One Injured In Highway 29 Crash In Cantonment

January 31, 2011

One person was injured in a two vehicle crash this afternoon on Highway 29 in Cantonment.

The accident happened just after 4 p.m. on Highway 29 at Tate School Road and slowed southbound traffic for over an hour. One person was transported by Escambia County EMS to a Pensacola hospital.

Further details were not immediately available; the accident is still under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol. The Cantonment Station of Escambia Fire Rescue and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the crash.

Pictured above and below: One person was injured after this crash Monday afternoon on Highway 29 in Cantonment. photos by Kristi Smith, click to enlarge.

Pensacola Federal Judge Strikes Down Health Care Law (With Full Ruling Text)

January 31, 2011

The federal health care law requiring Americans to buy health insurance unlawfully expands the powers to Congress by forcing consumers to buy something they may not want, a Florida federal judge “reluctantly” ruled  Monday in Pensacola in a challenge by Florida and 25 other states.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson rejected the lynchpin of federal efforts to change the way health care is delivered in the United States, saying Congress cannot compel people to purchase health insurance.

“It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place,” Vinson wrote in ruling invalid the required purchase of health insurance.

“I must reluctantly conclude that Congress exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the act with the individual mandate,” Vinson wrote.

Despite finding the law unconstitutional, Vinson refused a request by Florida and other states to stop the federal government from moving forward while the case winds its way through an appellate process that will likely lead to the U.S. Supreme Court. Keeping the law in effect, pending appeals, means sections already in force will continue to be. The White House said it will proceed with planning for the law to go into effect.

In December, Vinson heard three hours of testimony in the lawsuit, with the plaintiffs – two private citizens and the National Federation of Independent Business, in addition to the 26 states – that the sweeping change to the $2.5 trillion U.S. health-care system oversteps constitutional limits on federal power and would force massive spending on hard-pressed state governments.

Vinson said on Monday that the secondary complaint of the states’- that the law would greatly expand their obligation to pay for Medicaid patients – was legitimately within the federal government’s reach. But the individual mandate was clearly not, he said.

“It should be emphasized that while the individual mandate was clearly “necessary and essential” to the Act as drafted, it is not “necessary and essential” to health care reform in general,” Vinson wrote. “It is undisputed that there are various other (Constitutional) ways to accomplish what Congress wanted to do.”

Florida was the lead plaintiff among the states in the suit, which was started by former Attorney General Bill McCollum, who filed it the day after the law passed. The current attorney general, Pam Bondi, inherited the case – but did so enthusiastically, campaigning on a promise to continue it.

“We all know we need health care reform; this is not the way to do it,” Bondi said after Vinson’s ruling. “It’s unconstitutional. It’s a violation of our rights… It’s about our liberty. It’s about more than health care.”

Vinson’s ruling was immediately hailed by groups that have called the law, dubbed by critics as “ObamaCare,” an overreach.

“ObamaCare is an unprecedented and unconstitutional infringement on the liberty of the American people,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement released immediately after the ruling. “Patients should have more control over health care decisions than a federal government that is spending money faster than it can be printed.”

Vinson’s ruling is the second time a federal judge has ruled against all or portions of the law enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in March 2010. A federal judge in Virginia struck down the measure, also ruling that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Federal officials, however, pointed out that the record is mixed – the law has also been upheld in a couple of other challenges.

Still, critics of the law said Vinson’s ruling should be a signal for Congress to readdress the issue.

“With two straight federal courts ruling ObamaCare unconstitutional this sends a clear message to the United States Senate that it should follow the action of the House and repeal the health care law,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island said in a statement.

“Now small business owners can plan on creating jobs rather than figure out how to comply with the federal health care act,” said Bill Herrle, Florida director for the National Federatation of Independent Business.

U.S. Department of Justice officials said they will appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which has jurisdiction over cases originating in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s ruling today and continue to believe – as other federal courts have found – that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional,” DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler said. “There is clear and well-established legal precedent that Congress acted within its constitutional authority in passing this law and we are confident that we will ultimately prevail on appeal.”

The Center for American Progress, a liberal leaning Washington, D.C.-based group also blasted Vinson’s ruling as “judicial activism,” flipping a common Republican refrain when judges rule against legislation that has been passed by legislative bodies. That charge is common in Florida where Republican lawmakers have repeatedly railed against judges who invalidate laws passed by elected officials.

“For all of my colleagues on the conservative side who criticized activist judges for their lack of deference to the legislative and executive branches of government, I hope they’ll be equally as critical of this decision,” said CAP Chief Operating Officer Needra Tanden, who worked on crafting the legislation.

Walter Dellinger, chair of the Appellate Practice at the Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Meyers law firm, added that Vinson’s decision was reminiscent of early legal verdicts against the Social Security Act in the 1930s.

