Phil Ammann - 2/380 - SaintPetersBlog

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Former East Lake High baseball player accuses coaches of shaking him down for cash

Robert Michael “Rob” Lober

A former East Lake High School baseball player is suing the Pinellas County School Board, accusing two coaches of shaking him down for cash in 2015.

Robert Michael “Rob” Lober — also known as Robert Michael Schembri — is a 20-year-old Pinellas County resident. Lober works customer service at a Tampa Publix, according to his LinkedIn bio, and is currently a student at USF studying finance.

In early 2015, Lober was a catcher and third baseman on the East Lake baseball team, when coaches Dan Genna and Rafael Perez allegedly began pressuring him give or lend them money on several occasions.

The coaches knew Lober had recently settled a personal injury claim; he repeatedly rejected their demands for money. Lober accuses the pair of retaliation by benching him for most or all of the 2015 season as well as failing to treat him “fairly and honestly.”

Genna was East Lake High baseball coach for five seasons when he resigned in June 2015. He had a 102-39 record while at East Lake, leading the Eagles to the Class 7A state final in 2014. Before joining East Lake, Genna coached at Tarpon Springs High for seven seasons.

“I feel this is the best time to step away from the program,” Genna told the Tampa Bay Times. “I just don’t want to do the all-year grind.”

After his resignation, Genna continued to teach at East Lake, 1300 Silver Eagle Dr. in Tarpon Springs. As of February 2017, Carmela Haley is the school’s principal and Zach Roper is head baseball coach.

In a lawsuit filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court Feb. 6, Lober says the benching cost him a shot at a college baseball scholarship, among other financial benefits. Lober is asking for a jury trial.

Records suggest Lober is the son of Debra DiStefano-Schembri, a Palm Harbor resident who married Peter Schembri in 2012. Police records show that in August 2013, DiStefano-Schembri was arrested by Pinellas County sheriffs on a single charge of child abuse.

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Senate Rules Committee stands its ground on Stand Your Ground

A Florida Senate committee overwhelmingly approved the latest attempt to expand the state’s Stand Your Ground self-defense law.

On Thursday, the Senate Rules Committee passed the measure after advocates said it would stop unnecessary prosecutions.

Opponents alleged it would stop a lot of necessary prosecutions, as well.

Senate Bill 128 would allow gun defendants to demand pretrial hearings on their claims of self-defense, putting the burden of proof on prosecutors to prove the defendants used the guns not in self-defense.

After more than an hour of debate, SB 128 won committee approval with just a smattering of no votes, mostly from Democrats.

Sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley and others pushed the bill as a response to a 2015 Florida Supreme Court decision that established pretrial rules and procedure for stand-your-ground defenses, but placed the burden of proof on defendants. Bradley argued it was never the Florida Legislature’s intent to make stand-your-ground a burden for the accused to prove. The intent, Bradley said, always had been that the state — prosecutors — needed to prove that self-defense wasn’t the reason for the gun use, even if it results in the death of an alleged attacker.

The ramifications have partisan and racial overtones, as well as high emotions. Democrats and others who’ve advocated for restrictions on gun usages have argued that many stand your ground cases involve white defendants shooting or threatening black alleged attackers.

And the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford made Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, passed in 2005, a national debate.

Yet the ramifications also go the other way, as suggested by the case of Marissa Alexander, who is black, and who was denied a Stand Your Ground defense when she was prosecuted and convicted of firing a warning shot at her abusive husband in 2012.

SB 128 could have prevented either of those cases from ever going to trial if the prosecutors had not been able to disprove a self-defense claim, beyond a reasonable doubt, during a pretrial hearing.

Alexander, who was freed in January, testified Thursday for SB 128.

