Scott Vetoes Tuition Hikes

April 28, 2012

Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University to increase tuition by virtually unlimited amounts.

The governor’s action on the measure (HB 7129) turned aside the pleas of higher education officials and business leaders who said it would make the schools more competitive. It’s also in keeping with Scott’s recent emphasis on holding down the cost of living in the state.

“While this decision has not been easy, I do not feel that I can sign this bill into law without a more detailed plan to ensure the increased tuition requirements on Florida students will provide the return they and other Floridians need on their additional investment,” Scott wrote in a letter announcing the veto.

Scott called instead for the Board of Governors to craft a plan for each university “tied to degree production and geographic location” and to scour the state’s higher education system for waste and inefficiency.

The governor also said he would begin “a further review of higher education options” next week, though he didn’t specify what that review might include or what the options might be.

While the measure would have initially allowed only UF and FSU to offer plans for raising tuition beyond the 15 percent annual increase allowed by state law, eventually any institution that met 11 of 14 standards spelled out in the bill could submit proposals to do so. The Board of Governors would still have to approve the plans.

Officials with state universities and the board expressed frustration with the decision, especially at a time when state funds for higher education have been dwindling. University president repeatedly emphasized during the debate that Florida has some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation.

“I am very disappointed that the Governor vetoed a bill that enjoyed widespread support and would have elevated our university system to greater national prominence — something that would benefit all Floridians,” Board of Governors Chairman Dean Colson said in a statement issued late Friday. “Hopefully, someday soon, the State will decide to provide our universities with the tools they need to compete on a national stage.”

In an email to faculty and staff, FSU President Eric Barron was even more blunt about the effects of the veto.

“There is no doubt that this will slow our plans, given that the Legislature continues to take away resources,” Barron wrote.

In addition to higher education officials, an influential group of business leaders also endorsed the bill. The Florida Council of 100 wrote Scott two weeks ago urging him to approve the measure.

“When 50 to 60 percent of graduates have no debt, and average debt levels are again below those of the nationally preeminent institutions, it becomes a matter of personal responsibility in addition to access,” the letter says. “Market forces can’t optimally drive improved performance if students don’t have appropriate skin in the game.”

By The News Service of Florida

Escambia Man Sentenced To Life For Murder, Robbery

April 28, 2012

An Escambia County man was sentenced to life in prison Friday for murder and robbery.

Ortavious Devon Wilson, 33, was sentenced to life as a prison releasee reoffender after being convicted of second degree felony murder and robbery with a firearm.

During the early morning hours of January 9, 2011, Wilson and Eddie Peterson  robbed  Cornell Stallworth at gunpoint across from the Blue Bar on Mobile Highway. During the robbery, Stallworth was able to retrieve his own firearm from his vehicle and fatally shot Peterson.

Flomaton Sweeps Playoff Games Against Cottage Hill

April 28, 2012

The Flomaton Hurricanes swept Cottage Hill Christian Friday in Flomaton to advance to the third round of the Class 2A baseball playoffs.

The Flomaton Hurricanes beat the Cottage Hill Warriors the first second round playoff 6-2. Zack Watson (9-2) started on the mound and completed the game and earned his 100th strikeout of the year. He has 103 on the year and 312 career strikeouts. Lee Cockrell took the loss for the Warriors.

Andrew Cash 1-2 1B, 2 R
Hunter Bonds 2-2 3B, 1B, 2 R
James Dean 1-3 2B, RBI, R
Zack Watson 2-3 2 1B, 2 RBI, R
Trey Weeks 1-2 2B, 2 RBI
Jacob Newton 1-3 1B
Zack Watson 7IP 10K 1ER 6 hits allowed CG W

Second Game
The Flomaton Hurricanes beat the Cottage Hill Warriors in the second game of the second round playoff series 7-0. Joseph Parker (9-1) started and finished the game for the Hurricanes and only allowed one hit in seven innings. Johnathan Williams took the loss for the Warriors. The Hurricanes improve their record to 27-4 and are advancing to the third round of the playoffs against the winner of Wicksburg/G.W. Long matchup.
Andrew Cash 0-2 R, SB
Hunter Bonds 2-3 3B, 1B, RBI, 2 R, SB
James Dean 1-2 1B, RBI, R, SB
Zack Watson 1-2 1B, RBI, R, 2 SB
Trey Weeks 1-4 1B
Jacob Newton 2-2 2B, 1B, RBI
Tristian McAnally 0-3 R
Joseph Parker 0-2 R
Joseph Parker 7IP 8K 3W 0ER 1 hit allowed CG W file photo, click to enlarge.

