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Kathryn Varn, Times Staff Writer

Kathryn Varn

Kathryn Varn covers public safety in north Pinellas County and news in the city of Largo. She is from the Jacksonville area and graduated from the University of Florida, where she studied journalism.

Phone: (727) 893-8913

Email: kvarn@tampabay.com

Twitter: @kathrynvarn

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  1. Richard Spencer speaks, and Gainesville emerges weary but at peace

    News

    GAINESVILLE — Fists raised, a sea of defiant student protesters at the University of Florida relentlessly shouted down the white nationalist on stage. Richard Spencer paced, irritated, clinging to his chance to talk.

    "Go home, Spencer," hundreds chanted over him. "We won't back down."

    Spencer tried taunts — "you all look like immature preschoolers" — and requests for reason. He tried preaching more loudly about his vision of a whites-only homeland. He tried shouting back....

    Protesters scream at supporters of Richard Spencer after his speech at the Phillips Center at the University of Florida.  [Thursday October 19, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Shot, killed while fleeing: Is this a case of stand your ground?

    News

    They met after dusk in the parking lot of a bank for what seemed like a routine transaction.

    Louise Ornduff and her son, Kalaeb, were there to negotiate the sale of a 2016 Nissan Rogue with Lasupta Singletary, 18, and Jernalen Dreshaw Coleman, 17, at the Bank of America at Belcher and Belleair roads in Clearwater, according to police.

    But instead of a handover of cash for car, the meeting turned deadly....

    One man died Tuesday after the owner of a car fired a shot at two would-be car thieves as they drove away, Clearwater police say. The incident, which occurred during a planned car sale, was in the parking lot of the Bank of America at the corner of Belcher and Belleair roads in Clearwater.
  3. Police: Woman shoots, kills teen who carjacked her son in Clearwater

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — They met after dusk in the parking lot of a bank for what seemed like a routine transaction.

    Louise Ornduff and her son Kalaeb were there to negotiate the sale of a 2016 Nissan Rogue with Lasupta Singletary, 18, and Jernalen Dreshaw Coleman, 17, at the Bank of America at Belcher and Belleair roads, according to Clearwater police.

    But instead of a handover of cash for the car, the meeting turned deadly....

    Singletary
  4. Pinellas deputy fired after investigation finds he invited woman he arrested to his home

    Public Safety

    LARGO — Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a deputy Monday after an investigation found he offered to pay an 18-year-old woman he had recently arrested and her friend to come to his house while his young daughter was asleep in the home.

    Deputy Brian Britt, 45, was terminated after 17 years with the department. Gualtieri said his behavior was "a betrayal of his oath."

    "It just shows an absolute, 100 percent lack of character, lack of values, terrible decision-making," he said, "and to put your child in that type of a situation is just totally reprehensible."...

    Sheriff Bob Gualtieri fired a deputy Monday after an investigation found he paid an 18-year-old woman he had recently arrested and her friend to come to his house while his young daughter was asleep in the home.
Deputy Brian Britt, 45, was terminated after 17 years with the department.
  5. Pinellas sheriff investigating deputies who hit suspect during arrest

    Public Safety

    The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office has opened an investigation into the arrest of a 25-year-old man after dash camera footage appears to show deputies beating, choking and yanking him by the hair while he lay on the pavement.

    Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Friday that the internal investigation began about two weeks ago into the May 25 incident that resulted in the arrest of Jimarez Donshay Reed outside his girlfriend's home near Pinellas Park. Pinellas-Pasco public defender Bob Dillinger brought it to the sheriff's attention through an internal affairs complaint....

    Dash cam video shows Pinellas deputies’ actions during Jimarez Donshay Reed’s arrest May 25. Watch at video.tampabay.com.
  6. Pinellas deputies arrest Largo father of 1-year-old who died in bathtub

    Crime

    LARGO — The water had risen to the edge of the tub, over the rim and onto the floor before Alan Morris remembered to check on his 13-month-old.

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri recounted Thursday how Morris went from the bedroom to the bathroom across the hallway of the home near Largo.

    When he got there, baby Liam was floating on his back, water from the faucet pouring onto his face. He was pronounced dead that evening....

    Madelynne Barenbrugge and Alan Morris pose with their son, Liam, for a photo posted on a family member's Facebook page in August 2016. Liam drowned Sept. 28 in a bathtub. A state report said he was left alone for about five minutes.  [Facebook]
  7. Pinellas Suncoast fire board concludes contentious lawsuit in hope for fresh start

    Local Government

    INDIAN SHORES — A battle over a lawsuit that racked up more than $100,000 in legal fees and soured the relationship between the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District and a group of residents came to an end last Wednesday when the fire board decided not to move forward with an appeal.

    The 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Lawrence Schear absent due to illness, concluded a lawsuit lodged by an Indian Rocks Beach commissioner and district resident claiming the wording of a referendum granting the district authority to collect a property tax was misleading. Last month, a circuit judge threw out the referendum when he sided with the residents, who were led by Edward Hoofnagle....

    Board attorney Jeff Albinson swears in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District's new fire chief, Mike Burton. Burton gave his first public comments at the meeting, encouraging district commissioners not to continue a lawsuit that had racked up more than $100,000 in legal fees and soured the district's relationship with the public. [KATHRYN VARN | Times Staff]
  8. Q&A: Clearwater police deputy chief retires after 33 years

    Public Safety

    Donald Hall's mail carrier was usually late.

