Tornado Damage Assistance Application Deadline One Month Away

December 1, 2016

Time is running out to apply for funding from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, program to assist homeowners needing repair or replacement housing assistance as a result of the February tornadoes in Escambia County. Applications must be approved prior to December 31, 2016, so applicants are encouraged to contact the appropriate agency as soon as possible.

Potential applicants residing in unincorporated Escambia County, including the town of Century, should contact the Escambia County Neighborhood Enterprise Division at 850-595-3011, and those residing in the city of Pensacola limits should contact the City of Pensacola Housing Division at 850-858-0306.

Income limits apply, and the property must have been owner occupied at the time of the storm and current on property taxes to receive assistance.

Pictured: Tornado damage in Century. file photo, click to enlarge.

Two Arrested In Motel Room With Drugs

December 1, 2016

A Cantonment woman is one of two people facing charges after deputies allegedly found a trafficking quantity of drugs in her Pensacola motel room.

Kacie Nicole Cobb, 26, was charged with first degree felony methamphetamine trafficking and possession of drug paraphernalia. A second person occupying the room at the Red Roof Inn on Plantation Road was also charged. Dalton Ray Heckman, 25, was charged with possession of a controlled substance without a prescription and possession of drug paraphernalia. Two other individuals in the room were not immediately charged with any crime.

Inside the room, deputies reported finding 33 grams of methamphetamine, hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia, a small quantity of heroin, a 12 gauge short barrel shotgun, a loaded Colt 45 caliber handgun, a Ruger 45 caliber revolver, and additional ammunition.

Cobb remains in the Escambia County Jail with bond set at $101,000. Heckman remains jailed without bond due to an outstanding probation violation charge.

Hurricane Season Ends With First Florida Strikes In Over 10 Years

December 1, 2016

Florida ended its 2016 hurricane season Wednesday, marking the first time in more than a decade that the Sunshine State was hit by a hurricane.

When Hurricane Hermine came on shore near St. Marks, a coastal community south of Tallahassee, in the early morning hours of Sept. 2, it ended a record string of 3,966 days, or 10.87 years, without a hurricane making landfall in the state most prone to being hit by tropical storms, according to a new analysis by Colorado State University.

Prior to Hermine, a Category 1 storm, Florida was last hit by Hurricane Wilma, a 120-mph, Category 3 storm, which struck Southwest Florida on Oct. 24, 2005.

Florida also came close this year to a direct hit by a major hurricane, as Hurricane Matthew, which was the first Category 5 storm in the Atlantic basin since 2007, came within 50 miles of Florida’s East Coast, raking the state Oct. 6 and Oct. 7 before making landfall Oct. 8 in South Carolina as a 75 mph Category 1 hurricane.

Matthew’s near miss extended the United States’ streak of avoiding a landfall by a major hurricane, defined as a Category 3 storm with winds of 111 mph or higher, for 11 consecutive years, the longest streak based on records dating to 1851, according to Philip Klotzbach, the Colorado State University researcher who wrote the analysis. The last major landfall was with Wilma in 2005.

Although Matthew was a “close call” for Florida, the powerful storm caused extensive damage in coastal counties including Brevard, Volusia, St. Johns, Flagler and Duval. It knocked electrical power out for more than 1 million Florida homes and businesses.

Gov. Rick Scott, who faced his first hurricanes since taking office in 2011, said several lessons were learned from the storms. From Hermine, which plowed through Tallahassee and blacked out 80 percent of the electric power in the state capital, Scott said it underscored the need to better coordinate utility resources to restore power.

From Hurricane Matthew, which forced a number of counties to close schools for several days, Scott said the state “can work better at getting our schools opened faster.”

In terms of storm damage, the 2016 hurricane season fell far short of some of Florida’s worst seasons, including 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, which caused an estimated $24 billion in insured damages in Florida and Louisiana, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

With data reflected through October, the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation said Hermine resulted in $95 million in property-damage claims, with Leon County accounting for about 3,500 of the 18,222 claims.

Hurricane Matthew has resulted in more than 100,000 property-damage claims, representing $606 million in value. Volusia, Duval, Brevard, St. Johns and Flagler counties represented more than 70 percent of those claims.

