Tate Student Struck And Killed By Train In Cantonment

March 27, 2015

A Tate High School student was struck and killed by a train Thursday afternoon in Cantonment. She has been identified as 15-year old Katelyn White.

The accident happened about 4:15 p.m. on the CSX tracks north of 10 Mile Road, roughly between Tara Dawn Circle and the end of Gateway Lane. White was pronounced deceased at the scene.

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office said the incident was a “tragic accident”.

NorthEscambia.com photo by Kristi Price, click to enlarge.

Jay Lindsey Named Tate Interim Head Football Coach

March 27, 2015

Jay Lindsey has been named the interim football coach at Tate High School.

He will hold the position through the spring as Tate follows school district policies in advertising the job, according to Tate Principal Rick Shackle.

Lindsey was offensive coordinator  for the Aggies last season. He has nine years coaching experience, including his time at Tate and years at Pace High school.

Lindsey’s appointment follows the resignation of Ronnie Douglas, who stepped down to spend more time on his car wash business ventures.

Most Of ‘Landmark’ Ernest Ward Middle School Now Gone

March 27, 2015

Demolition of the old Ernest Ward Middle School is almost compete. Thursday, crews demolished the former main entrance to the old Ernest Ward High School, including the landmark “Ernest Ward” script lettering over the door.

The building had stood at the center of the Walnut Hill community since 1945, replacing a campus ravaged by fire in 1943. That old school had been constructed to replace an Ernest Ward School that first opened in a log cabin in 1896.

The remainder of the old school is expected to be demolished by Friday afternoon, with work next week to haul off the debris. Most of the area will become a parking lot.  Students moved into their new $20 million state of the art Ernest Ward Middle School, located behind the old school, the first week of February.

For more photos, click here.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

On A Quest For A Freshwater Giant: Alligator Gar On The Escambia River

March 26, 2015

The quest is on to find one of Florida’s most mysterious fish with a prehistoric look in the Escambia River.

Finding alligator gar can be a challenge, but it’s one biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute are taking on to learn more about the population of the fish in Florida.

Alligator gar have historically resided in rivers and brackish waters throughout the southeastern U.S. from the Florida Panhandle – from the Apalachicola River west to the Perdido River – to Texas and Mexico. Since the mid-1900s, alligator gar numbers have declined, leaving populations in only half of the 14 states they once inhabited. The FWC acknowledged this in 2006, prohibiting harvest of alligator gar for all but scientific purposes.

Since 2010, FWRI researchers have been tagging alligator gar in the Escambia River to learn more about their movement and habitat use. Using large-mesh gill nets, researchers collect adult alligator gar and fit them with telemetry tags before releasing them back into the river. These tags transmit information through radio and sound signals, allowing researchers to track each individual’s location for about two years.

Three years into the study, researchers have tagged 22 alligator gar ranging from 11 pounds to a state record 132 pounds; tagged fish average 60 pounds. Researchers are trying to identify what habitats these fish prefer, how far they travel and whether they return to the same location over time. Preliminary tracking data indicate alligator gar are highly mobile and can travel more than 40 miles in a single week.

The data also reveal their movement and habitat use varies by season. In winter, the tagged fish tend to reside in a slough – a cove off the main river with no current – and move very little. As the season changes to spring, they begin traveling the river’s main channel but return repeatedly to the slough. Only in late spring did the gar venture from their home-base slough and begin cruising. Biologists recorded alligator gar moving as far north as Century and the Alabama state line and as far south as Escambia Bay during this time.

No population data for alligator gar in Florida currently exists. However, data from this tagging study are helping biologists develop a strategy for estimating the population size of alligator gar, first in the Escambia River, then possibly in other rivers in northwest Florida’s coastal plain.

Pictured: Alligator gar research on the Escambia River. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Billings Murder Getaway Driver Gonzalez, Sr. Denied Early Release

March 26, 2015

Early release from prison has been denied Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Sr., who was convicted in the murders of Byrd and Melanie Billings and then sentenced to 17½ years. He will be required to serve the remainder of his sentence.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Gonzalez, Sr. has a terminal illness and has less than one year to live. He is now in a wheelchair and needs assistance to complete ordinary daily activities.

