VIDEO - FROM THE ARCHIVES: Stories from 2001 related to Scarborough aide Klausutis' death - News - Northwest Florida Daily News - Fort Walton Beach, FL
Wed, 27 May 2020 06:06
The Daily News has compiled articles, letters to the editor and editorials published in 2001 relating to the death of Joe Scarborough's aide Lori Klausutis who died suddenly that year. All text and reporter information is as it appeared in print in 2001. Contact information for staff members at the Daily News may have changed since the stories were published.
READ: PDFs of Daily News print editions from 2001 >>
Published: Saturday July 21, 2001
Scarborough aide dies
Police have found no evidence of foul play in the death of Lori Klausutis.
By JEFF AYRES | Daily News Staff Writer
An employee of U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough was found dead in the congressman's Fort Walton Beach branch office Friday morning, but police said there was no evidence of foul play.
A couple who was visiting the office about 8 a.m. for an appointment found Lori Klausutis, 28, of Niceville lying near a desk on the floor inside the office, located at 348 Miracle Strip Parkway.
Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue said Friday that a preliminary investigation into her death hasn't turned up any evidence of foul play or trauma to her body, nor are there any outward indications of suicide. An autopsy was done Friday to determine the cause of Klausutis' death. The results were not available late Friday night.
Police said that there was no sign of a break-in or a struggle inside the office and nothing was believed to have been stolen from Klausutis or the office. Klausutis worked as a constituent services coordinator for Scarborough, a spokeswoman in his Washington office said Friday.
It isn't known how long Klausutis was dead before being found, or how long she had been at the office. A prepared statement from Scarborough's Washington office indicated that she may have died as early as Thursday afternoon.
"My staff and family are greatly saddened by the loss of Lori Klausutis," Scarborough said in a separate statement issued several hours after her body was found.
"I know Lori will be missed by the thousands of citizens who regularly contact my office to seek assistance with a variety of problems. May God grant Lori's family the grace, comfort and hope that will get them through this difficult time."
Klausutis' husband and family could not be reached Friday. A sign posted on the door late Friday read, "Congressman Scarborough's office is temporarily closed" and directed visitors to his Pensacola office. Klausutis had worked for Scarborough, R-Pensacola, since May 1999, and was based at the retiring congressman's Fort Walton Beach office, said Miguel Serrano, Scarborough's press secretary.
Her duties included handling appointments and walk-in visits from people who wanted to contact Scarborough, Serrano said. Scarborough flew from Washington, D.C. to Pensacola on Friday afternoon, but Serrano said that flight was planned before Klausutis' death. He said that the congressman typically flies home on weekends to spend time with his two sons. Scarborough could not be reached for further comment.
Serrano said that Klausutis had suffered from health problems in the past. But he couldn't be more specific as to what those problems were. The medical problems could explain her sudden death, police said.
"That's part of our investigation, checking into her medical history," Hogue said.
Klausutis' former neighbor, Barbara Cromer, said Klausutis and her husband lived near her before they moved to Niceville several months ago. She said she wasn't aware of Klausutis having any serious health problems.
"She was a runner," Cromer said. "Every morning, I would see her run while I walked. We'd wave to each other as we passed.
"I loved Lori so much. She was wonderful. She was a kind, generous person, so sweet."
Paul Lux, director of public relations for Emerald Coast Young Republicans, also spoke well of Klausutis, who resigned her position as president of the group last month to devote more time to her education. Lux said she was an energetic leader and "a joy to work with."
"She was always very upbeat and positive about everything," Lux said.
"Even when things got argumentative, she always stayed on the upside of the argument and would never resort to getting dirty or cruel."
Klausutis stayed with the group as treasurer. Lux said he believed that Klausutis was in good health and "if she wasn't working or in school, she always seemed to be out running."
"I assumed she was in good health, and if she had any kind of debilitating injuries or illnesses, she didn't share them with us," he continued.
The front door of Scarborough's office was unlocked when Klausutis' body was found. Serrano said the office opened at 8 a.m. on weekdays. Klausutis and one other employee worked at the Fort Walton Beach office. Serrano said that Scarborough routinely had teleconferences with staffers at each of his Florida offices.
"He knew all of his employees and would keep in touch," he said.
Scarborough is stepping down from his House of Representatives seat in September. Primaries this Tuesday will determine which Republican and Democratic candidates will square off in October for Scarborough's Florida District 1 seat. Once Scarborough's resignation takes effect in September, his branch offices in Florida will close, Serrano said.
* Staff Writer Amber Bollman contributed to this report. Staff Writer Jeff Ayres can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 444, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Sunday July, 22, 2001
Klausutis' death not suspicious
The medical examiner said he is waiting to rule on the death until blood test results are finished.
By AMBER BOLLMAN | Daily News Staff Writer
The medical examiner investigating the death of Lori Klausutis said Saturday there is absolutely no evidence that the 28-year-old employee of U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough was a victim of "foul play."
Associate Medical Exam-iner Dr. Michael Berkland will announce how Klausutis died on Wednesday. He is waiting for blood test results and is continuing his investigation into her medical history.
"It would be foolish for me to release the cause of death without the toxicology results in my hand because that one little piece of the puzzle can make all the difference in the investigation," said Berkland, who completed an autopsy on Klausutis' body Saturday.
"But there is still no suspicion of foul play."
Klausutis, of Niceville, was found dead on the floor of Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach branch office at about 8 a.m. Friday when a couple arrived at the office for an appointment. Berkland said it is likely that Klausutis died sometime Thursday afternoon or evening.
"She had been dead for quite awhile before she was found," Berkland said Saturday.
"Based on the physical evidence, I feel comfortable moving the time of her death back to the previous day."
Klausutis' death was likely accidental or the result of natural causes. Berkland said it is unlikely that her death was a suicide, but will not rule that out until the blood tests are returned.
"There is no evidence at all that this was an intentional act, but we can't rule it out just yet," Berkland said.
Toxicology reports, performed at a laboratory in Gainesville, will reveal the presence of any drugs or other unnatural substances in Klausutis' body, Berkland said.
"I've been cautioning people against saying she died of natural causes because there could have been something present in her system that we can't find until we get those results," he added.
Berkland said Klausutis had been involved in a serious car accident as a teenager and still suffered from some lingering medical problems, but it is unknown whether those conditions played a role in her death. Many of her medical records are from another state and Berkland is waiting to review those as well before making an announcement.
Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue said he is also awaiting toxicology and medical examiner's reports, though the department's preliminary investigation revealed nothing suspicious inside Scarborough's office. Officers found no signs of a struggle, break-in or robbery, Hogue said.
Klausutis had worked as a constituent services coordinator for Scarborough, R-Pensacola, since May 1999. Her responsibilities included handling appointments and walk-in visits from local residents.
One other employee, Lois Hoyt, worked from Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office. Hoyt was not in the office at the time of Klausutis' death and could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Friends of Klausutis said that they believed Hoyt had been out of state on vacation for several days. Scarborough also could not be reached for additional comment Saturday after expressing regrets about Klausutis' death the day before.
Lori's husband, T.J. Klausutis, would not comment on his wife's death Saturday, but friends remembered her as a woman with a consistently positive attitude about life.
"She was a very diligent person who cared a lot about her job, her schooling, but most of all, about her family," said Mary Potthast, a friend who served alongside Klausutis on the executive board of the Emerald Coast Young Republicans.
Klausutis had served as president of the Young Republicans but stepped down last month to devote more time to her education. She continued her involvement with the organization as treasurer.
"She was always sweet, bubbly, caring and considerate," said Potthast, who had known Klausutis for almost four years. Potthast said Klausutis, an avid runner who frequently competed in races with the Northwest Florida Track Club, was "the picture of health."
Though Potthast said Klausutis had mentioned having mild seizures during her youth, she didn't believe Klausutis was taking any medications on a regular basis. In addition to her work with the Young Republicans, Klausutis was also active in the Fort Walton Beach Jaycees and the Saint Mary's Catholic Church choir.
Joey Ferreira, music director at the church, said Klausutis was beloved within the choir and the congregation.
"Everytime I saw her, she had a smile on her face," Ferreira said. "She helped out with everything and was always very people-friendly."
Ferreira remembered one particular Mass when the priest singled Klausutis out for having "the voice of an angel," drawing applause and praise from the entire congregation.
"I really can't think of anyone else I've known who was more pleasant to be around," Ferreira said.
OBITUARY: Published: Monday July 23, 2001
Lori Kaye Klausutis
Lori Kaye Klausutis, age 28, of Niceville, Fla., passed away on Thursday, July 19, 2001.
She was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church where she sang in the choir and was also a cantor. She was a former president of the Young Republicans and was serving as treasurer at the time of her passing. Lori graduated Cum Laude from the University of Georgia School of Journalism and was working on completing her MBA from the University of West Florida.
She was also a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority. She performed in "Wild Wild Women" with the Stagecrafters. She was also on the boards of the Fort Walton Beach Youth Symphony and a member of the Fort Walton Beach Jaycees.
Survivors include her husband, T.J. Klausutis of Niceville; parents, Larry and Linda Bolterstein of Marietta, Georgia; sister, Kelly Ann Bolterstein of Atlanta, Ga.; father- and mother-in-law, Norm and Carol Klausutis of Niceville; brother- and sisters-in-law, Michael and Laurie Klausutis of Valparaiso, Fla., and Kristen Klausutis of Niceville; and grandparents, Leo and Heneretta Leja of Fraser, Mich. Funeral services will be held Wednesday, July 25, 2001 at St. Mary's Catholic Church at 10 a.m. with Father Paul White officiating. Burial will follow in the Heritage Gardens Cemetery in Niceville. McLaughlin Mortuary is in charge of local arrangements.
Published: Thursday July 26, 2001
Scarborough aide laid to rest
Information on the cause of death of Lori Klausutis may be released today.
By AMBER BOLLMAN | Daily News Staff Writer
Lori Klausutis was buried Wednesday morning, five days after her body was found inside U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office-- but local authorities still have not released the cause of the 28-year-old woman's death.
Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland said last week that he would likely be able to release the details of how and why Klausutis died by Wednesday. He said he first needed to look into her medical history and examine the results of blood tests.
But Berkland did not return calls Tuesday and was out of town at a conference Wednesday, a secretary said. Berkland now says he will likely release information about the case today.
Fort Walton Beach police said they also are waiting for laboratory results before releasing any more information about the investigation into Klausutis' death.
"We don't think there is anything suspicious about the case, but we want to firm some things up before we say anything more," said Detective Dan Sequeira, who would not specify what sort of test results they are waiting for.
Klausutis' body was found just after 8 a.m. on July 20, when a couple arrived at Scarborough's office for an appointment and found her lying on the floor.
Berkland said last Saturday that autopsy results seemed to indicate that Klausutis died sometime last Thursday afternoon or evening, though he was awaiting more tests before establishing a final time and cause of death. Police found no signs of foul play or robbery inside Scarborough's office, and Berkland said Saturday that he had ruled out homicide as the cause of Klausutis' death.
Berkland said toxicology results would likely play a key role in determining whether Klausutis had died of natural causes or accidentally. Berkland said Saturday that he also was investigating suicide as a possible cause of her death, though he said he didn't think that scenario was likely either.
Klausutis, of Niceville, had worked as a constituent services coordinator for Scarborough, R-Pensacola, since May 1999. Scarborough attended Klausutis' funeral service Wednesday at St. Mary's Catholic Church, where Klausutis had been a member of the choir. The congressman's Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola offices were closed for the day in honor of Klausutis.
* Staff Writer Amber Bollman can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 445 or email@example.com
READ: PDF's of 2001 Daily News stories >>
Published: Friday July 27, 2001
Aide's cause of death still not released
By AMBER BOLLMAN | Daily News Staff Writer
Repeated attempts Thursday to contact Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland about the death of Lori Klausutis were unsuccessful.
Six days after the 28-year-old aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough was found dead inside the congressman's Fort Walton Beach office, local police are still waiting to learn how and why Klausutis died.
"We are waiting on a report from the medical examiner," said Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue.
Berkland said last Saturday that he would likely be able to announce the cause of Klausutis' death by Wednesday, after receiving the results of blood toxicology tests. But Berkland was out of town for a conference on Wednesday.
On Thursday, even though assistants in Berkland's Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola offices said he had returned to the area, Berkland did not return repeated telephone calls. Secretaries at both offices said he had checked in for his messages.
Klausutis, of Niceville, was found dead about 8 a.m. last Friday when a couple arrived at Scarborough's office for an appointment. Police found no evidence of foul play or robbery at the scene, and Berkland said Saturday that he had ruled out homicide as the cause of Klausutis' death. Berkland, who planned to review toxicology reports and medical records before announcing the cause of Klausutis' death, said she had likely died in the office sometime Thursday afternoon or evening.
