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    Tampa Bay briefs

    By Times staff writers

    © St. Petersburg Times, published August 19, 2000


    Scientology suit moved to Pinellas

    CLEARWATER -- A lawsuit against the Church of Scientology's Clearwater operation has officially been filed in Pinellas County following a judge's order to move the case from Hillsborough County.

    The transfer was ordered July 28 by then-Hillsborough Circuit Judge James S. Moody Jr. He has presided over the case since it was filed in February 1997 by the estate of Lisa McPherson, the 36-year-old Scientologist who died in 1995 after 17 days in the care of Scientology staffers in Clearwater. Moody is now a federal judge. The case was recorded in Pinellas County on Thursday.

    Ken Dandar, an attorney for McPherson's estate, said Friday that he has appealed the change. He wanted the case in Hillsborough County because it was less likely Scientology members would be on the jury panel.

    Healthy Kids program plans forum

    TAMPA -- A public forum has been scheduled for Monday for people who would like to comment on the "local match" requirements for the Healthy Kids program. The program provides insurance for children ages 5 to 18 whose family incomes are too high for the children to qualify for Medicaid but too low for the parents or guardians to obtain private coverage. The forum will be at 2 p.m. Monday at the Tampa International Airport Mariott, which is connected to Tampa International Airport.

    Police call boy's death an accident

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A 7-year-old boy died in an apparent freak accident Friday evening and was found hanging from a bookbag strap in his bedroom, police said.

    Daniel Davis was found by his mother in their house at 3463 20th Ave. S in the Childs Park neighborhood.

    His mother had been in another part of the house tending to other children when she went to Daniel's room to check on him, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Rick Stelljes.

    "She found him in his bedroom, hanging from the shoulder strap of a bookbag," Stelljes said. "Apparently, the bookbag was fixed on a nail where it normally sits on the wall in the bedroom, and somehow he had worked his head into the shoulder strap."

    Daniel's mother called 911. An ambulance took the boy to Bayfront Medical Center, but doctors couldn't resuscitate him and he was pronounced dead about 6:45 p.m.

    Police were investigating the boy's death. Neighbors and relatives watched as a police forensics team went into the house Friday evening to examine Daniel's room.

    Police accuse manager of official misconduct

    TAMPA -- Tampa police charged their department's extra duty office manager with official misconduct after they say she falsely claimed her daughter was also employed by TPD.

    Police spokesman Joe Durkin said 50-year-old Nancy Vaughn of Lakeland filled out paperwork and answered telephone queries to say her daughter, Stacy Walker, worked in the extra duty office so that Walker could receive child care discounts.

    "Stacy Walker was receiving funding from the state for child care," Durkin said, "but part of that program said she had to be employed."

    Since her daughter did not have a job, Durkin said, Vaughn fraudulently indicated she was an employee of TPD.

    Someone tipped off police, Durkin said, and after Chief Bennie Holder informed Vaughn she was under investigation, she resigned Aug. 1.

    Holder has also ordered an audit of the extra duty office, Durkin said, although "there is no indication that funds were taken in house."

    Vaughn was released from jail Friday on $2,500 bail.

    She could not be reached for comment.

    Vagrants blamed for fire at abandoned house

    TAMPA -- Vagrants started a fire Friday night in an abandoned house in Tampa Heights, authorities said.

    Firefighters arrived at 110 W Euclid Ave. at 8:50 p.m. Smoke and flames already could be seen in the one-story house, threatening the two vacant houses on each side of it, as well.

    Capt. Bill Wade of Tampa Fire Rescue said investigators think vagrants left smoking material smoldering on a mattress. They estimated the damage at $15,000. No one was injured.

    Man wounded by deputy's shots files lawsuit

    A Port Richey man who was shot three times by a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy in 1996 is now suing the deputy and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in federal court.

    Robert N. Smith, then 28, was wounded in the right leg, foot and buttocks as he fled on foot from a veteran deputy who had chased Smith in his patrol car. The shooting occurred Oct. 3, 1998, just off U.S. 19 in Tarpon Springs.

    K-9 Deputy Clark Wagner was chasing Smith because he was wanted on cocaine-dealing charges from undercover operations in Pinellas County. He also was wanted on Pasco County warrants for violating his probation on previous convictions for manslaughter and grand theft.

    Smith's lawsuit was filed by a Miami Beach law firm Friday in U.S. District Court in Tampa. The lawsuit alleges that Smith posed no threat to the officers because he was unarmed. The lawsuit asks for compensatory damages, saying Smith was permanently injured.

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