Wahoos Make It Two In A Row With 8-2 Win Over Suns

April 28, 2012

Joel Guzman jump started the Blue Wahoos offense with his two-run homer in the fourth inning, and the Wahoos cruised to an 8-2 win over the Jacksonville Suns behind a strong start by Daniel Corcino on Friday night at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.

Already leading 3-0, the Blue Wahoos added some cushion with a five-run seventh. Ryan LaMarre, Josh Fellhauer, Yordanys Perez and Miguel Rojas all collected hits in the inning to contribute to the rally. Pensacola batted around in the frame sending 11 guys to the plate as the Blue Wahoos went up 8-0.

All seven hitters in the Blue Wahoos lineup that collected a hit in the game had exactly two hits. LaMarre, Henry Rodriguez and Guzman all scored a pair of runs to go with their hits. Guzman and Yordanys Perez also added a pair of RBI in the game.

Jacksonville scored single runs in the seventh and ninth innings against Blue Wahoos relievers after Corcino went 5.1 shutout innings. He allowed just three hits, he walked three and struck out three. The right-hander got credit for the win, his first of the season. Jacksonville starter Zach Neal (L, 2-2) was charged with the loss after allowing three runs on 10 hits over six innings.

Game four of the five-game set is Saturday night beginning at 5:05 CT when the Blue Wahoos send righty Tim Crabbe (1-0, 4.74) to the mound against Suns left-hander Graham Taylor (1-1, 4.09).

By Tommy Thrall

Buford Lewis Donald

April 28, 2012

Mr. Buford Lewis Donald, age 58, passed away on April 27, 2012 in Nokomis, AL.

Mr. Donald was a native and life long resident of Nokomis and was a member of Nokomis Baptist Church.

He is preceded in death by his mother-Frankie Jeter Donald.

Survivors include fher, Leonard L. Donald Sr. of Nokomis, AL; Wife Beth Donald of Nokomis, AL; two daughters, Jennifer White of Breckenridge, TX, and Sandi (Patrick) Boone of Atmore; two brothers, Leonard L. (Milner) Donald Jr. of Atmore and Billy Wayne (Frankie) Donald of Nokomis; one sister, Vickie Donald of Nokomis and five grandchildren, Spencer Smith, Cameron Smith, Tanner Boone, Mylee Boone and Khloee Boone.

Funeral services will be Sunday, April 29, 2012 at 2:00 p.m. at the Petty Funeral Home Chapel with the Rev. Houston Gill officiating. Burial will follow at White Cemetery.

Adelle T. Bowers

April 28, 2012

Adelle T. Bowers, 84, of Cantonment, Florida passed away Monday, April 23, 2012. She was born July 30, 1927, in Elba, Alabama. A dedicated homemaker and avid golfer, she became a member of Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in 1953.

Preceding her in death was her husband of 63 years, Hayward Bowers.

She is survived by her son, Ronnie Bowers; two grandchildren, Robert Bowers and Rhonda Holden (David); a brother, Fred Tillman; sister, Doris Morrows and numerous nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were held at Faith Chapel Funeral Home North on Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 3:00 p.m. with Rev. Andy Gartman and Rev. George McCoure officiating.

Interment followed at Barrancas National Cemetery on Friday, April 27, 2012.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Allen Memorial United Methodist Church, 206 Pace Parkway, Cantonment, Florida.

Faith Chapel Funeral Home North, 1000 Highway 29 South Cantonment is in charge of arrangements

In Depth: Feds Seize Guns From ‘Tutors’ Near School, No Charges Filed

April 27, 2012

The investigation is continuing today into two armed men stopped with multiple weapons in Flomaton, Ala. Wednesday and then again Thursday near an Escambia County, Fla., middle school.  The men had raised great suspicion among law enforcement after making claims that they were on their way to offer tutoring services at the middle school, prompting a security alert at area schools.

Federal Agents Take Over

The two men were reportedly spotted by law enforcement at a motel on New Warrington Road, about a mile from Warrington Middle School. When they pulled out of the motel parking lot onto New Warrington Road just before 9 a.m. Thursday, deputies conducted an “investigative stop”, according to Sgt. Mike Ward, spokesperson for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. When they found multiple weapons in the vehicle, Escambia deputies called the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ATF agents took over the investigation and seized the weapons, including four guns, from the men, ages 35 and 39. They also found computer printed maps with directions to Warrington Middle School.

After a lengthy search of their rental 2012 Chevrolet Suburban, the men were allowed to continue on their way. The names of the men were not released because they were not charged with any crime.

School District Responds

When Escambia County Superintendent Malcom Thomas learned about the Flomaton traffic stop, the weapons and the claims that the men were headed to Warrington Middle, immediate steps were taken to ensure the safety of students at Warrington and every other school in the district.

School resource officers, principals and other key district employees were quickly made aware of the situation. They were provided with information from law enforcement, as well as unpublished photographs showing additional details about the vehicle, including a tag number, and photographs of the men.

