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Thursday, May 10th, 2018


Bilirakis Bills Pass Veterans Affairs Committee

Gus Billirakis | 12th Congressional District | Politics

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis said he has been “intricately involved” with negotiating several pieces of legislation aimed at improving the lives of veterans.

WASHINGTON, DC – As vice-chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, said has been intricately involved in negotiating several high profile pieces of legislation aimed at improving the lives of veterans.

This week (May 8), several of these bills passed favorably out of the VA committee.

Chief among them is a bill that, Bilirakis said, will rectify a decades-long injustice that has been perpetrated against Blue Water Navy veterans. This small group of veterans has been excluded from presumptive status for Agent Orange exposure which has kept them from receiving the medical care and benefits that they have earned and rightfully deserve. This situation has caused great hardship for these veterans and their families, many of whom live in Bilirakis’s district, which is why, he said, he has fought tirelessly for a solution.

“This was an important and long over-due step forward in the fight to get justice for these heroes,” Bilirakis said. “But we are not finished. I will continue to shepherd this bill throughout the remainder of the legislative process.”

The committee also passed legislation that, Bilirakis said, made significant improvements to the Choice program, empowering veterans with the opportunity to seek private care within their community when the VA is unable to meet their needs in a timely manner.

“I believe in a strong VA system of care,” Bilirakis said. “However, veterans deserve the chance to choose an alternative when the VA is not meeting their needs.”

Additionally, the committee advanced Bilirakis’s SITREP bill that keeps veterans from being penalized when their school receives a late payment from the VA when processing their GI benefits.

“Veterans should not suffer due to bureaucratic red tape,” Bilirakis said.

Finally, the committee approved legislation that makes significant improvements to and expands eligibility for the VA Caregiver Support Program.

“Today was a good day for our nation’s heroes. All of these initiatives will help improve the lives of those who have sacrificed so much on behalf of our country,” Bilirakis said.

Bilirakis represents Florida District 12 in the U.S. House of Representatives. CD 12 includes the northern portion of Pinellas County, all of Pasco County, and a portion of Hillsborough County.

For information about Bilirakis, go to

Gus Bilirakis | Veterans | Politics | Tampabay News

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Mother Accused of Manslaughter in Death of Daughter, 3

Caitlin Joy Powell | HIllsborough Sheriff | Arrests

She admitted leaving her daughter unsupervised for about four and a half hours, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said.

LUTZ – A woman is accused of manslaughter in the drowning death of her 3-year-old daughter, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.

Jasmine Neal, 3, of Lutz, died at Florida Hospital Tampa, where she was taken after she was found in the backyard pool at her home.

Her mother, Caitlin Joy Powell, 30, of Tampa, is charged with one count of aggravated manslaughter of a child. Powell turned herself into the Hillsborough County Jail on Tuesday (May 8) and was later released on bond.

Deputies said that, about 9:45 p.m. March 10, Powell arrived at her place of employment, JT’s Road House bar, 13609 N Florida Ave. in Tampa. At the beginning of her shift, Powell took one 15 mg pill of morphine that was prescribed to her by a doctor. At about midnight on March 11, she took another half pill of morphine during that same work shift.

While working, Powell drank four to five shots of Bailey’s Irish Cream and butterscotch liqueur. Powell left her work about 2:40 a.m. and drove to a friend’s house in Tampa tp pick up Jasmine. Powell and Jasmine drove to their home in Lutz, FL where she put child to bed and went to sleep.

Powell woke up twice that morning to use the bathroom and to change Jasmine’s diapers. Deputies said Powell was awakened about 12:25 p.m. by someone who told her Jasmine was in the backyard pool. Jasmine was taken to  Florida Hospital Tampa where she later died.

Deputies said the pool was heavily ridden with green algae and the visibility was barely past the first step. They said Powell knew the sliding glass doors that led to the backyard did not properly lock because the safety pin that binds both doors together had been missing for about one to two weeks. The bar Powell was allegedly using to secure the door was found in the back yard under a shovel.

There was a fence created in front of the pool; however, deputies said, there was a gap of about a foot next to the exterior wall that was blocked by a small metal cage (11.5 lbs) and a plastic pet carrier (3.95 lbs) that were both light weight.

Deputies said that investigation indicated that Jasmine had walked around the pool and fallen in. Powell admitted the child was unsupervised for about four and a half hours. Deputies said Powell failed to provide Jasmine with the care and supervision necessary to maintain the child’s physical and mental health. Deputies said Powell should have reasonably known her actions were likely to cause death or great bodily injury.

Hillsborough Sheriff | Crime | Child Drowning | Arrests | Tampabay News

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Hillsborough Deputies Capture Fugitive Wanted in NY, NJ

Ivan Malave Rivera | Hillsborough Sheriff | Arrests

Among other crimes, he is accused of shooting into a crowd at an event titled Strengthening Kids, a Family Event in Newark, NJ, according to Hillsborough deputies.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – Acting on a tip from the FBI, deputies hunted down and captured a fugitive accused of various crimes in New York and New Jersey, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Ivan Malave Rivera, 47, of Newark, NJ, was listed as a fugitive for parole violation from New York; burglary, sex offender violation (aggravated sexual assault), from the New Jersey State Department of Correction; and aggravated assault with a firearm from the Essex County Police, New Jersey after he was identified shooting into a crowd at an event titled Strengthening Kids, a Family Event in Newark.

