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Fla. fire department T-shirt creates ‘unfortunate publicity’

By Anthony Colarossi
The Orlando Sentinel

EUSTIS, Fla. — Television footage of the man considered a person of interest in the case of missing Ocoee woman Tracy Ocasio has some folks in Eustis confused.

TV footage showed James Hataway wearing handcuffs in court and a Eustis Fire Department T-shirt. But Eustis Fire Department officials say Hataway never worked for the department and they’re not sure how he ended up with the T-shirt.

“He has never been a firefighter for the city of Eustis,” said Tim Totten, a public-information officer for the fire department. “These are not shirts we sell to the public. It’s a bit of unfortunate publicity for the department.”

Totten said the shirt Hataway is shown wearing is an old one that has been replaced by a newer version. Still, he said, “we don’t give those shirts out to anyone off the street. I don’t know how he got it. No one who works in our department currently knows him.”

It’s possible the shirt could have ended up in a donation box and somehow got picked up by Hataway, Totten said.

He said at least one citizen had called about the shirt after seeing the footage on television news.

Hataway, 28, appeared before Judge Donna L. McIntosh last week in Seminole County, wearing a gray Eustis Fire Department T-shirt, orange cloth shorts and flip-flops.

Fred Cobb, Eustis director of public safety, offered to buy Hataway a new shirt. However, Cobb was told Friday that Orange County corrections “would provide Hataway with a clean white T-shirt to wear at any future court appearances,” according to a city news release.

Hataway is charged with burglary with a battery, robbery and false imprisonment in an attack on Rachael Clarke on Aug. 7, 2008. Clarke told police that Hataway tried to strangle her when she gave him a ride home from a party. When she tried to get away, he chased her and slammed her head on the ground, she told investigators.

Hataway is also a person of interest in the disappearance of Ocasio, last seen leaving a MetroWest bar with Hataway in May. He told police Ocasio gave him a ride home and then left. Her car was found unlocked and abandoned near his home. Ocoee police have not charged Hataway in connection with her disappearance.

Copyright 2009 Sentinel Communications Co.

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