School Toy Drive Shuts Down Classroom

December 18, 2015

A toy drive in Atmore shut down one classroom. Escambia County High School teacher Tiffany Oliver challenged her students to bring in toys for a local toy drive. She challenged them to donate enough toys to block her classroom door to win a “get out of an assignment” pass. Courtesy photo for, click to enlarge.

Century Man Jailed As He Awaits Sentencing To More Prison Time In Drug Case

December 18, 2015

A Century man that recently completed a prison sentence for a drug crime is now back behind bars awaiting a sentence of more prison time due to an opinion issued in October by Florida’s First District Court of Appeals.

At a circuit court hearing this week before Judge J. Scott Duncan, 38-year old Steven Daniel Kite was remanded into custody without bond pending sentencing next month.

Kite was arrested as part of the “Operation Blister Pack 2″ sweep in April 2013.  It took an Escambia County jury just under an hour to find Kite guilty of  conspiracy to traffic in methamphetamine and unlawful possession of a listed chemical – pseudoephedrine.

However, Kite moved for and obtained a judgement of acquittal on the conspiracy to traffic count.  The trial judge cited two grounds for the judgement of acquittal — inaccurate wording and the failure to prove that there was any agreement between Kite and any other person to purchase and  deliver pseudoephedrine. The state appealed the ruling.

In October, the appeals court found the acquittal on the conspiracy to to traffic count to be incorrect and ordered  the trial court to reinstate the jury’s original guilty verdict.

The appeals court found that Kite did conspire to traffic in methamphetamine. Between December 2010 and April 2013, Kite made 53 purchases of pseudoephedrine, totaling 123.94 grams, from various pharmacies. He would deliver the package of pseudoephedrine to the home of a known methamphetamine cook and receive half a gram of meth each time in return.

According to the State Attorney’s Office, Kite faces a minimum mandatory sentence of seven years on the reinstated trafficking charge. The seven years must be served day by day without the possibility of parole or gain time. He will not be able to receive  any credit for the two years already served under the possession charge.

Kite previously received a two year sentence, with credit for 122 days previously served, on the possession charge. According to Florida Department of Corrections records, Kite was released from prison on September 20.

In 2013, Operation Blister Pack targeted nearly 80 individuals on  methamphetamine and pseudoephedrine related charges. Many of those arrested were  involved with drug groups dubbed “The Village Group”, centered around “The Village” area of Forrest Street and Lakeview Avenue in Cantonment; and “The Ayers Group”, a group centered around Ayers Street in Molino, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Offfice.

Ransom Middle Jazz Band Jazzes Up School District Luncheon

December 18, 2015

The Ransom Middle School Jazz Band set the mood Wednesday during a performance at the annual Escambia County School District’s Holiday Luncheon. The event was held at the J.E. Hall Center in Pensacola. Courtesy photos for, click to enlarge.

More Red Bulbs In Fire Safety Wreath

December 18, 2015

Friday, Escambia County Fire Rescue responded to a fire incident on the 5100 block of Plateau Rd., resulting in the seventh green light being replaced for the “Keep the Wreath Green” fire safety campaign.

The the first 911 call was received Friday, Dec. 18, at 1:25 a.m., with on-site crews reporting flames and smoke showing from a single-wide mobile home. The fire was brought under control at 2:06 a.m., but the structure and contents of the home resulted in a total loss. The residents of the home have been displaced, and the fire incident is currently under investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s office.

Recently, Escambia County Fire Rescue responded to a structure fire on the 700 block of Citrus Street. The first  911 call was received at 8:40 a.m. Tuesday with on-site crews reporting smoke and flames showing from a mobile home. Escambia County Fire Rescue was able to extinguish the fire, but the structure and contents of the home resulted in a total loss. Residents have been displaced and are being assisted by the American Red Cross. The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire.

Last week, crews also responded to a structure fire off New  Warrington Road. The first 911 call was received at 5:04 p.m., and the fire was brought under control at 7:37 p.m. Flames were caused by an electrical fire, and no injuries were reported.

