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    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


    Driver killed in wreck was not wearing seat belt

    ST. PETERSBURG -- A St. Petersburg man killed Sunday in a car crash was not wearing a seat belt, police said.

    Thomas P. Yonkers, 46, was driving north on 16th Street at 8:13 p.m. when he ran a red light at First Avenue N, police said. Yonkers drove into the path of a tow truck.

    The right front side of his 1997 Geo Prism struck the front of a 1995 Isuzu tow truck driven by Trevor Hill, also of St. Petersburg.

    Hill, 27, an employee of Sunshine Automotive, was treated at Bayfront Medical Center and released. Yonkers was taken to the same hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

    His death is the 26th traffic-related fatality this year in St. Petersburg. Last year, there were 36 such deaths.

    No charges have been filed. Yonkers' wife, Maureen Yonkers, declined to comment Tuesday.

    Conviction is upheld; killer stays in prison

    A judge refused Tuesday to throw out Jimmy Dale Smith's life sentence.

    Smith, who pleaded guilty to shooting two Hernando High teachers to death in 1996, filed a motion in September arguing that he was threatened into admitting to the crimes and that his lawyer did not do enough to prove Smith was insane during his rampage. Judge Richard Tombrink rejected that argument Tuesday, agreeing with officials' arguments that Smith's public defender did everything he could to help his client and that Smith said he understood what he was doing when he pleaded guilty.

    Free food program to be held Thursday

    Farm Share, an annual giveaway of fresh Florida produce, will be Thursday at three locations: 3 p.m. at the Martin Luther King Recreation Complex, 1201 Martin Luther King Drive in Clearwater; noon at Union Academy Cultural Center, 401 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SE in Tarpon Springs; 9 a.m. at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church, 5340 High St. in New Port Richey. Those who wish to receive the free food, which is supplied by Florida farmers, must show Medicaid, food stamps or WIC identification. Call 787-8991 for more information.

    Plane lands after hitting bird

    TAMPA -- A bird at Tampa International Airport caused a plane to make an emergency landing and delayed about 40 people bound for Baltimore on Thursday night.

    As the Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 took off, a bird was sucked into one of its engines, said TIA spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan.

    It caused a loud bang and an odor inside the cabin.

    Geoghagan said the pilot maintained altitude, turned the plane around and landed safely moments after taking off.

    "It taxied on its own to the airside," Geoghagan said. Passenger Bob Wood of Newport, R.I., said the incident didn't bother him. He has spent 21 years as an air traffic controller.

    "Of course, I've never actually been in the airplane when something like this happened before," Wood said. The plane was expected to take off for Baltimore a second time Tuesday night.

    Richard Nielsen gets call for circuit judge

    TAMPA -- Civil trial attorney Richard A. Nielsen will soon become the newest face on the Hillsborough circuit bench.

    Nielsen, head of the litigation department in the Tampa firm of Salem, Saxon & Nielsen and a board-certified civil trial lawyer, got the call at home from Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday night telling him he had been selected.

    The 50-year-old attorney fills a seat that was held by Circuit Judge Diana Allen, who died in July.

    Nielsen, who is married and has two grown sons, expects to take the bench in December and will become a juvenile court judge.

    "It will be a challenge, but it's exciting," he said Tuesday.

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