Pot Back In Political Spotlight In Florida

November 28, 2015

Voters next November will almost certainly have the chance to again decide whether Florida should legalize medical marijuana, after narrowly rejecting an almost-identical proposal a year ago.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that nearly 90 percent of Florida voters support allowing adults to use medical marijuana. Numerous other surveys in Florida and across the country consistently show that a majority of voters endorse medical marijuana for sick and dying patients.

And voters aren’t the only ones who’ve warmed up to the once-sticky issue.

The state’s Republican-dominated Legislature also appears to have evolved, perhaps more because of politics than pot.

With such broad public support, “there’s very few people that are going to die on that hill anymore,” Florida-based GOP strategist Rick Wilson told The News Service of Florida.

“They’ve just basically decided this isn’t a threat at the level that justifies having a massive political ground war over,” he said.

Florida lawmakers last year legalized types of cannabis that purportedly don’t get users high but are believed to reduce life-threatening seizures in children with severe forms of epilepsy.

But before the seeds of the state’s new marijuana industry have sprouted, legislators began moving forward with an effort to legalize full-strength marijuana for terminally ill patients. A measure sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who was instrumental in the passage of the 2014 low-THC law, would expand another law — known as the “Right to Try” law — to include marijuana for dying patients. The bill is slated for a second committee vetting next week, and a House version also is filed for the 2016 legislative session.

A separate proposal, backed by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, would legalize medical marijuana for a broad swath of patients and set up a regulatory system different from the one now in place for the non-euphoric cannabis.

The Legislature’s focus on medical marijuana comes after lawmakers for years ignored the issue, brought to the forefront with the 2014 ballot initiative bankrolled by Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan.

“There’ve been some minds that have been changed. More than anything else, people are kind of sick of it,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for a political committee, commonly known as United for Care, backing the “Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions” ballot initiative.

Whatever the Legislature does — or doesn’t do — likely won’t have much impact on voters anyway, according to some experts.

Next year’s legislative session wraps up in March, two months earlier than usual and nearly eight months before the 2016 elections.

By then, voters may have forgotten whatever steps lawmakers have taken, if any, to help sick patients. And, even if they haven’t, it won’t affect their attitudes towards the ballot item, said Tallahassee-based political consultant Steve Vancore.

One of legislators’ primary arguments against the ballot initiative is that complicated matters like medical marijuana are best handled through state statutes rather than in more permanent constitutional changes.

“Voters don’t think like that. They don’t think, ‘I really like this, but I’d rather have it as a law, not in the constitution,’ ” Vancore said. “Very, very ,very, very few voters view the process in that way. They read the language and they think, ‘Is this a good idea or a bad idea,’ and vote for it accordingly.”

Unlike last year’s midterm elections, the 2016 political scene in Florida will be dominated by a slew of legislative races, an open U.S. Senate seat and a presidential election in a swing state considered a necessary win for Republicans if they want to recapture the White House.

“Anybody who has a dollar to spend and says where am I going to put my dollar, I think opposing medical marijuana is the last place I’m going to put my money. There are so many other places to put it,” Vancore said.

Next year’s election is a long way off, but — so far at least — some of the proposal’s loudest detractors have remained on the sidelines while the Florida Supreme Court weighs whether the initiative meets the requirements to make it onto the November 2016 ballot.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was one of the leading voices against it last year, opted not to oppose the wording of the revised ballot measure, prompting the court to scrap oral arguments on the initiative. If the court signs off, the Morgan-backed group will need to submit a total of 683,149 valid petition signatures to the state; it had submitted 365,577 as of Wednesday afternoon.

Florida sheriffs, who vigorously campaigned against the 2014 initiative, haven’t taken a position on the proposal yet, according to Florida Sheriffs Association spokeswoman Nanette Schimpf.

“We plan to review all the various legislation at our winter conference that takes place in early January,” Schimpf said.

A political committee funded largely last year by Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and affiliated with St. Petersburg-based Drug Free America Foundation will likely continue its effort to kill the proposal, however.

