Missing Santa Rosa Man Found

April 30, 2013

A missing senior citizen from Santa Rosa County has been located.

According to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, 87-year old Thomas E. Woodcock left The Blake assisted living facility on Gulf Breeze Parkway and was last seen westbound on Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze about 6:40 p.m. Monday.

The Sheriff’s Office reported early Tuesday morning that Woodcock had been found and canceled a Silver Alert for him.

Death Penalty Bill Speeds To Scott

April 30, 2013

State lawmakers Monday gave final approval to a proposal aimed at reducing delays in carrying out the death penalty, with supporters saying they want justice for victims’ families — but critics warning about executing innocent people.

Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who sponsored the measure, said some inmates have been on Death Row for more than 30 years.

“That isn’t justice,” Negron said. “That’s a mockery of the court system.”

But other lawmakers pointed to scientific advances, such as DNA evidence, that have helped clear some inmates who have been imprisoned for long periods.

“I just think this swiftness does not necessarily equate to fairness,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa.

Senators voted 28-10 on Monday to approve the bill (HB 7083), which passed the House last week. It now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill focuses, at least in part, on ending delays in what is known as the “post-conviction” legal process, which starts after the Florida Supreme Court upholds death sentences in initial appeals. The post-conviction process can involve appeals about issues such as whether defendants have received ineffective legal representation.

Among other things, the bill seeks to ensure that attorneys have “actual” conflicts of interest before being replaced in death-penalty cases. Replacing attorneys can cause delays.

Also, the bill would take steps to prevent attorneys from representing Death Row inmates if the attorneys have had problems in earlier capital cases. The bill would bar lawyers from working on death-penalty cases for five years if courts have found that they provided deficient representation twice.

As of early March, Florida had 404 inmates on Death Row, with 155 in custody for more than 20 years, according to a House staff analysis. Ten had been on Death Row for more than 35 years.

This month, Florida executed Larry Eugene Mann, who was convicted in 1981 in the abduction and murder of a 10-year girl in Pinellas County.

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said the bill would not prevent inmates from pursuing legitimate claims of innocence. But he echoed Negron’s argument that some people sitting on Death Row for decades makes a “mockery” of the justice system.

“This bill is about closure for victims’ families,” said Bradley, a former prosecutor.

But a group called Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty said in a news release Monday that 24 wrongfully convicted Death Row prisoners have been exonerated since Florida resumed executions in the 1970s.

“Legislation that speeds executions by limiting appeals will almost certainly lead to the execution of innocent men and women,” said Mark Elliott, the group’s director.

By The News Service of Florida

House Moves To Reduce Impact Of Citizens Property Overhaul

April 30, 2013

Leadership in the state House prefers its changes to Citizens Property Insurance Corp. rather than the more sweeping measure that the Senate has already approved.

Through an amendment, the House on Monday replaced language in a 101-page Senate measure (SB 1770) with the House’s more narrow approach (HB 909), absent vast portions of the bill senators approved on April 25.

Both proposals are aimed at reducing the number of policies in the state-backed insurer.

There are a number of differences – but the bottom line on the bill comes down to what it will mean for homeowners. Citizens rates have been kept artificially low, and changes could mean higher premiums – a fear that has made many coastal lawmakers skittish.

“We’ve made a commitment to not raise rates and we feel the Senate version would raise rates,” said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Venice, a sponsor of the House effort. “The governor has been pretty clear on his message from beginning to end that he’s not going to support anything that has any kind of perceived rate increase and we feel that our product is a product that is suitable in all three bodies of government.”

The House is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday before sending the amended measure back to the Senate.

“The bill that we’ve amended sends it back to the Senate with no provisions that will raise rates,” said Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, a frequent critic of Citizens. “The consumer is protected for another year.”

The Senate bill maintains a 10 percent cap on rate increases for current Citizens policy holders, but new policyholders would have to pay “actuarially sound rates,” which could result in premiums having to double to reach “actuarially sound totals” for coastal areas with wind-only accounts.

Opponents have said that could slow down the housing recovery, making homebuyers unwilling to purchase in coastal areas where they’d be Citizens customers.

