DUNEDIN - Jean “Carlos” Ulloa said in so many words that he was just doing what he was trained to do during a life-threatening incident at Three Rooker Island April 19.
But a father, near tears, said his family is forever grateful to Ulloa for the firefighter paramedic’s actions to help rescue four children.
“On that day I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to see my children again,” said Ram Singh, addressing the Dunedin City Commission Oct. 1.
For his efforts, Ulloa received the Dunedin Fire Department’s Certificate of Valor for outstanding bravery in observing and preventing a potentially life-threatening incident. It’s the department’s highest award.
In a letter Singh wrote to Fire Chief Jeff Parks, Singh said as he was walking around the island with his boat captain, a few women were trying to get his attention, waving for him to hurry.
“As I got closer to them I realized that something had gone wrong. My wife had her hands covered over her face and [was] crying. She could not speak clearly but she was able to say that ‘the kids are gone.’ I was shocked beyond belief as I looked at the ocean (Gulf) only to see a vast body of water; no sight of humans but just boats,” Singh wrote.
LARGO - Building Official William Ondulich has resigned, following a complaint to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that employees in Largo’s building division were approving construction plans without proper licenses.
The complaint, made by a city inspector who was put on administrative leave Sept. 22 for a reportedly unrelated issue, stated that Ondulich knew the city’s three plans examiners signed off plans they weren’t qualified to review. The Largo Leader has reviewed documentation that may back up the accusations.
The cost for lack of expertise perceived by local contractors who deal with the city on a regular basis is loss of time and money during tight construction schedules. In the cases of some larger projects - including the new Walmarts on Ulmerton Road and Missouri Avenue and Largo’s Wawa - portions of plumbing had to be removed and reinstalled in the middle of construction when it was found that the plans didn’t meet state building standards.
Mistakes like that should be caught at City Hall and corrected before they make it back into the hands of contractors, said city building inspector Glenn Hall, who was responsible for finding the plumbing errors in the plans at the two Walmarts and the Wawa, as well as the state complaint.
CLEARWATER - One government’s trash pile could be a developer’s treasure trove, if Pinellas County Commissioners give staff the go ahead to negotiate with one of three with plans for the 240-acre Toytown landfill site.
Director of Purchasing Joe Lauro confirmed Sept. 24 that only three proposals had been received in response to a request for negotiation, or RFN, sent out by the county’s Economic Development Authority. Deadline to express interest in buying or leasing the property was Aug. 18.
An evaluation committee has since reviewed the proposals and ranked them according to criteria contained in the RFN, Lauro said. The committee ranked SportsPark Partners LLC as No. 1. Meridian Realty Capital LLC ranked No. 2, and SunRay Park ranked No. 3.
Staff will present the committee’s ranking of firms to the County Commission Oct. 6. Successful fruition of any of the three plans could be a big boost in the county’s economy in terms of new jobs and tax revenue. A previous deal approved by the commission July 1, 2008, to sell the land to Florida Gateway Development LLC was stalled by the Great Recession and never came to be. The developer pulled out in 2011.
ST. PETE BEACH - When St. Pete Beach City Commissioners gave the final approval last week on an ordinance allowing outdoor dining and alcohol consumption on sidewalks in the Corey Avenue business district, they said they opened the door for future redevelopment.
But for Rob Williams, proprietor of the popular Swigwam Beach Bar at 336 Corey Ave., it ended a three-year battle with other Corey business owners over the right for Swigwam patrons to enjoy a cold beer in the comfort of chairs on the sidewalk in front of the pub.
Williams’ victory was the latest in a series of challenges he has been faced with. Surprisingly, he has walked away from all with success, including a recent battle with throat and neck cancer. On that front, he is now cancer free for five years and will soon be marrying his long-time fiancée Pam.
Williams’ story starts many years ago. It goes back to spring break in 1986 when at age 26 he began working as a bartender at the Swigwam Beach Bar behind what is now the Post Card Inn at 6300 Gulf Blvd.