“We do have great concern about a constitutional amendment that would not only make it easier to get marijuana but would also commercialize it and promote it in our communities,” said Calvina Fay, the foundation’s executive director.

After the amendment failed last year, Adelson — who contributed at least $5.5 million to the political committee — pledged to continue the crusade if the proposal made it onto the ballot again.

On the other side, proponents of the initiative are likely to take a different approach leading up to the election.

Morgan, the brash trial lawyer, became a flashpoint in the debate over the measure. Morgan, former Gov. Charlie Crist’s boss, was accused of maneuvering the amendment onto the ballot to propel then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Crist’s chances for victory.

Morgan insists that he threw his support behind the measure because of his father, who suffered from cancer and emphysema, and his brother Tim, who was partially paralyzed due to injuries sustained as a teenage lifeguard when he dove into concrete pylons while trying to rescue a swimmer. Joining his brother in promoting the proposal, the wheelchair-bound Tim Morgan openly spoke about his use of marijuana to curb the pain and muscle spasms caused by his injuries.

In one of many appearances across the state, John Morgan was caught on tape delivering a boozy, expletive-laced monologue to what appears to be a crowd of young supporters at a bar after a rally in the Lakeland area. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd was one of the law enforcement officials who led the charge against the amendment.

Morgan has already dumped at least $1.8 million of his own money into the 2016 effort, but he may not play as high a profile this time around.

“Are we going to do the John Morgan bus tour again, this time around? Probably not,” Pollara said. “I don’t think John did anything to harm the campaign. He’s the only reason the campaign existed and exists, but could he have done more to help it by presenting himself less or in a different way? Maybe.”

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Road Construction Projects Suspended Until Monday

November 28, 2015

State transportation departments in Florida and Alabama said most road construction and lane closures will be suspended for the long Thanksgiving weekend.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District Three office is suspending highway construction projects on major roadways across Northwest Florida.  There will be no work on state roads requiring lane restrictions from  through Sunday, December 1.  All major roads will be open to normal traffic.

Although no construction closures are scheduled over the holiday weekend, existing state highway work zones will remain in effect. Motorists are reminded to use caution while traveling through work zones around barricades and equipment.

FDOT is encouraging drivers to allow extra travel time and to use extra caution in existing work zones along state highways. Drivers are urged to make sure they buckle up, along with their passengers. FDOT and other safety agencies also ask drivers to obey speed limits, get adequate rest before traveling, avoid distractions and never drink and drive.

Drivers also are urged to be prepared for unscheduled highway closures due to accidents, disabled vehicles or other events. Motorists should be alert to changing weather conditions while traveling.

The Alabama Department of Transportation said there will be no temporary lane closures on Alabama interstates after noon through midnight on Sunday, December 1.

Jay Christmas Parade Set For This Saturday

November 27, 2015

The Christmas season gets into full swing Saturday with the annual Jay Christmas Parade.

The parade will line-up at Bray-Hendricks Park at 9 a.m. and will roll at 10 a.m.

There is no entry fee, so groups and organizations are welcome to enter anything that meets theme of “Christmas”. There are prizes for the top three floats — $300 for first, $200 for second and $100 for third. There will also be local school groups, bands, twirlers, beauty queens, the Shriners and much more.

Submitted photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Thanksgiving Gas Prices Lowest In Seven Years

November 27, 2015

That Thanksgiving weekend trip to grandma’s or at that shopping trip is a little easier on the wallet this year for gas.

About 42 million Americans are expected to take a road trip this long weekend, and drivers should pay the lowest pump prices for the Thanksgiving holiday since 2008. Retail averages have fallen for 17 consecutive days for a total savings of 15 cents per gallon, and the national average remains poised to fall below the $2 per gallon benchmark by the Christmas holiday. Already, more than half of U.S. stations are selling gas for less than $2 per gallon.

The national average is at $2.05, down 75 cents when compared to last year.

The current average price per gallon, as of Thursday, was $1.96 in the Escambia County area, down from $2.67 on year ago.

In Century, gas was $1.99 per gallon at Highway 29 and Highway 4, while in Molino and Cantonment several stations were at $1.90 on Thursday. Several station in the Pensacola area were at $1.87 per gallon.

