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Kathryn Varn, Times Staff Writer

Kathryn Varn

Kathryn Varn covers public safety in north Pinellas County and news in the city of Largo. She is from the Jacksonville area and graduated from the University of Florida, where she studied journalism.

Phone: (727) 893-8913

Email: kvarn@tampabay.com

Twitter: @kathrynvarn

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  1. St. Pete losing two assistant police chiefs; one will join Rays

    Public Safety

    ST. PETERSBURG — Two assistant police chiefs are stepping down next month, leaving two of the three second-in-command jobs vacant at the St. Petersburg Police Department.

    Assistant Chief Jim Previtera announced this week that he will resign from the department on Jan. 7 and head two blocks south to Tropicana Field, where he will oversee security for the Tampa Bay Rays.

    Assistant Chief Luke Williams will retire at the end of January. An exact date was not available....

  2. Reasons elusive as Pinellas EMS demand skyrockets

    Public Safety

    When the fire chief asked if anyone in the room had fallen before, a few in the gray- and white-haired crowd raised their hands.

    One woman lost her footing as she was answering the phone. Another saw a palmetto bug, sprayed it with repellent, then slipped, the floor slick with bug spray.

    Sam Jeffers, 83, had just mowed his lawn in Palm Harbor when his toes curled beneath his feet. He fell on his knees, then back the other way, breaking his hip. A man who had once spent his weekends running 10Ks had to move into The Fountains at Boca Ciega Bay, a senior living community in South Pasadena....

  3. Tarpon Springs crossbow maker settles swath of injury lawsuits

    Civil

    TARPON SPRINGS — A local crossbow maker that has faced criticism over the safety of its products has recently settled lawsuits with several customers.

    But many are still active, and some additional suits have been filed in circuit court as recently as last month against Tarpon-Springs based Barnett Crossbows, its parent company and an affiliate company.

    The lawsuits have similar claims: While using the crossbows, the string snapped back on the shooter's thumb, causing injuries ranging from fractures to amputations. The issue, the suits say, is that Barnett manufactured its bows without a finger or thumb guard and didn't have adequate safety warnings included with the bows....

  4. Looking for a bae in Tampa Bay? Exclusive dating app The League coming to Tampa

    Human Interest

    A dating app is hoping to connect some Tampa baes in Tampa Bay.

    But while apps such as Tinder and Bumble are open to all, this one, called The League, is looking only for singles of a certain, eh-hem, pedigree.

    See, The League isn't trying to be another app available for all users who want to venture into the soul-crushing but occasionally fruitful world of online dating. The League's goal is much narrower — elitist, some would say, but we'll get to that later. ...

  5. Police identify intruder shot by Clearwater homeowner

    Crime

    CLEARWATER — Kurt Baima heard banging Thursday morning and assumed someone was doing construction work on a neighbor's house.

    But then it occurred to him: What if it's coming from my house?

    He said he grabbed his 9mm Beretta semiautomatic pistol and checked around the Cleveland Street home he shares with a roommate. In the garage, he said, he came face to face with a man he'd never seen before....

    Clearwater police assess the scene at a Cleveland Street home Thursday after a man who lives there said he shot an intruder.
  6. Four Pinellas sheriff's deputies suspended after neglecting duties during Hurricane Irma

    Public Safety

    Four Pinellas County sheriff's deputies were suspended after internal investigations found they neglected their duties during Hurricane Irma.

    Deputies Jason Beetz, Kristen Spielmeyer and Brian Williams received 40 hours without pay with part of the punishments delayed if they stay out of trouble for the next year, according to the investigations. Beetz and Williams were also demoted to patrol deputies from their jobs as narcotics detectives, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Cpl. Hal White was handed down 16 hours....

    Pinellas County sheriff’s deputies restrict access to St. Pete Beach after Hurricane Irma passed through in September.
  7. Nationwide Christmas tree shortage has experts warning: buy early

    Human Interest

    Johnny and Kathy Schultz perused the artificial tree displays at Lowe's, eyeing the preadorned lights and glossy price tags with careful consideration.

    Choosing a manufactured tree in the air conditioning of a big-box store was new for the couple. Since they were married 26 years ago, they've been Real Tree people, enamored with the smell.

    But this year, they arrived at their usual lot to find a price increase from the previous year that made Johnny Schultz turn around and walk out. The couple had heard about a Christmas tree shortage on the news....

     Barbara Holfetz, Manager at Winterland Christmas Trees off Columbus Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, says her stand is well-stocked with Christmas trees. Gabriella Angotti-Jones  | Times  

  8. Report: Opioid, cocaine deaths on the rise statewide and in Tampa Bay

    Public Safety

    Opioids ravaged Florida last year, contributing to thousands more drug-related deaths than even at the peak of the pill mill crisis.

    New figures released this month also shed light on a less publicized trend that law enforcement officials say is a byproduct of the opioid epidemic and of more drug use in general: a sharp rise in cocaine-related deaths.

    According to the annual Medical Examiners Commission Drug Report, deaths in which opioids were either present in the system or identified to be the cause of death saw a 35 percent increase from 2015, up to a total of 5,725 statewide. Cocaine-related deaths shot up from 1,834 to 2,882 during the same time, a 57 percent increase. That trumps the previous 15-year high of 2,179 in 2007 by more than 700 deaths....

