Elections Officials: Get Ready For March 15 Primary Election

February 9, 2016

Elections officials from Escambia, Santa Rosa Okaloosa counties held a joint press conference Monday in Pensacola to discuss the upcoming Presidential Preference Primary on Tuesday, March 15,

Slower mail delivery means voters that choose to vote-by-mail will need to make sure their ballots will reach their local election’s office before the 7 p.m. March 15 deadline. First class local mail delivery was previously a day or two, but not that’s three to five days with a chance in standard from the U.S. Postal Service.

Absentee ballots should be requested before March 9. The deadline for voter registration and party changes in February 16.

Nearly 20 percent of Northwest Florida’s voters won’t be able to vote on March 15 because Florida is a closed primary. Republicans and Democrats can vote only in their party’s primary, while no party affiliation registered voters can’t vote in either one.

Pictured: Escambia County Supervisor of Elections David H. Stafford (top)  and fellow Supervisors of Elections  Tappie Villane, Santa Rosa County and Paul Lux, Okaloosa County, to discuss the upcoming Presidential Preference Primary on Tuesday, March 15 during a Monday press conference in Pensacola. Photos by Brandi Ziglar for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Over A Dozen Railroad Crossings To Close For Repair

February 8, 2016

[UPDATE 9:15 a.m.] Over a dozen railroad crossings will be closed at some time during the couple of of weeks for repairs from McDavid north through Century, including Highway 4 beginning Tuesday.

Highway 4 will be closed at the crossing just east of Highway 29 from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and from 8 a.m. until completion on Thursday as CSX repairs and replaces railroad ties. While the crossing will be open overnight, it will be marked as “rough” warning drivings of temporary filling material until paving is completed on Thursday.

CSX will close numerous other North Escambia a crossing as part of its network-wide crossing maintenance program beginning next week, with work expected to be completed in one week.

CSX engineering crews will be laying new rail ties, resurfacing crossings and repaving them with asphalt. CSX has worked closely with local officials to coordinate the crossing closures to minimize disruption to the community and is communicating directly with residents where there are dead-end roads or no-outlet situations.

Traffic will experience temporary closures to the following road crossings during the operations period:

  • Cottage Street
  • McCurdy Road
  • Hecker Road
  • Front Street
  • East Pond Street
  • Jefferson Avenue
  • Salters Lake Road
  • Bluff Springs Road
  • Courtney Road
  • Mystic Springs Road
  • East Bogia Road
  • Cotton Lake Road

The roads listed above will be temporarily closed at different times on the  maintenance schedule, according to CSX.  NorthEscambia.com is working with the contractor to provide an updated schedule for crossing closures as soon as possible.

All activities are weather dependent and may be delayed or rescheduled in the event of inclement weather. Motorists are reminded to travel with care through the work zone and to watch for construction equipment and workers entering and exiting the roadway.

Pictured top: Repairs were make to the Hecker Road crossing in Century late last month. NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge.

Fire Destroys Church Van In Century

February 8, 2016

A church van went up in flames Sunday afternoon in Century. The Greater Union Missionary Church van burst into flames as the driver was pulling off North Century Boulevard at the New Life Christian Center. There were no passengers in the van at the time of the fire. Reader submitted photo (top) and NorthEscambia.com photos (below), click to enlarge.

Molino Road To Be Closed For Bridge Replacement

February 7, 2016

The temporary closure of Molino Road for the replacement of a 58-year old bridge has been approved.

The Florida Department of Transportation and Escambia County have signed off on the project to replace the bridge over Penasula Creek, west of Highway 29 between 4 Star Farm Road and Sunshine Hill Road.

The bridge has reached a level of deterioration to warrant replacement and is next on the list of the FDOT’s Five-Year Work Plan.  During construction, Molino Rod will be closed for about six months to minimize costs and construction time.  The project will be funded and the construction work will be performed under contract for the Florida Department of Transportation. After completion of the structure, Escambia County will be responsible for the maintenance of the bridge..

The wood piling supported Molino Road Bridge over Penasula Creek  was constructed in 1958. A start date for the road closure and bridge replacement project has not yet been announced.

Pictured top: The Molino Road bridge over Penasula Creek. Pictured: The deteriorating wood pilings that support the bridge. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Man Robs Store With Fake Gun, Gets Shot By Clerk’s Real One

February 7, 2016

The morning didn’t go too well for a man who decided to use a fake gun to rob a store and was shot in the neck by a store clerk before he fled the business.

The incident occurred around 2:25 a.m. at the Beacon Store, 1101 W. Cervantes Street.  A store clerk told police he shot the suspect during the robbery. The clerk – Abed Alslaq, 20, of Pensacola – said the suspect entered the store wearing camouflage, a hat and a bandana over his face. The clerk said he told the suspect to remove the bandana but he refused. During the robbery, the suspect went behind the counter, pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the clerk, who believed it was real.

The armed robber managed to get some cash and 10 cartons of cigarettes before he fled the business. The suspect – Jarell Blackmon, 24, of the 7900 block of Beaber Road, Pensacola – was later seen in the area of E and Gadsden streets by Officer Matthew Mercado. Blackmon, who was bleeding from his neck, fled from Mercado despite being ordered to stop.

Officers set up a perimeter and Officer Patrick Kelly and his K-9 did a track. Blackmon was found hiding in the 600 block of North E Street. He was taken to a hospital for treatment of a gunshot wound that entered and exited his neck.