Pictured: Gas headed into the Thanksgiving weekend was $1.99 per gallon in Century. NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge.

Man Gets 80 Years For Robbery Outside Mexican Restaurant

November 27, 2015

An Escambia County man will spend the next several decades behind bars for the armed robbery of a half dozen people outside a Mexican restaurant.

Circuit Judge Ross  Goodman sentenced Toland Bonner to 80 years in state prison with 60 years to be served as a mandatory minimum. He will be required to serve the entire 60 years with no parole or gain time. He must then serve at least 85 percent of the remaining 20 years of his 80 year sentence.

An Escambia County jury convicted Bonner of one count of  robbery with a firearm, five counts of attempted robbery with a firearm, one count of aggravated battery while in possession of a firearm, six counts of aggravated assault, one count of fleeing and eluding a law enforcement officer, and one count of resisting an officer without violence.

On January 6, 2015, Bonner held up six victims standing outside the Los Rancheros Mexican Restaurant on Plantation Drive. Bonner fled the scene and was pursued by one of the victims until law enforcement joined the chase. Bonner eventually stopped his car on the side of the road and ran into a residential area in which he resided. Law enforcement later discovered that the vehicle was registered to Bonner and his passenger also identified Bonner. Furthermore, two of the victims identified Bonner in a photo lineup.

Bonner was previously convicted of six robberies in 2004.

Northview Cheerleaders March In Macy’s New York City Parade

November 27, 2015

Two Northview High School varsity cheerleaders marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday. Pictured above and below are Dariane Guy (left) and Jadlyn Agerton  in New York prior to the parade. Pictured  bottom is Agerton with the Statue of Liberty. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

All Americans: Local Cheerleaders Take Part In Walt Disney Thanksgiving Parade

November 27, 2015

Eight North Escambia cheerleaders took part in the Walt Disney World Thanksgiving Parade.

Anna Adams , Ashlan Harigel, Lexi Broadhead,  Jayda Crabtree and Cloe Smith from Ernest Ward Middle School and Bailey Span, Gabrielle Kline and Shelby Bashore from Northview High School marched through the Magic Kingdom in Orlando Thursday during the annual event.

Pictured top: With Mickey Mouse are (L-R) Anna Adams , Ashlan Harigel, Lexi Broadhead, Shelby Bashore,  Jayda Crabtree, Cloe Smith, Gabrielle Kline. Not pictured is Bailey Span. Pictured below: The Walt Disney World Thanksgiving Parade Thursday in Orlando. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Santa Rosa Woman Charged With Sexual Battery On Juvenile

November 27, 2015

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office has arrested a woman for sexual misconduct with a minor.

Kimberly Ann Seevers was arrested for sexual battery on a victim 16 or 17 years old and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. She was released from the Santa Rosa County Jail on a $15,000 bond shortly after her arrest.

The abuse allegedly occurred during period of January 8 to February 26, 2015. The arrest came after the school resource officer at Jay High School received information in regards to a possible sexual relationship between Seevers and juvenile males.

Further details have not been released by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office.

Man Faces Long List Of Charges After Fleeing Traffic Crash

November 26, 2015

An Escambia County man that fled from a traffic accident is now behind bars on multiple felony charges after a manhunt.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 22-year old Tyrone Deonta Wilkins left the roadway in his 2004 Chevrolet Malibu near the intersection of Mobile Highway and Massachusetts Avenue, struck two guy wires and a power pole about 9 a.m. Wednesday. The vehicle rotated back into the highway, striking a 2010 Dodge Charger driven by an 18-year old female.

Wilkins jumped out of his vehicle, as witnessed by Escambia County paramedics, and fled on foot. The paramedics gave chase and witnessed him throw down a gun. An Escambia County Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit tracked Wilkins, who surrendered in the woods southwest of the intersection.