“I’m just going to give you three numbers. Number one. Number 12. And number 20. For me, one shot, a 12-minute verdict got me 20 years,” she said. “I did go through a Stand Your Ground hearing. And in that hearing, you could tell the court and the prosecution struggled with that because it was difficult. With that said, putting a defendant in the position where they have to bear the burden of proof, in my opinion, removes your Constitutional right, the 5th Amendment.”

Bradley argued that the bill is not an expansion but a fix, to the Supreme Court decision made in Bretherick v. Florida, which put the burden of proof squarely on the defendant to show, by a preponderance of evidence, that there is a self-defense case.

“Since our country’s finding, our criminal justice system has certain basic premises that are timeless. These are principals that every American intuitively understands. You are innocent until proven guilty. The government carries the burden of proof from the beginning of a case until the end,” Bradley said, arguing that the Bretherick decision goes against that.

Others, including state Sens. Perry Thurston Jr., Oscar Braynon rebutted that, saying there are many situations in which defendants pursuing “affirmative defenses” — which also include alleging entrapment — have the burden of proof in pretrial hearings. Braynon also pressed Bradley to name one other state that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors in Stand Your Ground hearings, and Bradley said he could not.

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Pinellas County sends more than 26K mail ballots for March 14 elections

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark announced her office mailed 26,512 ballots Tuesday to domestic voters in the 10 municipalities holding elections March 14.

Those municipalities include Gulfport (3,615); Indian Rocks Beach: (1,439); Madeira Beach (1,252); North Redington Beach (548); Redington Shores (220); Safety Harbor (5,606); South Pasadena (2,093); St. Pete Beach (3,506); Tarpon Springs (6,742) and Treasure Island (1,491).

Clark says that all eligible registered voters can request a mail ballot and voted mail ballots must be received at one of the three county elections offices by 7 p.m. Election Day. Additional mail ballot requests will be fulfilled as received.

Changes in postal delivery service mean voters must allow at least one week for mail ballots to arrive at the Supervisor of Elections office. Voted mail ballots cannot be accepted at polling places.

Domestic voters are identified as civilian voters in the United States and active-duty military voters residing in Pinellas County.

To request a mail ballot, visit VotePinellas.com, call 727-464-VOTE (8683) or email MailBallot@VotePinellas.com.

The deadline to request a mail ballot is 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 8.

 

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Bayshore motorcycle crash victim blames poorly maintained city-owned sprinklers

Corey Rikard was riding a motorcycle on Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard last year, when the bike slipped on a puddle and crashed, leaving him in a coma for several days.

Rikard is now suing the city of Tampa, blaming improperly maintained water sprinklers for the unexpected wet patch.

While the suit gives few identifying details, records show a man named Corey Glaine Rikard, 26, has a rather lengthy driving record in Pinellas County. Among the citations are knowingly driving with a suspended license, operating a vehicle without insurance, speeding in a school zone, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, and careless driving.

Rikard also has criminal arrests for DUI and armed burglary.

However, after that, Rikard turned his life around, said his mother, Kathy Rikard.

“He became an active member of a community Bible-based church,” she said in an email. “and is three years sober and sponsors for AA.”

In a suit filed Jan. 31 in Hillsborough’s County’s 13th Judicial Circuit Court, Rikard says he was driving his motorcycle June 15, 2016, on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.

Somewhere near the intersection of South Edison Avenue, Rikard rode into a large, unseen puddle of water left by allegedly “broken” water sprinklers managed by the city of Tampa.

The puddle caused him to skid and fly off his motorcycle, leaving him in a coma. The suit is unclear of the time of the accident, what speed he was traveling or what injuries he Rikard had incurred.

The suit, filed by Kathy Rikard on behalf of her son, says his “severe and lasting injuries” were a result of the city’s negligent maintenance of the water sprinklers.

Part of the filing contains a letter dated Jan. 18, 2017, which shows Tampa officials denying liability for Rikard’s accident. The city claims “no prior notice of a problem with water sprinklers located on Bayshore Boulevard on the date of your clients [sic] accident.”