The House bill doesn’t move new customers into rates that are considered more actuarially sound.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, said he looks forward to negotiating the final bill with the House, but says the Senate bill won’t raise rates for current customers.

“These people who are getting the lower rates are not even paying what the other Citizens policy holders are paying,” Simmons said.  “This isn’t some huge increase in rates that exist, this is simply bringing them up to parity if in fact someone was to purchase.”

The House measure would keep also unregulated surplus line carriers out of a new clearinghouse that is intended to take the least risky policies out of Citizens and put them into the private market. The House, in fact, sent a message on that point on Monday, rejecting by a 51-65 vote a separate measure (HB 7093) focused strictly on the creation of the clearinghouse that would have allowed surplus line carriers to participate.

Unlike regulated domestic carriers, surplus line companies are not required to have their rates approved by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation.

The House bill also doesn’t give the governor a direct say in the selection of Citizens’ president, and maintains the state-backed company’s exemption from bad faith litigation.

Gov. Rick Scott has pushed for the creation of an inspector general to oversee daily issues within the company, following reports last year of lavish spending by executives. 0

Overall, the House proposal has 19 changes that are in the Senate bill, including the creation of an inspector general position, the clearinghouse, prohibition on coverage for new structures seaward of the coastal construction control line, and a requirement that policy holders sign a statement that acknowledges an understanding of their liability risk.

The bill doesn’t include 36 other provisions that are in the package.

Among the differences: lifting of Citizens’ exemption from bad faith litigation; requiring all non-residential policies to be actuarially sound; reintroducing coverage for screened enclosures and carports on mobile homes with a minimum insured value of $3,000; requiring members of the Citizens board of governors to be confirmed by the Senate; and changing Citizens’ president from a board of governors’ appointment into an executive director position selected by the governor and chief financial officer.

Also, the Senate bill reduces the maximum value of property that could be covered from $1 million to $500,000 by 2019, while the House is proposing the cap be lowered to $700,000 by 2017.

by The News Service of Florida

Wahoos Split Doubleheader To End Road Trip

April 30, 2013

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos settled for a split in their doubleheader with the Tennessee Smokies on Monday afternoon, winning game one 3-0 before falling in the second game 3-0 at Smokies Park.

Pensacola jumped on top early in game one, scoring in each of their first three at-bats. In the first, Travis Mattair snapped an 0-for-23 skid with an RBI single to score Ryan LaMarre. Brodie Greene smashed his second homer of the season an inning later to make it 2-0, and LaMarre capped the scoring with an RBI single in the third inning that scored Devin Lohman.

That was more than enough for Pensacola starter Josh Smith (3-2) who extended his personal scoreless streak to 16 innings with five shutout frames. Smith allowed just two hits, struck out four and walked two to win his third consecutive decision. Drew Hayes picked up his first save of the season with two strikeouts in the seventh.

Eric Jokisch (3-1) took his first loss of the season by giving up all three runs on six hits in five innings for Tennessee.

Game two was scoreless headed to the last of the seventh before Jae-Hoon Ha launched a pinch-hit, two-out, three-run homer that gave the Smokies the walk-off victory. The Wahoos appeared to catch a break on the previous batter when Rubi Silva was held at third base on a hard-hit single off the right field wall, but Pensacola wasn’t able to escape before Ha’s blast.

The Wahoos mustered just one hit against game two starter Kyle Hendricks, a sixth-inning single from Lohman. Hendricks struck out eight over six innings but was dealt a no-decision. Marcus Hatley (1-0) picked up the win in relief by tossing the seventh inning.

Wilkin De La Rosa (0-1) took the loss for the Wahoos by giving up the three-run homer in the seventh. Tim Crabbe earned a no-decision despite five shutout frames in which he allowed just three hits and struck out three.

The Wahoos will have an off day on Tuesday before returning home for the first of five on Wednesday with the Montgomery Biscuits at Bayfront Stadium. Chad Rogers gets the start for Pensacola against Montgomery’s Jacob Thompson. First pitch is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. All fans are encouraged to wear blue as part of the “BLUE OUT” as the Wahoos honor the Blue Angels throughout the night.

story by Kevin Burke

Two Arrested For Sunday Night Homicide

April 29, 2013

Two people have been arrested in connection with a homicide Sunday night near the Pensacola Country Club.