Blackmon was charged with armed robbery, grand theft, public order crime (wearing a mask or hood during commission of a felony), possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and resisting without violence. Blackmon told police the firearm he used was fake.

No charges have been filed on Alslaq.

Suspect Used Girlfriend As Shield From Gunfire; Piggly Wiggly Robbery Unclear

February 6, 2016

Law enforcement officials in several states are still piecing together the story of a Missouri couple that was dubbed by the national media and federal authorities as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. But one piece of the puzzle that has not fallen into place just yet is the Wednesday robbery of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store on Highway 97 in Davisville, just yards south of the Alabama/Florida state line on Highway 97.

The end of their story is very clear –  Brittany Nicole Harper is recovering from gunshot wounds to the legs and ankles. Blake Fitzgerald was pronounced deceased in the backyard of a Santa Rosa County home early Friday morning. In his final moments, he used his girlfriend and crime partner  Harper as a human shield from the hail of gunfire that claimed his life, as confirmed by Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. Six of his deputies are on administrative leave following the shooting, which is standard procedure. Escambia County deputies were the only ones that fired after a chase ended in Santa Rosa County.

Harper (pictured left) was booked into the Escambia County Jail’s medical unit late Friday night where she was being held on a $1.16 million bond.

Many of the couple’s alleged crimes in Alabama, Georgia and Florida are also very clear. They allegedly kidnapped a hotel clerk in Tuscaloosa, stole his car, drove to Vestavia Hills, AL, released the hostage, and abandoned the stolen car. Law enforcement believes Fitzgerald then entered a residence while the family was present, displayed a handgun and stole the family’s Ford Edge in Vestavia Hills, forcing the wife to go with him in the stolen vehicle against her will. The woman was later released unharmed by the couple outside of an emergency room.

On Monday, the Joplin, MO, couple is believed to have robbed a convenience store in Perry, GA, also kidnapping and later releasing a clerk from the store.

The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Fitzgerald was their suspect in Wednesday’s armed robbery of the Alvin Island’s store in Destin. The business at 1000 U.S. Highway 98 was robbed at gunpoint shortly after noon. The man was accompanied by a white female who left the store just prior to the holdup.

And it appears they were responsible for the robbery of Famous Footwear store on Davis Highway in Pensacola Thursday night that set into a motion an hours-long cat and mouse game and a couple of high speed chases.

But as far as the Piggly Wiggly goes, State Attorney Bill Eddins is moving cautiously forward. Unless federal charges are brought against Harper, Eddins is the man in charge of her prosecution. Harper, he said, won’t be extradited to other states “until we are done with her” in Northwest Florida, Eddins said.

“There is the possibility of a matter involving the Piggly Wiggly in North Escambia County, although those matters remain under investigation and it will be necessary to gather additional information.  We have some conflicting evidence  as it relates to the matter in North Escambia,” Eddins said during a press conference Friday morning at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

When asked to elaborate, Eddins answered with a single word – “No”.

However, he said warrants had been issued for Harper for home invasion robbery, false imprisonment and grand theft auto — crimes with solid evidence related to Thursday night’s actions by the couple in which they held a couple hostage and stole their truck during Pensacola manhunt, before leading deputies on a final high speed chase to their ultimate demise in Santa Rosa County. Those warrants will carry such a high bond, he said, that Harper will remain in jail.

“We are going to be very particular and very methodical in investigating the other incidents — the Alvin’s Island, the Famous Footwear, and particularly the Piggly Wiggly in the north end, because we have got conflicting information about the Piggly Wiggly matter and we have got to be very careful that we only charge crimes that we know that we can prove,” he said.

Piggly Wiggly employees said a white male walked into the store about 4:40 p.m. Wednesday, pulled back his shirt to show a gun and escaped with an undisclosed amount of cash. He was described as a white male with a thin build and a shaved haircut. He was wearing a black American Eagle sweatshirt, blue jeans and a black hat. He reportedly fled in a black Ford F-150 pickup truck with a busted-out window driven by a white female in a hoodie. They were chased briefly by a store employee north on Highway 97 across the state line into Atmore. There were no injuries reported.

Piggly Wiggly employees identified Fitzgerald from photographs shown to them on a law enforcement bulletin about the couple.

After the press conference, Eddins told NorthEscambia.com that the conflicting information about the Piggly Wiggly robbery involves those witness descriptions of the holdup. One discrepancy, he said, was that physical description of Fitzgerald provided by the Piggly Wiggly employees. Multiple employees described the Piggly Wiggly bandit as being thin; however, Eddins said Fitzgerald was anything but thin.

U.S. Marshals, in a press release Thursday afternoon, did state that Fitzgerald and Harper were responsible for the Piggly Wiggly robbery. Their reasoning for that conclusion is unknown, but no warrants related to the North Escambia robbery have been issued.

For an earlier story and more information, click here.

Pictured top: State Attorney Bill Eddins addresses the Wednesday robbery of the Piggly Wiggly in Davisville during a press conference Friday morning with Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan. Pictured top inset: Morgan describes the events that have transpired involving Blake Fitzgerald and Brittany Nicole Harper. Pictured bottom inset: The Piggly Wiggly robbery. Pictured below: The home were a chase involving the Missouri couple came to an end on Saragon Lane off Garcon Point Road in Santa Rosa County. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.