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Tampa Bay briefs

By Times staff writers

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


Judge likely to aid killer's death wish

TAMPA -- For the past few years, convicted murderer Newton Slawson has wanted nothing more than to die.

On Thursday, he came one step closer to his goal.

While stopping short of a final ruling, Circuit Judge Rex Barbas said he was leaning toward finding Slawson mentally competent, a decision that would allow Slawson to represent himself and fast-track his appeals. Slawson will have to return to Barbas' court at least one more time to testify.

Slawson, 45, was arrested in 1989 after killing an entire east Tampa family. Peggy and Gerald Wood, casual acquaintances of Slawson, were shot in their apartment, along with their son, Glendon, 3, and their daughter, Jennifer, 4.

Mrs. Wood, who was 81/2 months pregnant with another son, also was stabbed but crawled next door to tell her mother "Newt did it," before she died.

Since his conviction for first-degree murder, Slawson has said several times in court that he wants to waive his appeals and get on with the execution. Although local judges have granted his requests to represent himself and waive his appeals, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Slawson must undergo psychiatric evaluations and that the evaluators must testify in court.

Last month, two doctors testified that Slawson was legally competent to represent himself. A third testified that he thought Slawson was incompetent.

'Wonder drug' maker gets prison time

TAMPA -- James T. Kimball stood before a federal judge Thursday and insisted his decade-long manufacture and distribution of a supposed wonder drug was done out of a sense of humanity.

"Some people are alive today because of this product," said Kimball, 60, a father of two and a onetime used-car salesman from Wesley Chapel.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara was unmoved. Lazzara presided over Kimball's May trial and conviction for illegally selling a regulated chemical compound called deprenyl.

"There has been a persistent, ongoing, intentional scheme for 10 years to circumvent the rules and regulations of the FDA and the state of Florida, which are designed for the health and safety of the public," Lazzara lectured.

Lazzara fined Kimball $25,000 and sentenced him to 13 years in prison, triple the term considered before the judge ruled that the defendant's egregious conduct warranted a series of sentencing enhancements.

Deprenyl is a prescription drug containing a substance considered effective in the treatment of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. The Food and Drug Administration says it may cause severe reactions, including toxicity, when used in excess or in combination with other drugs.

Kimball marketed deprenyl as a drug that could treat cancer, memory loss, depression and strokes. In a promotional newspaper called Inside Health, Kimball even claimed the drug would help sexual potence and extend life span.

USF vice president to leave school

TAMPA -- After 14 years as vice president of research at the University of South Florida, George Newkome is moving to the smaller University of Akron in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, USF officials said Thursday.

The announcement of Newkome's new position comes just days after a federal agency ordered USF's research department to notify 60 people that they were research subjects in eye surgeries performed by Dr. James Rowsey at USF's medical school.

Rowsey resigned last year amid a furor over the dozens of corneal transplants he performed between 1995 and 1998 using a cutting tool he developed. The tool had not been properly approved and the patients didn't know there was anything experimental about their surgeries.

Newkome, 61, and other USF officials distanced themselves from Rowsey, saying they knew nothing about his research. Newkome could not be reached Thursday night.

Meanwhile, USF's research funding in Newkome's 14-year administration rose dramatically, jumping from $25-million in 1986 to $171.3-million in 2000, making USF the second-largest research university in the state, behind the University of Florida.

USF officials said the University of Akron position will allow Newkome more time to do his own research in polymer science and polymer engineering in a program ranked among the top five in the country by U.S. News & World Report. He will remain at USF through the end of 2000.

Egg McMuffin attack gets student arrested

LARGO -- An Osceola High School 10th-grader was arrested Thursday after he allegedly threw a McDonald's Egg McMuffin at a school crossing guard from a passing car, hitting her in the head.

Michael Pond, 16, admitted to a school resource officer that he did it because he thought it was funny, Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie said.

Deputies said Pond was riding in a car with other students about 9:15 a.m. They stopped at 86th Avenue N and Starkey Road, where crossing guard Glenna Pitt was guiding children across the street. Pond and his friends asked Pitt how to get to McDonald's.

As the youths returned from McDonald's, Pond allegedly hit Pitt with the Egg McMuffin. Pitt, uninjured, followed the youths' car to school and reported the incident to a school resource officer.

Pond, of 10834 111th St. N in Largo, was charged with throwing a deadly missile from a vehicle, Dennie said. He was taken to the Pinellas County Juvenile Assessment Center.

Man escapes felony conviction in hit-run death

NEW PORT RICHEY -- A Pasco jury on Wednesday night convicted a 37-year-old man of a misdemeanor offense in connection with a 1997 hit-and-run crash that killed an elderly Port Richey woman as she was on her nightly walk around her neighborhood.

The jury deliberated for nearly four hours before finding Marshall Ellgas guilty of culpable negligence, but acquitting him of the more serious charges of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge William Webb sentenced Ellgas to a year in the county jail, but gave him credit for the eight months he has been in custody awaiting trial. Had he been convicted as charged, he faced up to 18 years in prison.

Brooksville standoff ends with suspect's arrest

BROOKSVILLE -- A tense standoff ended when police and deputies stormed a house Thursday and arrested attempted murder suspect Johnny Burgess III.

Law enforcement officers prepared for the worst when they got a tip that Burgess was hiding in a house in downtown Brooksville. Five police officers and 18 members of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office swarmed the residence at 240 Oakland St.