The “Keep the Wreath Green” fire safety campaign is a collaborative initiative with City of Pensacola and Santa Rosa County to promote fire safety during the month of December. During the month-long campaign, five-foot wreaths will be on display at 23 different county fire stations. Every time firefighters respond to a residential fire, a green light bulb will be replaced with a red one to remind citizens of the dangers posed by holiday decorations.

Santa Visits Bratt Elementary

December 18, 2015

Fourth grade students in Mrs. Hammac’s class were among those at Bratt Elementary School that were visited by Santa Thursday. The class  also enjoyed a special treat from stockings that had been hung by the chimney (with care). Submitted photos for, click to enlarge.

Luna Colony Found In Pensacola – America’s First Multi-Year European Settlement

December 17, 2015

The University of West Florida archaeology program recently identified the archaeological site of the Luna settlement – the first multi-year European settlement in the United States – in a developed neighborhood in Pensacola.

The artifacts discovered are evidence of the Spanish settlement by Tristán de Luna y Arellano from 1559 to 1561, the earliest multi-year European colonial settlement ever archaeologically identified in the United States.

The work began on Oct. 2, 2015, when Pensacola native Tom Garner discovered Spanish colonial and Native American artifacts at a privately owned residential lot within view of the two uncovered shipwrecks in Pensacola Bay, which were also linked to the Luna expedition. In 1983, Garner attended a UWF archaeology field school led by Dr. Judith Bense, founder of the UWF archaeology program and current University president. Garner is well versed in the identification of historical artifacts and aware of areas considered likely candidates for the location of the Luna settlement.

After multiple visits and surface collections, Garner brought the artifacts to the UWF archaeology lab on Oct. 30, 2015. Dr. John Worth (left), associate professor of historical archaeology, is an archaeology and ethnohistory expert and focuses on the Spanish colonial era in the southeastern U.S.

“What we saw in front of us in the lab that day was an amazing assemblage of mid-16th century Spanish colonial period artifacts,” said Worth. “These items were very specific to this time period. The University conducted fieldwork at this site in the mid-1980s, as have others since then, but no one had ever found diagnostics of the sort that Tom found on the surface. People have looked for this site for a long time.”

With the cooperation and support of residents and property owners, UWF began test excavations at the site and recovered additional artifacts in undisturbed context. Worth is the principal site investigator and Dr. Elizabeth Benchley, director of the UWF archaeology program, provides administrative and financial support. Garner also recently joined the team as a research assistant and neighborhood liaison for the project.

UWF archaeologists recovered numerous sherds of broken 16th century Spanish ceramics found undisturbed beneath the ground surface. They are believed to be pieces of assorted cookware and tableware, including liquid storage containers called olive jars. Small personal and household items were also among the findings – a lead fishing line weight, a copper lacing aglet and wrought iron nail and spike fragments. Additionally, the team recovered beads known to have been traded with Native Americans. These items are consistent with materials previously identified in the shipwrecks offshore in Pensacola Bay.

The artifacts were linked to the Spanish expedition led by Tristán de Luna y Arellano, who brought 1,500 soldiers, colonists, slaves and Aztec Indians in 11 ships from Veracruz, Mexico, to Pensacola to begin the Spanish colonization of the northern Gulf Coast in 1559. One month after they arrived, the colony was struck by a hurricane, sinking many of their ships and devastating their food supplies. After two years, the remnants of the colony were rescued by Spanish ships and returned to Mexico.

The Luna settlement inhabited Pensacola from 1559 to 1561, which predates the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine, Florida, by six years, and the English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia, by 48 years.

“If the Luna expedition hadn’t been devastated by a massive hurricane and had instead achieved its original goal, the reasons and circumstances surrounding the 1565 establishment of St. Augustine might never have happened,” explained Worth. “If Florida had grown as an extension of New Spain through Pensacola on the Gulf Coast to Santa Elena on the Atlantic, the history of the United States itself could have evolved quite differently.”

