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    By Times staff writers

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 11, 2001


    Girl recovering after accident on bridge

    A 6-year-old Largo girl is recovering in fair condition after she was ejected during a car accident Sunday on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

    Stephanie Moran suffered serious injuries when the car in which she was a passenger was struck from behind, the Florida Highway Patrol said. She was taken to Tampa General Hospital.

    Stephanie was in the front seat at 8:05 p.m. Sunday when the driver, Cathy L. Whelan, got out to put the hood down, the FHP said. The hood popped up while Whelan, 30, was driving eastbound.

    Whelan's car was struck by Michael J. Stacks, 31, of St. Petersburg. He was not injuried but was charged with careless driving. Whelan, of Largo, did not have proof of insurance, the FHP said.

    Missing: Bright-colored speedboat, 33 feet long

    LARGO -- The disappearance of a $140,000, yellow and orange speedboat from a Largo business has Largo police seeking the public's help.

    "It's a really big boat," said police spokesman Mac McMullen. "We're kind of stumped."

    The 33-foot tri-hulled boat, Adrenalin, with inboard and outboard motors, is used for charter tours off Madeira Beach and can reach speeds in excess of 60 mph, McMullen said.

    The boat was last seen Aug. 29, when it was removed from the water, placed on a trailer and taken to a Largo business at 1715 Missouri Ave. for engine repairs, police said. The next day, the boat and trailer were gone. Largo police are investigating the disappearance as theft. Boat owner Roy Basmaci did not return a telephone call Monday.

    Detectives are requesting that anyone who saw the boat after Aug. 30 contact the Largo police at (727) 587-6730 and speak with investigator Bill Magnuson.

    Man gets 20-year sentence for rape

    LARGO -- A homeless man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping a woman at knifepoint last year near Williams Park in St. Petersburg.

    Edgar W. Marchen, 49, pleaded guilty to sexual battery on Friday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, and received credit for more than a year he served in jail awaiting his court date.

    Police say Marchen began talking to the victim while she was sitting on a bench at a park bus stop in May 2000. When the woman said she was tired and wanted to lie down, Marchen told her he knew a place and led her into the 400 block of Second Avenue N, they say.

    Marchen pulled a box cutter knife, punched the woman's face, cut her, forced her into some bushes and raped her, according to police. She later identified him from a lineup of photographs.

    Officials discount Red Tide trace found off coast

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A very low level of the organism that causes Red Tide was detected Monday off the southern tip of St. Petersburg, but scientists were unwilling to say the reading was a harbinger of a bloom in Pinellas County.

    The sample, taken from Mullet Key, had a "background level" of the algae, which kill fish and cause respiratory irritation in people, said Beverly Roberts, research administrator with Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

    "You can find that (background level) at any time," she said.

    A sample taken Monday from the Skyway pier tested negative, as did samples from Clearwater, Redington Beach and John's Pass.

    Scientists have been watching carefully to see whether the Red Tide bloom that has killed substantial numbers of fish off the Manatee County coast is progressing north. There have been no reports of fish kills or water discoloration, Roberts said. Today, scientists plan to take more samples from offshore areas near southern St. Petersburg, Roberts said.

    Judge seals court records in Tampa officer's murder

    TAMPA -- Circuit Judge Cynthia Holloway on Monday blocked the public from viewing records that will be used in the case against the accused killer of a Tampa police officer.

    Holloway entered a temporary ban on releasing public records to make sure that Paula Gutierrez, 24, will receive a fair trial on murder charges in Tampa, the judge wrote in a decision.

    Lawyers for Gutierrez sought the restriction to protect her from "hostile publicity" that could influence a jury.

    Gutierrez faces charges for allegedly robbing a Bank of America branch in south Tampa with her boyfriend, and then helping him shoot and kill Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero as they fled.

    The St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune sought access to the records under the section of the Florida Constitution that guarantees the public access to governmental records and meetings.

    The judge said she wanted to balance the public's rights against the defendant's right to a fair trial.

