Persons of the year 1998 

Marc St. George, 29, Miami, and his colleagues, who were arrested in a February drug bust in the Panhandle town of Callaway. Sheriff's deputies had a suspected drug-traffic house under surveillance, and when St. George and three other men emerged and drove off in their rental car, the deputies followed and pulled them over. As the deputies approached the car, they saw the four men inside all dusted with white powder. A bag of cocaine they had hidden under the hood had been accidentally sliced open by the air-conditioner fan blade.

Bonnie, the Hurricane. In June, Rev. Pat Robertson warned Orlando (which was then sponsoring the local Gay Days festival) that the city was "right in the way of some serious hurricanes," and that "I don't think I'd be waving those `Gay Days logo` flags in God's face if I were you." Several weeks later, along came Bonnie, the season's first hurricane to make landfall, which missed Florida but raked the Carolina coast up through Virginia Beach, Virginia, the home of the Christian Broadcasting Network (Pat Robertson, proprietor). (And by the way, Rev. Robertson's view of Orlando was also questioned by compatriot Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, who told the Orlando Sentinel, "We feel strongly that God led us to Orlando, and we're glad he did. I sense there is integrity and principle here.")

Randall James Baker, 45, Bonita Springs. Police charged him with aggravated battery in August for shooting his friend Robert Callahan in the head and sending him to the hospital. A sheriff's spokesman said Baker and Callahan had a playful tradition between them of trying to shoot the little button off the top of any baseball-type cap either of them acquired (while the cap was being worn, that is), and that this time, alcohol played an even bigger role than usual.

Paul Shimkonis, Pinellas County, who filed a lawsuit against a local strippers' club in June for a 1996 incident in which he suffered various head and neck injuries after being pounded by headliner Tawny Peaks' "69HH" breasts during audience participation. Two weeks later, he was in New York City, having agreed to abide by the decision of TV's People's Court (Ed Koch, judge). A female court clerk examined the weapons and reported back to Koch that they were only size 42DDD, weighed about "two pounds" each, and were "soft," and Koch nipped the lawsuit in the bud.

Richard Lusk, 88, Victorville, Calif., one of at least four seniors who flew into Tampa at their own expense in 1998 because they were utterly convinced they had won the grand prize in the American Family Publishers (which has a Tampa post office box) sweepstakes. Lusk distinguished himself from the others by coming to Tampa after three different mailings (after promising his son after the first time that he wouldn't), absolutely certain he was lucky enough to have won $11 million three straight times. Airport authorities and Tampa police now have procedures for gently informing the disillusioned travelers that they should read the wording on those mailings as if it had been written by Bill Clinton.

Justin Rezendes, Lakeland, who scuffled with teachers, the principal, and the school cop at an elementary school in February, biting and scratching them. He was arrested, booked, fingerprinted, and photographed. Justin is 6. He seemed not to think much of Lakeland deterrence: Minutes after his release, he told a reporter, "I kicked their butts." (Two weeks earlier in Pensacola, Chaquita Doman scratched and bit two officials at her school. She was arrested, booked, fingerprinted, and photographed. Chaquita is 5.)

Democrat Diane Ellis, 59, who challenged well-known Pinellas County lawyer Gus Bilirakis (son of U.S. Congressman Michael Bilirakis) for state House District 48. She made a formal complaint to the county fair campaign practices office that the candidate was an imposter, really a guy named Danny Divito from New York, because she had met Bilirakis in 1991, and he was taller. The Pinellas Democratic Party quietly disavowed Ellis, but she still got 27 percent of the vote.

"Mother of the Year" Sandra Sigler, 58. In April, Sigler busted her little boy, Jay, 31, out of prison near Miami, where he was doing 20 years for armed robbery, by driving an 18-wheeler through the gate. They were captured several hours later.

Adam Blumhof, 22, Boca Raton, who best symbolized The F State's compassion. In August, pedestrian Kenneth DeLeon was accidentally hit by a curb-jumping car driven by Blumhof and fell through the windshield, landing headfirst in the passenger seat. According to the police report, Blumhof drove on for about three miles, alternately punching DeLeon and screaming at him to get out of his car. He eventually stopped, opened the passenger door, and rolled DeLeon out. (DeLeon suffered two broken legs and a broken arm. Payback's coming: DeLeon is a lawyer.)

• Daytona Beach 911 operator Steve Toncheff, 34. He was suspended in October for putting dating moves on a female caller in distress, and subsequent publicity turned up another victim, more successful for Toncheff in that Toncheff had her doing phone sex with him by the third call.

Doug Fournier, 31, who brought the body of his 6-week-old, just-deceased daughter from Gainesville to the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola in September. He had remembered from one of the Assembly's revivals that they had folks who could raise the dead. The church told Fournier that that was just a figure of speech, even though its youth minister told the Pensacola News Journal that the dead do get raised "in other parts of the world" and asked, "Why is it not happening in the United States?"

"Man of the Year" Darren Jay, who was arrested in Lakeland in November and charged with several robberies. Police said Jay is the man who called 911 a couple of weeks earlier with a message for the cops: "You aren't never `sic` gonna catch me, you stupid punks!"

Copyright 1998 by Chuck Shepherd. All rights reserved. Chuck Shepherd, who lives in St. Petersburg, also writes the syndicated newspaper column News of the Weird.

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