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Wednesday, May 10th, 2017


Desoto the Manatee Returns to the Gulf

Desoto the Manatee | Lowry Park Zoo | Pets and Animals

By SHELLY STECK REALE, Correspondent, TB Reporter

Desoto the manatee was found two months ago beached on a sandbar suffering from red tide toxicity. He was treated at the Lowry Park Zoo’s manatee hospital before being released back into the wild.

ST. PETERSBURG – Two months after he was found beached on a sandbar, Desoto the manatee returned home to the Gulf.

Desoto spent those two months at the Lowry Park Zoo’s manatee hospital, the only non-profit acute care facility dedicated to critical care for injured, sick and orphaned manatees.

It was the second time Desoto had spent time at the manatee hospital. Orphaned as a calf, Desoto spent two years being raised at the zoo before being released back into the wild in 2004. In March, fishermen found him beached on a sandbar near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Fearing he was dead, they called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC and the Eckerd College Search and Rescue team headed out to aid Desoto.

“They had prepped us when we arrived on the scene that he would probably start rolling and to be cautious,” EC-SAR team member Kaitlin Taylor, 21, said. “But, when they pulled him on the boat, he did not move. At all. And that’s not a good sign.”

They took him to the manatee hospital.

“We weren’t quite sure why he was coming in,” said Virginia Edmonds, Lowry’s animal care manager. “But, when he arrived we could definitely tell he was exhibiting signs of red tide toxicity.”

Desoto the Manatee | Lowry Park Zoo | Pets and AnimalsDesoto the Manatee | Lowry Park Zoo | Pets and AnimalsDesoto the Manatee | Lowry Park Zoo | Pets and AnimalsManatees, also called sea cows, are mammals, more closely related to elephants than to dolphins or whales. They were first listed as an endangered species in 1966 but are making a comeback. The FWC says there are more than 6,000 today. Today, manatees are considered one of Florida’s keystone species whose behavior can alert researchers to the environmental and habitat changes that may otherwise go unnoticed in Florida’s waterways for extended periods of time, according to the FWC.

Andy Garrett, a 1999 Eckerd College alumnus and manatee rescue coordinator for the FWC, said elevated toxin levels – like those that come from red tide – can cause seizures or paralysis in manatees.

While in the hospital being treated for toxicity, a microchip scan, along with records of scar patterns, confirmed that Desoto had been to the hospital before. Once again, the hospital staff watched him closely, provided supportive care, and waited for him to gain his strength.

Then on Tuesday (May 9), a warm spring morning, surrounded by FWC officers, Lowry staff, Eckerd College students, and numerous volunteers, Desoto lay belly-up at the water’s edge, snuggling his “wobbie,” a thick, square piece of foam mat he grasped between his flippers for comfort.

“The release is always the best part of what we do,” Edmonds said. “It’s why we’re here; it’s the day we fight for.”

It took nearly 20 staffers to lift his tarp sling and lower the 900-pound manatee into the water. Then, with a snort, he was off and swimming, amid cheers and well wishes.

For information about Lowry Park Zoo, go to

Photos by Shelly Steck Reale.

Lowry Park Zoo | Manatee Rescue | Manatee Hospital | Eckerd College | FWC | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

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Castor: Comey Firing a ‘Blatent Attempt to Stall’ FBI Investigation

James Comey | FBI Director | Politics

U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist say the firing of FBI director James Comey is suspect.

TAMPA BAY – The firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday (May 9) could be a tactic to distract Americans from allegations of conflicts of interest and ties to Russia in the Trump Administration, according to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, also weighed in on Comey’s firing, saying he wasn’t against it but believes the timing is “extremely suspect.”




Here are their statements:


Kathy Castor | U.S. House | District 14

Kathy Castor

“President [Donald] Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is a blatant attempt to stall the FBI’s ongoing investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It is also part of a disturbing trend — first, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates is fired by Trump after informing the White House of deep concerns about Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his activities with Russia. Now, Comey is fired by Trump a week after testifying that the FBI is conducting its investigation.

“Trump may well be trying to distract the American people from the very troubling conflicts of interest, and those connections between Trump’s former national security adviser and Russia that were known about for some 18 days before Trump reluctantly fired Flynn. It is past time for an independent, bipartisan investigation.  Trump may want to bury the investigation, but his presidency will continue under a cloud unless a special prosecutor or independent commission is established and the facts are fully presented to the American people.”




Crist | Congress | Politics

Charlie Crist

“I don’t disagree with the decision to remove Director Comey from his post given his actions over the past year. But the timing is extremely suspect given the FBI recently announced they are investigating the Trump administration for alleged ties to Russia.

