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    Woman tosses cigarette and it lands her in jail


    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001

    LAND O'LAKES -- Finished with her cigarette, the driver handed it to Gladys Louise Lewis and asked her to get rid of it.

    It was a rental car, and they didn't want to dirty the ashtray, so Lewis flicked it out the window.

    Watching from behind was a Pasco County sheriff's deputy, who pulled over the car and arrested 37-year-old Lewis.

    She was in the Pasco County Jail more than 16 hours after the incident, until her release Wednesday night. Lewis faces a misdemeanor charge of disposing of a lighted substance.

    "I didn't think anything about it," said Lewis, a smoker for nearly 20 years. "Next thing you know, I'm sitting in jail and I'm not a happy person."

    The arrest underscores the extent to which authorities throughout the Tampa Bay area are trying to impress the public about the dangers of drought.

    "We are in a drought situation where if the conditions are right, we could return to a situation where the county is burning out of control . . . which could start from a situation like a person throwing a lit cigarette out the window," said Pasco County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll.

    In Tampa on Wednesday, officials were telling residents just how dire the drought has become.

    The city's major source of drinking water is near record lows, and it is buying millions of gallons of water from Tampa Bay Water, the regional water utility. Also, the state Department of Agriculture has banned outdoor burning in 39 counties.

    "I have heard about that," said Lewis' boyfriend, David Hines, who was riding in the backseat, "but I didn't know there was a law against throwing out cigarettes. I do it regularly. I won't do it any more."

    Lewis, of 21304 McKaig Lane in Land O'Lakes, was held on $5,000 bail Wednesday until an afternoon court hearing where a judge ordered her released on her own recognizance, deputies said. She said she was released about 8 p.m. Wednesday.

    Lewis just got off house arrest last week, her boyfriend said. She is still on probation for aggravated assault, he said.

    Records show she has a criminal record, including a 1998 conviction for aggravated assault.

    Wednesday's saga began early in the morning when a neighbor, whom Hines knows as only Jennifer, knocked on the door to the couple's home.

    She needed a space heater from her father's house, but she couldn't drive at night so Hines and Lewis got out of bed and drove her. On the way home, traveling west on State Road 54 shortly before 3 a.m., a deputy started to follow them.

    Lewis threw the Marlboro Red out the window, and they traveled for nearly 5 miles before the deputy pulled them over, Hines said.

    "I understand there are forest fires and everything," Hines said, "but I think you can overlook a little something. There wasn't any damage done."

    - Times researcher Cathryn Wos and staff writer Christopher Goffard contributed to this report.

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