Increase in gun-related crime around Tampa makes USF sophomore wary

University of South Florida sophomore Emily Stencil never imagined she would feel unsafe around her own home.

Stencil, who has lived in apartments off campus during both of her years at USF, takes her dog Roxie for a walk every day she comes home from school. She then rides her bike if the sun is shining, and occasionally makes the 5-minute walk to campus.

Now, however, Stencil is beginning to rethink her routine, because of fear for her safety.

“I’ve never been afraid of leaving my doors unlocked or walking my neighborhood alone,” Stencil said. “Now, I’m afraid to leave my house past 8 o’clock.”

***

According to Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor, there have been 235 gun-related crimes this year, up from 164 during this time last year.

The increase in crimes also includes 15 homicides — more than double the amount of this time last year.

Gun theft also has drastically increased since last year. According to TPD, 117 guns were stolen this year. That’s 65 more than this time last year.

Most eye-opening of all is that in the 10 days prior to March 23, 10 teenagers died from shootings.

One case involved a 14-year-old male who was shot and killed at a birthday party on March 21. Police estimate that dozens witnessed the crime, but none have come forward with information.

In another case March 14, Tampa teen Ikeim Bowell was killed in what was ruled an accidental shooting by the department.

According to the Tampa Tribune, a group of Bowell’s friends found a gun in a relative’s house they assumed was unloaded. But shortly after they started playing with it, the gun went off and shot Bowell in the neck.

“In the majority of the cases, witnesses and even victims are reluctant to cooperate with detectives,” Castor said in a statement. “The Tampa Police Department is urging citizens to get involved to stop the violence.”

Castor used a March 16 news conference to encourage members of the public to speak up if they have any information.

***

While gun-related crimes have risen in the city, major crimes on USF’s Tampa campus have dropped in the past four years.

According to the USF Police Department, in 2010 the crime rate dropped more than 19 percent from the previous year.

The USF Police Department reports that crimes such as murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault and burglary have dropped 45 percent, but arrests have increased 52 percent.

USF Police lieutenant Marty King credited the improved efforts of officers for the drop in on-campus crime.

According to a release, more DUI checkpoints were added to areas surrounding campus. Officers also underwent extensive training, and a stronger traffic enforcement has led to the decrease in crimes.

The clearance rate, which is the number of reported cases successfully solved, has increased every year.

“Most importantly is the partnership we have with our community,” King said. “This partnership allows our campus community many options to report suspicious activity or crimes in progress. These efforts, coupled with the crime prevention initiatives we provide, can all play a factor in reducing crime.”

Still, Stencil is worried.

If the crime rate continues to increase, Stencil said she will consider moving on-campus to a dormitory, where she hopes she will be safer.

“It’s not something I want to do,” Stencil said. “But if it can save my life, I’m going to do it.”

Video: Office of Multicultural Affairs aimed to promote gender equality by celebrating Women’s History Month in March

The Office of Multicultural Affairs helped spread the word about Women’s History Month in March.

The office set up a booth in the atrium of the Marshall Student Center with stacks of blank cards for students to fill out with their reasons for why they support women. Free pins were also handed out to help spread awareness around campus.

According to Caitlin Jones, a coordinator for the LGBT programs and services for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the objective of the event was for students and other passersby to understand the importance of the movement.

“Why does this matter?” Jones said.  “Why do people support women? Have people even thought about why they support women? So, we’re using this to start that thought process.”

Throughout the event, many people stopped by to offer their thoughts. At the end,  all completed cards were hung up along the office’s window on the third floor of the Marshall Center.

“Supporting women is more than wage equality,” Jones said. “It’s more than saying, ‘Oh, yes, women are important to me,’ but actually looking at class and race and some other pieces to be able to say, women matter.

“They deserve the same rights. The same equality. The same equity. And I’m willing to stand up and do that.”

Video: For Thelma Thompson, family is top priority

Thelma Thompson has demonstrated during the past three decades that family is the most important thing in her life.

Without hesitation, the Temple Terrace resident has seemingly always put her needs aside to help the ones she loves.

It started, Thompson said, after realizing her two grandchildren were not being cared for properly. Thompson — along with her late husband — decided to take on the challenging task of raising them.

But it wasn’t easy.

In 1985, when her husband became paralyzed from the neck down, Thompson faced the difficult reality that she would have to be the sole provider for the family in addition to raising the two children and caring for her husband.

“A lot of worry went through my mind,” Thompson recalled. “How was I going to take care of him? How was I going to meet my bills, since his pay was no longer there? How was I going to take of these two babies? But it all seemed to work out.”

Despite the struggles she faced, Thompson continued to help those in need. Her loving demeanor also drew in several troubled children outside her family.

Thompson received financial and physical aid from her daughter and son-in-law.

“I’ve always taken in kids who seemed to have problems. … ” Thompson said. “I guess it turned out to be between five and 10 kids that I have taken care of that were not mine in any shape or form.”

Nikki James, Thompson’s granddaughter, said she and her younger brother could have potentially lived drastically different lives if it weren’t for Thompson’s generosity.

“They (Thompson and her husband) were always there, and they took me in when the younger parents couldn’t handle the responsibility, and they have made a huge difference in my life,” James said.

Though there were plenty of hardships along the way, Thompson, now 80, said she always remained upbeat.

“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.

Video: C.R. Willey brings championship pedigree to USF disc golf team

C.R. Willey is not your average USF coach. He is a four-time disc golf champion.

And with Willey’s help, the USF disc golf team has a chance at the top 10 this year and — possibly — a national title.

Willey, a veteran of the Professional Disc Golf Association, has trained some of the top professionals in the league, including 12-time champion, Ken Climo.