“Now President Trump gets to nominate the head of the agency leading that investigation. We need a special prosecutor to take over the Russia investigation, and the Senate must drill down to a degree like never before on whoever is nominated to replace Director Comey. The integrity of our top law enforcement agency – and our democracy – is at stake.”

Castor represents the 14th Congressional District, which includes Tampa.

Crist represents the 13th Congressional District, which includes mid- and south Pinellas County.

For information about Castor, go to

For information about Crist, go to

Kathy Castor | Charlie Crist | Comey Firing | Donald Trump | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

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Hillsborough Prosecutor Says Change in Gun Law Will Make Communities Less Safe

Andrew Warren | HIllsborough State Attorney | Courts

Andrew Warren says changes to the Stand Your Ground law make it harder to prosecute violent crime and cost millions.

TAMPA – The Florida Legislature passed a measure last week that shifts the burden of proof to prosecutors in cases in which shooters claim they “stood their ground.”

Under the state’s so-called Stand Your Ground law, anyone being attacked can defend their life by shooting and killing the attacker. The person who is claiming the defense has the initial burden of proof to show they were acting under the law.

That burden could shift to prosecutors to prove someone was not acting in self defense if the new legislation is signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. It’s a measure that legislators passed over the objections of the state’s prosecutors and others, such as Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Andrew Warren, the state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, Hillsborough County, has added his voice to the opposition. He issued a statement asking Scott to veto the “irresponsible legislation”:

We are disappointed that the Florida Legislature passed unnecessary and counterproductive changes to the Stand Your Ground legislation on Friday [May 5]. As my fellow state attorneys and I conveyed to our elected representatives, this new legislation will make our communities less safe and disrupt our criminal justice system while doing nothing to protect those who legally own guns.  

“Although we appreciate that the Legislature listened to us in amending the bill to include a lower burden of proof for prosecutors to bring charges against violent offenders, the fact remains that the new law will make it harder to prosecute violent crime and take law enforcement officers off of the street. 

“Additionally, the Legislature has wrongly claimed that this bill would have zero cost to taxpayers despite undisputed evidence that this bill could impact up to 75,000 cases per year, at a potential cost of tens of millions of dollars, $3 million alone in Hillsborough County. We hope that the Governor places public safety above partisan rhetoric and vetoes this irresponsible legislation.

For information about the Hillsborough state attorney, go to

Andrew Warren | Stand Your Ground | Gun Law | Rick Scott | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

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Safety Harbor Man Sexually Battered Teen, 14, Deputies Say

Erik Clark | Pinellas Sheriff | Arrests

The man admitted the allegations, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

SAFETY HARBOR – Pinellas sheriff’s deputies have accused a Safety Harbor man of sexually battering a 14 year old.

Erik Clark, 20, of Safety Harbor, was charged with one count of sexual battery on a minor.

The incident happened April 23. Deputies began their investigation five days later after the 14 year old told an adult. The teen went to a friend’s house where she fell asleep in a chair. When she awoke, deputies said, Clark was in the act of having inappropriate sexual contact with her. Deputies said she tried to resist Clark but was not successful.

Deputies said they were able to corroborate the teen’s allegations. They interviewed Clark on Tuesday (May 9) and he admitted to the allegations, deputies said.

For information about the Pinellas sheriff, go to

Pinellas Sheriff | Sexual Battery | Crime | Arrests | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

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Bartow Man Accused of Hit and Run after Hillsborough Crash

Patrol Car | Florida Highway Patrol | FHP

The man left the scene and returned to the Hard Rock Casino, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – A Bartow man was charged with hit and run Tuesday (May 9) after a crash in the driveway of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Maher Darweesh, 45, of Brandon, the other driver, was taken to Brandon Regional Hospital with minor injuries.

James Bryant, 40, of Bartow, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident. He was not injured. Alcohol is not a factor in the crash, troopers said.

The crash happened about 6:22 p.m. Darweesh was driving a 2010 Hyundai Accent north on the driveway access to the casino, 5223 Orient Road. He halted at a stop sign and was hit from the rear by a 2004 Ford F250 that Bryant was driving. Troopers said that Bryant left the scene and returned to the casino on foot. He was found and detained there by Seminole Hard Rock police officers.

For information about the Florida Highway Patrol, go to

Florida Highway Patrol | Hit and Run Crash | Seminole Hard Rock Casino | Traffic Crash | Tampa Bay News | TB Reporter

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