Klausutis was buried Wednesday in Niceville.
Published: Saturday July 28, 2001
Aide's death still a mystery
Blood test results and an autopsy were unable to reveal Lori Klausutis' cause of death.
By AMBER BOLLMAN | Daily News Staff Writer
An autopsy and blood tests have not revealed why 28-year-old Lori Klausutis died, Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland said Friday.
Nothing in the blood tests showed how Klausutis died seven days ago, Berkland said. The autopsy also was not conclusive, though the medical examiner did say that there was no evidence of foul play.
"This turns over several puzzle pieces in the case of her death and reveals more of the picture," Berkland said.
But it still does not reveal the entire scenario. Klausutis, of Niceville, was an aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough and was found dead in the congressman's Fort Walton Beach office on July 20.
Berkland said the next step in determining the cause of Klausutis' death will be to examine and run tests on tissue samples under the microscope. He said his office has received many of Klausutis' medical records, some from out of state, but has not yet had a chance to examine them in detail.
Klausutis was involved in a serious traffic accident as a teenager, Berkland said.
"She had a past medical history that was significant, but it remains to be seen whether that played a role in her death," Berkland said.
"It may be a contributory factor or it may mean nothing."
Berkland could not speculate Friday about when further examinations would be complete or when a cause of death might be established.
Published: Saturday July 28, 2001
Letter to the Editor
Adding to our pain
On behalf of Lori Klausutis' entire family, I want to thank the Northwest Florida Daily News for adding to this family's pain over Lori's loss.
Losing Lori was the most painful event in my life of 62 years. It was far more painful for her husband.
Lori was a loving, healthy and dynamic person. She gave of herself to her community, her church and even perfect strangers She was extremely happy with her life, job and family.
For those who knew Lori, the thought of suicide, as your published reports suggested, is absolutely unthinkable. Suicide was contrary to her faith and being. She did not suffer from seizures, nor did she have a history of medical problems.
For your newspaper to print such unsubstantiated misinformation was unethical and uncaring for the people in our community. It was my understanding that journalists had to verify facts for their stories, unless their material appeared on the editorial page. One can only wonder what motivated your reporter to write as she did. Again, thank you for adding to my family's pain.
NORM KLAUSUTIS, Lori's father-in-law
Published: Sunday July 29, 2001
EDITORIAL: Ralph Routon
Two stories of death draw praise and protest
One morning, a 28-year-old woman is found dead beside her desk at the Fort Walton Beach office of U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough.
Five days later, a 9-year-old Niceville boy dies of encephalitis, apparently the result of a mosquito bite.
The deaths of Lori Klausutis and Cody Landsverk were equally tragic-- two young lives that ended all too soon. Both of their stories have created and sustained front-page headlines in the Daily News.
Likewise, but for obviously different reasons, they have become the objects of considerable public attention.
In the heart-rending case of little Cody, we have felt compelled to dig as deep as necessary in following up on several angles:
How much more could be done to let the public know of potential dangers from mosquitoes, and what can people (including parents with children playing outside) do to minimize their risk?
How diligent have agencies been in responding to citizens' pleas for more spraying and treatments for areas with stagnant water? Could officials have been more forthcoming in recent days and weeks?
Those questions, and more, have been on our agenda. Certainly, we have been diligent in pursuing the story. We feel that our readers have a right-- and a desire-- to know every pertinent detail. We also believe that it's our watchdog role to cover the issues and developments as thoroughly and fairly as we can.
Nobody has questioned us, or our aggressiveness, in staying on the Landsverk story. Cody's mother talked to us at length, only hours after his passing, because she wanted to help make sure everyone knew as much as possible. We also assigned a reporter to cover Cody's funeral Saturday, chronicling how the Niceville community has reacted and grieved after losing this 9-year-old boy.
Yet, those same journalistic instincts led to different reactions and communications in regard to Lori Klausutis. We have even been accused of sensationalizing the Klausutis story and being influenced in some perverse way by the mystery of Washington intern Chandra Levy's disappearance and her ties to U.S. Rep. Gary Condit of California.
Those accusations are unfortunate and unfounded.
As regular Daily News readers should know, we have avoided joining the tidal wave of media that turned the Levy-Condit story into an obsession. As developments have merited, we have run wire reports, usually buried deep in our news sections.
In my role as editor, deciding what stories go on our front pages, I've made it a point to play down Levy-Condit.
The TV networks have done more than enough to make up the difference, and still do every night.
We had a totally different response, and viewpoint, after Lori Klausutis' death. We saw it as a 28-year-old local woman working for this area's congressman, dying without immediate explanation at her office and being found the next morning.
By all accounts, she was healthy and vibrant, much loved by everyone who knew her. Because the circumstances were so unusual, combined with Klausutis' job on Scarborough's staff being government-funded and her death happening in the taxpayer-funded office where she worked, that gave us ample reason to seek answers.
It might not be something we enjoy. It's simply doing our job. Her grieving family members, understandably distraught in trying to deal with their loss, have been less than pleased with our coverage.
It troubles me when people think of us as being coldhearted, overzealous, cynical monsters. We aren't. We care. A lot.
We also aren't asking questions just for ourselves. We're asking them on behalf of our readers and their right to know. From the moment we first heard of Lori Klausutis' death, all we wanted and hoped for was a definitive explanation that would bring the story to an end. We could report it, move on and not bother the Klausutis family again.
Not hearing from the medical examiner by the time when he had told us to expect a report admittedly caused us frustration. We feel as much sympathy as anyone for the families of Lori Klausutis and Cody Landsverk. But we still have to do our job, which is largely built around serving our readers' interests. Every story, every day.
Ralph Routon is editor of the Daily News. You may contact him at 863-1111, Ext. 400, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published:Tuesday July 31, 2001
Letter to the Editor
As Norm and Carol Klausutis' neighbor, I can attest to the pain your newspaper has caused this family following the tragic loss of their daughter-in-law.
Your daily reporting of unsubstantiated health problems and innuendo about possible suicide has brought untold grief to this family. While I understand that this tragedy became newsworthy because of Lori's job in U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough's office, I do not believe that it warranted daily, above-the-fold speculation on your part.
Since foul play was ruled out early on, could you not have respected the family and restrained yourselves until the final toxicology reports were in? Furthermore, shame on the medical examiner's office for promising results and then failing to provide them, thereby fueling your irresponsible speculation.
