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Harleys, stogies just go together

By SUE CARLTON and AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


As a firehouse cop, Tampa police officer Randy Lopez worked neighborhoods on a bicycle. In January, he traded the mountain bike for a different, louder set of wheels -- a Harley Davidson Road King. With that, he became an official member of the Motor Squad, affectionately known to insiders as the Fat Angels.

While Lopez has yet to gain the weight expected of a Fat Angel -- "the average new motorman gains about 20 pounds when he comes over," he says -- he has adopted one tradition: smoking cigars.

Before this, his only use for cigars was to keep mosquitoes away when he was fishing. Now he can be seen puffing away with the rest of his squad on special occasions, such as the grand opening of Centro Ybor.

Lopez said he first knew he was in the fold when handed a stogie by another squad member after they finished escorting a VIP this summer.

Did he get choked up at the initiation? Even smile with appreciation?

How fast can you say no?

"There's no time to be touched on this squad," Lopez said. "If you have a weakness, don't bring it to work, 'cause it will be exploited."

JUDGE JOKER: Walking through the courthouse last week, Hillsborough Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez couldn't resist a little humor.

A few reporters were camped in the hallway outside the grand jury room, watching witnesses come and go in the bizarre case of Circuit Judge Robert Bonanno, accused of skulking in the office of Judge Greg Holder after hours.

Notably, court papers have indicated that Alvarez is not a potential witness. (Also notably, Circuit Judge Gasper Ficarrotta, who is involved in a separate controversy about an affair with the bailiff, is listed as someone who "may have knowledge of matters pertaining to this investigation." That confirms speculation that the Bonanno grand jury could expand to include all sorts of judge-related matters.)

But back to Bonanno. Some thought that one reason he might have been in Holder's office and near Holder's computer had to do with an e-mail Holder had sent to the governor. In it, Holder had indicated that Alvarez was under investigation for his handling of yet another judicial matter. But both Alvarez and Holder say they made up over that spat, and Holder has said he believes Bonanno acted alone.

So last week, on his way to another judge's office, Alvarez walked where reporters might think he was going to the grand jury.

"It'd be interesting to see what they would do," Alvarez said.

Predictably, the reporters perked up.

"I said, "Don't get excited,' " Alvarez said.

The grand jury is expected to resume next week.

VIEWERS RESPOND: While she was on trial for the murder of her mother earlier this year, Valessa Robinson remained silent. The public finally heard her voice on 48 Hours last week.

Though the tightly controlled interviews with the Carrollwood teen gave little insight -- Valessa predictably wished her mother weren't dead and called her ex-boyfriend the devil -- it did inspire much discussion among viewers on the show's Web site. They wrote messages about their own troubled teens, about the effects of divorce and drugs and about parental responsibility.

A few reacted strongly to the show's slant. Some were angry at criticism of murder victim Vicki Robinson as a mother. At least one wanted to know why Valessa's father, Chuck Robinson, seemed to escape the same sort of criticism.

"She (Vicki) turned everywhere she could find," one wrote. "Nothing helped this monster of a girl."

- Graham Brink contributed to this report. Sue Carlton can be reached at 226-3346 or carlton@sptimes.com. Amy Herdy can be reached at 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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