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Florida follies 1999: What a state we're in



The rest of the country might be gathering up all its survival supplies this week, but for Floridians, the apocalypse is always in our faces -- an everyday danger in a state overrun by the judgment-impaired. Well, here's your annual reality check: the most disturbing, though under-reported, news of the year, straight from the state's newspapers. If you didn't make the list, consider it a successful year and proceed with the utmost caution into 2000.

A few good men

The Great Floridian Marker Program's deadline was extended twice in 1999 because it was so far short of its millennial goal to officially recognize the 2,000 all-time greatest Floridians. Though the program has been in operation for two years, it remains approximately 1,800 Great Floridians shy of completion.

The Bronx of the South

Unitel Corp. announced in March that it was relocating its 100-job telemarketing office from Frostburg, Md., to Lakeland. Unitel said Frostburgians were too polite and that the company needed to go somewhere where the labor pool was more aggressive.

America first

When presented with work requests by immigrants, the Florida labor department, like those in other states, is required under federal law to ascertain whether domestic workers are available for the same task; if none are, the feds may grant a work visa. So in April, in response to an immigrant's petition to work as a stripper, the Florida department actually placed a help-wanted ad in the Palm Beach Post seeking exotic dancers (working a 7 p.m.-3 a.m. shift, 40 hours a week, at $11/hour) to work at a club in Stuart.

It always works in the movies

In April, a 28-year-old Tampa man riding in the passenger seat of a pickup truck decided he needed something from the vehicle's bed, so he opened the door of the truck and climbed to the back. The truck was doing 55 mph at the time, and the man fell and was crushed to death under its rear wheel.

The new face of crime

A St. Petersburg convenience-store robber who wore a garbage bag as his disguise in a September holdup was easily identified by a clerk at a later date: The bag was made of transparent plastic.

Open-and-shut case

At 11:15 on a July evening in Tallahassee, a man in a ski mask and with his gun drawn rushed toward the front door of a 24-hour -- or so he thought -- E-Z Serve store. As the store had recently switched to a 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule, the door was locked, and the man slammed into it, knocking himself out. He quickly came to and fled, but the collision also jarred two packets of marijuana out of his pocket.

Grade A idiot

David Sanchez Hernandez, 18, was convicted in June in Punta Gorda of tossing eggs at two police officers who were on foot patrol. Hernandez, who said he committed the assault in order to win a $2 bet with his brother, was fined $750 and sentenced to 25 hours of community service.

Foxy lady

While watching an April sunset in Brooksville, Lucy Dover, 79, was knocked to the ground by a 15-pound red fox, breaking her hip and rendering her unable to get up. For the next few minutes, the fox attacked Dover, clawing and biting her repeatedly, before she grabbed it behind the head and by the tail and held it at bay for the next 12 hours, until her landlord happened by on a routine visit and rescued her.

Wanted: Dad or alive

According to an August Cox News Service report, Florida state-agency DNA paternity tests performed on "fathers" in four counties (Palm Beach, Martin, Okeechobee and Indian River) who had resisted paying child support revealed that 36 percent of the 1,025 men were not the children's fathers after all. However, Florida courts are split on whether even a negative DNA test should relieve men of support responsibilities once they voluntarily begin paying.

Constricting clothing

James Lawrence Collison, 46, pled no contest to grand theft in Panama City in August. An employee of Bird World Pet Shop caught Collison trying to exit the store with a milk snake peering out of his pocket and a boa constrictor arching its head over his belt buckle. Said the employee, "It was hilarious. He kept saying he wasn't taking anything, but those snakes were just moving around and one was under his shirt, and he was doing all kinds of strange things and trying to keep it in there."

In a similar story, Barbados pet-store owner Rodney Carrington was arrested at Miami International Airport in December while trying to smuggle 55 red-footed tortoises (value: $75 each) into the country in his pants.

That run-down feeling

After questioning widow Stephanie Loudermilk at length in June, police in Okeechobee said that they believe the death of her husband Brian, 28, was the accidental result of a sexual stunt gone wrong. Bryan's body was found in a shallow pit, situated beneath a board that was underneath a rear wheel of his sport utility vehicle. Stephanie reluctantly admitted that Bryan would have her roll the SUV over the board to sexually arouse him.

A lapse of mammary ...

Dr. Reinaldo Silvestre was a trendy South Beach plastic surgeon with plenty of fast-lane clients until he was arrested in October after botching the latest of several surgeries. In one incident, Silvestre used a spatula to cram breast implants into a former Mr. Universe runner-up who was expecting only pectoral implants. Despite his use of the title, authorities said Silvestre was not, in fact, a doctor.

... and a fetal mistake

Another nondoctor, Nelson Ramos, was a highly respected ob-gyn in the panhandle town of Marianna for more than 10 years, delivering hundreds of babies and earning the high esteem of his colleagues. He was convicted in August of having practiced without a license the entire time. (To obtain his Florida certificate, Ramos had falsified papers showing that he had graduated from medical school in his native Spain.) He was sentenced to a year in jail.

Walk this way

In September, Pinellas County officials unveiled what they hope will be a cutting-edge traffic-safety program that will serve as a model for reducing pedestrian deaths and calming drivers' road rage. The program asks pedestrians to smile and continuously extend their right hands (as if shaking hands) when proceeding through an intersection, to get the attention of drivers. Said a worker in Clearwater when the program was explained by a St. Petersburg Times reporter: "Nobody is going to walk across the street with their arm out. I'm not going to do it. Are you?"

Rest in pieces

In March, the family of the late George DeWayne McKown of Fort Myers filed a lawsuit against an employee of the Lee County medical examiner (among others), alleging mishandling of Mr. McKown's body. The body was to have been donated to science, but was rejected because Mr. McKown had hepatitis. Standard procedure, apparently, is for rejected bodies to be cremated without the notification of the deceased's family; on the way to the incinerator, however, a bag of body parts -- including the head -- fell off a BFI truck, and the media found out about it. (An embarrassed BFI tried to make things better by firing the supervisor who talked to reporters. He responded with the following, biologically themed quote: "Arms and legs come through here, but nobody had seen a head before. I was the supervisor, and my butt was on the line." )

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