Wilkens was charged  by the FHP with leaving the scene of a crash involving injuries, leaving the scene of a crash involving property damage, reckless driving causing property damage, no valid driver’s license, driving with suspended license second offense, possession new legend drug without prescription, possession of marijuana, failure to provide insurance in crash, open container of alcohol  and not wearing seat belt. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office charged him with carrying a concealed weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and altering or removing the serial number from a firearm. He remains in the Escambia County Jail with bond set at $50,000.

The driver of the Dodge Charger was transported to Sacred Heart Hospital with minor injuries.

Dancing In The Rain: A Thanksgiving With Childhood Cancer

November 26, 2015

Khai’s story is one of heartbreak, and one of Thanksgiving for the little things in life like dancing in the rain.

Yet, in what seems to be the brutally unfair and tragic world of childhood cancer, the 6-year-old and his parents, Doug and Chloe Davidson, say they have discovered seeds of hope and renewed faith in the power of prayer and have found much to be thankful for this week.

Just a few weeks ago, Khai nearly died from a rare liver condition brought on by chemotherapy treatments for the acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which he has been battling since being diagnosed on April 2.

Khai is back at his home recovering from his month-long brush with death and facing two more years of cancer-fighting treatments. And his family, including 3-year-old brother Dawson, is looking forward to giving thanks on Thursday.

“I’m thankful that we’re all going to be home together for Thanksgiving,” said Chloe, a photographer. “A few weeks ago, we didn’t know if we’d be able to do that. Not just do it because he was in the hospital, but just period.”

Khai snuggled next to his dad, a Plant Crist control operator, on their living room couch listening to his mother’s words. It’s hard to know if he fully understands what “period” means. But it’s clear he knows a lot for his tender age about the medical terminology and the toxic mix of drugs being injected into his body to knock out the cancer forever. He often helps his parents when they search for the right medical terminology. “Phen-ben,” Khai chimes in when Chloe tries to recall the medicine concoction doctors recently tried on him to calm his anxiety and nausea.

Diagnosis cancer

Khai, who has become somewhat of a cancer-battling celebrity through his Facebook page “Keeping up with Khai,” — with over 13,800 likes and counting — seemed to be a typical healthy and spunky boy a year ago.

“In March, he was playing T-ball, and he began complaining about his legs hurting,” Doug said. “We’d bring him home and give him a warm bath and ice his legs. We just thought it was growing pains.”

Khai’s pain increased until one day he was crying in agony when he got off the school bus. Soon afterward, the vice principal at his school, S.S. Dixon Primary, called.

“He said Khai was refusing to run and didn’t want to do anything … and he didn’t seem like himself,” Doug said. “When he got home, he looked pale. We took him to a doctor for blood work. He had a really high white blood cell count and low red blood count.”

The doctor said it could be one of two things — anemia or leukemia. A bone marrow biopsy the next day confirmed the cancer. A day later, a port was installed in Khai’s chest to start a 28-day round of chemotherapy at Sacred Heart Nemours Clinic in Pensacola.

At the end of the cycle, Chloe and Doug were relieved to learn that Khai’s cancer was in remission. But he was not out of the woods. He started another round of treatments meant to kill any remaining leukemia cells that could not be seen.

On October 9, after a subsequent 49-day treatment involving 19 rounds of nine drugs, Khai developed a fever and was hospitalized at Nemours.

Tests revealed Khai had three different cold virus strains. That’s when the rare liver condition, called veno-occlusive disease, set in. Khai’s belly began swelling and he experienced agonizing pain and breathing difficulty as his liver dramatically enlarged and he retained fluids.

“I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t even sleep,” Khai said in a weak voice.

October 14, Doug, who was sleeping in Khai’s room, woke up to a doctor alerting him that his son’s condition was life-threatening. He needed to immediately be flown to Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville where he could receive a new drug treatment that was in the third stage of clinical trials.

At first, Doug and Chloe were told there was no room on the medical aircraft for them.

“With him being 6 years old, not feeling good and having never flown before, I said, ‘I don’t’ care what you have to do, you have to find a plane that one of us can fly with him’.”

As Doug and Khai were preparing for the flight, Chloe packed and hit Interstate 10 for the nearly six-hour drive to Jacksonville.