    More than 30 years ago, the Tallahassee native was waiting on a letter from Florida State University police to let him know if he got an officer job he'd applied for.

    But just moments before the carrier came by with the letter, the Clearwater Police Department swooped in and offered him the job.

    He would stay for 33 years, working in patrol, economic crimes and eventually rising his way up to deputy chief until he recently retired. He said he may go on to teach in the future, but for now, he's got a to-do list to tackle after decades of service....

    Donald Hall retired from the Clearwater Police Department after 33 years, most recently as deputy chief.
  9. Clearwater official resigns after drunken golf cart ride, fight downtown (w/video)

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The prominent city official who police said engaged in a drunken golf cart ride and fight downtown has resigned.

    Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor's resignation is effective at 5 p.m. today. City manager Bill Horne said Taylor's conduct, while out of character, was inappropriate for a city employee, especially one in a key leadership position.

    "He was an embarrassment to us all," Horne said. "It's just not something that should in any way characterize how city employees interact with our public in our community."...

    Newly released video shows the moments before Clearwater Community Redevelopment Agency director Seth Taylor was arrested. [Video screenshot]
  10. PEMHS closes St. Petersburg campus, eliminating 14 beds

    Health

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a quiet morning in the PEMHS south campus day room as residents colored on sheets of paper and Home Improvement reruns played on a TV in the corner.

    For 30 years, PEMHS, or Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services, has operated a treatment facility for people with mental illness out of the building at 401 16th St. N.

    But that quiet morning last week would be one of its last. ...

    PEMHS closed its St. Petersburg campus on Friday and with it, 14 beds primarily set aside for low-income and uninsured people. Jerry Wennlund, the nonprofit's CEO, said the decision was brought about by a lack of funding, a building that had outlived the organization's needs and a change in the philosophy on how to connect people with mental illness to treatment. But some mental illness and substance abuse providers question if the system is ready for the transition. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  11. Clearwater police sergeant arrested on battery charge

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — A police sergeant with a checkered disciplinary history was arrested Tuesday after deputies said he shoved his girlfriend during an argument.

    John Brown, 47, faces a battery charge, according to his arrest report. Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said the agency has opened an internal investigation into the incident. Brown, a patrol sergeant, was reassigned to administrative duties....

    Clearwater police Sgt. John Brown faces a battery charge after deputies said he shoved his girlfriend to the ground during an argument. [Pinellas County Jail]
  12. One more question surrounding Pinellas Suncoast property tax dispute: Will fire district appeal?

    Fire

    A hectic month of insults, court filings and finger-pointing ended last week with at least one clear outcome: Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District residents won't pay a property tax this year after all.

    District commissioners decided during an emergency meeting on Sept. 29 to rescind a property tax they had approved days earlier after a judge ruled the referendum allowing the tax was illegal and instructed the county property appraiser not to reflect it on the tax roll....

    After a judge ruled last fall’s referendum illegal, the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District has decided not to collect a property tax.
  13. 'The barrage of bullets was maddening': Tarpon Springs couple recounts horror of Las Vegas shooting

    Public Safety

    Johnny Stamper and Denise Decker dove to the ground.

    Within seconds, a young woman behind them was shot in the chest.

    They didn't stick around long enough at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas to find out what happened to her. But Stamper said there was little chance she lived.

    They had witnessed the beginning of a massacre that left at least 59 dead and hundreds wounded when 64-year-old Stephen Paddock unleashed a high-powered barrage on festivalgoers from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. Stamper, a 58-year-old Tarpon Springs resident and owner of Johnny's Taphouse & Grill downtown, and Decker, his girlfriend, made it out physically unscathed. But days later, they were still grappling with the experience....

    Denise Decker, 51, and Johnny Stamper, 58, both of Tarpon Springs, watched the Route 91 Harvest festival from the VIP tent. Then came the gunshots and a frantic scramble to find safety.
  14. No property tax for Pinellas Suncoast fire district residents after reversal by board

    Local Government

    INDIAN SHORES — Residents of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District will not face a property tax next year after commissioners voted Friday to rescind the tax they had approved days earlier, ending for now a complex legal battle that pitted the county property appraiser and group of residents against the board.

    The 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Lawrence Schear absent, came after residents expressed concern over the legality of collecting the tax when a judge ruled against the district in a lawsuit challenging the referendum that created the tax. ...

    Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District station in Indian Rocks Beach
  15. Downtown Largo apartments ready to debut

    Economic Development

    LARGO — Construction is complete on a 29-unit apartment complex in downtown Largo.

    Management of the 158 Ridge Apartment Homes is ready to lease the one- and two-bedroom units with modern interiors, in-unit washers and dryers, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, according to a news release from St. Petersburg-based Dean & DeWitt Property Management. Rents run from $1,160 for the one-bedroom, one-bath units to $1,475 for the two-bedroom, two-bath units, according to the property manager's website....

    Construction is complete on a 29-unit apartment complex in downtown Largo.
Management of the 158 Ridge Apartment Homes is ready to lease the one- and two-bedroom units with modern interiors, in-unit washers and dryers, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, according to a news release from St. Petersburg-based Dean & DeWitt Property Management. KATHRYN VARN / TIMES