“I think it will fare no better,” Dellinger said. “Lower courts routinely strike down landmark legislation before it’s upheld,” he said, noting cases involving Social Security, racial segregation and the Voting Rights Act.

“Under this view, Congress has no power to enact a minimum wage,” he added.

House Fire Leaves One Homeless, Claims Pet’s Life; Second Fire Hours Later Destroys Home

January 31, 2011

A Sunday night blaze left one person homeless and claimed the life of their pet. Firefighters managed to save a portion of the house Sunday night, but the house was destroyed by fire in a reflash early Monday morning.

An adult occupant was not home at the time of the fire about 8:20 p.m. Sunday in the 900 block of Welka Road, just east of Flomaton. Firefighters reported flames shooting from the single story wood frame home when they arrived. They were able to quickly bring the blaze under control, but not before it claimed the life of a cat.

According to Flomaton Fire Chief Steve Stanton, firefighters believe the fire started in a front bedroom of the home, but the exact cause was not immediately known. The home suffered heavy smoke and fire damage.

Firefighters responded to the home a second time, about 12:35 a.m. Monday, for a reflash. The house was reported to be fully engulfed the second time as firefighters arrived on scene. Firefighters remained on scene throughout the morning, declaring the fire to be out about 7:30 a.m.

The exact cause of the both fires is under investigation.

The Flomaton, Pineview Barnett Crossroads, Friendship and Lambeth fire departments responded to the blaze, along with the Century and McDavid stations of Escambia Fire Rescue, the Jay Fire Department, Escambia County (Fla.) EMS and the Escambia County (Ala.) Sheriff’s Office.

Pictured top: Fire heavily damaged the interior of this home on Welka Road just east of Flomaton Sunday night. Pictured left inset: Firefighters work inside the front bedroom of the home where the fire is believed to have started. photos, click to enlarge.

Teachers Weigh In On Merit Pay Talks

January 31, 2011

The Senate’s key player in the movement to reform teacher pay said Friday that there are still several major issues that the Legislature needs to resolve before pushing forward, including how it will fund merit pay and how teachers of special needs children will be evaluated.

“I think this is a complex piece of legislation and sometimes it’s not made in a year,” said state Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, the chair of the Senate PreK-12 Education Committee.

Wise and fellow committee member Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, took three hours of testimony at an open workshop on teacher quality Friday after a week of committee meetings designed to get the ball rolling on the legislation. Wise said he hopes to have a bill before the full Senate in the second or third week of March.

Republican lawmakers attempted to push through a teacher performance pay bill last year that partially tied pay to test results, but it was met with a firestorm of criticism from teachers around the state who said the proposal was unfair to educators. Originally a fan of the proposal, former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill, citing concerns over fairness to teachers, whose support was critical in his U.S. Senate race, which he ultimately lost to Republican Marco Rubio.

Gov. Rick Scott supports the concept and several lawmakers promised the issue of merit pay and teacher tenure would return this spring.

A draft circulated by Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future a few months ago would put a newly hired teacher on a probationary contract, under which the teacher could be fired at any time during the first year. For the next three years, teachers would be placed on annual contracts that would be evaluated at the end of each school year. After that, teachers would be offered three-year professional contracts.

Scott told reporters Friday he supports the idea of performance pay for teachers, but also believes that a fair measurement system needs to be developed first. Scott’s daughter is a special education teacher.

“As you know, I believe we’ve got to make sure we keep the best teachers around,” he said. “One of my daughters is a teacher. So we’ve got to pay the best teachers the most. So we need to have a fair measurement system.”

Wise said all of those issues would likely be included in a final proposal, but details still have to be worked out, particularly how special education teachers should be evaluated, an issue brought up by several educators who attended the meeting.

“The issue has always been a difficult one for me,” he said.

Megan Allen, the 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year who teaches in Hillsborough County, told lawmakers she has been teaching for seven years and this has been her most difficult year yet, particularly in teaching students with special needs.

“I have struggled with my students, but I’m learning,” she said.

Allen said a merit pay system could work, but urged lawmakers to provide local control options because the needs of students in one county likely wouldn’t match the needs of students in another. Teachers, therefore, should not be graded by the same rubric.

“We must take into account the needs of our districts and realize one size doesn’t fit all,” she said.

Lawmakers must also work out how to pay for a performance pay system. The state’s Race to the Top money will help some districts put into place a system to evaluate educators, but the federal program does not provide dollars for a salary bump. There is a limited pool of state money for districts that want to participate in merit pay, but it is likely not enough for statewide participation.

Union officials have noted that so far the process of hammering out a piece of legislation has been collaborative, compared to last year when members of the Florida Education Association said they were shut out of negotiations regarding the bill. Anger over the exclusion led teachers to send floods of letters and emails to lawmakers last spring and to show up in large numbers at legislative meetings.