“I was really emotional driving there,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘we’re we all coming back together. ‘ I was scared, because the medicine he was going there for had not even been approved by the FDA, and everything I read about the veno disease was scary. Nearly half the people who get it don’t survive.”

At Wolfson, Khai’s condition worsened. If the morphine began wearing off, he’d scream out in pain. Another mix of drugs caused him to become overactive and babble in his sleep.

About a week into the 21-day drug treatment, Khai began showing small signs of recovering.

A few days later, the doctor confirmed the treatment was working and Khai began to slowly recover. He was weakened from not having eaten — only receiving nourishment intravenously — and from being bedridden for nearly a month.

On November 5, he was finally released from Wolfson and returned home the next day.

He’s still weak and tires easily.

“I start limping,” Khai said about what happens when he gets tired.

But when he puts on his signature mask and yellow cape emblazoned with “Unstoppable,” Khai springs into superhero action, jumping around attempting Judo kicks and Karate chops.


Khai’s Facebook page is filled with his ups and downs and community fund drives to raise money for childhood cancer research. His “Khai Strong” motto has become an inspiration for others facing cancer.

Several Florida news outlets featured a story about his favorite Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles visiting him before he was released from Wolfson earlier this month.

Pensacola boxer Roy Jones Jr. tweeted, “My buddy Khai playing catch with Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.”

All of this exposure made his Facebook page “likes” explode and made him recognizable in public.

“When we were in Jacksonville a waitress came up and said, ‘Are you Khai?’ “ Chloe said. “Since we’ve come back, literally everywhere we go, everyone says ‘Hi, Khai.’”

When asked how did he become a celebrity? Khai shrugged and said: “Just because I’m really cool and very special.”

Chloe admits it’s sad he’s gained notoriety from cancer, but says it has also helped him place hundreds of pins on his prayer map, a map of the world with people from nearly every country, including Russia and New Zealand, sending him healing prayers.

The family takes heart in the fact that sharing Khai’s story on Facebook has made a difference. Chloe pointed to a message she received from a woman who follows Khai on Facebook. “I want you to know you possibly saved my nephew’s life. We found out today he has cancer, and the only reason we took him to get blood work is because you shared Khai’s symptoms. I want to tell how grateful we are that you shared Khai’s story.”

Long road ahead

Khai is in remission but is now facing a long series of maintenance treatments to keep the cancer from returning through June 15, 2018.

The couple says they won’t be able to feel true relief until he’s the five-year mark in remission.

“Every time he has labs … every time they draw spinal fluid, we’re waiting to get that phone call hoping and praying they are not saying his cancer is coming back.” Doug said.

If he’s not faced with anymore complications, doctors say he has a 94 percent chance of surviving the leukemia.

“If it does come back, the next step is a bone marrow transplant,” Doug said.

“But we won’t go there,” Chloe counters. “It’s just scary … the what-ifs. The word relapse is scary.”

If all goes well, Khai will be able to return to school after Christmas break in January, which in his fragile state right now, is a foreboding thought for his parents, even though they long for him to return to some childhood normalcy.

While his parents talk about his condition, Khai becomes more solemn and buries his face in the couch. When his parents ask him what’s wrong, after a long pause and moan, he finally whines, “I’m bored.”

His parents laughed at the very, normal childlike response.

It could be worse

Even though their journey with cancer has been tough and heartbreaking the family does what they can to help other families facing similar and worse challenges.

“Compared to some of his friends who don’t have a chance, we’ve always danced in the rain and tried to make the best of a bad situation,” said Chloe, referring to a popular quote from inspirational author and artist Vivian Greene.

Khai even takes cupcakes and greeting cards to children he knows who are still hospitalized, some of whom will not leave the hospital alive.

“It makes me feel happy,” Khai said about the gesture.

When the family sits down to enjoy their Thanksgiving feast, those families whose will weigh heavy on their minds.

“For us, it’s going to be hard on Thursday because we’ve gotten to know a lot of families who will be sitting in the hospital for Thanksgiving,” Doug said. “But for us to have the ability to stay home and have a normal Thanksgiving … that’s what I’m thankful for.”

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