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Tampa Bay in brief

By Times staff reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 6, 2000

Pilot lands early after man mutters about a bomb

The captain of a US Airways flight from Tampa International Airport to Philadelphia diverted to Charlotte on Monday after a passenger, upset about his seating arrangements, muttered something about a bomb.

Flight 380, with 124 passengers aboard, sat on the ground at Charlotte for about 90 minutes while it was searched for a bomb, but none was found, according to David Castleveter, a spokesman at US Airways corporate headquarters in Virginia.

"There were some security concerns for our crew," Castleveter said. "The FBI met the aircraft and detained the individual. He was traveling with two other passengers. They could have remained on board and flown on with us, but they chose not to."

The FBI is withholding the name of the passenger, although he has been released while an investigation of the incident continues.

Federal legislation has established a $2,500 fine for disruptive passengers, but it has not yet gone into effect.

Assistant attorney general to join Hillsborough bench

TAMPA -- Assistant Attorney General Cheryl K. Thomas will become the newest judge on the Hillsborough County bench.

Thomas, a 42-year-old Tampa native, got the call from Gov. Jeb Bush this week that she had been picked to replace Marva Crenshaw, who was recently elevated to the circuit bench.

A University of Florida law school graduate, Thomas has served as a prosecutor, a partner in a private firm, assistant staff counsel for the Florida Bar and assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Transportation. She currently handles eminent domain matters at the Attorney General's Office in Tampa.

Victims of van accident released from hospital

REDINGTON SHORES -- Four people in a van that crashed into a row of parked cars Monday night have been released from the hospital.

The driver was issued a traffic citation after the fiery crash that destroyed several cars parked along Gulf Boulevard.

"It appears that he was driving in the slow lane and then either wandered over into the parking lane or started driving in the parking lane," said Indian Shores police Sgt. Leo Yates. However, the driver had not been drinking or speeding, Yates said.

The van's driver -- Sheng Tung Chung, 58, of St. Petersburg -- was charged with not using a designated lane, Yates said.

Chung was driving south at about 40 mph when his van hit a parked car in front of the Friendly Tavern at 18121 Gulf Blvd. at about 6:45 p.m., causing a chain-reaction crash and explosion among five parked vehicles.

"Nobody was in the parked cars," Yates said. "Thank goodness for that."

Three other people were in Chung's van: his wife, Chun Lion Chung, 45, and two visitors from Canada, Chao-lin Hsia, 64, and Chia-yi Hsia, 18. The older Hsia suffered an eye injury and a broken wrist.

Passers-by pulled the van's passengers to safety, and they were treated at Sun Coast Hospital.

The van and three parked cars were totaled in the crash. Two other parked vehicles had less severe damage.

82-year-old woman tries to fight house fire herself

TAMPA -- About six months ago, fire officials put a smoke detector in the home of 82-year-old Myra Greenwood.

They didn't think they needed to lecture her on the importance of not battling flames herself.

Shortly before 9 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters responded to a report of smoke and flames coming from the Greenwood home, 5017 Liberty St.

Mrs. Greenwood was home when she smelled smoke and her alarm sounded. Instead of leaving, she got a pot of water and tried to douse the fire herself, said Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade.

Patricia Mellot, who was working nearby, saw the fire, entered the smoke-filled home and pulled Mrs. Greenwood to safety.

Mrs. Greenwood was not hurt. The fire, which officials say was caused by an electrical short near an outlet, caused $54,000 in damage and destroyed the home where Mrs. Greenwood had lived for 40 years.

Pinellas Democrats elect new leadership

Pinellas County's Democratic Party elected new leaders on Monday night.

Cheryl Long, a party activist and retired Honeywell systems analyst, was elected chairwoman of the party organization, officially called the Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee.

Robert Shirer remained as vice chairman.

Other new officers include State Committeewoman Janet L. Goen, State Committeeman Arnett Smith Jr., Treasurer Sharon Clifford, Secretary Jo Denton Tuck and Sergeant-at-Arms Richard J. Dishman.

Pinellas Democrats are a notoriously fractious group with a history of infighting between opposing factions. Party leaders say they are trying to move past that. They point out that in this past election, Democrats Al Gore and Bill Nelson won more Pinellas County votes than their Republican opponents.

Fire displaces family; electric meter blamed

TAMPA -- A fire Tuesday morning that destroyed a house and displaced a family was caused by a faulty electric meter, officials said.

Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade said firefighters responded about 4 a.m. to the one-story home at 4211 N 24th St. The fire spread to a vacant house next door, Wade said, before firefighters brought it under control.

There were no injuries.

A resident told investigators he heard an explosion, saw flames and got his family out.

In a statement Tuesday, Tampa Electric officials said the company was working with "an independent investigation team" to determine the fire's cause.

Carjacker greets Lowe's employee arriving at work

TAMPA -- A Lowe's employee told police he had just parked his SUV early Tuesday when a man with a gun emerged from the Christmas trees for sale.

As the employee walked across the store's parking lot on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard about 4 a.m., the man forced him to the ground, put a handgun to the back of his head and demanded the keys to his 1995 Toyota 4Runner, police said.

"I already killed a man, so I just need to go," the gunman said, according to a police report.

Police said they do not think the man had killed anyone.

"He could have been using that as a threat," said Tampa police Sgt. Bob Weinhold.

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