Pinellas County Archives - SaintPetersBlog

February trial date set for John Jonchuck, accused of throwing daughter off St. Pete bridge

A Pinellas County court set a trial date for John Jonchuck, arrested in 2015 for throwing his 5-year-old daughter off a St. Petersburg bridge.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Monday that the trial will begin early February.

In a pretrial hearing Monday, Jonchuck’s three public defenders listened as Pinellas County Circuit Judge Chris Helinger announced the proceedings would begin Feb. 5, 2018, roughly three years after Jonchuck inexplicably threw Phoebe Jonchuck off the Dick Misener Bridge, according to the Times.

The case had been anticipated to begin in fall, and the attorneys from the state attorney’s office requested such, but the judge took into account treatment regimen at a state mental health hospital located in Gainesville, where he is given medicinal injections for bipolar disorder every 28 days, agencies reported.

Jonchuck was not present at Monday’s hearing, said a public information officer working for the courts. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Assistant Public Defender Jessica Manuele said her team needed more time for pretrial preparations, like depositions, the Times reported, and to speak with their client, with whom they have not had any contact in roughly two years.

The defendant was found competent to stand trial in early March.

The narrative has been that on the night of Jan. 8, 2015, Jonchuck’s white PT Cruiser was spotted speeding in traffic by an off-duty St. Petersburg police officer. Jonchuck raced to the bridge, stopping his car in traffic at a point on the bridge, taking his daughter from the car.

He reportedly held her tightly, the officer — who tried to rush and assist the girl, Phoebe — before Jonchuck held her over the railing and let go.

The crime shook area residents, prompting the Department of Children and Families to review their emergency call procedures.

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, call 727-464-VOTE (8683) or email

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


Survey shows fewer than half of voters support Penny for Pinellas renewal

A new survey shows fewer than half Pinellas voters would cast a ballot for renewing the Penny for Pinellas if the referendum were held today.

The poll, by St. Pete Polls, shows 48 percent of registered voters in Pinellas County would vote to support another Penny. Another 28 percent would not support it, and 23 percent are unsure. Although the poll shows the Penny failing to pass if the election were today, the vote is close and, with a 2.2 percent margin of error, the referendum could squeak by.

The poll of 2,005 Pinellas County, Florida registered voters was conducted Monday using registered voter lists supplied by the state of Florida as of Dec. 6. The voter sample included randomly contacted registered voters within the boundaries of Pinellas County, using an automated phone call polling system.

Penny for Pinellas is a one-cent sales tax paid by anyone spending money within the county. The Penny, first passed in 1990, is good for 10 years, then voters must pass it again for it to continue. Voters will be asked in November to renew it for a fourth time – from 2020 through 2030.

Proceeds from the Penny are divided among Pinellas County and its 24 municipalities. Its use is generally restricted to capital, or so-called “brick and mortar,” projects.

Pinellas County says that, since its inception, the tax has been used to build 16 major roads with added lanes, and rebuilt bridges; more than 20 fire and emergency facilities built or renovated; more than 150 projects to enhance stormwater systems and flood control. Also, there was protection of natural resources with hundreds of acres of land preserved, as well as upgrades to 21 parks and more than 50 new miles of multiuse trails.

But voters don’t appear to be wholeheartedly convinced, according to the survey results. The only two groups with more than half in favor were Democratic party voters and non-Hispanic white voters.

Of the 768 Democrats polled, 50.7 percent were in support compared with 47.6 percent of the 785 Republicans and 46.2 percent of the 452 independent voters who were polled.

When it came to a breakdown of race, just under 51 percent of the 1,698 non-Hispanic white voters surveyed were supporting the Penny renewal. Of the 203 non-Hispanic black voters polled, only 39 percent favored it; of the 27 Asian or Pacific Islanders surveyed, only 37 percent supported renewal; of the 37 Hispanic voters polled, only 24 said they support it; and of the 40 other/unknown race, only 38 percent support renewal.

Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force to meet to discuss action plan

Pinellas County residents are invited to attend the second countywide Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday to hear about the team’s Initial Action Plan.

The Technical Working Group will present the Task Force Steering Committee members with its findings and recommendations to reduce wastewater overflow issues around the county.

Monday’s meeting will be held at the University Partnership Center – Digitorium, located at the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N, Seminole. Attendees will have the opportunity interact with Task Force members and share comments or questions.

The Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force formed last year to address countywide wastewater and stormwater issues brought about by heavy rainfall events. Some systems were overwhelmed by the amount of rain and dumped raw and partially treated wastewater into county waterways. Others systems had overflows at faulty manholes.

The countywide team is comprised of leaders and staff from Pinellas County Government, 17 municipal partners, and three private utility systems.



Pinellas commissioners ask for power to revamp construction licensing board

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long sent a strongly-worded letter to the head of the county’s construction licensing board telling him to get the agency’s house in order.

Long also sent a letter to state Sen. Jack Latvala asking that Pinellas’ legislative delegation give the county the power to determine how best to provide the board’s services to residents.

The construction licensing board regulates certain construction and home improvement contractors practicing in Pinellas County, including all local municipalities. In addition, the PCCLB provides countywide certification and registration of contractors and countywide certification of journeyman.

The agency has come under fire recently for a lack of accountability and a failure to adequately police those contractors who come before it, especially if the contractor serves on the board. A study by the Tampa Bay Times concluded that homeowners and contractors feel “cheated, ignored and even stonewalled.”

Long referred to the Times story in her letter:

“On behalf of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, I am writing about continuing  concerns related to the practices of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board (PCCLB).

“As the Legislature looks at potential options for reform, we strongly encourage the PCCLB to address the issues reported in the Tampa Bay Times to increase accountability and oversight, eliminate conflicts of interest, and adhere to Florida’s Public Records and Sunshine Laws. The public and Board of County Commissioners desires the PCCLB to operate in a transparent, ethical, and fair manner in order to restore the public’s trust and confidence in Pinellas County’s institutions.”

The Pinellas County delegation is expected to discuss the matter at its meeting next Tuesday.

In a letter to Latvala, who heads the delegation, Long wrote:

“Enclosed please find the attached letter to Mr. (Paul) Skipper, Chairman of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board (PCCLB). The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners encourages the Legislature to seek an expeditious solution to the ongoing issues with the PCCLB. We also ask that, should the PCCLB be dissolved and its activities assigned to the Board of County Commissioners, the county administrator be provided the latitude to  determine  the  structure  needed  to  deliver  these services  in an  efficient  and  effective manner.”


PSTA to expand Direct Connect program, Uber rides to bus stops

Need a ride to the bus stop? Hail an Uber from anywhere in the county to a PSTA bus stop and PSTA will pick up the tab.

That’s the gist of the Direct Connect program created by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to solve the problem of the so-called first mile/last mile obstacle to the use of public transportation. Agency officials say the public-private partnership is the first in the country to solve that problem.

At issue is the rider’s ability to get to a bus stop in order to catch a bus. Many stops are not within walkable distance from a rider’s home. Under the Direct Connect program, a passenger can call one of PSTA’s business partners — Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, or Wheelchair Transport — to hitch a ride to and from the bus stop.

Details were not available, but the program is likely an expansion of the Direct Connect service the PSTA piloted last February in East Lake and Pinellas Park.

Pinellas Park and East Lake were chosen because local bus routes in those areas were scheduled to be cut because of low ridership.

Under that pilot, someone who lives in those areas could summon Uber, United Taxi or Care Ride for a lift to a bus stop.

In the case of Pinellas Park, the available stops are the transit center at the Shoppes at Park Place, 3801 70th Ave. N, or the Super Wal-Mart, 8001 U.S. 19 N.

In East Lake, the bus stops are at the Shoppes at Boot Ranch, 246 E Lake Road S, or Tarpon Mall, 40932 U.S. Hwy. 19 N.