“That was a fantastic job for all those years,” Williams said. “It was great watching the sun go down every night. I loved it.”
LARGO - Sixty-four arrests have been made in the past five weeks, as local law enforcement agencies collaborate to deal with a recent increase in auto theft and auto burglaries.
Two police chiefs and the Pinellas County Sheriff announced results of the work done by a 36-member Auto Theft Task Force at a Sept. 25 press conference at the sheriff’s administration building in Largo.
Of the 64 arrests, 36 suspects were adults and 28 were juveniles. Suspects were arrested for various crimes, resulting in 171 charges, including 37 for grand theft auto, 19 for fleeing and eluding, 19 for resisting arrest without violence, 12 for conveyance burglaries, 11 for driving while license suspended or revoked and others, according to a media release.
St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said an increase in auto burglaries was noticed in his city in February. Investigators soon discovered that cars stolen in St. Petersburg were being dropped off in Tampa and cars stolen in Tampa were being dropped off in St. Petersburg, he said.
So, Tampa police and St. Petersburg police began working together. Soon after, when it became apparent that the problem was bigger than earlier believed, they called Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
CLEARWATER - Julie Daniels remembers being stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and hearing what she and her Air Force colleagues thought were enemy bombs exploding nearby.
As it turns out, the bombs were actually U.S. missiles.
“Sirens go off. Everybody jumps into their chemical gear. Because we don’t know. We are ripping stuff apart in the middle of the night,” she said.
She had pajamas on under her chemical gear.
“I had the mask on. It was crazy,” said Daniels, who spent 21 years in the military, retiring as a captain in 2007.
“There was actually a Patriot launch site two miles from where we lived. What we thought was actually bombing us were the Patriots launching. And it literally sounded like somebody was shooting bombs at us,” Daniels said.
She served overseas during the Gulf War for five months. That and other experiences in the military prepared her for challenges in her personal and professional life years later.
Joining the Air Force on the advice of a friend, she served in Germany before being stationed for 60 days at Hurlburt Field in Fort Walton Beach. Then she was deployed to a communication station as part of Operation Desert Storm. As can be expected, Daniels was nervous about her overseas assignment.
CLEARWATER - Transportation policies and project priorities were the topics of conversation at a Sept. 15 Pinellas County Commission work session.
The meeting continued talks that started in March when commissioners approved adjustments to the criteria used to prioritize transportation projects based on the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan.
According to a report to the commission from staff, when the MPOs long-range plan was presented to the MPO board in September of 2014, county commissioners who serve on that board expressed concerns that some road projects did not rank well using existing criteria for funding.
A “working group” then took those concerns and used them as a basis to revise the criteria used to determine priorities and transportation needs. Staff presented those revisions to the county commission in March. At that time, the commission asked staff to prepare a report that showed what would happen if the new criteria were applied to the list of future roadway projects. The commission also asked staff to evaluate what changes the new criteria would make to projects currently on the list for funding by the Penny for Pinellas infrastructure tax.
DUNEDIN - City commissioners debated over a proposed downtown Dunedin parking option Sept. 17, expressing mixed opinions on what they want staff to pursue in the plan.
Nevertheless, after more than three hours of discussion, city commissioners voted 3-2 to ask staff to further refine a proposal to explore a public-private partnership involving a parking garage off Douglas Avenue to increase the downtown parking stock.
The commission’s action, based on the motion made by Commissioner Deborah Kynes, also asked staff to include a paid-parking component to create a revenue stream for parking needs and use proceeds from a settlement with BP stemming from the company’s 2010 oil spill to help fund the partnership.
“I think in part of all this mix there has to be some sort of paid parking bridge to the future,” Kynes said.
The staff’s new option, city memos say, called for a portion of funds from a BP oil spill settlement, about $1.9 million, to be used for a period of time. Free parking would be maintained.
The measure would pay for two new surface parking lot leases, and a public-private partnership would retain and increase downtown parking by about 317 parking spaces.
CLEARWATER - Largo resident and retired Raymond James Financial executive Lynn Pippenger added the Citizen of the Year award to her résumé during the 63rd annual Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce Meeting and Awards Breakfast on Sept. 8 in Sand Key.
