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Whistleblower: St. Pete officials were warned about sewage spills

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One of the St. Petersburg’s highest ranking sewage operators has filed for federal whistleblower protection, saying the city was warned that closing a water treatment facility would result in sewage being dumped into Tampa-area waterways.

  • Craven Askew has filed for federal protection as a whistleblower
  • He claims the City of St. Peterburg knew a sewage spill was likely

Since August 2015, St. Petersburg has dumped more than 190 million gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay and other local waterways. Craven Askew claims city officials were warned this could happen when they shut down the Albert Whitted water treatment facility.

Askew, the chief operator of the city’s northwest water treatment plant, has sent a letter informing the mayor and City Council that he has filed for federal whistleblower protection, citing public safety.

In the document, he says he is "exercising my rights" under the whistleblower act and Federal Water Pollution Control Act "prohibiting retaliation against any employee who reports alleged violation relating to discharge of pollutants into water."

Councilman Steve Kornell said the sewage spills are a crisis and the Askew’s claims needs to be taken seriously.

“I don’t expect any problems for this employee. I expect him to be treated fairly,” Kornell said. “I hope he is taken into consideration and that he is listened to."

The whistleblower letter claims a 2014 study showed St. Petersburg’s southwest water treatment plant “could not handle the flow due to high weather events” if Albert Whitted were to close.

Despite the concerns, Askew claims the city closed the plant anyway without making the recommended upgrades to the southwest site.  

Moving forward, Askew recommends the city reopen the Albert Whitted facility until the necessary upgrades are complete.

Bay News 9 – news

September 17, 2016 |

Brazil police official: Ryan Lochte made up story about robbery

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The Associated Press is reporting that a Brazilian police official said American swimmer Ryan Lochte fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint over the weekend in Rio de Janeiro.

  • Ryan Lochte’s teammates were pulled from their flights Wednesday
  • Ryan Lochte tweeted at 5:57 p.m. Aug. 14 about the incident
  • Lochte’s father, who lives in Volusia , said his son was back in states

The official, who claims to have direct knowledge of the investigation, spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about an ongoing probe.

He said that about 6 a.m. on Sunday, Lochte, along with fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen, stopped at a gas station in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb of Rio where many Olympic venues are located. One of the swimmers tried to open the door of an outside bathroom. It was locked.

A few of the swimmers then pushed on the door and broke it. A security guard appeared and confronted them, the official told the AP.

The official says the guard was armed with a pistol, but he never took it out or pointed it at the swimmers.

The official then told the AP that the gas station manager arrived. The manager used a customer to translate and asked the swimmers to pay for the broken door. After a discussion, the swimmers paid the manager an unknown amount of money and then left the area.

The official says swimmers Conger and Bentz, who were pulled off a plane going back to the United States late Wednesday, told police that the robbery story had been fabricated.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Bay News 9 – news

August 18, 2016 |

Polk school officials to meet with parents about struggling middle schools

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Polk County school officials are scheduled to meet with parents Thursday about plans to fend off the closures of five middle schools.

School officials said they want to reassure parents they are doing everything possible to turnaround the schools’ performances.

Today’s meeting times and locations:

  • Boone Middle, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., 225 S. 22nd Street, Haines City
  • Denison Middle, 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., 400 Ave. A SE, Winter Haven
  • Kathleen Middle, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., 3627 Kathleen Pines Ave., Lakeland
  • Lake Alfred-Addair Middle, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., 925 N. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Alfred
  • Westwood Middle, 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., 3520 Ave. J NW, Winter Haven
  • BN9 Education resources

The Florida Board of Education is threatening to shut down the middle schools over failing grades.

Earlier this week, the district presented plans to the state for keeping the troubled schools open. The struggling schools are Kathleen, Denison, Westwood, Shelley S. Boone and Lake Alfred-Addair.

The schools have had D or F grades issued from the state for the past three years.

More than 13,000 students are assigned to those schools and during the summer, the school district accepted an unspecified number of parent requests to move their children to different schools.

District officials said at least $ 1 million in funding and resources is being infused into the schools to address poor attendance, school atmosphere, underperforming teachers and, in some cases, replacing school leaders.

"We have reallocated funding to make sure we are supporting our teachers," said Regional Asst. Superintendent Tony Bellamy. "As I said before, the additional time that we have created for them to have planning and support them. So there is a big investment we have committed to."

Polk school officials won’t know for another month if the state accepts the turnaround plan for the schools.

Until then, school officials say the turnaround plans at the five schools will continue.

Bay News 9 – news

August 18, 2016 |

Downtown St. Petersburg sees uptick in complaints about homeless

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Some downtown business owners in St. Petersburg are asking, ‘Where did all the homeless people come from?’