PSTA will pay half the fare, up to $3 for rides to and from the designated stops in those zones. The service is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

A second pilot, that extended service to more people was announced last October. Riders could call Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, Care Ride, or Wheelchair Transport for a ride to the nearest designated bus stop. PSTA would pay an average of $1 to use the program.

Mites, scabies only the latest trouble in Oldsmar motel’s sordid history

A Pinellas County motel with a sordid history is now being accused of offering guests an unwelcome amenity — scabies.

Rhonda Baxter and Alex Rodriguez were guests at the Bayview Motel on 501 S. Bayview Blvd. in Oldsmar; Baxter visited in December 2014, Rodriguez in May 2015.

In two separate lawsuits filed earlier this month in Pinellas County’s 6th Judicial Circuit Court, each claim bedrooms they stayed in were infested with mites causing scabies, a skin condition.

Both say mites infested luggage and clothing and the plaintiffs claim they were “severely bitten” to a degree it required hospitalization.

Despite being a traveler’s worst nightmare, however, mites and scabies are only the most recent — and relatively minor — difficulty taking place at the Bayview over the past few years.

In June 2016, two men and a woman were arrested for allegedly using a dating website to lure victims to the Bayview, and robbing them at gunpoint.

According to the Tampa Bay Reporter, unsuspecting victims had gone to the Bayview after visiting the dating website “Plenty of Fish” to meet women. The suspects — identifying themselves as “Jessica” or “Curvy_Cameron93” — continued texting the victims, agreeing to meet them in a room at the Bayview.

After arriving, two men battered and robbed victims at gunpoint, stealing cash and personal items before fleeing the scene.

Suspects were identified as Charlie L. Woodley of Largo (charged with two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon or firearm); Cameron M. Davis of Oldsmar (also charged with two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon or firearm) and Rachel C. Brown, also of Largo, who was charged with one count of principal to robbery with a deadly weapon or firearm.

In 2008, the Bayview — known as the Aday Motel at the time — was also the scene of a kidnapping, which resulted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Javon Strange.

A September 2008 Tampa Bay Times article outlines the incident where Gregory Longley was held at gunpoint by teenagers hoping he would lead them to a man who they were disputing over stolen coins.

Three individuals — Strange, Abdusbasiyr A. Blake and Juan Carlos Morales — forced Longley into a 2000 Chevy Malibu.

As Longley and Strange, who was holding the gun, sat in the back seat, Strange lowered the weapon to start text messaging. Longley then grabbed the gun, deputies said, shooting Strange and Morales, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, before ordering Blake to stop the car.

Blake went to the McDonald’s at 4085 Tampa Road, where restaurant employees called 911. After paramedics arrived, Strange was pronounced dead at the scene.

At the time, Aday assistant manager Archie Viray told reporters that the motel is “generally quiet.”

“Nothing happens here,” he said.

Nevertheless, as for Bayview’s latest troubles, records from inspections taken around the dates of the alleged scabies incidents make no mention of an insect infestation. The 12-unit property is owned by Tarpon Springs residents Jose Ang Pe, 66, and his 56-year-old wife Maria Obra Pe.

Rick Scott reappoints two to Pinellas Housing Authority

Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday the reappointments of Joseph Triolo and Michael Guju to the Pinellas County Housing Authority.

Triolo, 59, of St. Petersburg, is a program manager for Duke Energy. He is reappointed for a term beginning Dec. 16 and ending Jan. 21, 2018. Triolo was appointed to PCHA’s board of commissioners in 2009 and served as chairman from 2009 through June.

Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Triolo also serves on the board of directors of the Florida Green Building Coalition, the city of St. Petersburg post-disaster committee, the judicial nominating commission Sixth Circuit, the supervisory committee for the Bay Pines Federal Union, and the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Network. He is also a member of the International Code Council and American Legion Post 273.