But when the standoff of over two hours ended about 1 p.m. after deputies fired tear gas into the house, no one was hurt as Burgess, 18, of 385 Union St., was taken into custody.

Burgess was wanted in the shooting of Galvin Bernard Smith, 25, in the leg and the chest Aug. 2 outside a Super Saver Food Store at 1400 E Jefferson St.

Burgess remained in the Hernando County Jail on Thursday without bail.

Construction cancels Pow Wow

SEMINOLE -- Organizers of the Seminole Pow Wow, the city's largest annual festival, have canceled next year's event because of the construction project at the recreation center.

Members of the volunteer committee that organizes the March event voted Wednesday to hold off a year rather than put on a smaller version of the Pow Wow somewhere else.

The Pow Wow, which began as a chicken dinner in 1967 to raise money for the then all-volunteer Seminole Fire Department and a stadium at Seminole High School, now includes a parade, entertainment, carnival rides, fireworks and arts and crafts vendors. Up to 10,000 people attend the annual event.

BayWalk set to open Nov. 17

ST. PETERSBURG -- There will be lots more to do in downtown St. Petersburg when the BayWalk entertainment and shopping complex opens to the public Nov. 17.

Craig Sher, CEO of BayWalk developer Sembler Co., and Sembler vice president Steve Althoff announced the date Thursday.

Sher said he hopes all the restaurants but one will be open on Nov. 17. About half the retail stores should be open by then as well.

Sembler Co. also announced that early next year a Starbucks Coffee shop will open below the BayWalk parking garage.

The garage will have free parking at night and on weekends for the first 90 days after BayWalk opens. After that, night and weekend parking will cost $1 for three hours. Daytime parking will be at comparable downtown rates.

BayWalk's 20-screen Muvico theater will not have an adults-only "Premier" screening room, as Sembler's new Centro Ybor location does, but it does have stadium seating.

Owner to get refund for '66 Charger

Clayton Stokes III's 1966 cherry-red Dodge Charger quit running two days after he bought it. Now, 3 1/2 months after arguing with the Clearwater classic car dealer that sold it to him, he's getting a refund.

P.J.'s Auto World on Cleveland Street agreed Wednesday evening -- the same day a Times story detailed Stokes' problems with the car -- to pay Stokes $10,450 for what its general manager called an "unfortunate situation."

Stokes, who had e-mailed several hundred classic car enthusiasts about his troubles, agreed to e-mail those classic car fans again and explain that the car dealer has given his money back and reclaimed the Charger.

Fire damages apartment complex

TAMPA -- A fire in a vacant apartment in the Riverview Terrace public housing complex caused $12,000 in damage Thursday morning.

Tampa Fire Rescue officials said the fire was deliberately started in the vacant apartment at 308 E Broad St., which was being used by transients and had furniture inside.

The fire started about 11:30 a.m., and firefighters had the blaze under control within 10 minutes.

The fire is under investigation.

Man arrested, guns seized in assault investigation

ST. PETERSBURG -- A 38-year-old man was arrested and 25 firearms were seized from his home Wednesday after he allegedly assaulted his nephew with a rifle, police said.

Benny P. Simms of 1100 19th Ave. N was charged with domestic battery, police spokesman Dan Bates said.

Simms was angry with his 22-year-old nephew for borrowing his bicycle, Bates said. When the nephew returned the bicycle to the house, Simms allegedly struck him with the gun, causing lacerations to his nose and head, and pointed the gun at him.

Simms' nephew left the house after the incident and called police, who arrived several minutes later, Bates said. While conducting the arrest, officers took 25 firearms that they found in the house.

Bates said he did not know what kind of firearms were taken.

Sunken plane planned as reef's anchor vanishes

A Navy bomber, which was sunk in the Gulf of Mexico on July 2, has gone AWOL.

The P2V Neptune bomber was to be the anchor of the soon-to-be dedicated Veterans Reef, which is 11 miles west of Dunedin's Hurricane Pass. However, a dive crew, sent down because officials could not find it from the surface, found no sign of it on Oct. 5.

The Cold War-era bomber is missing, gone, lost at sea. The only evidence left behind was its landing gear and a piece of its tail section -- and together those don't give officials much of a clue.

"It's a sad thing," said Norman Roche, a public relations specialist for Pinellas County Utilities. "It was a neat idea. The theory behind it was to use it as an icon, but Mother Nature had other things in store for her."

Strong undercurrents resulting from Hurricane Gordon in September may be to blame. It is likely the currents rocked the 40,000-pound plane until steel bolts popped. It is anyone's guess what happened next. It either was destroyed or drifted away.

What about pranksters?

"I guess anything is possible, but that would be an awfully arduous task," Roche said.

The aircraft was secured to the deck of 150-foot barge and sunk about 43 feet to rest on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. It had been part of a military-scrap reef, a 20-year project to build a milelong underwater barrier using military equipment as a tribute to veterans.

Fifty-three Neptune P2Vs were produced by Lockheed between August 1948 and January 1950. It is likely the county will find a tank or another military plane to replace the wayward bomber. Until then, Pinellas County officials have issued a plea to the Clearwater harbormaster, Caladesi Island State Park, Honeymoon Island State Park and Sand Key Park to be on the lookout for the plane.

Boaters and divers with information about that aircraft may call Pinellas County Utilities at 464-3896.

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