But as a library assistant who knows what it takes to maintain an institution, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith has another word to describe Pippenger: “godsend.”
“She has done so much for our library foundation,” Smith said.
Pippenger, who serves as the Greater Largo Library Foundation’s president, has been instrumental in its continued growth. Recently, she announced the foundation’s newest goal of purchasing a mobile book library, something the library has sought since its inception.
“With the Largo library, I have given back in time, treasure and talent. They keep me very busy, but I love it,” Pippenger said.
Pippenger’s generosity has gone beyond Largo, though. This past February, the University of South Florida named its accounting school after her, recognizing her longtime support, which includes $21 million in donations to the USF Muma College of Business.
The risk of rip currents off area beaches remains high through at least Sunday evening, according to the National Weather Service in Ruskin.
The threat should lessen through the day on Monday.
NWS says steady onshore winds will continue through the weekend, causing elevated surf and a high risk of rip currents along the beaches on the state’s west coast. Beachgoers are advised to heed the advice of lifeguards and watch for flags and posted signs.
Rip currents are channels of water that flow quickly away from shore. They commonly occur at low spots or breaks in sandbars and around structures, such as groins, jetties and piers.
LARGO - Pinellas County Sheriff’s detectives arrested seven suspects over the last nine months in connection with a large-scale racketeering scam involving the elderly and two local building supply stores.
According to an Oct. 2 media release, the investigation began in 2012. Detectives with the Economic Crimes made arrests of the suspects Jan. 7-Oct. 2, 2015.
Home Depot Corporate security notified the sheriff’s office in 2012 about ongoing criminal activities at some of the stores in Pinellas. An unidentified group were using stolen credit cards to purchase high dollar power tools and then returning the items for cash.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard scored 353.3 out of 400 on his annual performance review. And plenty of praise in the written comments accompanied the 88 percent composite score from each of the seven commissioners.
Woodard’s score was vastly different compared to the last evaluation given to former administrator Bob LaSala, who scored only 70 percent. LaSala was fired April 15, 2014.
Woodard, who was LaSala’s chief of staff, became interim administrator April 22. After a nationwide search for a new administrator, the commission offered the job to Woodard Aug. 5.
One of the scariest diagnoses a woman will ever hear is “You’ve got breast cancer.”
The National Cancer Institute estimates that 231,840 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and 40,290 will die. Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Statistics show that one in eight women, about 12 percent, will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
PINELLAS PARK - After months of hard work, the Pinellas Park Better Block is finally here. The pop-up event, designed to showcase the city’s growing business and arts district in the 5600, 5700 and 5800 blocks along Park Boulevard, will take place Saturday, Oct. 10, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 11, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Better Block event falls within the Community Redevelopment District, where, in recent years, the city has purchased a number of blighted properties to revamp the area and encourage the growth of small businesses. An international program that was founded in Dallas, this unique pop-up event, which focuses on urban redevelopment, is designed to build a life-sized working model of what the area could look like. It will include pedestrian-friendly transportation, pop-up art galleries, boutiques, vendors and public art, and arts and entertainment programming.
LARGO - Sarah Malone and several members of the Largo Tidal Waves swim team can’t wait to compete at the upcoming state championships of the Special Olympics. They have one problem, though.
“The medals are like huge. They are not easy to carry on your neck,” she said.
It’s a problem her teammates know all too well. Five of the six qualifiers from the team that practices at Southwest Recreation Complex in Largo twice a week have come home with medals from the state competition in the past.
A tropical storm warning as well as a hurricane watch is in effect for the Island Bermuda as a Category 4 hurricane Joaquin continues its journey off the U.S. east coast.
On the current forecast track, the eye of the hurricane should pass west of Bermuda on Sunday.
“However, a small deviation to the east of the forecast track would bring the core of the hurricane and stronger winds closer to Bermuda,” according the National Hurricane Center’s 5 p.m. discussion and 48-hour outlook.