Two Pedestrians Struck On Bayou Boulevard Now In Stable Condition

December 18, 2014

Two pedestrians remain hospitalized in stable condition after they crossed the road in front of an SUV Wednesday night and were struck by the vehicle.

The incident occurred around 7:15 p.m. on Bayou Boulevard near the north entrance to Applebee’s.

Soul Danh, 70, of Pensacola was eastbound on Bayou Boulevard in a Toyota 4Runner and was merging into a turn lane to go north on Ninth Avenue when the pedestrians walked in front of him, said Pensacola Police Officer Dan Bell.

Bell said a 39-year-old woman was talking on her call phone while she and her four children walked across the road. The woman’s five-year-old daughter was also struck by the vehicle and was in critical condition Wednesday night.

Officer Jason Browning said the pedestrians, who were crossing the road from south to north, were not in a crosswalk. Browning said the incident remains under investigation.

Scott, State Workers Still At Odds Over Drug Testing

December 18, 2014

After racking up more than $650,000 in legal fees, Florida Gov. Rick Scott is refusing to back down from his drug-testing crusade, most recently objecting to an attempt to close a drawn-out legal battle over requiring state workers to submit to urinalysis.

Scott, who campaigned on the issue of drug-testing welfare recipients in his first run for governor in 2010, has lost nearly every courtroom attempt to require drug screenings for state workers and applicants for the welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. The governor asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on his employee drug-testing policy, but the court turned him down in April.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that Scott could not constitutionally justify drug testing for all types of state employees without a reason, though it said testing could occur for some workers such as those in “safety-sensitive” positions.

A federal judge in Miami forced Scott and the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represents a state workers’ union, to hash out which jobs should be taken off the table. U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro appointed a special master to oversee negotiations between Scott and the ACLU. The talks dragged on for months, and special master Louis Brown’s tab is more than $100,000 so far, with the state paying $70,000 and the ACLU responsible for the rest.

Now, the ACLU wants to amend its lawsuit by limiting the legal challenge to the job classes on which the governor has already relented. In its request, the ACLU argued that the workers are entitled to a final decision guaranteeing that they are not subject to suspicion-less drug testing.

“At this point, the governor cannot escape the conclusions of law in the prior appeal — namely that ‘[s]urrendering to drug testing in order to remain eligible for a government benefit such as employment … is not the type of consent that automatically renders a search reasonable as a matter of law … and that the governor’s ‘generic’ interests in a ’safe and efficient workplace’ do not constitute a special need because they would otherwise eviscerate the Fourth Amendment’s individualized suspicion requirement,” ACLU lawyer Shalini Goel Agarwal wrote in the amended complaint filed late last month.

But, in a response filed late Monday, Scott’s lawyer argued strenuously against cutting short the lawsuit, accusing the ACLU of trying to turn a partial victory into a total win by getting a ruling only on the types of jobs in which the governor has already agreed he can’t justify drug testing without a reason.

“Its request to obtain a one-sided final judgment on a subset of positions is an attempt to side-step the orders of both this court and the Eleventh Circuit, and to deny the governor the opportunity to obtain a judgment as to the positions the union has agreed he may constitutionally drug test pursuant to (Scott’s executive order), as well as those positions he intends to establish are legally subject to testing. This strategy raises legitimate questions about the union’s motives,” attorney Thomas Bishop wrote.

The state has paid Bishop nearly $180,000 since he started working on the case earlier this year. Taxpayers could also be on the hook for at least $180,000 in legal fees incurred by the ACLU.

Thus far, the state has also racked up $307,883.62 in legal fees and costs in the welfare-applicants testing case, according to the Department of Children and Families. That does not include potentially hefty charges for legal fees from the ACLU. A federal appeals court earlier this month ruled that mandatory, suspicion-less drug testing of TANF applicants is unconstitutional, but Scott has not yet said whether he will appeal.

In the state-worker case, Scott this summer agreed that people in more than 700 types of jobs — more than half of about 13,000 employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees including accountants, economists and translators — should not be required to undergo the drug screens without reason. Last month, Scott and the ACLU added another 203 job classes to the list.

But, while Scott has agreed not to test those classes of jobs, he has not conceded that forcing state employees to undergo urinalysis is unconstitutional despite court rulings that initiated the compromises.

The courts have ruled that flat-out drug testing of all state workers violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. But some workers, such as those who carry weapons, can be forced to submit to random urine tests if the state can show a “special interest” for doing so.

It has taken a year for Scott to come up with a list of workers who meet the criteria, Agarwal said.

“As we said in our motion, what plaintiff has been seeking for the three-and-a-half years is to vindicate the principle that mandatory, across-the-board testing of employees and job applicants is unconstitutional. So our motion to amend the complaint seeks to bring a close to this three-and-a-half-year long saga to establish that principle,” Agarwal told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday. “We’ve come to this point because it’s taken that long to get him to admit who it is that he can’t test.”

