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    Firefighter won't face charge in prank

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- Prosecutors have dropped a criminal charge against a Dunedin firefighter arrested in March for pulling a prank on fellow firefighters by coating their gear with shaving cream and baby powder.

    Jim Sowinski, a six-year department veteran, was arrested March 7 on a charge of felony criminal mischief because fire officials indicated damages could be up to $2,500. Sowinski admitted he sneaked into the fire station and spread shaving cream and baby powder over other firefighters' lockers and gear.

    Sowinski said it was a simple prank that did not warrant an arrest. A later estimate showed the prank caused about $69 in damage.

    Fire department and city officials said they considered Sowinski a valuable employee with great potential, so they allowed him to keep his job. He did, however, receive a five-day suspension and was placed on probation for a year.

    Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub said prosecutors could not have proven Sowinski acted willfully and maliciously when he committed the prank.

    "It was a prank, everybody agrees with that," Schaub said. "It might have been a prank that went too far, but it was a prank."

    Schaub said the initial damage estimate may have come from fire department and sheriff's officials believing the shaving cream and baby powder couldn't be washed off the gear.

    "It all cleaned up and washed off," he said.

    Still, Schaub said "probable cause more than likely existed" for deputies to arrest Sowinski on the charge.

    Sowinski, who earlier told the Times he was getting back at firefighters he suspected had previously pulled pranks on him, could not be reached Tuesday for comment. He suspected the firefighters of putting spaghetti in his helmet and of wrapping his comforter in duct tape.

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