Connie Milito, a lobbyist for the Hillsborough County School District, said that lawmakers need to overcome teachers’ anger over the process last year, if they want to be successful in passing legislation this session.

“What everybody’s afraid of is not being a part of the solution,” she said.

By Kathleen Haughney
The News Service Florida

‘Bonnie And Clyde’ Couple Sentenced For Three Bank Robberies

January 31, 2011


A couple described by police as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde has been sentenced to prison for three bank robberies last year — including one in Flomaton.

Rhianna Marie Jones, 31, of California, and Jerry Hover Tinsley, 31, of  North Carolina, have admitted in federal court that they robbed banks in Flomaton, East Brewton and Florala during a March, 2010, crime spree.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose sentenced Jones to three years and 10 months in federal prison. Tinsley was sentenced to six years and five months behind bars, and his supervised release was revoked on a federal gun charge, adding two years to his term. Tinsley received the longer sentence due to his previous criminal history.

According to testimony, the couple purposely used no weapons and did not make any threats during any of the robberies, hoping to avoid longer jail terms if apprehended.

unitedflom22.jpgTheir total take from the three 2010 robberies was just over $9,500 — $4,963 from two tellers at United Bank in Flomaton on March 8, another $2,840 in cash from one teller at BankTrust in East Brewton and $1,700 from a Wachovia Bank in Florala, Ala.

During the Flomaton robbery, Tinsley and Jones both presented tellers with demand notes which stated “this is a robbery, place all $100s, $50s, $20s on the counter no alarm no die packs no tracers”, according to federal court documents. A demand note with the same wording was presented during the East Brewton robbery. They did not display a weapon during any of the robberies.

Authorities said Tinsley and Jones picked banks along the state line because they believed Alabama authorities could not pursue them into Florida.  Authorities believe in each robbery, the pair fled to Florida immediately after the holdups — including March 8 when they fled into North Escambia following the Flomaton robbery.

The pair was arrested by federal agents and local law enforcement after a short chase from a Motel 6 in Destin, Florida, March 18. The arrest was reportedly the result of a tip phoned into the Florala (Ala.) Police Department concerning a MySpace photo.

banksuspects.jpgThe Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Fugitive Warrants Unit was assisting the FBI from Mobile in the hunt for Tinsley and Jones. They determined that they were staying in the Motel 6 located at 405 Harbor Boulevard in Destin. In addition to being suspects in the bank robberies, authorities knew Jones was wanted on felony charges out of Pinellas County, Florida, and Tinsley was suspected of being in violation of his probation.

At 11:14 p.m. March 18, the pair was seen leaving the Motel 6 in a gold color 2004 Chevrolet Impala with a Florida tag.  Deputies attempted a traffic stop in the parking lot, but Tinsley and Jones fled westbound on Harbor Boulevard, a four lane divided highway, at a high rate of speed, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office arrest report.

“Tinsley, who was identified as the driver, was passing around and between cars to get away,” according to Okaloosa Deputy Todd Watkins. Speeds in the chase, according to Watkins, reach in excess of 90 mph. Tinsley, who is known by the street name “Prison Ink” turned onto two-lane roads, and the chase continued over 90 mph until he turned onto the dead end Sea Hills Drive. The  total distance of the chase was about 1.8 miles.

While several units pursued the vehicle down the dead end street, Deputy Watkins went to an adjacent street where he observed the duo flee on foot. He was able to take Tinsley into custody, while Jones fled into a wooded area. She was located a short time later hiding in some brush in a fenced in yard.

Pictured top: Rhianna Marie Jones and Jerry Hover Tinsley pass holdup notes at the United Bank in Flomaton on March 8, 2010. Pictured top inset:  Flomaton Police investigate the robbery of the United Bank on Sidney Manning Boulevard. Pictured below: Mug shots of Jones and Tinsley after their arrests in Okaloosa County. and courtesy photos, click to enlarge.