A Tampa Police accident report was also filed, but unavailable at the time of publication.

According to Kathy Rikard, her son’s toxicology reports “came back clear” after the accident.  “He takes his sobriety so seriously, he refused any pain medication, she said. “So the doctors had to put him in traction without [drugs].”

“He takes his sobriety so seriously, he refused any pain medication, she said. “So the doctors had to put him in traction without [drugs].”

A Facebook photo from January 2016 shows a person – presumably Rikard – riding a motorcycle. Many of the posts – the last one in November 2016 – are from friends and well-wishers concerned about his condition after the incident.

Court dockets show Rikard’s residence is on Briarhaven Court in Tampa, TLO.com records also have Corey Glaine Rikard residing on Seminole Boulevard in Seminole.

Although Corey Rikard’s Facebook page lists him as a Clearwater resident who worked at North St. Pete Collision, but his mother confirms that Corey is currently living at her home in Briarhaven, Connecticut, and remains in a coma.

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Former Tampa councilmember Helen Chavez died from misdiagnosis, daughter claims

A medical misdiagnosis and drug interaction caused the death of a former Tampa City Council member, her daughter claims in a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County.

Republican Helen Pappas Chavez, a fine-dining restaurateur, served on the Tampa City Council from 1979 to 1987. She stepped down from the Council in 1987 to run for mayor, later losing to Sandy Freedman.

Her restaurants included Chavez at the Royal, Chavez Windows on the Park and the Tea Room in Old Hyde Park.

Chavez died Aug. 2, 2014, at age 89, leaving behind three daughters, one of which told the Tampa Bay Times that she died of organ failure.

Denise Elaine Chavez, 69, is one of Helen Chavez’s daughters; she also became a restaurateur and ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2007. Chavez currently operates Chavez at Home, a catering company.

About a week before she died, Helen Chavez went the office of Dr. Christine Hyatt Torres of GMS Bayside Physicians, complaining of a swollen lip. Chavez had been on Ramipril, a drug blood-pressure and congestive-heart-failure drug; swelling is listed on drugs.com as one side effects of the drug.

According to a suit filed Jan. 31 by Denise Chavez, on behalf of the estate of Helen Chavez, Torres allegedly misdiagnosed the problem as a food allergy and prescribed Benadryl.

That day, Chavez was admitted to the emergency room, dying days later from congestive heart failure.

Denise Chavez claims the defendants – Torres, Physician Assistant Kimberly Gore and GMS Florida West Coast Inc., doing business as GMS Bayside Physicians — should have known the swelling was a side effect of Ramipril, and should have told Helen Chavez to discontinue taking the drug.

The suit also blames the defendants for discharging Chavez without referring her to a specialist first.

Denise Chavez is demanding a jury trial, and is seeking costs for hospitalization, medical care and treatment, as well as death expenses, costs, and loss of income or business interests for both Helen and Denise.

Although Torres appears on the GMS Florida website, state records show her medical license was delinquent as of Feb. 6.

GMS operates three locations in Tampa: 3043 W. Cleveland Street, 508 S. Habana Avenue, and 4278 W. Linebaugh Avenue.

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Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber ready to fight for VISIT FLORIDA

For beaches in the Tampa Bay region, tourism matters.

That’s why the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce is getting ready to fight, calling its members Tuesday to push back against proposed legislation to shut down VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism arm.

Last week, House leadership introduced committee bill (PCB CCS 17-01) to kill both VISIT FLORIDA and Enterprise Florida, the state’s job incentive program.

As part of the $83.5 billion “Fighting for Florida’s Future” budget for 2017-18, Gov. Rick Scott is proposing $76 million for Visit Florida, the agency tasked with marketing Florida to domestic and international visitors. Nevertheless, House leaders have threatened to pull funding after some questionable deals with racing car teams, British soccer teams and Miami-based pop star Pitbull.