Updated damage claim reports will be filed in December, according to state insurance regulators.

Citizens Property Insurance, the state-backed insurer, said it has paid out $10.7 million in claims related to Hermine and Matthew, with 84 percent of the 4,000 claims closed.

The impact was relatively light for the insurer, which has more than 472,000 policies representing $128 billion in exposure. But Barry Gilway, the Citizens president and CEO, said the 2016 storm season tested the insurer’s ability to handle hurricane claims.

“We clearly showed that Citizens is ready as we received excellent feedback for our claims handling from our customers,” Gilway said. “That said, we will continue to look for ways to improve.”

In a new analysis of the national property-insurance industry, Fitch Ratings said damage from Matthew, which also impacted other states, including Georgia and South Carolina, is likely to fall at the “low end” of estimates in the range of $2 billion to $8 billion.

The six-month hurricane season was in line with an August estimate from Colorado State University, which had predicted 15 named storms in the Atlantic basin. There were 15 storms, although the three major hurricanes and seven overall hurricanes each exceeded the estimate by one storm each.

The season began with Hurricane Alex, a rare powerful January storm that remained far out in the Atlantic. The season ended with Hurricane Otto, the latest calendar year Atlantic hurricane on record to make landfall. It hit southern Nicaragua as a Category 2 storm last Thursday.

by Lloyd Dunkelberger for, click to enlarge.

Pictured: Hurricane Matthew.

‘Keep The Wreath Green’ Fire Safety Campaign Begins (With Tips List)

December 1, 2016

Escambia County Fire Rescue, in collaboration with the Pensacola Fire Department, will launch its annual “Keep the Wreath Green” fire safety campaign on Thursday, Dec. 1. The campaign is designed to promote fire safety during the month of December, with both departments hoping to reduce the number of fires during this time.

During the month-long campaign, five-foot wreaths will be on display at 18 county fire stations and five city fire stations, with wreaths also placed outside Escambia County’s Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building downtown, the Escambia County Public Safety Building, Pensacola City Hall and Cordova Mall near the food court entrance. Each time firefighters respond to a residential fire with damage, a green light bulb will be replaced with a red one to remind citizens of the dangers posed by fires in residential home.

Escambia County Fire Rescue and the Pensacola Fire Department offer the following holiday safety tips, one for each day of the month:

Dec. 1 - Prior to buying a live tree, test its freshness by pulling along a small branch. If the needles fall away in your hand, the tree is already too dry.

Dec. 2 - Prior to buying an artificial tree, make sure the tree bears a UL label of approval, and be certain the tree is made of fire retardant materials.

Dec. 3 - To keep a live tree fresh, cut 1-2 inches from the bottom to expose fresh wood and place it in water. Make sure your tree stand can hold water. Check the water level every day, and add water as needed. Do not place trees near sources of heat like radiators, space heaters or heating ducts.

Dec. 4 - Use candles with care. Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets. Burn candles inside a 1-foot circle of safety, free of anything that can ignite. Use sturdy candle holders that will not tip over. Never leave a burning candle unattended.

Dec. 5 - Make sure all holiday lights are UL labeled and inspect them prior to use. If possible, use LED lights since they burn cooler. Check each set of lights for broken or crushed sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard all damaged lights.

Dec. 6 - When hanging holiday lights either on your tree or outside, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s guidelines on how many strands can be connected together. Usually it is not more than three. Make sure you do not overload electrical outlets or circuits. Do not run power cords underneath rugs or carpets.

Dec. 7 - When decorating, remember not to block stairways, doors or windows. Remember to always unplug lights and extinguish candles before leaving the house or going to bed.

Dec. 8 - Have a plan in case you have a fire: Step one – Design an emergency plan for your home and your family. Make sure everyone understands exactly what to do and where to go in an emergency. Also, make sure you have enough smoke alarms.

Dec. 9 - Have a plan in case you have a fire: Step two – Know two ways out of every room and practice them to make sure you can do it.

Dec. 10 - Have a plan in case you have a fire: Step three – Make sure you crawl low under smoke and feel closed doors for heat. If you come to a door that is warm, find another way out.

