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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


Twitter: @kathrynvarn

  1. Proino Breakfast Club owner charged with not paying state taxes


    LARGO — Just before noon on a recent Sunday at Proino Breakfast Club, the dining room was bustling as owner George Soulellis chatted with a customer.

    It was not even a month earlier the owner of the popular downtown restaurant was sitting in jail in Clayton County, Ga., picked up by Atlanta airport police as a fugitive.

    His July 27 arrest stems from a theft of state funds charge brought by the Florida Department of Revenue after Soulellis, 48, withheld about $35,600 in sales tax revenue, according to an affidavit filed by a state investigator. The arrest is the latest in a series of financial problems for Soulellis and his restaurant, once voted "Best of Largo" in a contest sponsored by the city and the Largo Leader....

    Proino Breakfast Club at 201 West Bay Drive in Largo. The owner was arrested last month on a theft of state funds charge, according to court records. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  2. Florida man arrested in connection with Charlottesville white supremacist rally is out of a job

    Public Safety

    A Florida man arrested in connection with a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., is out of a job.

    North American Roofing Services, which recently moved its headquarters to Tampa, announced in an internal memo that Jim O'Brien "is no longer with the company." The announcement follows a Tampa Bay Times article with details from O'Brien's blog espousing white nationalist beliefs and encouraging violence against the political left....

    Jim O'Brien, 44, was arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed handgun for what Virginia State Police said was in connection to a white supremacist rally Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. His former employer, North American Roofing Services, announced Monday that O'Brien is "no longer with the Company." [Facebook screenshot]
  3. In Gainesville, UF grapples with the specter of its own brush with white nationalists


    GAINESVILLE — Suspended in its final weeks of summer doldrums, the University of Florida waits.

    Its bell tower echoes across vacant red-brick paths. Construction workers labor under trees draped in wet Spanish moss.

    In just days, students will return. Football games will light up the stadium. And, some fear, white nationalists will make Florida's flagship university the next site of a torch-bearing rally....

    White nationalist Richard Spencer, center in sunglasses, and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police after hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "alt-right" clashed with anti-fascist protesters and police in Charlottesville, Va. Saturday. Spencer's National Policy Institute has requested space at the University of Florida for a Sept. 12 event featuring Spencer as a speaker. Officials in Gainesville are puzzling over how to deal with his potential presence on campus. [CHIP SOMODEVILLA | Getty Images]
  4. Florida man among three arrested in connection to white nationalist rally in Charlottesville


    A violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., led to several arrests, including of a Florida man with a Tampa connection who runs a blog espousing white nationalist beliefs and encouraging violence against the political left.

    Virginia State Police said on Twitter that 44-year-old James M. O'Brien, of Gainesville, was arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed handgun. His blog — Bacon, Books & Bullets — says O'Brien "has led projects and missions through conflict zones on behalf of the US military, the US government, and international humanitarian organizations." He was hired this year as the director of purchasing and logistics for North American Roofing, a company headquartered in Tampa....

    Jim O'Brien, 44, was arrested on a charge of carrying a concealed handgun for what Virginia State Police said was in connection to a white supremacist rally Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. [Facebook screenshot]
  5. No changes for Pinellas County's arrest diversion program

    Public Safety

    Law enforcement and judicial representatives from Pinellas County met last week to discuss the state of an arrest diversion program that started last year and decide whether any changes should be made.

    The group decided not to make any revisions, said Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, saying the program was "meeting and exceeding expectations." But they did go over the most recent data, which shows almost 800 people have avoided arrest from its start last October through June 30....

  6. How the 'no wrong door' approach to mental health treatment is playing out in Hillsborough County


    TAMPA — Cops faced a tough call when they encountered someone acting oddly.

    Was it mental illness or substance abuse or, as is so often the case, both? Did the person need medical attention? Then, in Hillsborough County's myriad hospitals and behavioral health care facilities, where should they take the person?

    "Basically we had to triage the problem," said Officer Daniel McDonald, the homeless liaison for the Tampa Police Department. "And out of multiple different facilities we had to figure out where the folks would go."...

    Gracepoint in Tampa provides triage.
  7. Pinellas County entering negotiations with developer for 46 lots in Dansville


    Outside her rental apartment, Jasmine Moore sat watching the cars zoom by on Wilcox Road as her young daughter poured buckets of water on herself in the stifling summer heat.

    Moore, 24, talked about her family's deep roots in the unincorporated area she lives in: Dansville, a historically black community off Ulmerton Road near Largo where many residents say they're related in some way or another to the area's founder, Dan Henry....