Triolo brings expertise in green initiatives through housing construction and rehabilitation to PCHA’s Board. Additionally, holds several licenses: state of Florida building inspector, My Safe Florida wind mitigation Inspector, and EPA lead inspector and risk assessor.

Guju, 57, of Palm Harbor, is the president of Guju Law Firm and Equity National Title. He is reappointed for a term beginning Dec. 16 and ending Dec. 1, 2020. Guju was appointed to the PCHA board in 2013.

Guju is an entrepreneur and businessman with broad management, legal and marketing experience in real estate development, mortgages and real estate-related services. An attorney, licensed in three states (Florida, Ohio (inactive) and Michigan (inactive), with more than 26 years’ experience in real estate and business law, mortgages, real estate title insurance and closings, contracts and business matters, the PCHA said that Guju’s service on the board has been extremely valuable.

His expertise is particularly helpful, officials said, as the housing authority continues its’ forward momentum toward developing additional housing opportunities for low to moderate income veterans and families in Pinellas County.

Formed in 1965, the PCHA is an independent agency, operating under state statute. PCHA is governed by a five-member board appointed by the governor.

The PCHA is the largest housing authority in Pinellas County. It provides housing and rental assistance to about 8,500 individuals through the agency-owned affordable housing, public housing, assisted living and the administration of the Housing Choice Voucher program. Its area of operation for the public housing and housing voucher program includes all unincorporated and incorporated areas of Pinellas except the cities Clearwater, Dunedin, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.

Pinellas County Commission moves toward moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to hold a public hearing Jan. 10 to decide a possible moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and treatment centers.

The moratorium would remain in effect for 180 days to give the commission time to pass an ordinance regulating such issues as the location of dispensaries and treatment centers.

A proposed ordinance is expected to come before the board in April.

If the moratorium is adopted, Pinellas County will join other governmental bodies across the state that are trying to figure out how to handle the medical marijuana industry. The sale of medical marijuana became state law with the overwhelming passage in November of Amendment 2.

Locally, the city of Largo and Hillsborough County have already passed moratoria. Madeira Beach passed an ordinance last year requiring anyone who wants to open a dispensary to go through an approval process. Among the items that city officials would look at — compatibility with neighbors and how close the dispensary would be to schools, churches, parks, day cares and the like.

Pinellas commissioners wondered Tuesday if they could pass a countywide ordinance that would apply everywhere unless cities opted out. However, board attorney Jim Bennett said they could not because the location of dispensaries is a zoning issue and the county cannot control zoning within city limits.

Commissioner Karen Seel suggested working with the cities to come up with ordinances that would be adopted by all governments to make the rules uniform across Pinellas.

Rick Kriseman sets next steps to reach 100 percent clean energy goal

St. Petersburg became the first Florida city last month to sign on to the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, which seeks to convert the city to 100 percent renewable, green energy.

Mayor Rick Kriseman on Friday set out the first steps the city is taking to reach that goal. It’s an initiative he calls the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan. The city has earmarked $250,000 for the ISAP.

First on the ISAP list is an overall energy audit to help discover the city’s problem areas. That data will be used to create a long-range plan and set target dates to get to interim and ultimate goals. That could take about a year.

City officials are not waiting a year to get started, they’re partnering with a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa to have students perform mini-energy audits on departments that seem to consume a lot of energy. The idea is to be able to quickly solve problems where St. Pete officials know they exist. The city has allocated another $250,000 for audits and retrofits.

St. Pete is also collaborating with Pinellas County in developing a vulnerability assessment and modeling program that will allow the two to estimate the risks and impacts from potential future impacts, such as sea level rise and direct hurricane hits. The city has $300,000 set aside for this project.

The total $800,000 comes from BP settlement money.

The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign is an attempt to convince cities across the U.S. to lead the way in moving from electrical power to renewable, clean energy. St. Petersburg is the first in Florida and the 20th city in the U.S. to take the pledge.

Kriseman said the decision to become a part of the Ready for 100 campaign was an outgrowth of a 2015 executive order he made to net zero energy usage.

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