Dec. 11 - Have a plan in case you have a fire: Step four – If you become trapped, close doors and stuff the door cracks to keep smoke out. Try to call 911 and let them know exactly where you are, and signal for help from a window.

Dec. 12 - Have a plan in case you have a fire: Step five – Pay special attention to young children, elderly people and the disabled. Be sure to include them in your plan.

Dec. 13 - Have a plan in case you have a fire: Step six – Get out as fast as you can and stay out. Never go back inside. Once you’re safely outside, have someone go to a neighbor’s house and call 911.

Dec. 14 - Remember, matches and lighters are tools for adults. Store them in a safe place out of reach of children. Also, teach youngsters to never touch matches or lighters and instead tell a grownup if they find them.

Dec. 15 - Have a fire extinguisher readily available in your home, and make sure it is fully charged. Know how to use your fire extinguisher. Remember the PASS system:

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the trigger lever.
  • Sweep the stream side-to-side at the base of the fire.

Dec. 16 - Have your chimney and fireplace inspected by a professional to make sure they are clean and free of obstructions. Never burn paper or trash in the fireplace.

Dec. 17 - Be sure your fireplace is covered with a metal screen or glass doors to prevent the spread of sparks and fire.

Dec. 18 - Make sure to have a working smoke alarm outside of every bedroom and on every level of your house. Make sure to test them monthly and change batteries every time you change your clocks.

Dec. 19 - With children out of school, people doing yard work, dry vegetation, high winds and low humidity, remember that wildfires can happen quickly.

Dec. 20 - If you are enjoying the great outdoors during the holidays, don’t leave campfires or warming fires unattended – make sure they are completely out!

Dec. 21 - Never leave cooking food unattended. Handles on stovetop pots should be turned away from the front, so they won’t be accidentally tipped or knocked over.

Dec. 22 - Before you cook that holiday dinner, be sure that the oven and stovetop are clean, free of grease and are in good working order.

Dec. 23 - Keep cooking areas clean and free of grease and other combustibles (e.g. potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging), which can catch fire easily.

Dec. 24 - Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace because of the high flammability, dangerous sparks and possibility of flash fires.

Dec. 25 - Remember to be safety conscious and have a happy holiday.

Dec. 26 - When purchasing a space heater, look for heaters that have safety features such as cut-off switches that turn the heater off if it accidentally tips over or overheats.

Dec. 27 - Space heaters need space. Make sure they are at least 3 feet away from combustible materials such as draperies, furniture, bedding, clothing and decorations. Also teach youngsters to keep away from them.

Dec. 28 - Use only UL labeled space heaters and follow the manufactured instructions. Never use stoves, ovens or other cooking appliances to warm your home.

Dec. 29 - Turn space heaters off when you leave the room. Also, remember to constantly supervise children and pets when space heaters are in use.

Dec. 30 - Don’t cut up and burn your tree in the fireplace. Burning evergreens give off tar and creosol, which can ignite and cause a chimney fire. Dispose of your tree by following the instructions of your local trash disposal service.

Dec. 31 - Don’t drink and drive. Have a designated driver or call a friend.

Tate High Hosting Souper Bowl And Student Gallery Night

December 1, 2016

Tate High School will host its annual Souper Bowl and Student Gallery Night this Friday night from 5:30 until 7:30.

During the Souper Bowl, handmade ceramic bowls will be on sale for $10 and will come with a bowl of soup or chili and the fixings, plus a drink. There will also be additional ceramic items for sale. Twenty percent of the proceeds will benefit the Pensacola Human Society, with all the rest going to the ceramics program at Tate.

During the concurrent Student Gallery Night, Tate students will be selling their original artwork – including drawings, paintings, photos, prints, ceramics and more.  Organizers say it’s a great opportunity to get a unique holiday gift and perhaps a present for yourself.

For more information, contact Jennifer Rodriguez at (850) 937-2300 ext. 601 for more information.

Photos for, click to enlarge.

Highway 29 Closed By Nails, Screws After Pickup Truck Crash

November 30, 2016

Northbound Highway 29 was closed for about an hour Tuesday night due to a single vehicle traffic crash.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 32-year old Christopher Armour of Pensacola was northbound on Highway at Victory Road, just south of Barrineau Park Road. He attempted to change lanes and lost control, causing his 2006 Ford F150 to spin and then overturn several times into the median about 9:50 p.m.

