Around the Region

Published: Monday, January 5, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 4, 2009 at 9:12 p.m.

Panther numbers may be increasing

FORT MYERS According to a report by Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state's panther population is on the rise.

The tawny-fur felines now number around 100, compared to about 35 in the early 1990s.

The commission's report shows that interactions between humans and panthers are increasing, and that panthers attacked domestic animals on eight occasions between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008. During the study period, panthers killed 11 domestic animals: six goats, five sheep and one fallow deer. A llama and a dog were injured.

Although human-panther interactions are increasing, experts say the endangered big cats are shy and not a real threat to people.

1 dead in Central Florida trailer fire

BITHLO Orange County firefighters said one person has died during a travel trailer fire in a rural area east of Orlando.

Rescuers were called to the scene early Sunday morning and discovered a 25-foot travel trailer in flames.

It took only 10 minutes to knock down the blaze. Authorities said the body of one person was found. Authorities are investigating the victim's identity and the cause of the fire.

Seven deputies hurt in van crash

BARTOW Seven Polk County detention deputies were injured when a van they were traveling in overturned.

According to the sheriff's office, six of the deputies had just ended their shift at the South County Jail in Frostproof on Saturday morning and were being driven to Bartow by a seventh deputy. The van crossed the center median when it struck a boat being pulled by a truck.

The van overturned and rolled. It's unclear why the driver lost control, and the crash is under investigation.

As of Saturday night, four of the deputies were still in the hospital and in stable condition. Officials said the three other deputies were released from the hospital.

Officials: Hispanics robbery targets

CLEARWATER Police in the Tampa Bay area say that Hispanic immigrants are increasingly the targets of robberies.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that in 2008 alone, 55 robberies in Clearwater involved Hispanic men; similar robberies have been reported throughout the region.

Across the nation, the trend has earned its unfortunate victims a nickname: walking ATMs.

Experts point to two main factors that make Hispanic men vulnerable cash and legal status. As restaurant workers or laborers, the immigrants are sometimes paid in cash.

And immigrants with tenuous legal status can't get a driver's license and often walk or ride bikes late at night. These immigrants are less likely to seek help from police because they are afraid of being deported, experts say.

Mysterious shoes sent out to Haiti

MIAMI A charity group has stepped forward to take thousands of shoes that were mysteriously dumped on the Palmetto Expressway.

Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity, is sending representatives to Miami to collect the shoes. The group will distribute the shoes to people in Haiti, according to a news release.

The Florida Highway Patrol said thousands of work boots, bath slippers, tennis sneakers, beach sandals, even pairs of inline skates, inexplicably materialized shortly before 8 a.m. Friday on the busy roadway. Traffic was disrupted for hours.

A private contractor was hired to pick up the sea of soles and deposit them in an empty field. The investigation into who discarded the shoes continues.

Powerball makes debut in Florida

MIAMI Floridians, pick your numbers.

Starting today, people in the Sunshine State will be eligible to play Powerball, a multi-state lottery with enormous jackpots.

For a $1 ticket, players pick five numbers from 59 white balls and one number the Powerball number from 39 red balls that are selected in two drawings per week. Picking all six numbers correctly wins the jackpot. Winning jackpots have averaged $38 million. In 2006, a winner claimed a record $365 million. Florida's participation will make the jackpots even bigger.

Tickets go on sale today at the same retail outlets that sell Florida Lottery games.

Son charged with killing elderly dad

LAKELAND Polk County officials say the son of a 93-year-old slain Lakeland man has been arrested and charged in the homicide.

Sheriff's deputies say Walter Farley was found dead from multiple gunshot wounds Thursday morning.

His son, Robert Farley, was arrested on homicide charges Saturday.

Members of the Sheriffs Office dive team are preparing to search Lake Wire in downtown Lakeland for the murder weapon.

It is unclear whether Farley has a lawyer; deputies said Sunday he would be booked into the county jail.

Police investigate vandalized mosque

MIAMI Police are investigating after a mosque was vandalized in the Miami neighborhood of West Kendall.

Mosque leaders say three dozen bullets were sprayed across the outside of the Islamic School of Miami.

Windows were shattered and bullet holes plastered portions of the building, including its dome.

No one was inside the structure, which is being built as a replacement for a smaller mosque across the street.

The new building was scheduled to open in a few weeks, but those plans are now on hold.

Police don't have any suspects, but say it is too early to label the incident a hate crime.

14 Haitians held in Boynton Beach

BOYNTON BEACH Fourteen Haitians were detained by the Border Patrol after they came ashore near a city park.

A Boynton Beach marine officer heard someone on a marine radio talking about a boat with possible immigrants in the area Saturday morning.

The officer spotted an empty, 26-foot powerboat near a ramp.

Officials discovered the Haitians hiding in various locations in the park.

Officials: Snake bit Verizon worker

TAMPA Officials say a rattlesnake bit a Verizon worker who was filling in a hole in the ground in west Florida.

The worker, George Lantz, was airlifted to a hospital on Friday. Lantz was admitted to the hospital and was in good condition. Authorities say Lantz, a cable splicer, was working in a customer's backyard when the snake emerged from nearby woods.

Lantz was bitten on the left leg and authorities say he told them he was numb up to his knee.

Compiled from The Associated Press

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