By Times staff and wire reports
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2001
Suit challenges autopsy photo law
FORT LAUDERDALE -- A day after Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a bill restricting public access to autopsy photos, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Orlando Sentinel challenged the law in Broward Circuit Court.
The lawsuit filed Friday asks the court to declare the law a violation of the U.S. Constitution and Florida Constitution, to prevent its enforcement, and to order Broward Chief Medical Examiner Joshua Perper to allow the papers to inspect various autopsy records they have requested.
With Teresa Earnhardt, widow of race car driver Dale Earnhardt, standing beside him, the governor signed the bill Thursday. Bush said it "accomplishes the delicate balance between the public's right to know and a family's right to privacy." Violation of the law, a third-degree felony, is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
"This statute so intrudes on our editorial process that it creates the court as a super-editor," said David Bralow, an attorney for the newspapers. "It burdens everybody's rights."
CHARLOTTE HARBOR -- Two mentally disabled men died in a fire Thursday night at a group home.
The men, ages 42 and 37, were found by firefighters on the floor of a bedroom where they were watching television about 11 p.m. Four other disabled men and a caretaker were able to get out.
Caretaker David Bonnaci told authorities he was in his bedroom when the fire alarm went off. He helped four men out of the house. The other two men, who were the most severely handicapped, were in a back bedroom. Bonnaci returned to try to get them out, but the quick-spreading fire blocked his way.
The state fire marshal's office is investigating.
TALLAHASSEE -- Two of Gov. Jeb Bush's top officials are leaving the Florida Bush administration for the one in Washington.
Robin Higgins, who is Gov. Jeb Bush's veterans affairs secretary, will become undersecretary for memorial affairs in the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington. She will oversee national veterans' cemeteries and monuments.
Ruben King-Shaw, Florida's top health care industry regulator, will be deputy administrator and chief operating officer of the federal Health Care Financing Agency, which oversees Medicare and Medicaid.
King-Shaw, a former health maintenance organization executive in South Florida, has served two years as secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. He will leave Tallahassee in May. A replacement has not been chosen.
Higgins is a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps. She served as a deputy in the veterans affairs agency under former President George Bush. In 1988, her husband, a Marine colonel, was captured in Lebanon with other hostages. Rich Higgins eventually was murdered.
Higgins plans to leave Florida after the legislative session. Her replacement has not been named.
TALLAHASSEE -- Over the objections of some boaters, a panel on Friday approved changes adding waterway no-go and go-slow zones to a plan to help protect endangered manatees.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission plan is part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit filed last year by environmentalists accusing state officials of not doing their job to enforce laws designed to protect Florida's official marine mammal.
The revisions extend speed zones and expand boating-restricted zones mainly on the Indian and Banana Rivers, popular recreation areas surrounding Merritt Island in Brevard County. Brevard's waters have a large concentration of manatees, along with the highest number of boat-related manatee deaths.
But representatives of the boating industry told the eight-member panel the restrictions went too far.
"For a boater to have to leave his house and spend two hours idling out and two hours idling in to go out and do something he wants to do, that's unacceptable," said John Sprague, president of Marine Industries of Florida.
State Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, said manatees should be corralled.
"It's like cattle. You don't let them wander on the highways," Allen said, adding that manatees found in "human recreation areas" should be relocated.
TALLAHASSEE -- The state has scheduled the execution of a longtime death row inmate from Tampa after Gov. Jeb Bush signed his death warrant.
Wayne Tompkins, 44, is set to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. May 1 for the 1983 strangulation murder of a 15-year-old girl, Lisa DeCarr, who disappeared from her Tampa home. Her remains were found in a shallow grave under her home more than a year later. Tompkins was her mother's boyfriend.
HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- An assistant baseball coach who punched an umpire and broke his jaw has been sentenced to 10 years of probation and will not be allowed to coach during that time.
Orlando Lago of Pembroke Pines was charged with aggravated battery, a second-degree felony, after the June 19 fight over umpire Tom Dziedzinski's call.
The fight occurred in the last inning of a game between Lago's youth team, the Hollywood Police Athletic League, and the Falcons, a team of high school students. Lago was upset that Dziedzinski called a star player out trying to steal third base.
Lago, 37, threw the punch after the umpire drew his hand back to signal he was ejecting him. Lago must pay Dziedzinski $2,000 for medical expenses, perform 100 hours of community service and attend an anger management program.
BRADENTON -- A teacher and former social worker was charged Thursday with abusing her 4-year-old adopted son.
Wanda Bennett was charged with aggravated child abuse and child neglect for allegedly beating her son with a bat and tying him up. Both charges carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Bradenton police began an investigation Feb. 20 when Bennett dropped the boy off at day care with cuts on his face and neck. Workers called for an ambulance when the boy began losing consciousness.
Doctors found six recent bone fractures and what appeared to be cigarette burns and other marks on the child's back.
According to police, Bennett, 40, beat the boy regularly with shoes to punish him and tied him up with old socks to keep him from eating. The single mother has been suspended from her position as a special education teacher at Harllee Middle School. She was a state child abuse investigator in the late 1990s.
WEST PALM BEACH -- A man pleaded guilty in the death of a 9-month-old girl who died when a car crashed into her stroller.
Robert Barns, 67, pleaded guilty Thursday to DUI manslaughter in the death of Grace Redgate on New Year's Day 2000. He faces a possible 15 years in prison when sentenced June 1.
Riviera Beach police said Barns was drunk when he struck the rear of another vehicle, which then smashed the double baby jogger carrying Grace and her 2-year-old brother, Whitaker. The children's mother, Anna Redgate, and Whitaker also were injured.
Barns also pleaded guilty to DUI causing serious bodily injury for Anna Redgate's injuries, and three misdemeanor DUI charges for the injuries to Whitaker and two men in the other car involved in the accident.
The Redgates sued Barns and settled last year for a "significant amount" of insurance money, said their attorney, Greg Barnhart.