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WEIRD FLORIDA

Alligators, pricey bananas and naked people: 2019 in Florida

ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — Florida is known for having the wackiest, weirdest news in the United States. Some claim it's due to Florida's open public records laws, while others chalk it up to the fact that it's the third largest state, with over 21 million people packed Gulf-to-Sea on a peninsula — many of them wearing scant few clothes because it's infernally hot most of the year. Whatever the reason, taking stock of the year's strange stories in Florida is a time-honored tradition. This year's no different, because the unusual is met with a chuckle and shrug precisely because it's so normal.  From alligators antics to a banana taped to a wall, to naked people doing all types of crazy things, Florida didn't disappoint in the weird news department in 2019.

CAT-OWNER-REUNITED

Florida cat reunited with owner 2 years after hurricane

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A cat that went missing two years ago in Florida during Hurricane Irma has been reunited with the pet's owner. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office tweeted last week that the cat showed up at one of its offices in the Tampa area and deputies were hoping to find the owner. Deputies noted the cat seemed very domesticated and may have been from a nearby house or apartment. The sheriff's office provided an update on Friday, saying that the owner had been traced via microchip after deputies took the cat to a local veterinarian. The sheriff's office didn't identify Eva's owner.

NURSE SUSPENDED

License on hold for Florida nurse accused of shoving patient

MACCLENNY, Fla. (AP) — A Florida nurse's license was suspended after he was accused of shoving a patient at a mental hospital into a wall, causing him to bleed from the nose. The Florida Department of Health last week issued an emergency suspension of a license for Thomas Parrish, who works at Northeast Florida State Hospital near Jacksonville. The Miami Herald reports that the nurse entered a living area as another nurse was giving insulin to a patient identified as “J.J." last May. The patient wondered if he was being given the correct amount of insulin, and soon the patient and Parrish were arguing.

CRUISE SHIPS-FLORIDA-2020

6 new cruise ships will begin sailing from Florida in 2020

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Six new cruise ships will be calling Florida home in 2020.The Orlando Sentinel reports that the largest ship ever built for Carnival Cruise Line will have its debut at Port Canaveral. The Mardi Gras will have the first ever roller coaster at sea, and it will be the first cruise ship in North America to run on liquefied natural gas, a cleaner-burning fuel.Richard Branson's Virgin Voyages line will begin sailing ships from Miami in March with the debut of the adults-only Scarlet Lady. Port Everglades will become home to Royal Caribbean's Odyssey of the Seas.Florida also will see the debut of the new Regent Seven Seas Splendor, Celebrity Apex and Enchanted Princess ships.

THEATER FIGHT

Heirs sue Miami to get back theater grandfather donated

MIAMI (AP) — The heirs of a philanthropist who donated a historic theater to the city of Miami want it back. A dissolved nonprofit controlled by the heirs of Maurice Gusman sued the city last month in an effort to take control of the Olympia Theater on Flagler Street and restore it to its former glory. They claim city officials have squandered the theater built in 1926 and violated the terms of an agreement with their grandfather. Gusman donated the theater to the city in 1975. It is one of the oldest theaters in Miami and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

CONVENIENCE STORE-INCENTIVES

Georgia city sets $2.3M in work for giant convenience store

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. (AP) — Middle Georgia governments will spend almost $2.3 million on traffic and utility improvements to attract a a branch of mammoth Texas convenience store chain Buc-ee's. The Telegraph of Macon reports the committments by the city of Warner Robins and Peach County are part of a deal for Buc-ee's to invest at least $35 million. Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms said city leaders hope people stopping for Buc-ee's will visit other local attractions. The Warner Robins Buc-ee's is expected to open in early 2021. Long a Texas phenomenon, Buc-ee's opened its first store outside the Lone Star state in January in Robertsdale, Alabama.

FLORIDA-DECADE IN NEWS

For Florida, 2010s became a decade of mass shootings

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — For Florida, the 2010s were a decade of high-profile mass shootings: at a nightclub, a high school, an airport and a naval base. Seventy-four died in total. In politics, Rick Scott began 2010 as a near-unknown, was elected governor 11 months later and eventually defeated U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. That ended one of Florida's longest political careers. The 2016 presidential aspirations of former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio were smothered by Donald Trump, who took the White House and then became a Florida resident. Hurricanes again struck Florida after a decade-long absence, including Michael, a monster storm that killed dozens in 2018 and destroyed a town.

ORLANDO AIRPORT-TAXI BRIBES

Airport worker accused of taking bribes for illicit pickups

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A worker at Florida's busiest airport has been charged with taking bribes in exchange for letting unlicensed taxis pick up passengers.Felix Garcia Madera, a traffic specialist at Orlando International Airport, was arrested Thursday. He is facing charges of bribery by a public servant, receiving unlawful compensation for official behavior, unlawful use of a communication device and cheating, all felonies.The Orlando Sentinel reports that Garcia Madera, when confronted by police, admitted he worked with four to six unlicensed taxi drivers. He was paid $10 per trip to allow them to solicit unsuspecting passengers for rides.

INSTAGRAM LIVE ARREST

Suspect's live Instagram feed leads to his arrest in Florida

DELAND, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say deputies in Florida arrested a man wanted for grand auto theft after confirming he was inside a home by watching the suspect live on Instagram. The Volusia County Sheriff's Office says a deputy verified they were at the correct house Thursday night by shining a flashlight in the window and seeing the light in the background of the video that Kevin Gaines was streaming live. The 20-year-old Gaines surrendered after deputies and DeLand police officers surrounded the house in central Florida. Online records showed no attorney listed for Gaines. Jail records show he was in custody on Saturday.

FATAL DEPUTY CRASH

Tampa area woman killed when hit by deputy's cruiser

MANGO, Fla. (AP) — Authorities say a Florida woman was killed when she stepped into the path of a sheriff deputy's cruiser.The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says the woman stepped into the path of the deputy's cruiser Saturday as he was heading to help another deputy with a traffic stop. The woman was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident.The Tampa Bay Times reports Deputy Andrew Hagenberger has been employed by the sheriff's office for two years and had no other crashes in his record with the department.The woman hadn't yet been positively identified by the medical examiner's office.