  • Business owners say they’ve seen more panhandling, public urination
  • St. Pete officials believe it’s the result of new ownership downtown
  • The infamous ‘cheese grater’ building was purchased a few weeks back  

Lately, many owners have been complaining about a noticeable increase in panhandling, public urination and overall harassment from more homeless people.

"Seems like they walk around the block," said barbershop owner Schott Mitchel. "Maybe the police will pull up into the park, and then they scatter.

"And then you’ll see them walk around the block a few times," he said. "They don’t know what to do, and then maybe they’ll sit down in front of your business, which isn’t good for business.”

City officials say the recent closing of the’Cheese Grater’ building and its accompanying parking garage may have something to do with it.

Cliff Smith, St. Petersburg Veterans Social and Homeless Services Director, says, "It’s been sold and fenced off, and so a lot of people we believe were living in the garage there (are) out on the street panhandling, just causing all kinds of issues, hurting our businesses."

Within hours of the complaints, city officials moved on the concerns by making police more visible in the area and reaching out to homeless advocates to encourage those displaced to take advantage of the shelters and other services provided to the homeless.

Smith emphasized that being homeless is not a crime in St. Petersburg, but panhandling, public defecation and drug use are, and won’t be tolerated.

Bay News 9 – news

July 29, 2016 |

Deputies warn Oldsmar family about gator under their car

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An Oldsmar family got a big surprise Thursday morning when deputies spotted an alligator lodged under the family’s car.

  • Deputies in neighborhood on another call
  • Family warned to not come out of the house
  • Originally from Texas, family took it as "Welcome to Florida"

Paige Manning said deputies were in her neighborhood on Split Fork Drive answering a disturbance call when they saw the alligator.

They immediately knocked on her door to warn her not to go outside.

"It was totally hidden. His head was at the back of the tire and then his tail went all the day down to the front," said Paige Manning. "I was pretty freaked out. We’re from Texas so this was kind of a ‘Welcome to Florida,’ I guess."

Manning said she’s lucky the gator was found before she and her daughter, Alexis, 3, went out to get in the car.

"When we leave the house, I lock the door and she runs around to her side of the car and just stands there waiting for me to unlock it. The way they stick the little pole down there, the alligator really grabbed it. I mean, it could have been her leg," said Manning.

Trappers came and removed the alligator, but Manning said she’s still on edge. The family doesn’t live on the water, and she said she has no idea where the alligator came from.

"I would never expect an alligator under my car ever in a million years, and now I will be looking everywhere, in the bushes and everything," said Manning. "I’m paranoid now."

Bay News 9 – local-news

June 30, 2016 |

Orthopedic surgeon warns parents about the signs of Scoliosis

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A Lakeland orthopedic surgeon is making a special effort to get the word out about scoliosis in children this month.

  • June is Scoliosis Awareness Month
  • Dr. Okafor: Too many parents unaware of warning signs

Dr. Chukwuka Okafor with the Spine Institute of Central Florida says too many parents are unaware of the warning signs of the disorder.

"The shoulders are not even, the pelvis or the hips are not even, you may notice some difference in the gap between the arms and the torso," said Dr. Okafor.

Okafor said he performed the first ever pediatric scoliosis correction in Polk County in 2010, when he worked on Stephanie Ackloo. Ackloo was 15 years old at the time, and describes her life now as "beautiful."

“I don’t have any pain," said Ackloo. "I don’t have nothing at all anymore.”  

Ackloo was diagnosed with scoliosis when she was five years old. She wore a brace for much of her childhood and was unable to dance and have fun like other children.

She said another doctor told her she was destined to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

“It was very painful. I would not be able to walk a far distance,” said Ackloo.

Then she met Dr. Okafor, who recommended surgery because her curvature was at 55 degrees. Okafor said there are several treatment options depending on how much growth the child has remaining and the angle of curvature of their spine.

However, when someone’s curvature is greater than 40 degrees, he recommends scoliosis correction surgery.

Okafor said scoliosis often runs in the family, so it wasn’t a surprise when Stephanie’s little sister, Emma Ackloo, had the disorder too. She had scoliosis correction surgery in July of 2015, and said she feels a lot better.

“It was definitely worth it because if I did not get the surgery, I’d probably be suffering right now," said Emma. "I could’ve got worse every single day to the point where I couldn’t hold it anymore."

Both sisters admit that recovering from the surgery was long and painful. But they look forward to the rest of their lives, knowing they can do anything and their spine will not hold them back.

Okafor urges parents to take their kids to the doctor’s office if they believe their children might be showing warning signs. Left untreated, he said scoliosis can get progressively worse, and down the road lead to daily disabling pain and heart and lung problems.

Bay News 9 – local-news

June 20, 2016 |
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