ST. PETERSBURG -- For more than a decade, Gerald Rittinger's dog kept him alive.
The Air Force veteran died on Dec. 3 at age 77. He is survived by his wife, Jeanne, who said she would have lost him 14 years earlier if not for their yellow Labrador, Zeke.
Zeke wasn't a therapy dog. He knew few tricks, and wouldn't even fetch. But every time his owner went into distress from diabetes, or had a stroke, Zeke noticed and went for help....
MIAMI - When my sister moved from Miami to Vermont last summer, she took our grandmother's rocking chair and another grandmother's crocheted doilies.
But she had to leave behind our family's most prized possession.
For 50 years, through four generations, it has been passed around Florida, lived with all my mom's siblings, survived home sales and hurricanes.
It's not a coin collection or fancy china or heirloom jewels. We have something we all treasure even more. And refuse to let die:...
11/29/17 Human Interest
In 2007, a Florida family adopted a feral child. The girl, who was almost 9, had been kept in a dark, filthy room, surrounded by silence for most of her life. She couldn't talk, make eye contact or eat solid food. No one knew if she would recover. But everyone hoped. We recently revisited Dani Lierow. She is 19 now, lives in Tennessee and has moved into a new home.
YBOR CITY — After the funeral, no one wanted to leave.
The afternoon sun was bright Saturday, baking the parking lot at Allen Temple AME Church. But dozens of friends and family stood outside telling jokes, sharing stories about Ronald Felton.
How unreal it was that a good guy like that could just be gone — like that — gunned down by a killer in Seminole Heights.
Who knew, maybe they would be next....
Anthony Roy and his wife retired to Clearwater to escape the violence in Washington, D.C. They moved into a house owned by his mother, and they loved it there. Then uninvited guests started loitering in their back yard and dealing drugs. They couldn't get them to leave, and they say they couldn't get help from the police. The tension built, then erupted. Now, one man is dead, and another man is facing life in prison....
ST. PETERSBURG – You could never sing solo, when Emma Couture was around. Even if you were humming softly to yourself, she would jump in and belt along.
That girl couldn't remember to turn in her biology homework, but she knew every word to every Broadway tune. She memorized every part, too, plus stage directions.
She couldn't wait to be famous. To walk the red carpet. Win a Tony....
CLEARWATER — The tree fell late Sunday. An enormous cedar, at least 40 feet tall, with branches blanketing two back yards.
The trunk, as wide as a couch, crushed a chain-link fence. The limbs tangled in power lines, wrestling them to the soggy ground. Wires snapped one power pole and bent another, whose lines pulled on the pole across the street, snapping those.
When people in the modest neighborhood behind Spectrum Field emerged after Hurricane Irma, they saw the splintered tree, the broken poles and dangling lines — and resigned themselves to being in the dark....
It was called one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. It was bigger than Andrew, bigger than the state.
First it aimed for Miami, then Naples. Twenty four hours before landfall, it set its sights on Tampa Bay.
Fleeing cars packed highways. Homeowners hammered plywood onto windows and anchored garages with sandbags, with scenes of a water-logged Houston fresh in mind.
"Stay safe," they told their neighbors....
Times Staff Writer
GULFPORT -- Street signs blew down, tree limbs crushed fences and Spanish moss blanketed the town. But the roads were clear, just puddles even down by the beach.
So at 8 a.m. on Monday, bartender Sally Douglas rolled open the metal shutters at O'Maddy's Bar & Grille, as she has every morning for 35 years.
"Folks were already here waiting," she said, pouring a shot of Absolut into cranberry juice. "Of course we're open."...
09/10/17 Public Safety
ST. PETERSBURG — Maddy Lee, 19, and her parents had to evacuate their Zone B home in Edgemoor Saturday night at 7 p.m. They moved into her aunt's two-bedroom house in Gladden Park with 10 other people, four dogs and a cat.
Sunday morning, when her dad, John Lee, went back to turn off the power, he saw the garage door was open. Someone had broken the lock on the kitchen window, climbed inside, and ransacked the house....
INDIAN SHORES - In the front of the sanctuary, all the aviaries are empty.
Grace, the great-horned owl; a golden pheasant named Donald; Isis, the red-tailed hawk with one eye, all went home with volunteers who offered to shelter them from the storm.
A total of 50 birds, most of them injured, had to be evacuated from the Seaside Seabird Sanctuary this week as Hurricane Irma threatened to crash across Florida....
03/11/17 Auto racing
At the edge of the racetrack, on a wide pad of asphalt, Susie Wheldon stooped to help her small son.
Sebastian, 7, already had wriggled into his Puma fire suit. Susie slid the chest protector over his head, to keep his lungs from being crushed. She strapped on the neck brace, to protect his spine. She tied his tiny racing shoes.
"Ready to go?" asked his coach.
The boy nodded, and climbed into his new Kid Kart. As soon as he pulled the helmet over his spiky blonde hair, his usual grin melted. He scrunched his freckled nose and set his jaw. "Getting his game face on," Susie called it....
03/01/17 Human Interest
She slumps beside the sidewalk on a plaster stump, right arm resting on her thigh. Her right hand fell off long ago. Her left arm is gone.
Her torso, draped in concrete cloth, is turned toward the house, as if she were watching it. But her eyes are closed — as if she can't bear to see.
The statue is life-size; its features, eroded. It sits on the edge of 22nd Avenue S, at the edge of 46th Street, next to a no-name corner store. Its bare feet are rimmed by broken Snapple bottles....
The special service wouldn't start for an hour. But by 5 p.m. Thursday, people were pouring into the church.
Men in dark suits, hoisting toddlers on their hips. Women in high heels, pulling lace veils over their dark hair.
They came from Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville, to Florida's largest Syrian Orthodox church. They came to see the church patriarch, to take communion with him, to get his blessing and hear his news....
02/02/17 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — He first saw her onstage, dancing in a silver sequined dress.
He whispered to his friend, "That's the most beautiful girl I've ever seen."
Taylor Simmons, then 23, had just moved from California to Florida, to play Jack in freeFall Theatre's Into the Woods. Some cast members were being honored at the 2014 Theatre Tampa Bay awards, so he had gone to clap for them at the Palladium. ...