    As the crackdown 
on pill mills has left addicts 
with less supply, they’ve turned back to buying drugs on the street.
  9. Largo police active shooter training 'a sign of the times' for participants

    Public Safety

    LARGO — The classroom was full, but the chatter was quiet as the students picked at doughnuts and sipped coffee from paper cups.

    Many were strangers to each other, but the reason they showed up at the Largo Police Department on a sunny Saturday morning was their common ground.

    "It could never happen …" read a cartoon that flashed on a screen at the front of the room. Then, underneath: "Welcome to HERE, your town, USA!"...

    Largo police Officer Keith Bowling, left, and Largo police Officer Vu Tran, right, block Largo police Officer Matt Williams, who pretends to be an active shooter, during a training to prepare residents and business owners in the event of an armed intruder. The training, called ALICE - Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate - took place at Largo Police Department on Saturday, November 18, 2017. During the training, tennis balls and other items were used by trainees to defend themselves during a drill. ALESSANDRA DA PRA   |   Times
  10. Developer changes approach as downtown Largo project lags in financing

    Growth

    LARGO — Driving down West Bay Drive, you may notice some changes to downtown Largo.

    A new 29-unit apartment complex on Ridge Road stands finished and ready for residents. South of the complex, land that was formerly home to a community of rundown cottages and the Smokin' Rib Shack restaurant is now a flat plot of dirt and grass, the homes demolished and the restaurant relocated.

    The empty lot is now ready for construction to begin next year on the West Bay Lofts project, a pair of buildings on the 500 and 600 blocks of West Bay Drive with 123 apartments and close to 36,000 square feet of commercial space that city officials hope will be a game-changer for the struggling downtown. ...

    The now-vacant 600 block of West Bay Drive, cleared for construction of the West Bay Lofts, a mixed use development project. 158 Ridge Apartment Homes, a complex that opened last month, can be seen north of the block. KATHRYN VARN | Times
  11. Attention Pinellas readers: Stay up-to-date with our new Facebook group

    Human Interest

    We at the Tampa Bay Times know how overwhelming it can be to find the news most useful to you in today's constant churn of information.

    We also know decisions made by your mayor, city council, police chief and other representatives have the biggest potential to impact your everyday life — and that knowledge of those changes can give you the power to make a difference.

    That's why we've created a Facebook group for all things Pinellas County. Consider it a one-stop shop for government and crime to events and features from Tarpon Springs down to Gulfport. Find it by searching Pinellas Community News from the Tampa Bay Times or by clicking here....

    St. Petersburg residents Bethany Hogan, and her husband, Shane Hogan, both 29, enjoy their dinner on a bench overlooking Tampa Bay from Vinoy Park as the sunset casts a pink glow in the eastern sky in this August 2017 file photo. The Tampa Bay Times has created a Facebook group for news across Pinellas County from St. Petersburg, where this photo was taken, up to Tarpon Springs. LARA CERRI   |   Times
  12. Tampa Bay churches grapple with safety, security after Texas shooting

    Public Safety

    Chris DeFayette had just gotten home from a smooth morning of services at Mission City Church in Largo when he saw the news.

    A shooting at a small church in Texas. Multiple casualties. Information was still rolling in, but the death toll would hit 25 people ages 1 to 77, including a pregnant woman.

    A pastor at Mission City texted a news article about it to DeFayette, the church's security director, sparking a conversation about the church's own safety protocols....

    Mission City Church in Largo has decided to hire an off-duty police officer during services. The church’s security director says he’s also considering active shooter training for staff members.
  13. Largo police department offers public training for active shooter situations

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A police department training Nov. 18 for residents to learn strategies to survive in the event of an active shooter is full, but officials are asking interested people to contact the department to potentially hold another class.

    The training, called ALICE — Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate — will cover information about active shooting incidents, physical drills and passive versus proactive response strategies, according to a department flier....

  14. On front lines of opioid epidemic, Tampa Bay cops add Narcan to toolkit

    Public Safety

    The scene has become all too familiar.

    A woman found slumped over in a running car. Police officers breaking through the window to get to her and the two children inside. A used syringe, silver spoon and lighter lying on the floorboard.

    Opioids have infiltrated every demographic of every community across Florida, creating a public health emergency unrivaled since the pill mill crisis. And on that morning in August, one facet of combating the epidemic unfolded....

    A Tampa Fire Rescue firefighter holds up a nasal spray applicator of naloxone, a drug that temporarily blocks the effects of opioid overdoses more commonly known by its brand name Narcan, in this file photo from July 2016. Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies have started supplying officers and deputies with the drug to protect the public and their own employees who may come in contact with powerful synthetic opioids. Andres Leiva   |   TIMES
  15. St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island communities baffled by weekend shootings

    Crime

    UPDATE: Pinellas County deputies say they have arrested two men responsible for a pair of drive-by shootings on St. Petersburg Beach and Treasure Island, wounding one person.

    Brian White strolled down Gulf Boulevard in Treasure Island, holding a lit cigar....

     Area around 6200 Gulf Boulevard, St. Pete Beach where the weekend shooting occurred. The Beachcomber Resort is on the left.   SCOTT KEELER   |   Times