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    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001


    Enraged man attempts to burn house, woman

    ST. PETERSBURG -- An enraged man poured gasoline on a house and a woman living inside it Wednesday morning. Then he lit a fire.

    Firefighters arrived quickly and put out the blaze. The woman was not burned, and only the house's front door was damaged.

    Pinellas sheriff's deputies say they're looking for the man who set the fire shortly before 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at 3301 55th Ave. N.

    Neither of the house's occupants -- listed in reports as Edward Snider, 32, and Julie Russell -- were hurt in the fire. But it was a close call for Russell.

    "The lady was soaked in gasoline," said Lealman Fire Chief Rick Graham. "They had to decontaminate her" using water and detergent.

    Dennie said the arsonist went to the house looking for someone who he said owed him money. The man got into a heated discussion with one of the house's occupants. Then he used a gas can to pour gasoline on several spots outside and inside the house, and on Russell.

    The house's occupants declined to comment Thursday.

    Girl, 13, charged with trying to grab officer's gun

    DUNEDIN -- A seventh-grade girl at Dunedin Middle School was arrested Thursday morning after she tried to grab a school resource officer's gun while he broke up a fight, Pinellas sheriff's officials said.

    The 13-year-old was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and resisting arrest with violence. She then was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center. The Times is not identifying her because of her age.

    The deputy broke up a fight between two seventh-grade girls about 9:30 a.m. One of the girls grabbed for his gun and punched him in the face, said sheriff's Sgt. Greg Tita.

    The deputy used pepper spray to subdue the girl. She was taken to Mease Dunedin Hospital for treatment before going to the assessment center. The deputy was not seriously injured, Tita said.

    Tita said the girl told the deputy she only grabbed the gun to gain her balance, but "he didn't see it that way," Tita said. The girl did not get the gun out of the deputy's holster.

    Skyway jumper identified as Fort Myers man, 78

    Police have identified the man who jumped to his death from the Sunshine Skyway bridge on Tuesday as William R. Copeland, 78, of Fort Myers.

    Hillsborough County sheriff's investigators say Copeland parked his 1999 Dodge van on the southbound side of the Skyway's center span about 2:40 p.m. Tuesday. He left the van running with the keys in the ignition, got out and jumped.

    Death warrant signed for Tampa murderer

    On May 1, 18 years after Lisa Lea DeCarr was strangled, her killer is scheduled to be executed, according to a death warrant signed Thursday by Gov. Jeb Bush.

    Wayne Tompkins was convicted in 1986 of killing DeCarr, the 15-year-old daughter of his live-in girlfriend, in Tampa. In the 1980s, Gov. Bob Martinez twice signed death warrants for Tompkins. But Tompkins, now 43, appealed his conviction and his sentence several times, delaying his execution. But the U.S. Supreme Court denied his final appeal on Oct. 2, the Governor's Office said.

    DeCarr's mother reported her missing in March 1983, after Tompkins told her the girl ran away. But Tompkins had been alone with Lisa DeCarr girl most of the day, and witnesses later testified that Tompkins told them he had tried to rape the girl and choked her to death after she resisted by kicking him in the groin.

    DeCarr's body wasn't found until June 1984, buried in a shallow grave under her house. Her mother still lived there at the time.

    St. Petersburg man charged in rape, break-in

    PINELLAS PARK -- A 25-year-old St. Petersburg man was arrested Wednesday after police said he broke into a woman's house and raped her at knife point.

    At 1:20 a.m. Wednesday, Pinellas Park police said, Phuong Thach entered a house in the 7000 block of 47th Street N through an unlocked door and attacked a woman. The victim is not being identified because of the nature of the crime.

    Thach, a former dishwasher who lived at 3216 10th Ave. N, was apprehended by police as he left the house and was identified by the victim and witnesses, police said.

    He is charged with sexual battery, aggravated assault, attempted armed robbery and armed burglary. He is booked in the Pinellas County in lieu of $400,000 bail.

    County commissioners focus on vision of future

    People just don't trust government anymore.

    State lawmakers keep telling counties to do more without helping to pay for it.

    And nobody wants to raise taxes or other fees.

    Those are some of the obstacles Pinellas County commissioners see themselves facing. They discussed them Thursday during an informal retreat to map the county's future.

    With three new commissioners, a larger board and the retirement of former County Administrator Fred Marquis after 22 years, the county's leaders have started a new era. They need to get to know one another and know where the county is heading, they said.

    "The county has had direction," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "But it was somebody else's. We all need to be on the same page."

    Even so, that may be a more colorful page than in the past. The old, five-member commission was known for its unanimous votes and lack of debate. With seven members, Commissioner John Morroni said, those days are over.

    But Latvala said voting differently on specific issues doesn't mean board members won't get along.

    Working well together is important to Latvala. During another exercise, when commissioners were asked to envision what they wanted to avoid in the future, Latvala chimed in: a commission that "looks and acts like Hillsborough County," where commissioners often are criticized for their divisions.

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