“It’s nice that you are actually learning from somebody that has actually won (championships),” said Chris Crist, USF’s team founder and captain.  “He’s been playing for so long. He’s taught a lot of people how to play and a lot of pros how to play.”

While Willey was on the PDGA tour, he was approached by some of USF’s players, who asked him if he would be interested in coaching the team.

Willey didn’t hesitate in saying yes.

“Heck, yeah,” Willey said. “I would like to see USF win a national championship in disc golf. I’d like to see them win it in football, too — baseball or anything for the university. Let’s take it to the next level.”

Willey also played baseball at USF for a time. But one day, when he saw students playing ultimate frisbee, Willey knew his love and passion was for disc golf.

With more than 40 PDGA victories, he is considered the best thing that has happened to USF by its young group of players.

“We’ve qualified for the National Collegiate Championship, and we almost beat the reigning champs in a qualifying tournament that the USF team ran in Largo,” Willey said.

The National Collegiate Disc Golf Championship starts on April 15 in North Augusta, South Carolina.

Spanish restaurant in Tampa still dances with tradition

 Ybor City’s Spanish and Cuban restaurant, the Columbia, was founded by Casimiro Hernandez Sr. in 1905. The Spanish traditions of the restaurant have been carried through family generations for over 100 years.

2014-11-29 12.08.39

“I enjoy the food here,” said Columbia customer Mark Anthony Puglio. “The food here is excellent. It always has been, since I was young.”

Continue reading “Spanish restaurant in Tampa still dances with tradition”

Taco Bus conquers Tampa with its popular Mexican food truck

 

Taco Bus provides Tampa with a unique and authentic dining experience while bringing a little bit of Mexico to the area.

It all started with a single bus 20 years ago. Today, Taco Bus restaurants still offer the same food the owner from Mexico served when he first opened his small business.

“He basically changed the name, added a food truck to it, and now, we’re at five locations,” said Aaron Lucas, the general manager of Taco Bus in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The modern food truck trend began in 2008 in California. Since then, it has made its way eastward. Taco Bus was one of the first original food trucks in St. Petersburg. Lucas even thinks it might now be the most famous food truck in Florida.

Continue reading “Taco Bus conquers Tampa with its popular Mexican food truck”

Gaspar’s Renovates It’s Tampa Legacy

Posed Photo by Joseph Meier
Joseph Meier

 

It is 1:30 in the morning. Jimmy Ciaccio gets out of his bed and heads to Gaspar’s Bar and Grill — his bar, which belonged to his father before him — to begin his fourth renovation.

“I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into this place,” said Ciaccio, owner of Gaspar’s Bar and Grill.

Ciaccio could have contracted out the project or delegated it to his employees, but he showed up and worked himself.  From laying down the hardwood floors to hanging doors, Ciaccio built his bar from the ground up.

Continue reading “Gaspar’s Renovates It’s Tampa Legacy”

Goody Goody, a slice of Tampa’s history to reopen

TAMPA, Fla.– Tampa’s longtime residents will once again take a bite of a burger, or a slice of pie, from the iconic Goody Goody restaurant. Former co-owner, Mike Wheeler, recently sold the restaurant and hopes its history continues.

“One of the motivating reasons of my selling it was that I wanted to see the Goody Goody remain a Tampa tradition,” Wheeler said.

The restaurant is now owned by businessman Richard Gonzmart.

“To sell it to somebody that we felt had high integrity and knew the restaurant business,” Wheeler said. “I think we found just the right person.”

Richard Gonzmart, the co-owner of Columbia Restaurant, used to visit Goody Goody, bringing food home to his family every Sunday. Michael Kilgore, chief marketing officer at Columbia Restaurant, says preserving the business was Gonzmart’s rescue mission.

“He wanted to try to preserve it and so as soon as it happened he started talking to Michael Wheeler about trying to buy the rights to it,” Kilgore said.

Goody Goody was first a drive-in restaurant, giving curb-side service from 1930 until 1984. The curb-side service was removed in late 1984.

A design has not been drafted yet, but it will continue as a family dine-in restaurant. As per the menu, the famous burger “POX”, pickles, onions, and secret sauce, is impossible to replicate, making it unique.

“They’re so unique and different and it’s just not like the hamburger with lettuce and tomato that you find in so many places,” Wheeler said. “They always go with a special…it’s called a ‘POX’, which stands for pickles, onions, and X, that sauce.”

Yvonne Freeman, also known as “the hamburger queen”, worked the last 46 years until 2005 as the manager and the official baker of those delicious pies.

The new location will open in South Tampa sometime in 2015.

Clearwater Voters Receive Mail-In Ballots

This episode of Florida Focus, for Oct. 6, covers news from around the region and state.

Thousands of Hillsborough County voters received mail-in ballots this week. Voters will be able to request mail-in ballots until Oct. 29.

Clearwater Police are searching for two suspects using stolen credit cards from vehicle burglaries.

A 15-year-old Tarpon Springs girl was the victim of a hit and run accident. The girl was seriously injured and airlifted to a nearby hopsital. The driver later returned and was arrested for fleeing the scene of a crime. 

A seaplane crashed during a lesson near Davis Islands Park, police reported that two people were rescued and they are in good condition.  

East Lake Community Library offers a Halloween costume swap for parents. Costumes can be swapped or bought new for $5. All proceeds will go to the library. 

ff-logo2

Ruptured Sewer Line Closes Roads

In this episode of Florida Focus:

  • A ruptured sewer line spills more than half a million gallons of waste water  in St. Petersburg;
  • Arson is believed to be the main cause of a vacant East Tampa home fire;
  • Fire destroys an apartment home;
  • Charlie Crist visits homes in Holiday and Sarasota;
  • National Coffee Day brings freebies and discounts to coffee lovers.

ff-logo2