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

15 Charged In Cocaine Trafficking Ring

December 18, 2014

A drug sting has resulted in 15 total arrests from the Pensacola and Houston areas. Of those, 13 were jointly indicted on federal drug trafficking and money laundering violations. They include:

  • Rodney D. Butler, 48;
  • Vernetta E. Harrison, 31;
  • Aston Ingram, 49;
  • Antonio Blackwell, 30;
  • Anthony Fisher, Jr., 25;
  • Terrance D. Goodman, 38;
  • Dexter A. Locke, 26;
  • Michael A. McCants, 27;
  • Lamarcus D. Ries, 28;
  • Rodney D. Ries, 26;
  • Nastassja N. Sassau, 27;
  • Charlie N. Steans, 47; and
  • Terrance T. Stone, 33.

In conjunction with this 13 co-defendant indictment, Darius D. Williams, 24, and Marheem R. Smith, 23, of Pensacola, were separately indicted on related federal firearms charges. The
indictment was announced Wednesday by Pamela C. Marsh, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

The defendants are expected to face trial in February.

The indictments are part of a continuing investigation into the transportation of cocaine from Texas into Northwest Florida.

The investigation was conducted by the  Drug Enforcement Administration; Homeland Security Investigations; the Internal Revenue Service; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office; the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office; the Gulf Breeze Police Department; the Pensacola Police Department; and the State Attorney’s Office.

Florida Republicans Blast Obama’s Cuba Moves, Dems Cautious

December 18, 2014

President Barack Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with Cuba sparked a firestorm of protest among Florida Republicans and caution among Democrats, proving that the future of America’s dealings with the island nation 90 miles away remains a sensitive issue in the state.

In a noontime speech Wednesday from the White House, Obama told the nation that he had decided to normalize the United States’ relationship with Cuba after the release of Alan Gross, an American who had been held prisoner on the island for five years. While the U.S. and Cuba traded the freedom of some intelligence agents as part of the multi-pronged deal announced Wednesday, administration officials said Gross’ release was done separately on humanitarian grounds.

Obama stressed in his remarks that the U.S. would still pressure Cuba, ruled by President Raul Castro, to improve its record on democracy and human rights.

“But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement,” he said. “After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

While Obama’s actions would ease some economic and travel restrictions toward Cuba, they would not end the U.S. embargo on the island.

It was hard to tell immediately how the surprising decision might play in Florida, where Cuban-Americans remain a vitally important voting bloc. Once staunchly Republican, refugees from the island and their descendants have recently begun to more evenly split their ballots between the GOP and Democrats.

Nonetheless, the state’s Republican politicians — and particularly those of Cuban descent — tore into the president’s announcement.

“It is a victory for the oppressive Cuban government, but a serious setback for the repressed Cuban people,” said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “The White House has conceded everything and gained little.”

Rubio, considered a possible contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, said he would look at ways to try to block Obama’s actions as he took over chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican who has begun to formally explore a bid for the presidency, also knocked the move.

“The Obama administration’s decision to restore diplomatic ties with Cuba is the latest foreign policy misstep by this president, and another dramatic overreach of his executive authority,” Bush said in a post to his Facebook page. “It undermines America’s credibility and undermines the quest for a free and democratic Cuba.”

Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, believed to be the first Latino to hold that position, also joined in.

“I am relieved for Alan Gross and his family,” Lopez-Cantera said. “However, Cuba has a brutal dictatorship and the Obama administration’s actions only legitimize their oppressive behavior and make it harder for the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy.”

Some Cuban-Americans, though, painted their opposition less in terms of ties to the island and more in terms of what it said about the nation they now call home.

“I’m really insulted, and not because my parents were political exiles, and not because I come from a long line of family (members) that fled the island, but as an American, as an American who values freedom and who values all our principles and what this country was founded on,” Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, said.

Even some Democrats were cautious.

“The Cuban regime continues to brutally imprison political dissidents, block access to the Internet and the free flow of information, and deny the people of Cuba free and fair elections,” said Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who holds a South Florida seat. “As Congress reviews the president’s proposals in the weeks and months ahead, I will do everything I can to make sure these critical human-rights issues remain front and center in this debate.”

Some Democrats, though, were more supportive of the president.

“As Americans, we fought two wars with Germany, experienced a terrible conflict with Vietnam and have been able to move forward each time based on concerns for the people of those countries,” said Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who represents a Tampa Bay-area district. “It is long past time that we do the same for the people of Cuba.”

A senior administration official, speaking to reporters on a conference call ahead of Obama’s remarks, noted that attitudes among some Cuban-Americans about the U.S. approach to the island are changing.

“The Cuban-American population, particularly younger generations of Cuban-Americans have increasingly supported greater openness,” the official said. ” … There’s been a continued evolution of public opinion, of opinion in the Cuban-American community.”

State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Cuban-American Democrat from Miami seen as one of the rising stars in his party, said the objective was getting democracy for Cuba.

“U.S. policy toward Cuba hasn’t achieved that in 50 years,” he said, before saying he would have preferred a more deliberative approach. “It really feels rushed. A lot is happening very quickly.”

He pointed to the likelihood that a Cuban embassy would soon be set up in Washington.

“What does the cause of (Cuban) liberty get in return for that?” Rodriguez asked.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Bratt Second Graders Present ‘A Place In The Christmas Choir’

December 18, 2014

Bratt Elementary School second graders recently presented their Christmas musical  “A Place in the Christmas Choir”.

