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    Tampa Bay briefs

    By Times staff reports

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published November 1, 2001


    Two teens arrested, accused in powder prank

    PLANT CITY -- Two teens told sheriff's deputies Wednesday that they poured baking soda into four envelopes and gave them to fellow Plant City High School students as a prank.

    But Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies weren't laughing. The two were charged with threatening a weapon of mass destruction, a charge that carries up to 15 years in prison if the teens are convicted as adults.

    According to the Sheriff's Office, the two boys, ages 16 and 15, handed four students envelopes about noon Wednesday. White powder spilled out of three envelopes, and some of the substance spilled on the boys' bathroom floor, causing authorities to seal the room.

    After a school resource officer investigated and found that the powder was baking soda, the two teens, both of Plant City, were arrested. Their names are not being published because of their ages.

    School Board spokesman Mark Hart said the board is recommending that the students be expelled.

    Settlement reached in lawsuit over tests

    TAMPA -- Four years ago, the Hillsborough County School Board bought a set of standardized tests from Harcourt Educational Measurement for about $480,000 so it could determine how students compared to others nationally.

    But when school officials found out the New York testing company had sold a similar exam to the state of Florida as one of the FCAT tests, they learned it was nearly useless here and filed a lawsuit in federal court for breach of contract.

    "We had it put in the contract for them to protect the integrity of the test," said School Board attorney Crosby Few. "They failed to do that."

    Hillsborough was prohibited from using the test until either 180 days before the state did or 30 days afterward, a narrow window.

    "I'm sitting here with a couple thousand dollars worth of tests, and I can't use them," said John Hilderbrand, Hillsborough's director of assessment. Now, a year after negotiations began, the two sides have settled. According to a proposed agreement between Hillsborough and Harcourt, the testing company will pay the district $207,753 and forgive the $59,247 it was owed.

    The district had been able to use the test, called the Stanford 9, for about three years before the state began using it.

    The board will be asked to approve the agreement Tuesday.

    Harcourt officials could not be reached for comment.

    Mayors gather in Miami to discuss terror response

    Mayors from Tampa, St. Petersburg and three other Florida cities gathered in Miami on Wednesday to discuss terrorism and how to respond.

    Cindy Miller, Tampa's director of intergovernmental relations, said a key topic of discussion was how to ensure communication between federal and local agencies in case of a terrorist attack.

    The mayors stressed the importance of keeping their public safety agencies well informed as crises unfold, Miller said, since "local governments will be the ones that are responding."

    Attending the event were Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and the mayors of Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Hialeah.

    Robbery suspect is linked to rape

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A Tampa man arrested in several home invasions, armed robberies and assaults also is a suspect in the rape Sept. 5 of a 13-year-old St. Petersburg girl, police said.

    Authorities said Hanh Van Nguyen, 40, of 7821 St. Vincent St., was armed with a handgun stolen from Pasco County when he knocked on the door of a Carrollwood home, subdued two women and ransacked the house this week. Another person hiding in the house phoned 911, leading to Nguyen's arrest minutes later.

    St. Petersburg police think Nguyen is responsible for two home invasion robberies in the past week.

    When they presented his image in a lineup to the 13-year-old victim, "she went right to him (Nguyen)," said George Kajtsa, St. Petersburg police spokesman.

    The girl was attacked two months ago while home alone and preparing for school at 8 a.m.

    St. Petersburg police spokesman Rick Stelljes said the department will present its findings to the State Attorney's Office, which will determine formal charges.

    West Nile virus kills horse in Citrus

    LECANTO -- The Citrus County Health Department announced Wednesday that a horse has died from the West Nile virus just southeast of Inverness.

    Citrus has been under a West Nile medical alert since September, when tests showed a dead blue jay found Aug. 22 carried the virus.

    State and local health officials recommend that where there's an alert residents stay indoors at dawn, dusk and early evenings; wear socks, shoes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when going outdoors during times when mosquitoes are active; and use insect repellent.

    Man accused of severely beating wife

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A 44-year-old construction worker was arrested and charged with attempted homicide Wednesday after police said he severely beat his wife.

    Robert Richard Poremski of 10511/2 18th Ave. N is being held without bail in the Pinellas County Jail. His wife, Regina Poremski, 43, has a fractured skull and is in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center.

    Police were called to their home Tuesday night after residents heard Poremski shouting, "Get up off the floor!" and no response from his wife. When officers arrived, they found his wife naked and unconscious on the floor.

    She is expected to recover from the injuries, police said.

    Housing chief's successor chosen

    TAMPA -- Mayor Dick Greco will replace scandal-plagued city housing chief Steve LaBrake with one of LaBrake's predecessors, real estate broker Robert Harrell.

    Harrell ran the city's housing department from 1986 to 1993 and worked for two years after that as city finance director.

    He later worked as interim director of the Tampa Bay History Center and the Tampa Museum of Art.

    Greco placed LaBrake on paid suspension from his $105,000-a-year job in early October, giving him 90 days of pay while he defended himself against allegations of wrongdoing.

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