Deputies said he is also a certified Latin Kings gang member.

Deputies said they received a lead Wednesday (May 9) from the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force that Ivan Rivera was possibly in Hillsborough. With the FBI’s help, a Tampa address was obtained and Rivera was spotted at 12305 Cloverstone Drive in Tampa.

Deputies took him into custody without incident and booked him into the Hillsborough County Jail without bond, pending transfer back to New York and New Jersey.

Hillsborough Sheriff | Crime | Fugitive | FBI | Arrests | Tampabay News

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St. Pete Schedules Budget Open House

Budget | Taxes | Property Taxes

The event gives citizens one-on-one access to discuss the city’s budget with Mayor Rick Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, City Council members and senior administrators.

ST. PETERSBURG – Learn how St. Petersburg city leaders create an annual city budget and find out about next year’s spending priorities during the FY2019 City Budget Open House.

The event will be held at 6 p.m. Monday (May 14) at the Coliseum, 535 Fourth Ave. N.

The open house will give residents one-on-one access with Mayor Rick Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, City Council members and senior administrators. City department staff will also be on hand to answer questions starting at 6 p.m., followed by an overview of the budget process and city spending priorities. The public will have an opportunity for comment before City Council members share their thoughts on the proposed budget.

Through May 31, citizens are encouraged to participate in the budget process by sharing their spending priorities by administrative function at or

The City Council will consider the FY2019 budget for adoption during public hearings at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6 and Sept. 20 at City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

Budget | St. Petersburg | Events

St. Petersburg Budget | City Budget | Events | Events Near Me | Tampabay News

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New Port Richey Man Critical After SR 52 Crash

Police Lights | Florida | TB Reporter

He drove into oncoming traffic, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

PASCO COUNTY – A New Port Richey man is in critical condition after a traffic crash on State Road 52 late Wednesday (May 9) night, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Richard S. Benson, 28, of New Port Richey, was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center in critical condition. His passenger, Patrick T. Harris, 20, of New Port Richey, was taken to Florida Hospital Wesley Chapel with minor injuries. The other driver, Bobbie L. Pavy, 37, of San Antonio, FL, was taken to Florida Hospital Dade City with minor injuries.

The crash happened about 10:08 p.m. on State Road 52 west of Emmaus Cemetery Road.

Troopers said Benson was driving a 2015 Chevrolet Sonic west on SR 52. While negotiating a curve in the roadway. Benson crossed the centerline and drove into the path of the 1999 Ford SUV being driven by Pavy.

The left front of the Chevrolet hit the left front of the Ford. After the crash, troopers said both vehicles rotated. The Chevrolet collided with a guardrail. The Ford left the road and overturned.

Alcohol does not appear to be a factor in the crash.

Florida Highway Patrol | Traffic Crash | State Road 52 Crash | Tampabay News

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Wimauma Woman Accused of Arson, Attempted Murder

Martha Morales-Santizo | Hillsborough Sheriff | Arrests

She threatened the lives of her ex-boyfriend and their baby and set fire to his home, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY – A Wimauma woman is accused of setting fire to her ex-boyfriend’s home and threatening his life and the life of their 11-month-old baby, the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said.

Martha Morales-Santizo, 26, of Wimauma, was charged with one count each of a written threat to kill or do bodily harm, a violation of a domestic violence injunction, first degree arson, and attempted murder.

Deputies said that, about 4:20 a.m. Wednesday (May 9), Morales-Santizo set a fire to the exterior of a home at 12130 Hwy. 41 S in Gibsonton where he ex-boyfriend, Hernandez-Rojas livd with a woman. Both Hernandez-Rojas and the other woman were in the home when the fire was set. The fire caused about $1,500 in damages to the home and to Hernandez-Rojas’ vehicle.

While there, deputies said Morales-Santizo wrote a threatening note in Spanish on the exterior wall of the home next to the main door. The note said that Hernandez-Rojas he was going to die and that Morales-Santizo was going to kill him; their child, Fabian Hernandez-Morales, 11 months; and herself.

Shortly before the fire, Morales-Santizo was seen standing next to the portion of wall where the writing appeared. Hernandez-Rojas told deputies the writing was not on the wall before the incident. Hernandez-Rojas also told deputies he saw Morales-Santizo with a red gallon gas can containing fuel before the fire and he said he recognized the writing on the side of his residence as Morales-Santizo’s handwriting.

After setting the fire, deputies said, Morales-Santizo took their child and left. The child was later found unharmed.

Hillsborough Sheriff | Crime | Arson | Attempted Murder | Arrests | Tampabay News

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