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    [Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
    OFFICER, WIFE MOURNED: Connie DeLoreto, mother of Donna Hillis, is led past a line of Zephyrhills police officers by her son Tom DeLoreto while leaving the funeral for her daughter and son-in-law, police Detective Harvey "Butch" Hillis, who were killed in a hit-and-run accident June 9.


    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 17, 2001

    Some highlights of the news from around the region for the week just ended.

    Diploma flub spells rewrite for school

    BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando High likes to bill itself as "A New Millennium School."

    The problem is that "millennium" -- with two L's and two N's -- is easy to misspell.

    Last month the school handed out 262 diplomas that were tucked neatly into vinyl carrying cases embossed with the words, "HERNANDO HIGH SCHOOL: A NEW MILLENIUM SCHOOL."

    Somewhere, millennium dropped an N.

    Even though an employee approved the proof of the cover, the company that makes the diplomas, Herff Jones Inc., also accepted blame and will print new diploma holders at no cost.

    But clearly the word "millennium" is hard to handle.

    From January 1998 to December 2000, the misspelled version appeared at least 16 times in the Times. Guilty parties included reporters, editors and headline writers.

    Scientists look to bird feeders in mystery of dead doves

    ST. PETERSBURG -- With hundreds of doves dropping dead in St. Petersburg, a state wildlife agency is asking residents to keep their bird feeders empty for a while to keep the sick birds from mingling with healthy ones.

    "It's possible that the feeders somehow figure in as a place where something is being exchanged from bird to bird," said Henry Cabbage, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

    Since April, hundreds of Eurasian collared doves have died, officials say. Almost all the reports have come from St. Petersburg, and there appears to be no outbreak of deaths elsewhere in the state, said Nancy Douglass, a commission biologist in Lakeland.

    "It could be the food, but if it's a contagious infection, anything you do to concentrate birds in the same spot will speed up the spread of the disease. It's like drinking out of the same glass."

    Big hitters line up to back tennis stadium proposal

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County is sitting on a pile of cash -- more than $5-million stockpiled since 1991 from a tax on hotel rooms -- so tennis, anyone?

    Momentum is building for a plan by Saddlebrook Resort owner Tom Dempsey, who wants county commissioners to build a 5,000- to 8,000-seat tennis stadium.

    In response to the idea, a senior vice president for the international sports management company IMG wrote to the County Commission saying a tennis stadium could attract "numerous events" from IMG's sports calendar. IMG agents represent dozens of top-ranked tennis stars, including Pete Sampras, Venus and Serena Williams, Martina Hingis, Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

    As a further incentive to build the stadium, the Women's Tennis Association has listed Saddlebrook among its four finalists for its new headquarters.

    One fly in the ointment, however, is Lowry Park Zoo's pitch to build a $5- to $15-million animal park in Pasco County, which also would need the tourist tax money.

    County Administrator John Gallagher said he suspects the zoo would draw mostly local residents and day-trippers with a less-than-stellar effect on the economy, while the tennis stadium promises to lure major international tennis tournaments.

    Citrus voters will get a chance to pick a seat

    INVERNESS -- What started as a discussion of space needs at Tuesday's Citrus County Commission meeting turned into a resurgence of the debate over the county seat -- and the city of Inverness is none too happy about it.

    The city has beaten back plans to move county offices to Lecanto before with claims on the county seat both historically and legally. The County Commission voted in 1999 to expand the county seat boundaries to part of Lecanto, 10 miles west of the Inverness city limits. As part of that resolution, the commission said it would not move any office to Lecanto without a referendum.

    A divided commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday to hold a non-binding referendum this fall on whether to move its offices and meetings to Lecanto, noting it would be cheaper and more efficient to relocate the commission to the Lecanto Government Building, which houses most of the county's employees.

    Inverness city officials didn't let two days pass before sending county commissioners a letter with a thinly veiled threat of legal action if the moving vans pull up.

    Largo woman held in adoption scam

    LARGO -- The FBI arrested a Largo woman, after tracking her down in Seattle, and accused her of cheating 16 families across the country in adoption scams.

    The scam, according to interviews and the indictment, always started the same way:

    Victoria Benning would tell someone that she knew pregnant women and could facilitate an adoption. As soon as the family sent money, though, the deal fell apart. The adoptions, first described as open adoptions, in which the family talks to the birth mothers, quickly closed. Contact with Benning ceased.

    Amy Miller, a woman who introduced 10 couples to Benning via telephone, said she was "heartbroken" when she realized what had happened. She runs a Christian-based, non-profit adoption agency called the Link in Concord, N.C., that for five years has helped parents find babies. In less than two weeks, she said, it was clear Benning was a fraud. Every couple Miller had referred to Benning was having trouble, Miller said.

    Benning soon will be extradited from Seattle. If convicted, she faces a maximum of 85 years in prison and up to $4.2-million in fines.

    GOP activists' role was key in Bush rally arrests

    TAMPA -- Police reports released this week show Republican volunteers at a recent presidential rally played a key role in the arrest of three sign-waving protesters.

    The reports, and interviews by the St. Petersburg Times, suggest it was the volunteers who first demanded the three protesters surrender their small signs, which derided President Bush and noted Gay Pride month.

    Volunteers at the Legends Field event say they were just following orders barring signs on the field. But video footage obtained by the Times appears to show the rule was selectively enforced. Even as the disturbance unfolded, numerous crowd members were allowed to wave pro-Bush signs, some hand-drawn, some professionally printed.

    Two Republican volunteers were at the center of the action: Bill Bunkley and William D. Cordova.

    Bunkley said he merely asked people to give up their signs and "they started yelling about their First Amendment rights, and some curse words started to fly."

    Why were the Bush signs allowed to stay? "I did not see a single Bush sign prior to this confrontation," Bunkley said.

    Coming up this week

    Crystal River's rocky history with city managers may be getting costly. City Manager David Sallee cleaned out his desk earlier this month after just two years. He was the seventh city manager since 1990. After a search for Sallee's replacement, the council's top pick backed out at the last minute, citing the turnover. The council then turned to Mike Underwood, 53. The City Council meets Monday to discuss Underwood's terms, an unprecedented 11-year package that includes more money.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday will be under deadline pressure to decide whether it wants to sell its Weeki Wachee Spring property to water managers for $14.4-million. The Southwest Florida Water Management District wants to buy the city's 450 acres in western Hernando County to complement a nature preserve there that already approaches 10,000 acres. The money is sitting in a state bank account but will essentially disappear if the City Council doesn't decide to take the deal before the end of June.

    - Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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