    Holloway gave Gutierrez's lawyers at the Public Defender's Office 10 days to review the records and then object to the release of specific documents. If the lawyers object, the judge will then review the records in private and decide page-by-page whether the public should see the documents.

    Man gets 30 years in murder, arson

    TAMPA -- A 51-year-old man convicted of killing his girlfriend by setting her on fire was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Monday.

    Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett sentenced Johnny Harrington Jr. for setting Gwendolyn Bell, 46, on fire with lamp oil in his apartment after a night of arguing in July 1999.

    A jury convicted Harrington in August of third-degree murder and arson, which was a compromise verdict. Prosecutors asked for a first-degree murder conviction, but Harrington's lawyer argued that Bell, who has been drinking and using drugs that night, set herself on fire.

    Prosecutors and Bell's family wanted Harrington sentenced to 50 years to life as punishment for killing Bell, but Bell's family said they were mostly satisfied with the 30-year prison term.

    "I felt he deserved what he got. He was a very abusive man," Bell's son, Terence Floyd, 31, said outside court. "We are happy it is over."

    Inmate mistakenly released from jail

    A Tampa man with the word "thug" tattooed on his left arm had been sentenced to two years in state prison Aug. 29 on drug charges. That same day, Marcellos Williams, 20, also known as Marcellas Shuler, of 2504 Lemon St., was released from the Falkenberg Road Jail.

    The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is blaming a clerical error that was discovered Friday for Williams' release. A new warrant has been issued for his arrest.

    What caused the mistake is under administrative review, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Rod Reder. Jail personnel may have believed Williams was sentenced to probation earlier that day, he said.

    Williams had been on probation when he appeared in court on new charges including possession of cocaine and possession of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a church, court records show. Anyone with information about him is encouraged to call the Sheriff's Office at 247-8200 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS.

    Reder said he wasn't sure whether Williams would face an additional charge of escape.

    "We'll have to review that with the state attorney, because we're the ones who let him go," Reder said. "I don't know if an inmate has an obligation to say, "Hey, you're messing up.' "

    Semitrailer accident snarls I-4 traffic

    TAMPA -- A semitrailer truck jack-knifed, shutting down westbound Interstate 4 for nearly five hours Monday, causing a diesel spill and headaches for countless drivers.

    The accident occurred shortly after 3 p.m. about a mile east of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The driver of the truck, Willie Lee Givens, 54, of Savannah, Ga., told the Florida Highway Patrol that his 1996 Freightliner struck an object in the road.

    The object apparently punctured the truck's fuel tank, spilling diesel onto the highway, according to a Highway Patrol news release.

    The truck jack-knifed, coming to rest against a barrier. No one was injured in the crash, which caused an estimated $16,500 in damage to the truck.

    Troopers did not issue any citations.

    I-4 was cleaned up and reopened to westbound traffic about 7:55 p.m.

    Pinellas-Pasco circuit judge applicants sought

    The 6th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting applications to replace Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Catherine Harlan, who is retiring Dec. 31.

    Applicants must live in Pinellas or Pasco county, be registered to vote, and be a member of the Florida Bar for the past five years.

    To apply, lawyers must fill out an application, make nine copies, and deliver the papers to Elise Winters, 600 Cleveland St., Suite 940 in Clearwater by 5 p.m. Oct. 1. Applications are available from Winters and on the Florida Bar Web site at www.flabar.org.

    School Board to vote on property tax rate

    LARGO -- Pinellas School Board members will hold a public hearing and vote on the 2001-02 budget at 7 p.m. today. The hearing will be in the conference hall of the district administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW in Largo.

    Earlier this summer, the School Board voted to tentatively approve the proposed budget and cap the property tax rate at $8.49 for each $1,000 in taxable property value. If adopted, it would be a 0.7 percent increase from this year's rate of $8.43.

    With tonight's vote, board members are expected to set the tax rate at the cap. If that happens, someone with a $100,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay about $636.75 for schools, up from about $632.25 last year. That assumes the value of the home remained the same both years. The school tax is just one part of your tax bill.

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