The winter encampment of Hernando de Soto’s Spanish exploratory expedition to Tallahassee, Florida, from 1539 to 1540, is the only earlier European habitation site positively identified by archaeologists in the southeastern U.S. Two earlier Spanish colonial settlements have yet to be found – those of Juan Ponce de León near Fort Myers, Florida, in 1521 and of Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón near Brunswick, Georgia, in 1526. However, neither settlement lasted more than a few weeks.

The discoveries made at the site of the Luna settlement signify that the two shipwrecks previously discovered in Pensacola Bay were wrecked at the anchorage for the entire Luna fleet. The first shipwreck was discovered by the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research, and the second was found by UWF. The second shipwreck is currently being excavated by UWF with the assistance of a Florida Division of Historical Resources Special Category Grant. This new information about the location of the settlement may help UWF archaeologists narrow the field of search for the remaining shipwrecks.

With the continued cooperation of residents and property owners, UWF archaeologists will continue to examine the neighborhood to determine the extent and organization of the site.

“The shipwrecks have provided a tremendous insight into the nature of the machinery that brought Spain to the New World and how they operated this entire vast empire,” explained Worth. “In terms of understanding who they were after coming to the New World, this kind of archaeology at the terrestrial site will provide us that window.”

The UWF archaeology program includes a select group of 13 full-time professional archaeologists, nine support staff and numerous graduate students. The program has a rich history of significant instruction, research and public outreach in the Pensacola region. Exhibits displaying UWF research and Pensacola area archaeology are open to the public at the UWF Archaeology Institute, T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum and Destination Archaeology at the Florida Public Archaeology Network Coordinating Center.

Experiential learning is a key component of undergraduate and graduate education at UWF. Each summer, the archaeology program offers multiple 10- to 11-week field school sections – like the one Garner attended in 1983 – during which students receive hands-on experience and develop skills necessary for employment. The University plans to include the Luna settlement site in field school sections led by Worth in Summer 2016.

“It’s hard to believe that this opportunity is finally here,” said Worth. “Not only do we know where the site is, but now we get to explore it.”

In order to protect the neighborhood and the integrity of the site, the UWF archaeology program does not plan to disclose the exact location of the Luna settlement.

FHP Looking For Owner Of Lost Items

December 17, 2015

The Florida Highway Patrol found a box on Highway 29 near Becks Lake Road in Cantonment this morning that contained several new items that may have been intended to be Christmas presents.

If you lost the box, call the Florida Highway Patrol at (850) 484-5000 to identify the items and claim.

Same Sex Couples Seek Ruling In Birth Certificate Dispute

December 17, 2015

Nearly a year after same-sex marriages started in Florida, a legal decision could be looming in a dispute about birth certificates for children of same-sex couples.

Two couples and an advocacy group asked a federal judge last week to require the Florida Department of Health to list both spouses on birth certificates of children born into same-sex marriages — as the department typically does when married parents are a man and a woman.

The request for summary judgment, which would short-circuit the need for a trial, contends that the department’s refusal to list both spouses in same-sex marriages on birth certificates violates couples’ constitutional rights.

“Defendants’ (agency officials’) refusal to issue birth certificates listing both parents when a same-sex spouse gives birth to a child in Florida treats married same-sex couples differently than married different-sex couples, denying married same-sex couples one of the most important protections provided to married couples under state law,” said the document filed in federal court in Tallahassee. “Defendants’ conduct exposes plaintiffs and their children to serious harms, while serving no legitimate, much less compelling, state interest.”

But department attorneys argue that the agency does not have the power to make the change on its own. At least one of the issues in the case is a state law that says if a “mother is married at the time of birth, the name of the husband shall be entered on the birth certificate as the father of the child, unless paternity has been determined otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction.”