Taikwan Keman Crosby, 25, has been charged with robbery and homicide,  and Damien Holt Shiver, 19,  has been charged with accessory after the fact and tampering with evidence.

Deputies responded to a burglary in progress call shortly before midnight in the 1300 block Wisteria Avenue. Neighbors reported a man that was allegedly trying to break into a 2006 Honda Civic.  Arriving deputies found James David Faucett, 60,  in the living room of the residence. Faucett was pronounced deceased at the scene by EMS.

The Honda Civic was located Monday morning in the parking lot of Kmart on Mobile Highway.

Atmore Convenience Store Armed Robbery Under Investigation

April 29, 2013

The Atmore Police Department is investigating a weekend armed robbery at a local convenience store.

About 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Atmore Police responded to a robbery at the Kangaroo Express on West Nashville Avenue. The suspect or suspects entered the store demanding money and brandishing a firearm, police said Monday morning.  The suspect or suspects fled the scene after taking an unspecified amount of cash.

Atmore Police established a perimeter around the store, and a K-9 team from the Alabama Department of Corrections responded and tracked a scent to the Westside Park on Wilson Avenue before losing the suspect’s trail.

Anyone with information on the robbery is asked to call the Atmore Police Department at (251) 368-9141.

Portion Of Byrneville Elementary Evacuated Due To Electrical Surges

April 29, 2013

A portion of Byrneville Elementary School was evacuated Monday morning following an electrical problem.

Several portable buildings on the north side of the school , including the school library, reportedly experienced some sort of electrical surge about 9:30 a.m. that caused sparking in at least one building. The students in the portable buildings were evacuated into the main school building.

The Century Station of Escambia Fire Rescue responded to the school to investigate, and Escambia River Electric Cooperative also responded to the scene. Firefighters remained on scene until almost 11:30 a.m. Monday.

The problem was reportedly traced to a bad neutral in the power supply to school.

There were no injuries.

Task Force Tours Potential 4-H Locations, Set To Issue Report Soon

April 29, 2013

A task force on a fact-finding mission about potential future land for Escambia County 4-H is just a few weeks away from issuing a preliminary report to a University of Florida dean.

After reviewing the report, UF/IFAS Extension Dean Nick Place could choose to act on the task force’s findings or ask the group to continue its fact-finding research. The task force was created following the sale of the 240-acre Langley Bell 4-H Center to Navy Federal Credit Union for $3.6 million. From the sale proceeds, $2 million was placed in an endowment fund with interest used to support Escambia County 4-H, and $1.6 million was reserved for 4-H use under the guidance of UF/IFAS.

“I look forward to studying the task force report and reviewing some well researched options that will serve 4-H needs,” Place said.

Saturday, task force members and other interested parties toured  potential properties which might be used or purchased by Escambia County 4-H for animal science, outdoor and environmental educational activities:

  • Escambia County Equestrian Center, 7750 Mobile Hwy, Pensacola
  • Pensacola Interstate Fairgrounds ,6655 Mobile Highway, Pensacola
  • Roy Hyatt Environmental Center, 1300 Tobias Road, Cantonment
  • Beck’s Lake Road Property, Cantonment
  • Cottage Hill State Forest, McKenzie Rd, Cantonment
  • Bayer Crop Science Facility, 2996 Crabtree Church Road, Molino
  • Proposed 4H Site, 5000 block of N Hwy. 29,Molino
  • Proposed 4H Site, 4000 block of Barrineau Park Road, Molino
  • Proposed 4H Site,1700 block of Jacks Branch Road, Cantonment

Escambia County commissioners have also agreed to spend $1.5 million in local option sales tax money to build a new 4-H center on Stefani Road, next to the current Escambia County Extension Service.