Rain, Possible Severe Storms Forecast

January 31, 2011

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

  • Tonight…Mostly cloudy. Patchy dense fog after midnight. Near steady temperature in the upper 50s. Southeast winds around 5 mph.
  • Tuesday…Numerous rain showers in the morning…then periods of rain showers and scattered thunderstorms in the afternoon. Some thunderstorms may be severe with damaging winds. Highs in the upper 60s. Southeast winds 10 to 15 mph. Chance of precipitation 80 percent.
  • Tuesday Night…Much colder. Mostly cloudy. Numerous rain showers and scattered thunderstorms in the evening…then scattered rain showers after midnight. Patchy dense fog after midnight. Some thunderstorms may be severe with damaging winds. Lows in the mid 30s. South winds 15 to 20 mph becoming northwest 10 to 15 mph after midnight. Chance of precipitation 70 percent.
  • Wednesday…Cooler. Mostly sunny. Patchy dense fog in the morning. Highs in the upper 40s. North winds 10 to 15 mph.
  • Wednesday Night…Mostly cloudy. Slight chance of rain showers after midnight. Lows in the lower 30s. North winds 5 to 10 mph. Chance of showers 20 percent.
  • Thursday…Mostly cloudy. Chance of rain. Highs in the mid 40s. Chance of rain 50 percent.
  • Thursday Night…Mostly cloudy. Rain likely. Lows in the mid 30s. Chance of rain 60 percent.
  • Friday…Mostly cloudy. Rain likely. Highs in the upper 40s. Chance of rain 60 percent.
  • Friday Night…Mostly cloudy. Chance of rain in the evening. Lows in the mid 30s. Chance of rain 30 percent.
  • Saturday…Mostly sunny. Highs in the mid 50s.
  • Saturday Night…Mostly clear. Lows in the mid 30s.
  • Sunday…Sunny. Highs in the lower 60s.
  • Sunday Night…Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 40s.
  • Monday…Mostly cloudy. Slight chance of rain showers. Highs in the lower 60s. Chance of showers 20 percent.

Man, 72, Shoots Two Of Three Home Invasion Robbery Suspects

January 31, 2011

A 72-year old Escambia County man fought back and shot two of three teens in a home invasion over the weekend.

The incident happened about 8:45 Saturday night in the 3300 block of Raines Street in the Ferry Pass community. Police say three armed males wearing masks forced their way into the home of the 72-year old man and his 70-year old sister.

Once inside, the male victim was struck multiple times over the head with a baseball bat. During the altercation, the male victim fired several defensive shots from a handgun he had been holding when he answered the door, according to police.

Two of the suspects — Nathaniel Nichols, 17 and Curtis Crenshaw, 18 — suffered gunshot wounds. Crenshaw was treated and released, while Nichols remained hospitalized. A third suspect, Earl Benard, 15, was identified during the police investigation and later arrested.

All three suspects were charged with two counts of aggravated battery on a person 65 years of age or older and one count of home invasion robbery.

The 72-year old man was treated and released from a Pensacola hospital.

Editor’s note: The incident occurred on Raines Street in Ferry Pass, not to be confused with Raines Road near Century.

Pictured: Home invasion robbery suspect Curtis Crenshaw, 18.

Northview To Host Career And College Connections Night

January 31, 2011

Northview High School will host a Career and College Connections Night this week.

The event will be held Thursday from 6 until 8 p.m. in the school’s Media Center and is open to all grade levels.

Representatives from area colleges and universities, businesses, technical schools and the military will be on hand to answer questions pertaining to enrollment, financial assistance, and career opportunities.

Participants currently scheduled to take part include:

  • Jefferson Davis Community College
  • Pensacola State College
  • University of South Alabama
  • University of West Florida
  • University of Florida
  • Fortis Institute
  • George Stone Technical Center
  • Universal Technical Institute
  • Century Care Center
  • Creek Indian Enterprises
  • Gulf Power
  • Army
  • Coast Guard
  • Marines
  • Navy
  • American Legion Post 90, Atmore (special guests)

2011 Farm Day Scheduled

January 31, 2011

The 2011 Farm Day will be held Friday in Atmore, sponsored by the Escambia County (Fla.) Extension Service and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Topics to be covered will include “Herbicide Resistance to Weeds in Crops”, “Cover Crops” and the “Economic Outlook for Row Crops” with experts from the University of Florida IFAS, Auburn University and the University of Georgia.

Registration will take place from 8 until 8:30 a.m at the Atmore YMCA at 501 South Pensacola Avenue. For more information, click here.

Lola Griffin Beasley

January 31, 2011

Lola Griffin Beasley 82, of Walnut Hill, died at her residence on Friday January 28, 2011.

She was a beautician for 40 years and a member the Walnut Hill Baptist Church. She born in Daytona, Fla. on March 24, 1928, to the late Oswell F. and Zeffie L. Williams Driggers.

She was preceded in death by her first husband, Herman Griffin, one brother and one sister.

She is survived by her husband Irvin Beasley of Walnut Hill; a son, Frank Griffin and wife, Myra of Newberry, Fla.; one daughter, Linda Timmons of Palm Coast, Fla.; a step-son, Joseph Beasley of Stockbridge, Ga.; a step-daughter, Judy Hall of Walnut Hill; one brother, Cohen Driggers of Orange Park, Fla.; five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be Tuesday, February 1, 2011 at 10 a.m. from Johnson-Quimby Funeral Home Chapel with Bro. Ted Bridges and Bro. James Boyd officiating. Interment will follow at Oak Hill Cemetery at Palatka, Fla. Thursday, February 3, 2011.

Family will receive friends from 6-8 p.m. Monday, January 31, 2011, at Johnson-Quimby Funeral Home in Atmore.

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