09/13/17 Human Interest
At the Jamison building at Town Shores of Gulfport, Doug Earle rose from a 15-minute nap Tuesday and headed down to the first floor to check on an elderly neighbor. As the last board member to stay behind during Hurricane Irma, Earle felt a responsibility to take care of everyone. With no power for days and temperatures in the high 80s, he knew that some were struggling in sweltering apartments....
The boy was only two days old when his mother slipped out of the hospital. Hours later, he shuddered and convulsed, his body going into withdrawal from the opioids he had grown used to in her womb.
A couple from Georgia arrived. They had supported the baby’s biological mother financially during her pregnancy. But they didn’t know about the drugs. They watched him scream and wail for three hours. Then they left, too....
02/10/17 Human Interest
For years, Steve and Chazzy Foy avoided talk of politics. It wasn't that important to them. And they had a vague awareness that, in their 24 years together, they had grown apart politically.
Little reminders came, like the time Steve's voter registration card arrived and Chazzy realized he'd registered Republican. But he had a rule: He never discussed his vote.
They lived in harmony in their three-bedroom home off Lake Tarpon, cheering on the same sports teams, seeing their shared favorite bands play, doting on their grandkids. ...
Inside Room 420 at Florida State Hospital, two roommates clashed in the dark.
Anyone who paid attention to their recent behavior, who compared their size and age, could see they should not have been together in the same bedroom.
Ruben J. Quinones, a 60-year-old who weighed less than the average woman, had spent most of his life in a mental hospital. He was severely schizophrenic, sometimes ate from the trash and walked with a limp. Within the span of a few months, he had been the victim of two documented incidents of aggression. ...
09/01/16 Human Interest
LEALMAN — In July, the Tampa Bay Times ran a story about a woman struggling with food addiction. Cheryl Dixon, 44, shared how she sometimes ate 14 times a day and struggled to stop herself from topping 300 pounds.
The day the story was published, Cheryl read it and saw what others saw. She felt sick.
"The article gave me a mirror to look at, where I saw how bad I got," Cheryl says. "I was in complete disgust, and it made me want to change my life."...
She's not at the Olympics — yet — but this 6-year-old swimmer is learning what excellence takes (w/video)08/17/16 Human Interest
ST. PETERSBURG — She's sitting on the pool deck, chin between her knees, gazing at her feet. She peeks at the swim heats written on her arm in black Sharpie. Time for her favorite, the butterfly.
Her father is volunteer head timer. He tries to stand there nonchalantly amid the throng of onlookers, but he is tense. Forty years ago, this was him. Now it's her.
Brinkleigh Bo Hansen, 6, dives into the North Shore Pool just as the whistle goes off, but she hits the water belly first, and there goes her momentum....
07/24/16 Human Interest
LEALMAN — From a faded green recliner in her tiny mobile home, Cheryl Dixon punched a number into her phone. Behind her, kitchen cabinets burst with Hamburger Helper and ramen noodles, bags of doughnuts and Cocoa Diamonds cereal.
"I'm Cheryl from St. Pete," she said. "Can I share?"
In the past year, for the first time in her life, she had reached almost 300 pounds. She was 44 and already diagnosed with diabetes. Her doctor warned that if she didn't change her eating habits, she would likely die....
Florida will hire a top-level administrator to find ways to curb violence and improve medical care at state mental hospitals.
The new position will oversee Florida's three remaining state-run mental facilities, including the flagship Florida State Hospital with nearly 1,000 patients.
Department of Children and Families officials on Tuesday said the change will put one person in charge of monitoring and improving patient care, and will allow DCF to standardize policies at the hospitals it oversees....
ON THE CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER — The rains poured down in late January. Twelve inches in all, 11 inches more than normal.
Clewiston and Belle Glade flooded, as did thousands of acres of sugarcane and vegetable fields. Lake Okeechobee reached 15 feet, then 16, threatening to break free of an aging dike.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates lake levels, knew it had to do something drastic to protect Clewiston and other small towns to the south....
Robert Valdez is 71 years old and mentally ill. He's never had much trouble with the law — until he set a neighbor's shed on fire in 2014. Something was going on inside his head.
It had been years since he had seen a psychiatrist for his condition. Were his medications still working?
No one seemed to know, and Florida's criminal justice system was not set up to figure out what was wrong. It was designed to get him to court, mete out his punishment, to bring his case to a close. If that meant prison, so be it....
Several mental health advocacy organizations have begun a campaign to pressure state lawmakers to restore cuts to Florida's mental health programs, including the $100 million from hospitals that was the focus of an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
GAINESVILLE — Anthony Barsotti looks on the verge of death. His skin is ashen, his face gaunt. His mouth gapes as he stares at the ceiling, sporadically sucking in breaths.
Three hours earlier, Anthony was a physically healthy 23-year-old living in the state's care at a Gainesville mental hospital.
Then he took a swing at another mental patient and a hospital orderly launched him head-first into a concrete wall. Workers at North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center have a good chance to save his life this night in July 2010....
Luis Santana died at a state-funded mental hospital at age 42.
Officials at the Department of Children and Families say they investigated his death in July 2011, but they won't say more.
They don't have to. Under Florida law, DCF can withhold information about people who die in its care, so long as the agency decides no employees were to blame.
So, state officials won't tell you that in the hours before Santana died, his caretakers at South Florida State Hospital suspected he was having a psychotic episode. They won't say they gave him five powerful drugs to calm him down, then left him alone in the bathtub....
Many nights, Tonya Cook made her rounds alone.
She walked the halls of one of Florida's most dangerous mental hospitals clutching her clipboard to her chest, trying not to think too much about the patients in her care.
All of them were men. Many were schizophrenic, violent. One had chopped up a diabetic amputee and scattered him in parts through the woods of Dixie County.
One night in 2012, she walked the ward again, a single orderly watching over 27 men. Her nearest co-workers were upstairs, out of sight. They didn't see what a security camera captured — a patient holding a radio antennae fashioned to a jagged point....
Tommy Zeigler turns 70 this month. He has lived more than half his life on Florida's death row.
He has always said he did not kill his wife, her parents and another man at his Winter Garden furniture store on Dec. 24, 1975. But time and again, one appeal after another, the courts have not believed him.
Now may be his best chance to prove his innocence. It may also be his last.
Attorneys filed a motion this week seeking court approval to use a special DNA test to examine evidence presented at the trial. The technology allows experts to analyze skin cells that can be left on one person when they are touched by another. It has been used to free other inmates across the country....