This was not your finest hour. Our prayers go out to the Klausutis family.
BOB REID, Niceville
Published: Tuesday Aug. 7, 2001
Examiner: Klausutis' death was accidental
Scarborough's aide was alone in the office when she passed out and fatally struck her head on a desk.
By TOM McLAUGHLIN | Daily News Staff Writer
While a blow to the head was ultimately responsible for the death of Lori Klausutis, an undiagnosed heart condition caused her to collapse and take a fatal fall July 19, a local medical examiner ruled Monday.
The 28-year-old aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough probably would have died as a result of the cardiac arrhythmia that rendered her unconscious even if she had not hit her head on a desk.
Those are the findings of Okaloosa County Associate Medical Examiner Michael Berkland, who spent an estimated 80 hours unraveling the cause of Klausutis' death. Berkland announced his findings in a news release Monday.
Berkland's report labels her death "accidental" and brings to a close an investigation that had dragged on despite an early determination that no foul play was involved.
"It kind of leaves me with a sorrowness, but I'm glad it's finally resolved," said Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue, whose department initially investigated the fatality.
"It brings some finality for the family."
The Klausutis family, which has maintained all along that Lori Klausutis' death was a private matter, declined comment on Berkland's findings.
T.J. Klausutis, Lori Klausutis' husband, did commend Berkland on his "thoroughness and attention to detail" in uncovering a cause of death.
"He did a wonderful job in finding the right answers without rushing to make a quick diagnosis," he said.
Klausutis' body was found on the floor of Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office about 8 a.m., Friday, July 20. She had been working alone in the office the day before and is believed to have fallen between 4:45 p.m.-- when she spoke to an associate-- and the close of business, Berkland said.
Klausutis struck her head on the side of a desk when she fell, Berkland said. The "unprotected" nature of the fall led him to believe the victim was unconscious or losing consciousness when she went down. Blood collected internally within Klausutis' head at the point of impact with the desk.
The "blood clot" killed her, Berkland's release said. Berkland acknowledged Monday that Klausutis had sustained a "scratch and a bruise" from the fall that were noted in the original death investigation.
On the day the body was found, though, Hogue denied finding any sign of trauma to the body. The original denials were designed to prevent undue speculation about the cause of death, Berkland said.
"The last thing we wanted to do was answer 40 questions about a head injury," he said.
Berkland found evidence of a previously undiagnosed "valvular condition of the heart" through analysis of the heart and brain of the victim. Further microscopic analysis confirmed these findings, he said.
The heart-valve irregularity is known to cause abnormal heart rhythms, or cardiac arrhythmias, Berkland said. These arrhythmias, found more commonly in women than men, can be as insignificant as a single abnormal heart beat or severe enough to make the heart stand still.
The heart palpitation Klausutis felt just before her death was undoubtedly severe, the medical examiner said.
"Would she have died of the arrhythmia she had when she was falling? Probably so," he said.
"I think she had an arrhythmia that was not allowing oxygenated blood to go to her brain." Klausutis had not been feeling well on the day of her death and told acquaintances she was anxious and jittery, Berkland said.
"That's often times what you have when you have heart palpitations," he said.
A runner who was by all accounts healthy and physically fit, Klausutis probably felt a wave of lightheadedness just before she passed out and fell, Berkland said.
The heart-valve disorder had not been diagnosed before Klausutis died and would not have been something easily discovered, Berkland said. Finding the problem would have required using ultrasonic waves to study the leaflets that control the flow of blood through the heart valves.
* Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 435, or at email@example.com
Published: Wednesday Aug. 8, 2001
Death probe leaves vexing questions
For a little over two weeks, it was a real-life puzzle worthy of a mystery novel. A popular Florida congressman suddenly announces he's giving up his seat and withdrawing from the Washington scene.
Less than two months later, a 28-year-old female aide is found dead in his Fort Walton Beach office. The aide had seemed perfectly healthy. Initial autopsy results raise only more questions.
The story fired imaginations.
This newspaper received numerous inquiries about the case, from Massachusetts and Oregon and dozens of places in between. Some of the writers had dug into the backgrounds of the individuals involved.
"People are waiting and watching," one said. Those who were waiting and watching likely were disturbed by the news we reported Tuesday. We certainly were.
Associate Medical Examiner Michael Berkland said Monday that the aide, Lori Klausutis, suffered a heart condition-- previously unsuspected and undiagnosed-- that caused her to collapse in U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough's office on the afternoon or evening of July 19.
She fell and hit her head on a desk, he said, and a resulting blood clot caused her death. The fall left "a scratch and a bruise," Dr. Berkland said.
That seems to conflict with previous official statements that the aide's body bore no sign of trauma. Dr. Berkland acknowledged as much. He said the original denials were intended to prevent public speculation about the aide's death.
"The last thing we wanted to do was answer 40 questions about a head injury," he said. Now, of course, there are deeper questions.
"That we' has got nothing to do with me," Fort Walton Beach Police Chief Steve Hogue told us Tuesday, referring to Dr. Berkland's explanation that "we" wanted to keep the head injury quiet.
"I have never lied to the news media. I would never mislead the media for any reason."
Chief Hogue said he "never looked at the body" after it was discovered July 20.
"I never heard anything about a scratch," he added, although Dr. Berkland did tell him there was a small bruise on the aide's head. The chief said that when he told reporters there was no trauma to the body, he meant that a preliminary examination had uncovered no major trauma. And he said he is satisfied with Dr. Berkland's work.
This story has raised serious questions from the beginning and continues to confound. Now, because of Dr. Berkland's statements, our questions are not just about a 28-year-old woman's death but also about the investigation of her death.
Who, exactly, decided the head injury would not be disclosed? Can we depend on authorities to be honest about the progress of future investigations? What else, if anything, might the medical examiner have kept under wraps? Nobody ever got in trouble by keeping his mouth shut, the saying goes. Maybe not, but nobody ever won the public's trust that way, either.
Published: Thursday Aug. 23, 2001
Klausutis records should be released
The medical examiner's office and the Fort Walton Beach Police Department are adding another layer of mystery to the death of congressional aide Lori Klausutis by refusing to release records of their investigations.
Their failure to produce the information at this newspaper's request may even be illegal.
Mrs. Klausutis, 28, was found dead July 20 in the Fort Walton Beach office of U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough. Associate Medical Examiner Michael Berkland announced Aug. 6 that Mrs. Klausutis had a heart condition-- previously unsuspected-- that caused her to collapse.