    Jasmine Moore, 24, left,watches her daughter, 5-year-old A'Mirriah Moore, as she cools off with a couple buckets of water in front of their family's apartment in Dansville. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
  8. Local premiere party of MTV's 'Siesta Key' canceled due to death threats aimed at star

    Human Interest

    On the eve of the premiere for MTV's reality show Siesta Key, a local screening party was canceled in part due to death threats aimed at one of the stars.

    Dr. Gary Kompothecras, a Sarasota chiropractor known for his medical referral service 1-800-Ask-Gary, confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times the party scheduled for Monday night at CineBistro in Sarasota was canceled because his son and series star, Alex Kompothecras, had received death threats, among other reasons....

    On the eve of the premiere for MTV's reality show Siesta Key, a local screening party has been canceled in part due to death threats aimed at one of the stars. Here, the cast poses for a photo at Gary Kompothecras' house in June. 
EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  9. Heavy rain, flooding expected as cold front stalls over Tampa Bay area


    A stalled cold front is expected to dump rain across the Tampa Bay area on Sunday and into the week.

    10News WTSP...

    WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Ric Kearbey said isolated showers with pockets of heavy rain will move across the area, especially during the afternoon and evening. [WTSP 10Weather]
  10. Largo commissioners raise ceiling on next year's property tax rate

    Local Government

    LARGO — The proposed budget included a recommendation for the property tax rate to remain the same, but city commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to increase the maximum rate in a move to give city officials more flexibility.

    The rate commissioners approved 6-0, with Mayor Woody Brown absent, is about $5.74 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value. That number is the maximum rate the city will be allowed to levy next year, meaning commissioners could pass a rate lower than that but not higher. The rate, and the rest of the budget, still have to go through several more layers of approval before they're finalized for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1....

    City Manager Henry Schubert says the city needs to take a look at its operation.
  11. Old Coachman Road in Clearwater reopens after depression forms

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — A depression that formed Wednesday morning on Old Coachman Road is showing no indications of becoming a sinkhole.

    Pinellas County spokeswoman Libby Bolling said road crews have determined the foundation under the road is solid around the depression, which is located in the northbound lanes just south of NE Coachman Road near Northeast Coachman Park.

    "That basically rules out any sinkhole situation," she said....

    Police shut down Old Coachman Road south of NE Coachman Road in both directions in Clearwater on July 26, 2017, because of a depression in the roadway. [Clearwater Fire Rescue]
  12. Clearwater driver says he didn't know he was carrying people in sweltering trailer


    Alton Bradley saw his uncle on the news and couldn't believe the allegations against him.

    James Mathew Bradley Jr., who authorities have said is from Clearwater, is accused of driving a sweltering semitrailer truck that was discovered outside a San Antonio, Texas, Walmart with about 30 undocumented immigrants inside. Ten of them have died.

    That's not the man his family knows, Alton Bradley, son of James Bradley's oldest brother, told the Tampa Bay Times on Monday....

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  13. Police chase on sands of Clearwater Beach lands on Facebook Live

    Public Safety

    CLEARWATER — It was just another day on Clearwater Beach Thursday for Stephanie Ball and her 14-month-old son.

    Until they heard the sirens.

    Ball and her friend Emily Keene looked to their left and saw a black Jeep Cherokee barreling down the beach, followed by a swarm of Clearwater police cruisers.

    "We saw them just flying down," Keene, 27, said.

    The driver, whom police identified as 27-year-old Ryan Stiles, streamed the pursuit over Facebook Live, with the video showing him driving over beach chairs and drinking from a bottle of Canadian Mist whiskey. He made it all the way to Caladesi Island before he stopped, faced with a choice to continue into the water or surrender to police, Deputy Chief Donald Hall said at a news conference....

    In this image taken from Facebook Live video, Ryan Michael Stiles, 27, is seen while driving his vehicle on Clearwater Beach Thursday. Stiles was stopped on the north end of Caladesi Island after driving up from Clearwater Beach, police said.
  14. Largo promotes Joseph Pennino to deputy fire chief

    Public Safety

    LARGO — The city has a new deputy fire chief after Dave Mixson left the post to take a job as chief and director of public safety of the South Pasadena Fire Department.

    Joseph Pennino has worked for Largo Fire Rescue since 2003 and has served in many roles, including lieutenant, assistant chief of training and division chief of operations, according to an announcement from Chief Shelby Willis....

    Largo Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Pennino
  15. Pinellas County approves settlement with Suncoast fire district

    Public Safety

    SEMINOLE — County commissioners on Tuesday approved a settlement with the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District, closing out a lawsuit filed last year by the district over millions of dollars of emergency medical services funding.

    The unanimous vote finalized the agreement the fire district's commission had already approved last week. It mainly guarantees county funding for at least two paramedic positions in the district going forward and makes certain district projects eligible for Penny for Pinellas dollars if voters renew the 1-cent sales tax in November....