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Blair released from jail on child abuse charges

TAMPA - Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair walked out of Orient Road Jail this morning, released without bail a day after he was accused of beating up his two sons on Father's Day. "It's a real, I guess, unfortunate situation, that it's a misunderstanding that could have been prevented," Blair told reporters as left jail. "I have over 7,000 hours mentoring children, and the last thing that I'd ever do is hurt a kid. Sometimes the hardest kids to mentor are your own." Circuit Judge Walter "Buzzy" Heinrich said investigators with the Florida Department of Children & Families will determine whether Blair can see his sons. Blair, 52, did not speak at the hearing. Neither did his wife of 22 years, Toni, who later stood by him outside the jail.
Blair told reporters that he loves his constituents and hopes to serve them again. "If they were there, I think they'd understand the situation," he said. "The most important thing is that my wife is OK." The former professional wrestler was arrested at 5:12 a.m. Sunday at his Forest Hills home. After being questioned by deputies, he was medically cleared at a local hospital after he complained about soreness to his ribs, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said. The attack started after Blair's 17-year-old son, Brett, came home from playing basketball and Blair yelled at him, said Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter. The teenager went into a bedroom. A short time later, he walked out and a confrontation occurred. An arrest report indicates "that Brian Blair may have been drinking," Carter said. According to deputies, shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday, Blair pushed Brett in the chest. When the boy tried to walk away, Blair grabbed him, punched him in the face and put him in a choke hold. Then Blair turned his attention to his younger son, Bradley. He grabbed the boy by the throat and punched him in the head, leaving a mark. Blair's campaign Web site lists Bradley as being 13, although a sheriff's office report lists him as 12. Authorities said neither child was seriously injured. Prosecutors told Heinrich that two other teens were in the home at the time and would be witnesses in the case. Carter said the witnesses are ages 15 and 18 and friends of Blair's sons. Blair initially was held without bail, a common procedure in domestic violence cases. Heinrich released him on his own recognizance. Usually, those accused of such crimes can't have any contact with their victims and must move out of the home if the victims also reside there. Heinrich initially gave Blair such an admonishment but put the decision in the hands of DCF officials once Lorenzo told him they were involved. The judge also noted the age of the alleged victims, saying they aren't infants. Nick Cox, regional director for DCF, said Blair doesn't have a previous history or file with the child-care agency. Blair, highly visible during his political life, stayed out of camera range for most of the hearing; he moved into the closed circuit camera's frame only when his case was called. The next step is for Blair to enter a plea to the charges, two felony counts of child abuse. That usually happens within 30 days. In 1984, the sheriff's office investigated allegations that Blair beat a former girlfriend. Blair denied the accusation and was never arrested or charged. As a county commissioner, Blair called domestic violence "an intolerable and horrible crime," although he voted last year to cut funding for a county-sponsored domestic violence crisis center. A conservative Republican who stressed family values, Blair was elected to the county commission in 2004 but lost a heated election last year to Kevin Beckner. Blair has been under a lot of stress since losing his commission seat, his friend Dick Rivett said Sunday. In March, Blair filed a lawsuit claiming Beckner had falsely accused him of "self-dealing, taking action to harm women and children and supporting racism." "This has had a profound effect on my children, my entire family," Blair said after filing the lawsuit. A graduate of Tampa Bay Technical High School, Blair rose to fame in the 1980s as part of the Killer Bees tag team with the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). At the height of his career, he performed at Wrestlemania III in front of more than 90,000 fans in Pontiac, Mich. Blair parlayed his wrestling earnings to buy Gold's Gym franchises. In 1998, he sold three of the gyms for nearly $2 million, court documents show. Sunday's arrest report lists him as unemployed.

News Channel 8 reporter Chip Osowski contributed to this report, which also includes information from Tribune archives.

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