He said she fell, hit her head on a desk, suffered a blood clot and died. Dr. Berkland said there was an obvious injury to Mrs. Klausutis' head.
Previous official statements had said there was no sign of trauma. On Aug. 9 the Daily News verbally requested the Police Department's investigative report on the Klausutis case.
On Aug. 10 the newspaper made a formal request, in writing, for Dr. Berkland's autopsy report. That was two weeks ago.
Police Capt. Ron Bishop says the investigation is open-- meaning the records can't be released-- until Dr. Berkland's autopsy report is filed with the Police Department.
Dr. Berkland says he's been too busy and hasn't gotten around to finishing his report. Until today, the Daily News has not publicized its request for the records.
The Klausutis case has prompted many rumors and much speculation. This newspaper decided to pursue the records quietly, hoping that their release would answer our questions about the investigation and the way it was conducted.
Instead, failure to release the records only raises more questions. If the police investigation is still open, are other leads being followed? Is there something in the records that the medical examiner and the police don't want the public to see?
The withholding of this information does more than inconvenience this newspaper. It appears to violate Florida's public records law. Autopsy reports-- except for photos-- are public records.
The Florida Supreme Court has said the only permitted delay in producing such records for public inspection "is the limited reasonable time allowed the custodian to retrieve the record and delete those portions the custodian asserts are exempt."
Capt. Bishop's argument that the case is still open is, under Florida law, dubious.
"Criminal investigative information" is considered "active" only if "it is related to an ongoing investigation which is continuing with a reasonable, good faith anticipation of securing an arrest or prosecution in the foreseeable future."
If the police expect an arrest in the Klausutis case, we'd sure like to know. Otherwise, we'll have to quote Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual:
"An agency's unreasonable and excessive delays in producing public records can constitute an unlawful refusal to provide access to public records."
"Unlawful" is not a word the manual uses lightly. It isn't a word we use lightly either. The medical examiner's office and the Police Department should release their records.
Published: Friday Aug. 24, 2001
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
In my opinion, your newspaper is being too extreme with your demands (requests?) for information concerning investigations in progress (editorial, "Klausutis records should be released," Aug. 23).
I think you are being unreasonable. Print some Bush or Clinton-bashing if news is in short supply.
Law enforcement officers and the medical examiner are following procedures, as they should. Have patience. You can rest assured that no one in the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office or the Fort Walton Beach Police Department will withhold information without a valid reason.
JIM WILSON, Fort Walton Beach
Published: Saturday Aug. 25, 2001
Letters request records in death of Klausutis
From staff reports
Two weeks after initial requests that went unanswered, the Northwest Florida Daily News delivered letters Friday asking the Associate Medical Examiner and the Fort Walton Beach Police Department to explain why they have not turned over their records in the July 19 death of Lori Klausutis, an aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough.
The letters, from Daily News Editor Ralph Routon, cited Florida's public records law and asked Dr. Michael Berkland and Police Chief Steve Hogue to "immediately inform us of the specific statutory exemption that would excuse the continuing delay" in producing the requested information.
Berkland has been asked for his autopsy report on Klausutis, while Hogue was requested to provide a copy of the police's investigative report. Berkland told the Daily News earlier this week that his caseload has prevented him from completing the autopsy paperwork. Police Capt. Ron Bishop said the investigative report could not be finished until Berkland's report is filed.
The letters asked Berkland and Hogue to respond no later than Wednesday.
Published: Tuesday Aug. 28, 2001
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Justice for Lori
Do you smell that?
This is the stomach-clenching stench of overwhelming hypocrisy.
U.S. Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., is getting rightfully pounded for his predatory habits. U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Florida, is still being given a complete pass by the media, in spite of the dead (from blunt trauma to the head) congressional aide Lori Klausutis, whose body was found in his office.
One can only imagine the invective fury of the press if the names in these cases were reversed. Condit and those like him should be pounded into the ground like a circus-tent stake and made to disappear from the political landscape.
However, the political affiliation of such thugs should not matter a whit in regard to the level of scrutiny they should bear for their behavior. One lone newspaper here in Florida, the Northwest Florida Daily News, is tenaciously following the death of this woman. They appear to be in it for the long haul. I'm afraid that this single voice from the wilderness may not be enough to bring Lori Klausutis and her family the justice that they deserve.
DAVE GALLOWAY, Chattahoochee
We want the truth
While the rest of the media rehashes the Condit story ad nauseam, I'm grateful to see that your newspaper has demanded access to the records in what millions of people across the country believe is a far more important story. It's been harder to find information on Lori Klausutis' death than to find the latest lies from Gary Condit, but not impossible.
The story has spread via the Internet, and there are people from Maine to Washington who want to know the truth. American news has become a parody of itself, and few media outlets seem capable or willing to do the investigating and prodding to produce real news.
This story is real news. Please stand your ground and demand that those records be made public. Those of us who've tuned out Conditvision are watching. And we, too, demand to know the truth.
SAMANTHA ADAMS, Overland Park, Kan.
It won't go away
Mr. Wilson (letter, "Keep waiting," Aug. 24) is being a bit naive if he thinks the Daily News is being too aggressive on the Lori Klausutis case.
Has he checked the Internet lately? Some of the articles out there, from interested Democrats and others, show there is no lack of attention toward the manner in which the Klausutis case is being handled.
This issue will not go away until all questions are answered in a straightforward and timely manner. A family's reluctance to have their private lives intruded upon is understandable.
But until there is a reasonable answer to all questions, there will be further intrusion. I think history has shown that, yes, information is withheld many times because there are prominent people, if even peripherally, involved.
All it does is cause more speculation. Dr. Berkland, the associate medical examiner, has said his autopsy is complete and yet the report has not been released. What is one to think?
NANCY STINSON, Niceville
Published: Wednesday Aug. 29, 2001
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
A real newspaper
Thanks for the Aug. 23 Lori Klausutis piece (Daily News editorial, "Klausutis records should be released"). It's good to find a few remaining newspapers here and there.
SANDY TWIGGS, Goshen, Ark.
Published: Wednesday Aug. 29, 2001
Details emerge in aide's death
A police report reinforces the finding that Lori Klausutis' death was accidental
By TOM McLAUGHLIN | Daily News Staff Writer
Two Fort Walton Beach police officers who witnessed the autopsy of Lori Klausutis, an aide to U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, reported her skull had been fractured.
