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The top stories near you
• A Gainesville teen is being recognized for his non-profit charity work. Charity Nerds collects videogames to donate to children in need. Heath Locklear started this organization the summer before his freshman year. Charity Nerds has won a Bronze Medallion as a distinguished finalist in the 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. He now holds Super Smash Bros. tournaments to raise money, the next is in April. (WUFT News)
• Starting Friday night, “Fins, Feathers and Fur,” the monthlong nature-themed exhibit, will be a part of Artwalk Gainesville. Some pieces include 72 paintings, photographs and other pieces by 41 members of the Gainesville Fine Arts Association showing two- and four-legged creatures — and fish — interacting with Mother Nature. There’s even a metal sculpture of a giant praying mantis. (Gainesville Downtown)
• If you’re looking for something new to watch on Netflix, “The Legend of Cocaine Island” features the bizarre story of a Gainesville man who attempted to smuggle $1.1 million worth of cocaine into the area after digging it up on an island in Puerto Rico. (News4Jax)
• Two men charged with stealing 11 animals from the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo last year have received probation sentences. Sedrick Tyrez-Draeshawn Price yesterday pleaded no contest to two third-degree felonies and a second-degree misdemeanor for taking possession or transportation of gopher tortoises. Co-defendant Austin Bruno was sentenced last month. Both will serve 36 months probation. (WUFT News)
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Around the state today
• Mental health professionals are racing to help those affected by past school shooting after a string of suicides from survivors and their families. Sydney Aiello, a 19-year-old Stoneman Douglas graduate, and Calvin Desir, a 16-year-old sophomore, died by suicide this month. The tragedy also hit Newtown, scene of a mass shooting in 2012, where one of the fathers of a victim also recently took his own life. (New York Times)
• A group of Florida-based media companies has intervened to obtain public records in connection with more than a dozen prostitution solicitation cases. ESPN, the Sun Sentinel, the New York Times and others filed a motion Tuesday to make Robert Kraft’s Orchids of Asia Day Spa videos public record. (Deadspin)
• If elected on April 23, Jane Castor would be Tampa Bay’s first openly gay mayor. She is already the first female and first gay woman to serve as Tampa’s police chief. That significance was one reason a national equality organization, the Human Rights Campaign, decided to endorse a local candidate — something it normally doesn’t do. (Tampa Bay Times)
• The State Science Fair saw a variety of award-winning, life-changing projects, choosing 8 senior and 4 junior winners. Projects include Nina Reddy’s personalized cancer cell weapons using genetic engineering and Morgan Barkhurst’s solar-photon sail for interstellar space exploration. The winners’ prizes include scholarships such as eight Grand Award Yong scholars, who won $1,000 each, and four junior winners, who received $500 each. All 12 students also earned an expense-paid trip to the International Science and Engineering Fair in May in Phoenix. (Lakeland Ledger)
• Centene Corp. will acquire the Tampa-based WellCare Health Plans, Inc. in a $17.3 billion deal, the companies announced Wednesday. They are the two biggest providers in Florida’s Medicaid managed-care system. Centene does business in Florida as Sunshine Health, while WellCare’s Florida Medicaid business is Staywell Health Plan. The subsidiaries of Centene and WellCare oversaw care for more than 1.4 million low-income, disabled and elderly Floridians as of Feb. 28, with WellCare the largest Medicaid HMO in the state, according to numbers posted on the state Agency for Health Care Administration website. (WLRN)
• Miami will get to host the first debates among the top 20 Democratic candidates hoping to win the party’s nomination for the 2020 Presidential election. On June 26 and 27, the Democratic National Committee will make room for as many as 20 candidates for the 2-night event. The DNC has planned to host a dozen debates ahead of its 2020 convention when the party will decide who will face Donald Trump as he runs for reelection. (Miami Herald)
• Florida Representative Darren Soto announced a bill Thursday that would admit Puerto Rico into statehood. Soto pointed out that the U.S. House passed a similar bill two years ago urging statehood for the District of Columbia. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans are looking for the equal representation and disaster relief states receive to rebuild their island. (Florida Today)