Mirror Image: Sunset At Lake Stone

December 19, 2014

Pictured: The setting sun slips behind the trees Thursday evening at Lake Stone in Century. Lake Stone is a 130 acre man-made lake constructed in 1967. It has an average depth of six feet and a maximum depth of 22 feet. The 100 acre park, owned by Escambia County, includes a campground and boat ramp. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

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.

Man Sentenced For Shooting Fleeing Son On Riding Lawn Mower

December 18, 2014

A Walnut Hill man was sentenced Wednesday for shooting his son on a riding lawn mower a short distance from his home.

Marshall H. Harmon, 71, was charged with aggravated battery using a deadly weapon for the June 27 incident on Breastworks Road about a mile west of North Pine Barren Road.  Harmon pleaded no contest and was convicted of lesser charge of aggravated battery with bodily harm. He was sentenced by Judge Michael Jones to two years community control to be followed by 10 years probation.

Harmon and his 32-year old son had become involved in a verbal altercation at a nearby home. The son then fled on Breastworks Road on a riding lawn mower, the father following in his pickup truck.

When the elder Harmon pulled alongside his son on the riding mower, Harmon fired two shots in the son’s direction, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.  At the time of the shooting, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said it did not immediately appear that Harmon intended to shoot his son, but may have instead accidentally hit him.

Harmon claimed in court that he one of his shots hit the pavement and then ricocheted toward his son.

One of the shots hit the son in the neck. He was airlifted by Lifeguard helicopter to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola where he was treated and later released.

Pictured top: Suspect Marshall Harmon stands against his truck (far left background) as an Escambia County Sheriff’s deputy (center)  checks a weapon Harmon used to shoot his son June 27 on Breastworks Road. Pictured bottom inset: A deputy explains charges to Harmon. Pictured bottom: The shooting victim was airlifted from a field on Breastworks Road to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.

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.

Computer Glitch Stops Thousands Of Escambia Semester Exams

December 18, 2014

A server problem prevented about 15,000 Escambia County School District students from taking or completing computer-based semester exams Wednesday, but the district has a make up plan in place.

The exams affected by the technical problems were all algebra, geometry, biology and U.S. history courses at the high school and middle school levels.. The problem, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said, was an overloaded server operated by the Pearson company that crashed and  was outside of the Escambia County School District’s network.

The impacted students will take the exams again on January 6 or 7.  For their semester exam grade, students will receive the actual grade they earn in January, or average of the first and second nine weeks, whichever is higher.

“What we are trying to do is be fair and not create apprehension,” Thomas said.

Man Dies Two Weeks After Being Tased By Escambia Deputies

December 18, 2014

A man tased multiple times by Escambia County deputies has died.

About 6 a.m. on December 1, 28-year old Cody Robert Healey was  on the campus of Sherwood Elementary School, exposing himself while wearing only a t-shirt. When deputies arrived, Healey reportedly became very aggressive and refused to follow multiple orders from the deputies.  He was reportedly banging on vehicle hoods, turning flips and throwing himself into trees.

When a deputy attempted to handcuff Healey, he reportedly pulled away, elbowed the deputy and struck him multiple times. When a second deputy arrived, Healey became more aggressive and struck him in the chest and neck.

When Healey continued to ignore commands from the deputies, he was tased three different times. But he continued to fight deputies and was tased two more times, allowing deputies to take him into custody.

Healey then stopped breathing, and the deputies began CPR. Healey was transported to Baptist Hospital where he died two weeks later.

Investigators reported find “Kick Brains”, a brand of synthetic spice drugs, in Healey’s home.

Healey’s parents have spoken out, accusing the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office of their son’s wrongful death. They also said their son did not use spice.

Sheriff David Morgan said his deputies did not break any policies, and he said the toxicology report, expected to take several weeks, will tell the true story. According to court records, Healey has previously been charged with resisting arrest.

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

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