“Defendants (agency officials) contend that the department is an executive agency whose powers are limited to the ability to administer and enforce the laws and rules related to the state of Florida’s public health system including the authority to act as the state’s registrar of vital statistics pursuant to (a section of state law),” according to an October court document that outlines the positions of both sides. “Therefore, the department lacks the authority to revise existing legislation or to apply case law in a manner that invalidates existing legislation without clear judicial authority to do so.”

The lawsuit, whose plaintiffs include the Equality Florida Institute advocacy group, was filed in August, about seven months after same-sex marriages began in Florida. The lawsuit also came less than two months after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a legal right for same-sex couples to marry.

Two of the plaintiffs in the birth certificate case, Kari Chin and Deborah Chin, were married 2013 in Massachusetts, with Kari Chin giving birth in February 2015 to a son, according to last week’s filing. The Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics issued a birth certificate listing Kari Chin as a parent but declined to list both spouses.

The other plaintiffs, Alma Vazquez and Yadira Arenas, were married in 2013 in New York, with Vazquez giving birth in March 2015 to a daughter. The court filing said Vazquez was told she had to be listed as unmarried to get a birth certificate for the child.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle has set a Jan. 6 deadline for the Department of Health to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. Hinkle last year ruled that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, which set the stage for marriages to begin.

by Jim Sanders, The News Service of Florida

Military, Gulf Power Partner On Solar Power Project

December 17, 2015

Beginning a unique new relationship between the Navy, Air Force and Gulf Power, a ground-breaking ceremony was held Wednesday at Naval Air Station Pensacola, marking the start of construction for three large-scale solar electric generating facilities.

Combined, these facilities will have approximately 1.5 million solar panels that could generate or 120 megawatts — enough to power about 18,000 homes on a sunny day. The endeavor will be one of  the largest solar energy projects east of the Mississippi River.

Gulf Power and its third party developer Coronal Development Services will construct three  facilities — one at NAS Pensacola, one at NAS Whiting Field and one at Eglin Air Force Base. On April 16 the Florida Public Service Commission, approved of all three project plans.

The Navy and the Air Force recently signed land lease agreements with Gulf Power. The energy farms will be constructed at Navy Outlying Landing Field Saufley near NAS  Pensacola (50 MW), Navy Outlying Landing Field Holley near NAS Whiting Field (40 MW),  and at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton Beach (30 MW).

“Together, we can provide physical security to the assets, increase the regional grid resiliency and upgrade the energy infrastructure where our Sailors and aviators live and work, as well as  stimulate economic activity through development. Energy, the economy, the environment and our national security are bound together; you cannot affect one without affecting the others, and these projects have positive benefits in all four dimensions,” said Dennis V. McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.

According to Gulf Power President and CEO Stan Connally, these solar projects help Gulf Power to further diversify its energy portfolio and support the mission to provide safe, affordable and reliable energy to its Northwest Florida customers.

“This is an important collaboration between Gulf Power, the Navy and Air Force,” said Connally. “Through careful planning, we¹ve been able to work alongside our military partners to help support solutions for them to meet federal renewable energy and energy conservation mandates, while Gulf Power pursues cost-effective forms of renewable energy at the same time.”

The parties anticipate these solar facilities to be operational by December 2016 and serve all  Gulf Power customers. The 50 megawatt facility at Saufley Fied will power about 7,400 Escambia County homes.

Pictured top: ilitary, government and industry officials break gournd for Florida’s largest solar energy project Wednesday aboard NAS Pensacola.  U.S. Navy photo by Ens. Anthony Junco. Pictured inset: Solar panels. Courtesy photos for, click to enlarge.

Concealed Weapons Licenses Now Available In Escambia County

December 17, 2015

Concealed weapons licenses can now be processed in Escambia County.

Beginning today, concealed weapons license applications will be processed by appointment only at the Escambia County Tax Collector’s Warrington location at 4051 Barrancas Ave, Ste. A. The office is open 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday- Friday.

To make an appointment, click here.

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