The extent of the head injury has never been reported by those investigating the July 20 death of the 28-year-old at Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office.
The body, which had apparently lain on the floor all night, was discovered about 8:30 a.m. by a couple arriving to discuss a work permit issue with Klausutis. The popular young aide's death was ruled accidental.
The autopsy information, noted by Officer Stephen Sequeira and crime scene expert Dusty Rhodes, was found in a Fort Walton Beach Police Department report turned over Monday to the Northwest Florida Daily News.
Police Chief Steve Hogue said he decided to open the investigative file on the Klausutis case after a public records request was made by Daily News Editor Ralph Routon.
The skull fracture didn't change the findings about what killed Klausutis, according to Associate Medical Examiner Michael Berkland. A hairline fracture like the one found is completely consistent with an unconscious person's fall and totally inconsistent with a physical assault, he said.
"We know for a fact she wasn't whacked in the head because of the nature of the injury," Berkland said.
The blow to the head Klausutis received when she fell onto a desk at the congressman's office would have caused a significant injury, Berkland said, but he termed it "just another symptom" of her death. Cardiac arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythms, halted Klausutis' heart and stopped her breathing, he said.
The blow to the head contributed to the death because blood pooled at the point where the fracture occurred. Berkland's autopsy report has not been made public, though a public records request has been made for the document.
Berkland said he would respond to the request today. The 150-page police report made public Monday contained neither smoking guns nor hidden agendas on the part of investigators. The Klausutis death has been greatly speculated upon by Internet users.
Some interesting items found-- or not found-- in the report include:
* Tiffany Bates, an aide in Scarborough's Pensacola office, was the last person known to have spoken to Klausutis, at shortly before 5 p.m. on July 19. Bates congratulated Klausutis on an upcoming job interview and Klausutis told her she wasn't feeling well.
Reached in Pensacola Tuesday, Bates declined to comment. She said members of Scarborough's staff had been directed to refer all questions about the Klausutis case to Scarborough spokesman Miguel Serrano.
* An admission from Don Graham, owner of D-Train security company, that he "may have missed" checking to see if the doors at Scarborough's office were locked when patrolling the office complex between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on July 19. Graham had originally told investigators that the congressman's office doors were locked, its lights out and that there were no cars parked in front on the night Klausutis died.
An employee at the International House of Pancakes, arriving for work at about 5 a.m., reported seeing Klausutis' car parked in front of Scarborough's office and said lights inside the building were on. Graham could not be reached for comment.
Juanita Marie Bergmann, a Destin resident and former nurse, and her husband, Andreas Bergmann, were the couple who found Klausutis' body. Juanita Bergmann checked the pulse of the young woman while her husband called 911. She said she saw no indication of a head injury and no indication of foul play.
"She'd obviously had a seizure," Bergmann said. "My assumption was she had a seizure and it caused her to go into cardiac arrest."
Bergmann did say she wonders why there hasn't been more public discussion of the Klausutis case, but respects the decision of the victim's family to accept the findings of the police and medical examiner.
"If they're comfortable with what's being said I can accept that," she said. "They're the ones who know what's best."
* Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 435, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: Thursday Aug. 30, 2001
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I am writing in defense of the medical examiner's office.
Everyone keeps talking about how Dr. Michael Berkland needs to hurry up and release the information on the Lori Klausutis case.
Dr. Berkland is devoted to his job and is very thorough in what he does. He has so many cases come across his desk that he has to look over and determine the cause of death and whether it was a homicide or accidental.
I feel that Dr. Berkland did not go to school for 13 years to have his hard work and devotion run into the ground. He is a very smart man and knows what he is doing. He also knows what is best for the families in these situations and what should not be made public.
Just because everyone wants to know the details of this matter does not mean that everyone has a right to know the details. I honestly think we should be thankful that we have such a hard-working and devoted associate medical examiner in our community.
My final words are these: Everyone should just give Dr. Berkland a break. He is doing the best he can. I don't see anyone else out there doing his job. He is only one person!
MISTY WILLIAMS Fort Walton Beach A witch hunt? Is it my understanding that the Northwest Florida Daily News is on a political witch hunt?
Let us review the facts: Congressman Joe Scarborough did not swim to shore, go to sleep and then call the police the next morning to report a dead body in the Chappaquiddick. He was not accused of, nor did he deny, having "sex with that woman." He did not counsel our president while conceiving a child with an intern. He did not throw a watch box into a trash can away from his office or apartment for fear that the tabloids would get hold of it. Congressman Scarborough was in Washington, fighting to keep oil rigs out of the Sunshine State before he retires to spend quality time with his children.
I am sure that when the autopsy report is revealed, we will have the story behind Lori Klausutis' death. But, until then, let us not sling mud at one of the few remaining political white hats!
BARBARA FITZPATRICK, Crestview
Published: Thursday Aug. 30, 2001
From staff reports
OKALOOSA '-- Klausutis report to be released Friday "Barring unforeseen difficulties, delays or homicides," Associate Medical Examiner Michael Berkland said he would release the autopsy report for Lori Klausutis Friday. Berkland was responding to a request from Northwest Florida Daily News Editor Ralph Routon to release the document or "immediately inform us of the specific statutory exemption that would excuse the continuing delay."
The body of Klausutis, a 28-year-old aide to District 1 U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, was discovered at Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach office July 20. Berkland said the autopsy report probably would have been completed earlier in the week, but several pressing matters kept him from signing off on the document. He has ruled Klausutis' death accidental, but several questions have been raised about the case and its investigation.
Published: Friday Aug. 31, 2001
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I feel for the Klausutis family and imagine they just wish all the stories would stop. But Lori worked for our congressman, which makes her death ripe for speculation and all sorts of rumors on the Internet.
NICOLLE WATTS, Freeport
Published: Saturday Sept. 1, 2001
Autopsy report on aide released
The findings confirm Lori Klausutis died after falling and hitting her head on a desk.
By JEFF AYRES | Daily News Staff Writer
Saying he wants to "extinguish the fires of speculation" surrounding the death of an aide to retiring U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, Associate State Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Berkland released the autopsy report of Lori Klausutis on Friday.
The 18-page report is in line with previous statements Berkland made concerning how Klausutis, 28, died in Scarborough's Fort Walton Beach branch office sometime during the evening on July 19. Berkland said he hopes the details of the autopsy report will stop rampant speculation on the Internet and elsewhere concerning Klausutis' death.