Thomas said a school district protective services employee responded to the New Warrington Road traffic stop, and a trespass order was issued against the men forbidding them from visiting any public school in the district.

“If they so much as set foot on any one of our campuses, they will be arrested for trespassing,” he said.

There were no security incidents Thursday at any Escambia County school.

Tutoring Company CEO “Flabbergasted” By Incident

Both men were confirmed to be employees of Innovative Educational Programs (IEP) in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. One of the men, according to his business card (pictured), is the company’s “Southeast Regional Director”.

Tony O’Donell, CEO of the company, learned of the incidents involving his employees from a phone call.

“I am just flabbergasted by the suspicions,” O’Donnell said from his New Jersey office. He said the company immediately suspended both men and launched an internal investigation. “We will be asking them a lot of questions.” He said IEP will likely terminate both men.

All IEP employees undergo background screenings, and the company does not allow employees to carry guns, the CEO said.

According to Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, IEP is not contracted to provide any services whatsoever in Escambia County. Thomas said IEP is not a licensed tutoring provider in Florida. independently confirmed that IEP is not an authorized tutoring service recognized by the Florida Department of Education; however, the company is a legitimate tutoring provider in several states, including Alabama and Mississippi.

O’Donnell said the men were in the Pensacola area to “scout” schools for market research.

“We’ve never had an incident like this before,” he said. “This is just beyond belief. I regret that our company has indirectly caused so many people to be upset there (in Escambia County).”

Wednesday: Men And Vehicle Stopped In Flomaton, Ala.

Thursday was the second encounter with local law enforcement for the men, both of which claimed to be education tutors.

A traffic stop about 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Alabama/Florida line turned up an arsenal of weapons and thousands of dollars in cash.

Officer Chris Neal with the Flomaton Police Department conducted a routine traffic stop about 5 p.m. after observing the driver of a 2012 Chevrolet Suburban make an improper lane change on Highway 29. He stopped the vehicle just over the  bridge between Flomaton and Century, still inside Alabama but only a few yards from Florida.

For more photos from the traffic stop, click here.

Neal asked for and was granted consent to search. After finding several guns in the vehicle, the he immediately called for backup from the Escambia County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office.

A search of the vehicle by Neal and another officer from the Flomaton Police Department uncovered multiple handguns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, multiple ammunition clips, tasers, police handcuffs, brass knuckles and “suspicious” solid black clothing, gloves and hoodies. The passenger claimed the guns belonged to him, and he produced a valid weapons permit.

Officers also located a paper bag containing $8,400 in $100 bills  inside the vehicle. One of the men told a story about having IRS troubles and dealing in cash to avoid problems with the agency. The cash was not in the vehicle when it was stopped Thursday morning.

Multiple SIM cards — memory chips that allow cell phones to switch numbers and identifiable information instantly — were visible in the vehicle Wednesday afternoon, along with a laptop computer and multiple wireless internet modems.

The vehicle was also searched for drugs by an Escambia County (Fla.) K-9, but no illegal drugs were located.

The driver and passenger, both adult males, said they were on their way from the Birmingham area to tutor students Thursday at Warrington Middle School. One of the men was dressed in a t-shirt with a tutoring company’s logo on the front and the words “Free Tutoring” on the back. They produced business cards and other items from a tutoring company in New Jersey.

The men said they had the arsenal of weapons for their own protection because they sometimes tutor students in “bad areas”.

Officers spent about two hours searching the vehicle, questioning the men as they stood handcuffed by a police car and running various computer records checks on the vehicle, the firearms and the men.  All of the weapons were legally possessed, according to officers. Both men were released Wednesday without any criminal charges or traffic citations. photos, click to enlarge.

Fire Rips Through Molino Mobile Home; Woman, 84, Sent To Hospital

April 27, 2012

An 84-year old woman was transported to an area hospital following a Thursday afternoon fire near Molino.

Fire ripped through the roof of the home, causing extensive roof and smoke damage to the double wide mobile home in the 4000 block of White Ash Road just after 4 p.m.

A female occupant was able to escape the fire, which appeared to start in the kitchen of the home. She was transported by Escambia County EMS to Atmore Community Hospital with breathing difficulties, possible due to an underlying medical condition aggravated by the fire, authorities said.

The exact cause of the blaze is under investigation by the Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The Molino, Century, McDavid and Walnut Hill stations of Escambia Fire Rescue responded to the fire.

Pictured above and inset: Fire ripped through the roof of this mobile home on White Ash Road near Molino Thursday afternoon. Submitted photos by Sabrena Padgett for, click to enlarge. Pictured below: The mobile home following the fire. Submitted photos for, click to enlarge.