Armour and his passenger, 21-year old Montana Ard of McDavid, were not injured.

The vehicle came to rest on its roof after it flipped, causing a large quantity of screws and nails from the truck’s cargo bed to be scattered over hundreds of feet of northbound Highway 29. Highway 29 northbound was closed from Quintette Road to Barrineau Park Road, with a detour on Highway 95A for the cleanup.  A FDOT contractor used a large blower to blow the debris off the roadway by 10:45 p.m.

Armour was cited for careless driving by the FHP. photos by Kristi Barbour, click to enlarge.

Quick Work Saves Century Home From Kitchen Fire

November 30, 2016

The quick work of responding firefighters save a Century home Tuesday night.

The kitchen fire was reported about 8:25 p.m. in the 9400 block of Old Flomaton Road. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze mostly to the kitchen.

The occupants of the home were able to escape without injury.

The Century, McDavid and Walnut Hill stations of Escambia Fire Rescue, the Flomaton Fire Department and the Jay Fire Department were dispatched to the fire. photos, click to enlarge.

Escambia County’s Top 10 Teachers Named

November 30, 2016

Escambia County’s Top 10 Teachers of the Year have been named.

They are (in alphabetical order):

Lisa Bloodworth – Workman Middle School

Lacey Brown – Jim Allen Elementary School

Angelia Grimes-Graeme – Hellen Caro Elementary School

Jessica Kelly – Cordova Park Elementary School

Ursula LaMontagne – Tate High School

Emily McMillan – C.A. Weis Community School

Cassie Mense – Myrtle Grove Elementary

Bonny Shiflett – R.C. Lipscomb Elementary School

Nichaka Tribbey – Global Learning Academy

Christy Ueberroth – N.B. Cook Elementary School

Atmore Police Seek Shooting Suspect

November 30, 2016

The Atmore Police Department is seeking information in connection with a shooting late last week that left one man in critical condition.

About 2:15 a.m. last Friday, Anthony Jerome Riley of Sunset Drive in Atmore was shot multiple times in the rear parking lot of “Special Occasions” at 129 South Main Street, Atmore Police said in a Tuesday afternoon news release.

Witnesses described the suspect as a black male who fled the area in black Dodge Charger. The witnesses could not provide a license plate number or other information about the shooter.

Riley was transported to Atmore Community Hospital and later transferred to a Mobile hospital.

The Atmore Police Department said the business is licensed to hold banquets, wedding receptions and retirement parties. “The business is not allowed to have alcohol on the premises, but evidence at the scene showed alcohol was present at the time of the shooting,” police said.

Anyone with information on the shooting should call the Atmore Police Department at (251) 368-9141.

Three State Supreme Court Nominees Would Add Conservative Voice

November 30, 2016

Florida Supreme Court justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston will almost certainly have a conservative colleague to join their frequent splits from the court’s majority when Gov. Rick Scott appoints a replacement for Justice James E.C. Perry.

Perry’s constitutionally mandated retirement gives Scott the opportunity to continue moving Florida’s appellate courts to the right, and the three nominees to replace Perry left no doubt this week as to how they would rule if appointed to the state’s highest court.

Fifth District Court of Appeal judges C. Alan Lawson and Wendy Berger and civil lawyer Dan Gerber made the final cut Monday from six women and five men who went before the Scott-appointed Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor had asked for six nominees by mid-December, but wound up with a list of three.

“While I certainly, and the commission, strive to give the governor the maximum amount of names, sometimes that just doesn’t happen in the process,” Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission Chairman Jason Unger told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Governors usually ask for the maximum. And we try to respect that, but we are sometimes not able to vote out six names.”

Lawson and Gerber were both nominated the last time there was an opening on the court in 2008, but were passed over by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who instead tapped the man they are seeking to replace.

Perry, one of two black justices on the seven-member court, frequently is part of a liberal-leaning majority in decisions that have chafed Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature.

The three high-court hopefuls, during interviews with the commission Monday, made clear that their allegiances lie with Canady, a highly respected jurist who is on President-elect Donald Trump’s list of potential U.S. Supreme Court picks.

