News at noon: Investigation continues into explosion at TECO plant; battle for the black vote in St. Petersburg; passenger lifts SUV, rescues trooper; USF baseball coach leaves for South Carolina

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INVESTIGATION CONTINUES INTO EXPLOSION AT TAMPA ELECTRIC CO. PLANT

Two investigators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration this morning were on the scene of an explosion at the Tampa Electric Company power plant in Apollo Beach that killed two people and seriously injured two others Thursday. “They’re in the preliminary stages” of an investigation that could take up to six months, said Mike D’Aquino, an OSHA spokesman based in Atlanta. “This seems like it will be a pretty complex investigation.”

GOP MAY KEEP OBAMA TAX ON WEALTHY IN BID TO SAVE HEALTH BILL

Top Senate Republicans may try preserving a tax boost on high earners enacted by President Barack Obama in a bid to woo party moderates and rescue their sputtering push to repeal his health care overhaul. The break from dogma by a party that has long reviled tax boosts — and most things achieved by Obama — underscores Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s feverish effort to yank one of his and President Donald Trump’s foremost priorities from the brink of defeat.

AS FLORIDA’S OPIOID CRISIS WORSENS, WHAT ARE STATE OFFICIALS DOING?

Opioids, mostly heroin and fentanyl, killed an average of 14 people a day in Florida during the first half of 2016. At that rate, based on data released in May by the state’s medical examiners, last year’s fatal overdoses are on track to rise by a record 36 percent. It’s a cruel reversal of fortunes for Florida, which from 2010 to 2013 witnessed the steady decline of opioid deaths as the state closed “pill mills” — pain clinics that recklessly handed out drug prescriptions.

BATTLE FOR THE BLACK VOTE IN ST. PETERSBURG SPLITS VOTES, ALLIES, FAMILIES

The perception that Rick Baker, St. Petersburg mayor from 2001-2010, was more attentive to heavily African-American neighborhoods is common among the city’s black voters and could be fatal to Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election prospects. Never in modern history has anyone been elected St. Petersburg mayor without winning overwhelming support from the city’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

HOW A FLORIBBEAN RESTAURANT IN MIDTOWN BECAME A CAMPAIGNN ISSUE

The Manhattan Casino, a monument to the black community’s resilience in the face of decades of harsh segregation, has become the latest campaign issue pitting Mayor Rick Kriseman against former Mayor Rick Baker. The election fight this time: whether a trendy “Floribbean” fusion restaurant should occupy the iconic 92-year-old landmark at 642 22nd St. S.

PASSENGER LIFTS SUV, RESCUES FLORIDA TROOPER AFTER UBER DRIVER HAS MEDICAL EMERGENCY

A Temple Terrace man is being credited with possibly saving the life of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper after he lifted an SUV that had trapped him on Interstate 4 in Tampa on Wednesday. This occurred after an Uber driver experienced a medical emergency, prompting 26-year-old Kenny Franklin to take control of the SUV and steer it out of harm’s way.

LIT CANDLE SPARKS FIRE THAT DESTROYS SEFFNER HOME

A 6,000-square-foot home in Seffner caught fire late Thursday night after a candle was accidentally knocked over in a bedroom, causing at least four people to be displaced, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

WHY EVERYTHING IS THE WORST WHEN JULY 4 IS ON A TUESDAY

Welcome back to the mid-week Fourth of July holiday. This year it’s on a Tuesday, but settle in. Next up is a Wednesday and a Thursday. Independence day returns to a sweet, merciful Saturday in 2020. Want a long weekend for Independence Day before then? For those who work Monday to Friday, it’s going to require burning a coveted vacation day or two, or planning that full vacation on this most busy and expensive of summer travel weeks.

DOWNTOWN RESIDENTS PRESS FOR UPGRADES TO TAMPA’S HERMAN MASSEY PARK

Changes are almost certainly coming to downtown Tampa’s all-but-forgotten Herman Massey Park. The question is when. City officials say they expect to upgrade the park after they know more about what’s coming to two neighboring properties and how those plans will affect the half-acre park. Officials are talking to prospective developers who would likely want a better and maybe bigger park to complement their plans.

BOOMTIME DEVELOPER POSTER BOY IS BACK BUT LOWER KEY

During the boom years of the early 2000s, no Tampa Bay developer had a higher profile than Grady Pridgen. Every day, thousands of motorists on 1-275 in Pinellas County sped by his Gateway Business Centre and a billboard featuring his Crest-perfect smile next to the slogan: “Not Just Another Pretty Place.” Now 58, still smiling but with strands of silver in the perfectly-coiffed hair, he’s developing an assisted living center in Brandon. He has the townhome project, and plans for some prime acreage around Gandy Boulevard in St. Petersburg. But “yeah,” Pridgen says, “I’ve been pretty quiet.”

TEN TAMPA BAY MOVERS AND SHAKERS TO WATCH IN SECOND HALF OF 2017

They are newcomers to Tampa Bay ready to make their mark. They are veterans of Tampa Bay institutions stepping into new and bigger jobs. They are embarking on major development projects that will start to be noticed soon. They are a trio of executives competing to run one of this area’s top corporations at a challenging time. They are looking for ways to resuscitate a downtown that is resisting conventional remedies. At this midyear moment, here are ten key business people to watch for the rest of 2017.

AFTER 69 YEARS OF MARRIAGE, COUPLE DIES WITHIN DAYS OF EACH OTHER

Walter Mallett thought he knew everyone in his tiny hometown in the Panhandle. But sometime while he was off fighting the war, a lovely young woman with a sweet cream complexion and an hourglass figure moved in. He spotted her one day while she was pumping gas into her car. Distracted, Walter tripped and fell. This odd beginning of what would become a 69-year marriage allowed their family members last week a few moments of comfort as they laughed and cried at the same time. Walter and Frances Mallett shared everything in life, and so it seems in death. Frances, after a short illness, died on June 15 at age 97. Five days later, Walter joined her. He was 94.

MARK KINGSTON OFFICIALLY LEAVES USF FOR SOUTH CAROLINA

Mark Kingston, who guided USF’s baseball program back to prominence in three seasons as coach, formally accepted the same position at South Carolina on Friday.

THREE WAYS TEXAS A&M HAS CHANGED SEC FOOTBALL

Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of Texas A&M and Missouri formally joining the SEC, and their new league has experienced plenty of other moments that reaffirmed the decision to expand to 14 teams by plucking both schools from the Big 12. The Aggies haven’t yet won a division title, as the Tigers have (twice), but A&M has made three lasting imprints on its new home since its SEC debut against Florida in 2012.

PLANT ALUM JAKE FRUHMORGEN LEAVES FLORIDA GATORS

Former Plant High star Jake Fruhmorgen is no longer with the Florida Gators. The Tampa Bay Times has confirmed a report from Scout.com late Thursday evening that Fruhmorgen has left the program. UF announced his addition as a transfer from Clemson earlier this week.

News at noon is a weekday feature from tampabay.com. Check in Monday through Friday for updates and information on the biggest stories of the day.

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