The report states that Klausutis' death was caused by her head striking the edge of a desk in the office. The fall that caused her to strike the desk was likely triggered by an undiagnosed heart condition known as floppy mitral valve disease, which is typically marked by abnormal heart rhythms.
The affected valve divides the heart's left-side chambers. Klausutis suffered a hairline fracture of the skull, but Berkland has said the fracture was consistent with a fall, not an assault. The report also backed up Berkland's previous statements that Klausutis died accidentally.
"There is no doubt that the head injury is a result of a fall rather than a blow being delivered to the head by a moving object," Berkland wrote in the report.
To illustrate the statement, Berkland pointed out that Klausutis had bruising on the left side of her brain, and some scratching and bruising on the right side of her head.
"This finding is in marked distinction" from an "injury which results from a moving object (example-- a baseball bat) that strikes a stationary head," the report states.
Had Klausutis been struck with a bat or other blunt object, her external and internal injuries would have been on the same side of her head, Berkland continued. Berkland said that, to his knowledge, Klausutis never visited a doctor for irregular heart patterns and had no long-term medical problems aside from lingering injuries from an auto accident years ago.
The mitral valve condition is rare, occurring in only 5 percent of the population, including young adults like Klausutis. But it can be fatal, literally bringing the heart to a standstill in extreme cases. The report mentions two people, including a postal worker, who stopped by Scarborough's office the day before Klausutis was found. Both said Klausutis told them she was "anxious and did not feel quite right," according to the report.
Neither person was named in the report. Klausutis' body was found shortly after 8 a.m. on July 20 by a couple who had an appointment at Scarborough's office. She worked for Scarborough for two years. Scarborough, a high-profile, popular Republican congressman, announced earlier this year that he was retiring from his office to spend more time with his two boys.
* Staff Writer Jeff Ayres can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 444, or email@example.com
OTHER RELATED SCARBOROUGH STORIES PUBLISHED IN 2001
Published: Saturday May 26, 2001
The congressman plans to spend more time at home with his two boys
By TOM McLAUGHLIN | Daily News Staff Writer
PENSACOLA '-- U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough is slipping off the mantle of congressman and coming home from Washington to assume the duties of full-time father.
The popular Pensacola Republican announced Friday he is giving up Florida's District 1 seat in the House of Representatives to spend more time with his two boys, one of whom was diagnosed last year with juvenile diabetes.
"At the end of my life it is more important for me to be judged as a father than as a congressman," a tearful Scarborough said.
"When you're gone 150 days out of the year it's difficult to make a normal life. I've been trying to have a normal life and it's just not happening."
The resignation becomes effective Sept. 6, a date, Scarborough said, that will allow him to "be at home for the beginning of the next school year."
The announcement was hardly a surprise, having been rumored for weeks. The 100
or so who attended a 2 p.m. news conference at Pensa-cola's Bartram Park knew what was coming, and most seemed to know why.
"Kids are probably the most important thing in anybody's life. As much as I hate to see him go, that's a perfectly legitimate reason," Santa Rosa County Republican Party Chairman Rodney Rollo said before Scarborough made his announcement.
The 38-year-old Scarbor-ough used his pulpit to address the many rumors that have circulated since word of his possible retirement got out.
"There's no story behind the story," he told the gathered media.
The sometime musician assured his audience that he has no plans to join a rock band, but he didn't rule out taking a job with a law firm, doing television work or accepting a presidential appointment.
Scarborough went so far as to say a presidential appointment of some sort may be available to him by the time he steps down.
A White House spokeswoman contacted Friday said she could not speculate on future appointments.
Whatever the future holds, Scarborough said, "the majority of my time will be spent in Pensacola with my boys."
Had he possessed a crystal ball in 2000 when he decided to seek a fourth term in the U.S. House, Scarborough said, he wouldn't have run.
"My boys are 13 and 10 now and facing challenges that 13- and 10-year-olds face," he said. "Some of those challenges simply couldn't have been foreseen a year and a half ago."
His younger son, Andrew, was diagnosed with diabetes around Memorial Day of last year and has "other physical challenges" related to the disease, Scarborough said when pushed on the subject of his children's health.
Things with Joey, the congressman's older son, are "as normal as they can be with teen-age children," he said.
"My 13-year-old boy is a 13-year-old boy and needs a father there more than 150 nights out of the year," Scarborough said.
Scarborough is divorced and shares custody of his children with his ex-wife. He said that when he returns to Pensacola in September his sons will spend more time with him than they do now.
The boyish-looking Scar-borough is leaving Congress at a time when he enjoys strong support locally and great visibility nationally. He has appeared numerous times on the television talk show "Politically Incorrect" and other TV programs.
He acknowledged that he's had "several unsolicited conversations" with television outlets about possible jobs.
Scarborough was also on the airwaves during the 2000 Republican National Conven-tion, where his rock band, Regular Joe, performed.
Without putting a great deal of effort into it, he defeated a Republican challenger for his congressional seat last year by a vote margin of 3-to-1.
Scarborough did not rule out a return to politics, but he promised it wouldn't happen soon.
"Certainly that's a possibility a good bit down the road," he said. "Not now."
* Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 435, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Gov. Jeb Bush has issued an executive order setting special primary and general election dates to decide who will
succeed U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough.
Here are the election dates:
nJuly 24-- First primary.
* Sept. 4-- Second primary
* Oct. 16-- General election.
Candidates must qualify to run with the Florida Department of State in Tallahassee between
8 a.m. June 11 and noon June 12.
Candidates can qualify one of two ways: Pay a qualifying fee of $8,202, or collect 1,063 signatures and submit them to local supervisors of elections by
5 p.m. June 7. The signatures must be certified by 5 p.m.
The winner will serve until Scarborough's term ends next year.