For a photo gallery, click here.

Photos by Blair Scott for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Scottish Rite Winterfest This Weekend At Equestrian Center

December 18, 2014

The first annual Scottish Rite Winterfest will be held Friday and Saturday the Escambia County Equestrian Center on Mobile Highway.

The event will include two full days of festivities, live music, cajun food, dancing, kids activities and vendors.  Free Parking and admission for kids under 12.

The schedule of events is as follows:

Friday December 19

  • 9:00 AM Gates open for Vendors and Stage Crew setup, ticket agents and ushers
  • 11:00 AM Gates open to Public
  • 11:30 AM Opening Ceremonies
  • 1:45 PM Exit 105 Band
  • 2:30 PM Kids Hip-Hop dancers
  • 3:00 PM Brooke Woods
  • 4:15 PM Brooke Woods
  • 5:00PM Belly Dancers
  • 5:30PM Emerald Coast Blues Brothers
  • 6:15 PM Break and announcements
  • 6:30 PM Emerald Coast Blues Brothers

Saturday December 20

  • 10:00 AM Gates open to Vendors and S.R. W.F CREWS
  • 10:00 AM Gumbo Cook-Off start warm up of Gumbo
  • 11:30 AM Gates open to Public
  • Noon Opening Ceremonies
  • 12:30 PM Hula Dancers/ Gumbo judging begins
  • 1:00 PM C and L Band
  • 1:45 PM Brooke Woods Students
  • 2:15 PM C and L Band
  • 3:00 PM Brooke Woods Students
  • 3:30 PM Shades of Blue Band
  • 4:15 PM Gumbo Cook-Off Trophy Presentation
  • 4:45 PM Shades of Blue Band
  • 5:30PM Present Thank You Plaque to County
  • Commissioner Wilson Robertson
  • 5:45PM Nouveau Cajun Xpress

Century Council Workshop Meeting To Discuss Economic Development Plan

December 17, 2014

The Century Town Council has scheduled a special workshop meeting for this  Thursday, December 18 at 3 p.m.

During the meeting, town council members and the mayor will meet with Brick Harris, co-director of the University of West Florida’s  Haas Center to discuss implementation of the town’s economic development plan.

The Haas Center recently developed Century’s economic development strategic plan, funding by a $25,000 grant.

State Attorney: Deputy Justified In April Shooting

December 17, 2014

The shooting of a Pensacola man by Escambia County Sheriff’s deputy last April has been ruled justified, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

During the early morning hours of April 14, deputies responded to the 3000 block of Bent Oak Road in reference to suicidal threats. Thomas Eugene Fillingim,  had been reported earlier as missing, armed and suicidal late the night before  had returned to the home.

When deputies arrived on scene Fillingim was in possession of a knife and had cut his own throat from ear to ear. Fillingim, armed with a knife, lunged at Deputy Albert Kalber who discharged his service weapon in self defense.

“Due to the circumstances faced at that moment in time, Deputy Kalber was justified in the use of deadly force at the time he shot Thomas Fillingim,” Assistant State Attorney Coleman Robinson concluded in his report.

Byrneville Students In Grades 3-5 Present Christmas Musical (With Gallery)

December 17, 2014

Byrneville Elementary School students in grades 3-5 presented their Christmas program – “Twinkle & Shine! A Musical That Celebrates the Light at the Top of the Tree” – Tuesday night at Northview High School.

For a photo gallery, click here.

For story and photos from Monday night’s grade K-2 performance, click here.

Photo by Raja Atallah for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Escambia Health Department Lifts Mosquito Borne Illness Alert

December 17, 2014

A mosquito-borne illness alert that was issued back in August   for Escambia County has been lifted, the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County announced Tuesday.

Although mosquito-borne illnesses are less common in the winter months, the health department still urges local residents to “Drain and Cover”  to protect against being bitten by mosquitoes:

Drain standing water.

  • Drain water from garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots or any other containers where sprinkler or rain water has collected. Water held in open containers in your house is also a potential breeding location for mosquitoes.
  • Discard old tires, bottles, pots, broken appliances and other items that aren’t being used.
  • Empty and clean birdbaths and pets’ water bowls at least twice a week.
  • When protecting boats and vehicles from rain, ensure that tarps don’t accumulate water.
  • Maintain swimming pools in good condition and keep them adequately chlorinated. Empty plastic swimming pools when not in use.

Cover skin with clothing or repellent and cover doors and windows.

  • Clothing – Wear shoes, socks, long pants and long sleeves when mosquitoes are most prevalent.
  • Use repellents with DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, or IR3535.
  • Always use repellents according to the label. Using too much repellent doesn’t make it work better or last longer.
  • Re-apply mosquito repellent as often as needed to prevent mosquito landings and bites.
  • When using repellent on children, apply to your hands first and then rub on their arms and legs.
  • Instead of repellent, use mosquito netting to protect children younger than 2 months old.
  • Place screens on windows, doors, porches, and patios. Always repair broken screens.

For more information contact the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County at (850) 595-6700 or visit www.EscambiaHealth.com.

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