked.

    The dead birds were found Nov. 19. Authorities acting on a tip arrested Bush in December. Bush admitted shooting the birds with his .22-caliber rifle. He said he didn't know they were whooping cranes.

    Only about 200 to 300 whooping cranes, one of the world's rarest species, exist in North America. The slain birds were part of a federal project to reintroduce the endangered species to the Southeast.

    Man convicted in DEA agents' shootings

    FORT LAUDERDALE -- A federal jury convicted a man Wednesday in the kidnapping and shooting of two Drug Enforcement Administration agents in Colombia in 1982.

    The jury convicted Rene Benitez of five counts, including conspiracy to commit murder, assault with a deadly weapon and robbery.

    On February 10, 1982, Benitez and three other men kidnapped DEA Special Agents Kelly McCullough and Charles Martinez, who were staying at a hotel in Cartagena, Colombia, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

    They were taken to the countryside where each was shot and left for dead. One of the agents managed to crawl to a road where someone saw him. Both survived and returned to the United States.

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