1994 - In the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Earl Hutto, Joe Scarborough defeats (our other opponents in Republican primaries, then beats Democrat Vince Whibbs in November, to become Northwest Florida's first Republican congressman since 1876.1996 - Scarborough crushes democratic challenger Kevin Beck to win re-eleciton.1997 - In a revolt against House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican leadership Scarborough and 10 other Republicans side with Democrats in a vote on the House's budget, forcing House committee leaders to abandon plans to increase their committees' spending.1997 - Scarborough makes the first of dozens of appearances as a guest on ABC's late-night talk show "Politically INcorrect."1998 - Opposed only by a write-in candidate, Scarborough cruises to a third term.1998 - Scarborough votes to impeach President Clinton, casting ballots in favor of two of four articles of impeachment.1999 - Scarborough joins 16 other congressman in suing President Clinton, claiming the president violated the War Powers Act in ordering attacks on Yugoslavia without congressional approval. The lawsuit is later dismissed.1999 - Scarborough decides not to run for the U.S. Senate after considering a campaign to succeed the retiring Connie Mack.1999 - Scarborough launches a weekly newspaper, the Florida Sun, which later merges with another paper to become the Independent Florida Sun.2000 - Scarborough turns back a spirited challenge from Pensacola attorney Bob Condon in the Republican primary to coast to a fourth term.2000 - President Clinton signs a Scarborough-sponsored bill giving federal employees, military members, and civillian and military retirees the ability to buy private long-term care insurance at affordable group rates.2001 - Scarborough sponsors a bill to ban oil and gas driling off Flroida's coast.Compiled by Daily News Staff
Published: Thursday Sept. 6, 2001
Scarborough set to step down
The congressman resigns today to spend more time with his two sons.
By KIMBERLY BLAIR | Daily News Staff Writer
U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough cast his last vote on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday.
It was to approve a resolution to commemorate Floyd Spence, chairman of the Armed Services committee who died a few weeks ago.
"It is a fitting way to end my term,'' said Scarborough, explaining that Spence made sure he got on the same committee.
Today, Scarborough will slip out of the House of Representa-tives quietly after listening to an address by Mexican President Vicente Fox and after submitting a written farewell letter.
"Nothing dramatic," he said. "I don't see the need to draw a lot of attention on my last day. I'll be talking to
a lot of friends and family that supported me since 1994, and obviously share some memories.''
Scarborough, 38, tearfully announced his resignation in May, six months after he was overwhelmingly re-elected to his fourth term, saying he found it difficult to balance the duties
of parenthood with respons-
ibilities in Washington.
"At the end of the day it is more important for me to be judged as a father than as a congressman,'' he said.
Scarborough is divorced and has joint custody of two sons Andrew, 10, and Joey 13, one of whom has been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
A special election on Oct. 16 will determine Scarborough's replacement. Republican Jeff Miller, considered the front-runner, will face off with Democrat Steve Briese and Independent John Ralls for the seat. Two write-ins are also in the race.
Scarborough, known by many of his constituents as "Regular Joe,'' will come home Friday to Northwest Florida to spend more time being Dad and to return to practicing law.
Scarborough has already moved into a new office overlooking the bay at a Pensacola powerhouse law firm headed up by Fred Levin. He won't start taking cases until after a break of a week or two.
He's also still negotiating a deal to host a political talk show on a cable news network and he's considering offers of White House appointments.
The congressman also confirmed a rumor that a new marriage is on the horizon, which some speculate is another reason for the resignation, although he declined to reveal who is the next Mrs. Scarborough.
"In the last month or two I've had thousands of different rumors launched against me. I'd rather keep this private right now,'' he said.
As he transitions from lawmaker to lawyer his supporters say he'll be sorely missed.
"Congressman Scarborough has served his party and state with honor and has championed issues important to the Republican Party,'' said Eric Eikenberg, deputy executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. "He stuck to his beliefs and values. The people from the district and party are grateful.''
Those less endeared by the young, conservative Republican with an offbeat image were hard pressed to fault his track record representing District 1, which stretches from Escambia to Bay counties.
"Congressman Scarborough voted with his district,'' said James Witt, a professor of politics at University of West Florida. "Personally, I was not satisfied with the fact he never got on one of the five major committees where the power is. Otherwise, he apparently served his district well.''
While many understand his decision to resign before the end of his two-year term, Scarborough has had to weather a heavy dose of criticism.
"I'm very disappointed in him,'' said Witt, a Republican. "He should have played out his last year in office. He left us in a bad situation by leaving when the budget is being considered. He didn't do his district well in that regard.''
Always one for having his voice heard, Scarborough playfully responded to public criticism and rumors over his resignation in his paper, The Independent Florida Sun, a weekly Pensacola newspaper with a mix of quirky political columns and issue-oriented stories. Scarborough recently resigned as publisher of the paper and is now listed as publisher emeritus.
A cover story in the June 8 edition entitled, "The Joe Story: Shocking lurid details of his fall from power,'' delivered a satirical question-and-answer piece that poked fun at the criticisms while driving home the points for stepping down.
When asked if it has been thrilling to be able to rub shoulders with heads of states he answered: 'Maybe for some, but that's not what I get excited about. A couple of months back, I flew in Air Force One and everyone assumed that was the biggest thrill of my life. I played along. But a week later, I was walking out to baseball practice with Joey and thought to myself, Now this is something to get excited about.' "
Scarborough was first elected to Congress in 1994 at the start of the Newt Gingrich era, defined by fiscal restraint and smaller government.
While he was earning a reputation as a maverick on Capitol Hill by speaking out against the leadership's concessions to Democrats, back home he was igniting a spark in the Republican Party.
"He got people interested in politics,'' said Chris Walker, a 26-year-old politically active Walton County Republican. "He garnered a lot of support for the Republican Party. A lot of people were sitting on the fence before Joe came along.''
"He left a legacy that will be very lasting,'' said Bob Goldberg, chairman of the U. S. District 1 Republican Party. "He lit up the political life around here and I think he will be missed for that.''
While Scarborough's conservative views won over many Republicans, his moderate views on the environment took others by surprise.
"We are going to miss him greatly in the offshore drilling battle," said Mark Ferrulo, director of Tallahassee-based Florida Public Interest Research Group. "He has been the most effective, aggressive advocate against drilling that congressional seat has ever seen.''
But Ferrulo didn't offer only praise for Scarborough.
"On key issues he was very good. But there are certainly a lot of more other environmental champions than Scarborough,'' Ferrulo said.
Scarborough has also been a true champion for the military and veterans' benefits. He fought for the retired veterans' lifetime healthcare benefits that were reinstated last year.
"I'm a Democrat and I can still say, Joe did good,' '' said Ed Campbell, Florida District 1 commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "He has had the district, the bases and the military retirees in his heart. He fought for us.''
Resigning was one of the toughest decisions he has ever made, Scarborough said.
Leaving the House floor for the last time today is going to be equally tough.
"To be completely honest, it is a difficult time for me. I've always loved this job and been honored to serve in this office. My boys and the people around me will be better for it, even though it stinks right now.''
* Staff Writer Kimberly Blair can be reached at 936-8600, or email@example.com