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Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001


DUI manslaughter verdict avoided

DUI manslaughter verdict avoided

BRADENTON -- Although she was drunk, Nicole Stoletz wasn't responsible for the death of a good Samaritan she ran over, a jury decided Wednesday.

The Manatee County jury found Stoletz, 25, guilty only of drunken driving, setting aside the more serious charge of DUI manslaughter in the Aug. 6, 1999 accident. Now, the Sarasota woman faces up to six years in prison instead of the 40 she could have served.

Stoletz struck Ginger Levero, who had come to the aid of accident victims in a crash on U.S. 41. Levero, a 37-year-old certified nursing assistant, was killed instantly.

Stoletz, who didn't have a driver's license, also hit Brian Wilson, 40. He lost part of a leg and spent several weeks in a coma.

Tests showed that Stoletz's blood-alcohol level was 0.24, three times the legal limit.

Jurors said holes in investigators' work convinced them that they couldn't convict Stoletz of the DUI manslaughter charge. Stoletz claimed that another car passed in front of her just before the accident, blocking her view. Prosecutors should have called that driver to the stand, jurors said.

The maximum sentence for drunken driving is a year in prison. But Stoletz pleaded no contest to a felony charge of driving with a suspended license, which carries a more severe sentence of five years in prison.

She will remain jailed without bail until sentencing May 3.

Gunpowder mishap burns deputy

VENICE -- A Sarasota County sheriff's deputy was burned Wednesday morning while disposing of gunpowder at the police shooting range northeast of Venice.

A gust of wind carried a ball of flame from the burning gunpowder at least 60 feet to a ditch where Deputy Bob Blasen stood. The "wind shifted, and he got burned," said Capt. Kevin Gooding. "It looks like it was a freak accident."

Blasen, a 12-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, suffered second- and third-degree burns on an arm. He was taken by helicopter to the burn unit at Tampa General Hospital, where he was in stable condition Wednesday afternoon.

Another deputy, Lou Clemento, was treated at the scene.

County sues over canker battle

MIAMI -- Miami-Dade County is suing the state, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution's search-and-seizure provisions by sending crews onto private property to take citrus trees without permission or warrants.

County attorneys said in Tuesday's filing that Florida's actions in its war on citrus canker go against the Fourth Amendment. The crews routinely enter private property to cut down and grind up trees infected by or exposed to canker.

The lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court, cites a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case that barred building inspectors from checking fire code violations without a warrant.

Agriculture Department officials have insisted that workers have authority to enter yards and cut down diseased or suspect trees.

In November, a judge in Fort Lauderdale ordered crews to stop cutting healthy trees. The state is appealing his ruling.

South Florida water rules modified

WEST PALM BEACH -- South Florida Water Management District officials approved a plan Tuesday to modify current water restrictions, holding off tougher rules because of last week's heavy rains.

The new restrictions for Florida south of Orlando will take effect April 2. They keep lawn watering by sprinklers at four hours a day, two days a week, and expand low-volume hand-held hose watering from 5 to 7 p.m. those same two days to 5 to 7 p.m. each day of the week except Friday.

Residential car washing is allowed six hours a day, four days a week, while commercial washing is allowed anytime.

Tougher rules planned before the rains would have limited lawn watering to one day a week, restricted some commercial car washes and curbed other water uses.

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