Pictured: Two of the buildings located on the Bayer Crop Science Facility in Molino, one of the properties being considered by a task force for Escambia County 4-H. Courtesy photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Florida Lawmakers Finish Up Budget Deal

April 29, 2013

Lawmakers sealed an agreement on a $74 billion budget deal late Sunday for the fiscal year that begins July 1, locking down language on $480 million in teacher pay raises, a new formula for paying hospitals under the Medicaid program and a few projects for key lawmakers’ districts.

The agreement came well ahead of a Tuesday deadline for hammering out the final budget bill — something lawmakers highlighted — and after days of negotiations that included 30 public meetings, according to the counting of Senate Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

Lawmakers still have to hammer out compromises on a handful of budget-related “conforming” bills.

It was also the first time in years that state revenues kept lawmakers from considering deep cuts into programs like education and health care.

“Even though our budget picture is brighter than it has been before, we didn’t go on a spending spree,” Negron said.

Under the deal on teacher pay raises, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top two priorities, teachers rated as “effective” would receive a raise of at least $2,500, while those rated “highly effective” would get $3,500. The raises wouldn’t be paid out, though, until June 2014.

Scott, who had pushed for a $2,500 across-the-board raise, still hailed the agreement in a statement late Sunday. His office said the proposal could pave the way for every teacher to get a raise of at least $2,000.

“I want to thank the House and the Senate for ensuring that we build on our work to implement performance pay, while also allowing school districts the flexibility to use the $480 million in new funding to give every Florida teacher a pay raise,” Scott said. “Our teachers are some of the best in the nation and they deserve to be rewarded for their great work.”

Scott’s initial plan — which was also set at $480 million — had called for the pay raise to be split among classroom teachers. While the House and Senate proposal applies to a wider array of school workers, lawmakers said they were confident that the funding would cover the raises.
Florida Education Association President Andy Ford, also quoted in Scott’s release, also applauded the agreement.

“Through the collective bargaining process, FEA remains committed to working with local school districts to develop fair, valid, reliable and transparent processes to reward the success of Florida’s teaching force,” Ford said.

The fine print of the budget agreed to Sunday night also sets a new formula for hospital reimbursements for services provided to Medicaid patients. The details of that formula — known as diagnosis related groups, or DRGs — were closely watched, though safety-net hospitals had already secured enough funding in earlier talks to be comfortable with the change.

During the conference meeting, Negron also laced into the “turkey list” released annually by TaxWatch, a nonprofit organization whose annual report logs so-called budget turkeys. Negron called out the group’s tendency to zero in on projects that were added in the conference process or weren’t recommended by agencies.

“If you check the Florida Constitution, it’s the responsibility of the Legislature to write the state budget,” Negron said.

His statement came as questions were raised about a project at Gulf Coast State College, in the district of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. The project went from $300,000 in the Senate budget to $17.5 million in the Senate’s initial offer on education construction projects Saturday; it was dropped back to $14 million through a change approved Sunday.

The $14 million amount for the project, which was initially entitled “Advanced Technology Center” but is now set to be listed as “construct STEM building” — for science, technology, engineering and mathematics — still amounts to an increase of nearly 4,567 percent from the amount in the first Senate budget.

Gaetz’s spokeswoman confirmed that the Senate president selected the projects that would appear in the Senate education construction budget. The Gulf Coast State College project was not included in the list of priorities submitted by the Department of Education.

“The DOE’s not in charge of writing the state budget,” Negron said when asked about that on Sunday.

By The News Service of Florida

Passenger In Olive Road Crash Dies

April 29, 2013

One person has died as result of injuries received in wreck following a traffic crash Sunday on Olive Road.

The Florida Highway Patrol said at 2:18 a.m. 25-year old Candace McArthur was closely following another vehicle westbound on Olive Road. Troopers said McArthur had been involved in an altercation with the other unidentified driver earlier in the evening.

The driver of the other vehicle switched into the opposite lane and braked to avoid McArthur’s 2002 Chevrolet Impala. McArthur lost control and over-corrected. The Impala slid across Olive Road and onto the shoulder before hitting tree.

McArthur was taken to Sacred Heart Hospital with serious injuries. Her passenger, 19-year old Cassidy Dunaway was transported to Sacred Heart in critical condition and was pronounced deceased Monday.

Traffic homicide charges are pending, according to FHP.

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