“The brilliance is there. Every Thursday you look and say, OK, let’s see what the dissenting opinions have brought this week,” said Gerber, a partner with the Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell firm in Orlando.

If selected by Scott, Gerber would be the first justice in 14 years appointed to the high court without any previous experience on the bench. He also could wind up being the next chief justice, because all of the other justices on the seven-member court have served in that role.

Historically, the role of chief justice rotates to the court’s next-senior member every two years. Perry would have been in line to become chief justice July 1 but chose not to seek the position because he would have to retire several months later. Breaking with tradition, the court re-elected Chief Justice Jorge Labarga to serve a second term, making him the first to do so in more than a century.

Gerber’s lack of a judicial record creates uncertainty about how he might rule, an issue raised by at least one commissioner on Monday.

But Gerber’s experience litigating on behalf of clients like Publix Supermarkets and Orkin, his extensive appellate work and his criticism of the Supreme Court’s administration — in addition to his previous nomination — could make him a prime pick for Scott, an attorney and former health-care executive.

A lawyer would provide insight into how “users and consumers” interact with the courts, Gerber told the nine-member nominating commission Monday.

“Every now and then we need a practitioner to go on the court and bring practical experience and judgment to the court,” said Gerber, a University of Florida College of Law graduate.

Gerber, 53, called the Supreme Court’s procurement process “antiquated” and “simply too loose.”

“I don’t think they lend themselves to what we would consider in private free-enterprise systems,” Gerber said, pledging to “cut waste” and make the “consumer experience more efficient, more fair and more effective.”

Perhaps even more important, Gerber also promoted the same “rule of law” judicial approach espoused by The Federalist Society, embraced by Scott, and mirrored by the other two nominees.

The prominent conservative legal group, with about 2,000 members in Florida, adheres to the “originalist” and “textualist” philosophy maintained by the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Jason Gonzalez, Florida co-chair of the Federalist Society, said judicial conservatives believe “that judges should focus on original meaning of the text of the law, rather than taking a more ‘activist’ approach where the judge stretches or ignores the text of the law to reach a desired outcome in a case,”

Gonzalez said he was encouraged that the Supreme Court interviews focused more on judicial philosophy than they may have in the past. Gonzalez served as Crist’s general counsel at the time of the last four Supreme Court vacancies.

“A judge or justice’s judicial philosophy or approach to interpreting the written law is highly relevant, especially for aspiring appellate judges. Judicial philosophy differs from personal beliefs or political ideology, which should never influence how a judge applies the written law,” Gonzalez said.

Scott is required to choose a justice from the sprawling region covered by the Daytona Beach-based 5th District Court of Appeal. The region stretches across the state from Brevard to Citrus counties and includes counties such as Orange, Volusia, Marion and St. Johns.

Selecting Lawson or Berger — who each earned a law degree from Florida State University — would give Scott the chance to make another appellate court appointment.

Berger, appointed by Scott three years ago to the 5th District Court of Appeal, was reimbursed for a hotel room by the Federalist Society when she was a moderator of a panel discussion entitled “Perspectives on the Florida Judicial Selection Process” at the group’s statewide conference in 2015, according to her application for the Supreme Court opening.

The Supreme Court justices’ role is “to apply the law, to interpret the law,” Berger told the nominating commission Monday.

“It’s not to make it, or force my will upon the people through a written opinion,” she said.

Berger’s youth — she is 47 — provides Scott the prospect of having his legacy reflected on the court for more than two decades.

Berger formerly served as then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s assistant general counsel in charge of the death penalty and clemency, and earned a reputation for meting out stiff sentences during her tenure as a circuit judge, factors which could appeal to tough-on-crime Scott.

While the court spends more than half of its time dealing with death penalty cases, Scott is expected to be more focused on civil matters in trying to reshape the court.

Lawson, who was promoted by social conservatives during the nomination process in 2008, has the broadest experience of the three nominees, having served as a trial lawyer, a circuit judge and, now, chief of the appellate court.

“Anyone who applies for this position can say that they are committed to the ideal of judicial restraint and will faithfully follow the law if appointed. I do not know that any other applicant will have a track record to prove that commitment,” Lawson, 55, wrote in his application.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

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