Around the Region - Jan. 3

Published: Sunday, January 3, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 2, 2010 at 11:02 p.m.

Man accused of plotting to burn down his house

A Lake City man has been arrested on arson charges after authorities were told he tried to hire someone to help burn down a home he owns, reported the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

Charged with conspiracy to commit arson was Gerald Allan Wisener, 68, of 358 NW Yates Loop, reported sheriff's Sgt. Ed Seifert.

On Wednesday, a concerned citizen contacted the Sheriff's Office to say she was asked by Wisener to help him set fire to a home she was renting from him.

Detectives who followed up on the investigation on Friday believe Wisener offered the witness cash and property in Crystal River as an incentive to burn down the home for the insurance money, Seifert reported.

Wisener was arrested without incident.

Necropsy planned for killed panther kitten

EAST NAPLES - A necropsy is planned for a panther kitten killed on a southwest Florida road.

State wildlife officials say the 3-month-old, 30-pound kitten's carcass was recovered Thursday from an East Naples road.

The necropsy will be performed at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's lab in Gainesville. The animal's hide and skeleton will be archived at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Officials say 24 wild Florida panthers were killed in 2009; 17 deaths were on roads.

The Florida panther population has rebounded to about 100 from 30 cats living in the wild 20 years ago.

Officials close '85 missing girl case; family angered

Authorities in northeast Florida say they've closed the case of a missing seventh-grader, but the girl's mother says she doesn't believe it.

Martha Jean Lambert vanished near her St. Augustine home in 1985. Her mother, Margaret Pichon, remains convinced that the girl was kidnapped.

However, the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office said Friday that Pichon's son David Lambert confessed to accidentally killing Martha Jean Lambert in an argument. Sgt. Chuck Mulligan says Lambert told police that he panicked and buried the girl in a shallow grave.

Lambert was 15 at the time. Lambert previously told police he last saw the girl as she walked off to play.

Pichon says the sheriff's office just wants the case closed. Authorities still haven't found her daughter's remains.

Twins' births bridge two decades by minutes

TAMPA - Identical twin boys in Tampa will get to celebrate their birthdays individually after they were born in separate decades.

Margarita Velasco delivered the twins by cesarean section at Tampa General Hospital.

Marcello was delivered just before midnight. His twin, Stephano, was delivered just as the new year began.

Their father Juan said it's good that each boy will get to have his own birthday party.

The twins are in intensive care because they were born about 10 weeks early. Doctors say they'll get to go home in about eight weeks.

Polk County deputy charged with DUI

BARTOW - A central Florida sheriff's deputy has been suspended without pay after allegedly being found drunk behind the while of his car.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office says a deputy found 37-year-old James Pruitt passed out early Thursday behind the wheel of his Jeep with the engine running.

Authorities say Pruitt failed to pass field sobriety tests. He was arrested and taken to the Polk County Jail, where the sheriff's office says he refused to submit to a breath test to determine his blood alcohol content.

Pruitt is charged with driving under the influence. Jail records did not show whether he's represented by an attorney.

According to the sheriff's office, Pruitt was hired in 1994 as a patrol deputy.

He's been suspended pending an internal investigation.

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