But the Chamber sees VISIT FLORIDA as a vital tool to bring tourists to region’s beaches.

“VISIT FLORIDA is essential in bringing visitors to our state who generate 23 percent of our sales tax revenue, create over 1.4 million jobs, support small business and boost our local economy with $108.8 billion in economic impact,” the Chamber statement says. “It is critical to renew the focus on the value of marketing the Sunshine State.”

The Chamber wants all industry members to contact legislators and “remind them of the benefits tourism generates and how VISIT FLORIDA helps small businesses and communities reach new markets that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to capitalize on.”

The House Careers & Competition Subcommittee is set to take up the bill Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the State Capitol, Knott Building, Room 212.

For further steps to help save VISIT FLORIDA – with letter templates, talking points and contact information — is at tampabaybeaches.com.

 

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Barclay Harless nabs first union endorsement in St. Pete City Council bid

Barclay Harless nabbed the first union endorsement in his bid for St. Petersburg City Council.

The 31-year-old St. Petersburg banking executive, received support Monday of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 123.

Harless is running for the District 2 seat, which covers most of Northeast St. Petersburg and is now held by term-limited Jim Kennedy.

“The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 123 are committed to quality and excellence in their craftsmanship, and believe in Barclay Harless’ vision and unique, fresh perspective to get things done in city hall,” says a union statement.

Since his first week after filing for the race, Harless announced more than 100 individual donors in a campaign that is beginning to build momentum, with a broad coalition of support.

Harless, a graduate of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is an assistant bank officer at Bank of the Ozarks. Before that, he was a legislative aide to then-state Rep. Darryl Rouson. Harless also worked on Alex Sink’s 2014 campaign for Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Possessing a record of community activism, Harless also served as state policy chair for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, and held a role on the Pinellas Charter Review, which helped craft an amendment that requires citizen input in future county commission redistricting.

So far, Harless will face Brandi Gabbard, a former president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization.

Information on Harless and his candidacy are at voteharless.com.

Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg mayoral race are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.

 

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World of Beer files suit over closed, rebranded Bradenton franchise

A Tampa-based chain of taverns is disputing its Bradenton franchise, which closed and rebranded without due notice or an opportunity for the parent company to buy back the business.

World of Beer is a group of brewpubs founded in part by Paul Avery and Ben Novello, two veterans of the Outback Steakhouse chain.

In 2009, the first World of Beer opened at the address in question, 8217 Tourist Center Dr. in Bradenton. Three years later, SRQBeer secured World of Beer franchise rights. SRQBeer is co-owned by Dean Lambert and Dr. Mark Broderick. World of Beer is currently headquartered at 10910 Sheldon Rd. in Tampa.

On Jan 19, 2017, SRQBeer notified World of Beer Franchising — the plaintiff in the suit — it would be closing that Bradenton location.

A day later, World of Beer representatives learned through articles in both the Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald-Tribune that SRQBeer agreed to let Jeremy “JDub” Joerger reopen the site almost immediately as a JDub’s Dub Shack.

JDub’s Brewing is a Sarasota-based brewery, named after Joerger, which, according to a Facebook post, opened Jan. 27 in the former World of Beer location. JDub’s is at 1215 Mango Ave. in Sarasota.

World of Beer filed an action in Hillsborough County Circuit Court asking the court to block the move. In the suit first filed Jan 27, it says SRQBeer breached its franchise contract by closing the tavern, failing to give World of Beer the right of first refusal to either buy or assign it.

In a January 31 court order, Judge Steven Scott Stephens scheduled a hearing on World of Beer’s “Emergency Amended Ex Parte Motion for Temporary Injunction” request for 9:30 a.m. February 10.

The Herald-Tribune also reported on a separate Bradenton World of Beer location at 497 Cortez Road W, which opened in 2015 and recently closed.

 

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Mentally-incompetent inmate sues Tampa caseworker, facility for $6M claiming forced sexual relationship, extortion

Bobby Lewis Curry Jr.

