LAKE PANASOFFKEE — Authorities are conducting a large-scale manhunt for a suspect who opened fire at a Florida state trooper trying to pull him over in Sumter County north of Tampa.
The highway patrol said the trooper was not injured when a man in a Chevrolet Suburban fired multiple shots at the officer during an attempted traffic stop on State Road 44 just after 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
The FHP said the Suburban then turned down a side road, went out of control and crashed into a tree. The man fled into a heavily wooded area.
The FHP said about 150 law enforcement officers were involved in the manhunt Thursday afternoon, searching more than 8,600 acres.
Florida fugitive nabbed in North Carolina
TALLAHASSEE — Authorities in North Carolina have recaptured a Florida inmate who escaped from custody 27 years ago.
According to the Florida Department of Corrections, 69-year-old Charles Lee Sparks was arrested Wednesday night in New Hanover County, N.C. An officer investigating an identity theft case arrested Sparks, who escaped from a reception and medical center in Lake Butler in 1983 while serving a 20-year sentence.
Sparks had 18 years left on his sentence at the time of his escape.
Corrections officials say Sparks, who was convicted of trafficking methaqualone, was being held in a North Carolina jail.
Deal appears possible in SeaWorld case
ORLANDO — A judge is allowing talks to move forward between news groups and relatives of a SeaWorld trainer who want to stop a video of her death by a killer whale from being made public.
Circuit Judge Lawrence Kirkwood on Thursday issued an order setting an April 5 deadline for all parties to file motions in the case.
The family of Dawn Brancheau is asking the judge to permanently stop the video’s release, but the news groups say a compromise should be worked out. The judge said in his order that potential compromises include allowing the news groups to view the video but not copy it, or having an independent expert review the video.
A temporary injunction prohibiting the video’s release remains in effect.
Spring breaker killed in fall from balcony
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Authorities have identified a 19-year-old spring breaker from Georgia who died after falling five stories from a Panama City Beach motel balcony.
Authorities on Thursday identified the teen as Brandon Kohler of Winder, Ga.
Police Maj. Dave Humphreys says rescuers arrived at the hotel Wednesday night. He says Kohler was dead when they arrived.
They are still investigating the death and no further information about the circumstances of the balcony fall have been released.
Father gets 21 years in daughter’s death
SANFORD — A central Florida man has been sentenced to 21 years in prison after pleading no contest to killing his 14-month-old daughter.
Fidel Juarez-Avila of Sanford had been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. Instead, the 29-year-old pleaded no contest Thursday to a reduced charge of aggravated manslaughter of a child.
The girl, Aurelia Juarez, died in June 2008. He took her to Central Florida Regional Hospital, where she died. Authorities say she had suffered blunt force trauma to the head and abdomen.
At the time, Juarez-Avila was a single father, raising three young children. The girl’s mother was in state prison.
Man officially exonerated after 26 years in prison
FORT LAUDERDALE — Final DNA results have officially exonerated a Broward County man who served 26 years in prison for a rape and murder.
Prosecutors will ask a judge Thursday to throw out Anthony Caravella’s conviction and life sentence. This would free him of restrictions imposed since he was temporarily released from prison on Sept. 10. He had to wear a GPS ankle monitor and obey a curfew while prosecutors did more forensic testing.
The final DNA results were released Wednesday.
Caravella was 15 when he went to prison. The mentally challenged man confessed to police at the time, but his attorney says he was beaten and coerced.
Caravella turns 42 on Saturday.
Teen burning victim visits beaten classmate
FORT LAUDERDALE — A 13-year-old South Florida boy set on fire last year has visited a former classmate who was brutally beaten last week at school, sharing his experience as a survivor of a life-threatening assault.
Michael Brewer was still recovering from being severely burned last October by a group of schoolmates. He paid a visit Tuesday to Josie Lou Ratley, 15, at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale. The two once shared a science class at Deerfield Beach Middle School. They both also spent time in medically induced comas for their injuries.
“She’s my friend,” Brewer said, according to family spokeswoman Terri Lynn. The visit was a private meeting between families. “Their message was, ‘We’re here for you. We know what you’re going through.’ ”
Ratley remained in critical condition Thursday.
A 15-year-old boy attacked her on March 17, punching and stomping on her with steel-toed boots, according to authorities. The suspect was being held in a juvenile detention center on a charge of premeditated attempted murder.
Also being held was a 13-year-old girl who investigators said was an accomplice. They say she knew the suspect intended to harm Ratley and led him to the victim.
“We don’t believe that version to be fully accurate,” said the girl’s attorney, Jonathon Marne, who appeared on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. The suspect knew the victim through pictures and other communications, he said.
Marne said he believed his client “was not instrumental in what happened” and that she “had absolutely no idea that this was going to happen.”
— Herald wire services