FDLE Releases Report On Fiery I-75 Crash That Killed Tate Grad And Family

April 27, 2012

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has released its findings on a fiery January crash in Gainesville on I-75 that claimed the lives of 11 people, including a Tate High School graduate, his 17-year old daughter and his wife.

No one acted with any criminal intent, but better communication, fixed signs and more attention to a trooper who warned that smoke could quickly roll back on to the interstate might have prevented a massive fatal crash on smoky I-75 in January, the FDLE said Thursday.

In a major review of crashes on the morning of January 29 involving 25 vehicles that killed 11 people, the FDLE said personnel at the Florida Highway Patrol and several other agencies “acted in a manner which they believed was appropriate and in the best interest of restoring the safe and orderly flow of traffic to the roadways.”

The bodies of Tate graduate Michael Hughes, his daughter Sabryna Dawn Louise Hughes and Sabryna’s stepmother Lori Hughes were found two days after the crash in a badly burned pickup truck. The truck was incinerated when it collided with a semi-truck that had stopped on I-75 due to fog and smoke conditions. The family had traveled from Pensacola to the Gainesville area to attend a funeral.

Friends said Michael Hughes grew up in the Jacks Branch Road area and was a 1990 graduate of Tate High School.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered the review after the crash, in the Paynes Prairie section of Alachua County, south of Gainesville.

But FDLE found several things that it said the Highway Patrol should change, some of them immediately to avoid a repeat of the early morning crash.

Some of its main findings were that the FHP doesn’t have specific protocols on when and how to re-open roadways when visibility is low. The review recounts officers discussing the visibility and whether they think it’s OK to drive, but there’s nothing in their procedures spelling out when safety experts say it is OK, for example. FDLE also found that the Highway Patrol did little in the way of improving its smoke-and-fog procedures after a similar fatal crash on Interstate 4 in Polk County in 2008.

“The specific changes to FHP’s policies and procedures were limited, and subsequent training provided to command personnel was ineffective and poorly memorialized,” FDLE said of changes that were supposed to have been put in place after the 2008 crash.

There were several breakdowns in the early morning hours of January 29, the review found.

One of the biggest problems that appears to have contributed to the disaster was a breakdown in human communications between officers – and a failure to heed the warning of one trooper in particular, FHP Sgt. Bruce Simmons, who advised against re-opening I-75.

The review also noted that Simmons – the trooper who had suggested keeping the roadway closed – expressed anger about the ultimate decision to open it in a conversation with an Alachua deputy later that morning that was captured on his in-car video.

“I tried to tell them to leave that ’sum-buck’ closed and they wouldn’t listen to me. I said it’s going to roll in again,” Simmons can be heard saying. “….They wouldn’t freaking listen earlier….I said that it will roll in faster than you can shut it down. This crap wouldn’t have happened if he’d have listened.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Escambia, Santa Rosa And 45 Other Counties Sue Over Medicaid Law

April 27, 2012

Arguing they are being hit with an “unfunded mandate,” 47 counties — including Escambia and Santa Rosa — filed a lawsuit Thursday that challenges the constitutionality of a new state Medicaid law that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

The local governments, joined by the Florida Association of Counties, indicated they will seek an injunction to try to quickly block parts of the law. The association announced earlier this month that it would file the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court.

The case centers on a dispute about whether counties have fully reimbursed the state for certain hospital and nursing-home costs related to residents who are Medicaid beneficiaries. Legislative leaders contend that many counties have not paid the full amounts owed in recent years, but county officials argue the state’s billing system is badly flawed.

Under the new law, which Gov. Rick Scott signed March 29, the state could recoup the money by withholding tax dollars that would otherwise go to counties. As of December 31, the uncollected billings totaled as much as $325.5 million.

Under the law, Santa Rosa owes an estimated $1.5 million, while Escambia County owes about $6.2 million to the state for disputed Medicaid bills that have been adding up for about a decade.

Counties argue the Legislature violated part of the Florida Constitution that is aimed at making it harder for the state to pass along what are known as “unfunded mandates,” which increase costs for local governments. The constitution requires unfunded mandates to be approved by two-thirds of the House and the Senate — a threshold that was not met with the new Medicaid law.

Though he signed the law, Scott ordered the Agency for Health Care Administration to meet with county officials across the state to try to resolve billing disputes. But a key part of the lawsuit alleges that counties commonly have received incorrect bills for such things as people who live in other areas of Florida or even out of state.

“Although counties are willing to pay their fair share for Medicaid services received by their residents, they cannot in good faith make payments for bills that are clearly erroneous and lacking support,” the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include counties from all regions of Florida. Most of the counties that did not join the lawsuit are relatively rural, though they also include Duval, Orange and Palm Beach counties.

The News Service Florida contributed to this report.

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