A Tampa man with a long criminal history, who had been found incompetent due to mental illness, is suing staff at an inpatient facility for extortion by way of a forced sexual relationship.

Bobby Lewis Curry Jr., 47, is currently serving a 5-year sentence at Calhoun Correctional Institution in Blountstown for burglary, grand theft, extortion and other incidents from 2012.

Curry has an extensive criminal arrest record in Hillsborough County, among which are aggravated battery on a pregnant female, burglary, domestic violence, dealing in stolen property, and grand theft. Police reports also show Curry burglarized several businesses, as well as extorting nearly $90,000 from a burglary victim by revealing illegally obtained “private client information.” He had previously been in prison sentences for similar crimes.

A 2000 St. Petersburg Times article reports Curry was charged with threatening to have a Hillsborough judge killed: “Curry used a pay phone … to call 911 and told the operator he was going to withdraw $50,000 from his bank account to place a hit on the judge.”

In April 2013, Judge Kimberly K. Fernandez declared Curry incompetent to stand trial due to mental illness. She ordered Curry to receive competency-related treatment at Gracepoint, a nonprofit Tampa inpatient facility at 3107 N. 50th St.

Gracepoint, headquartered at 5707 N. 22nd St. In Tampa, provides inpatient and outpatient care to people with mental illness and suffering from substance abuse, among others.

At Gracepoint, Curry was allegedly forced into a sexual relationship by case manager Ruth Rodriguez, exploiting his mental illness and threatening to send him back to prison. Curry claims he had been a victim of sexual abuse all his life.

After Curry was released from Gracepoint, he accuses Rodriguez of forcing him to continue the sexual relationship or risk his probation status. When he filed a complaint — including an accusation that Rodriguez concealed an HIV-positive status — investigators purportedly substantiated some of the claims. Gracepoint then fired Rodriguez.

A lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court Jan. 23, handwritten and without the help of an attorney, Curry says the sexual relationship caused “severe emotional damage,” and blames Gracepoint of covering up his sexual relationship with Rodriguez, which he says began while he was a resident, not afterward.

Curry’s lawsuit accuses Lauren Mayhugh Cohn — who had at one time served as director of continuous quality improvement at Gracepoint — of falsely claiming that the relationship with Rodriguez began only after he left the inpatient care facility. Curry is suggesting Cohen knew the sexual relationship began earlier and is lying to protect Gracepoint from liability. He also accuses Tonya Wilson, Rodriguez’s longtime friend and colleague, of threatening to expel Curry from Gracepoint if he reported the abuse.

Among other claims, Curry says Rodriguez frequently required him to perform oral sex in her office, and at least once saying he was: “Crazy in the head, good in the bed.”

Curry is asking more than $6-million in regular and punitive damages. His scheduled release date from prison his April 5, 2018.

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South Pasadena holding commission candidate forum Wednesday

Contenders for two South Pasadena City Commission seats will appear at a meet-the-candidates forum Wednesday.

Moderated by the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, the event will be held 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. at the commission chambers in South Pasadena City Hall, 7047 Sunset Drive S.

The forum will also be simulcast on the city’s cable channel 643.

Dan Calabria, Gigi Esposito and David Magenheimer are running for a pair of open seats on the commission, the two top vote-getters will win the spot. Commissioners Bruce Howry and Arthur Penny have decided not to run for re-election.

Calabria is a former mayor, first elected in 2013, who once faced a removal vote in 2015 for alleged “belligerence” and his behavior with the city clerk another female staff members. Commissioners tabled the recall vote that March.

Magenheimer is an insurance audit consultant in St. Petersburg.

South Pasadena, which has a commission form of government, elects five at-large commission members for three-year terms, one selected as mayor.

The last day for registration is Feb. 13; municipal elections are March 14.

More information on South Pasadena and its government are at mysouthpasadena.com.

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