The State Attorney’s Office opposed the request.

In total, eight people were convicted for planning and participating in the Beulah murders, including Gonzalez, Sr.’s son Leonard Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. An Escambia County Jury convicted Gonzalez, Jr. to two counts of first degree murder and one count of home invasion robbery with a firearm. Gonzalez, Jr. received two death penalties and a life sentence and remains on Florida’s death row.

The special needs children that were at home during the July 9, 2009, murder of their adoptive parents have been adopted by the Billings’ older  daughter Ashley Markham.

Counties Seek Agreement With State Over Juvenile Detention Costs

March 26, 2015

County commissioners from around Florida urged lawmakers Wednesday to approve a proposal that could end a long-running battle about how to split juvenile detention costs.

Commissioners told the House Appropriations Committee they are looking for a “50-50 split” on the disputed costs. But the House budget proposal calls for counties to pick up 57 percent of the costs, while the state would pay 43 percent.

But Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, who is president of the Florida Association of Counties, said the local governments think 50 percent is fair. Also, a question remains about county requests to be reimbursed for overcharges in the past. Robinson said counties are open to negotiating with the state on the back payments.

Commissioners told the House Appropriations Committee they are looking for a “50-50 split” on the disputed costs. But the House budget proposal calls for counties to pick up 57 percent of the costs, while the state would pay 43 percent. The dispute centers on a 2004 law that requires counties to pay “pre-disposition” costs associated with juveniles waiting for cases to be resolved in court.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice pays the cost of detaining youths whose cases have been decided — known as “post-disposition.”

But the two sides have been embroiled in a series of legal battles about how to carry out the law, with the counties arguing they have been overcharged. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled last year in the counties’ favor. House Justice Appropriations Chairman Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, said Wednesday the proposal for counties to pay 57 percent of the disputed costs is “data driven.”

by The News Service of Florida

Work Begins To Replace Highway 97 Bridge In Walnut Hill

March 25, 2015

Construction activities began Tuesday to replace a 75-year old Highway 97 bridge over Little Pine Barren Creek in Walnut Hill.

The work is part of a $2.5 million contract which consist of replacing the existing structurally deficient bridge, including roadway reconstruction, milling and resurfacing, guardrail, drainage, new signs and pavement markings.  Drivers will utilize a temporary roadway and bridge during construction of the new bridge.

The contractor started clearing trees and shrubs and utility relocation operations this week. Construction of the temporary roadway and bridge is scheduled to follow in about two to three weeks.  Work is anticipated to be completed in the spring of 2016.  No overweight loads will be permitted onto the temporary bridge (loads weighing over 88-thousand pounds).

The bridge is located at the intersection of Wiggins Lake Road, about one mile north of Ernest Ward Middle School.  The bridge was constructed in 1940.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Mock Plane Crash Drill Prepares Fire Responders

March 25, 2015

Dozens were injured and two people were killed when a commercial plane crashed into Pensacola Bay Tuesday — all part of a emergency drill scenario that involved a long list of emergency response agencies.

Boats responded to the mock plane crash location in the bay just north of the I-10 bridge, “rescuing” survivors that were portrayed by actors. Those survivors were transported back to a command post at Smith’s Fish Camp off Highway 90 for triage and transport to area hospitals.

Participating agencies included Escambia County Emergency Management, Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, Escambia County Fire and EMS, Florida Department of Fish and Wildlife, United States Coast Guard, Escambia County Search and Rescue, Santa Rosa County Emergency Management, Midway Fire Department, Gulf Breeze Fire Department, and Santa Rosa County Fire.

Pictured top: Marine resources were used to transport “victims” from a mock plane crash to shore Tuesday. Pictured inset and below: Victims were triaged and prepared for transport to area hospitals. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Bond Denied For Teen Murder Suspect

March 25, 2015

A motion for bond was denied Tuesday for a Santa Rosa County teen accused of killing her stepfather and then dragging his body behind a pickup truck.

Taylor Lynn Crongeyer is accused of killing 40-year Aubrey Dewayne Cooley. He was found dead December 26, 2014, with a gunshot wound to his head at his Dale Hall Road home. He was tied to the trailer hitch of a pickup truck with a rope around his ankles.

Crongeyer will remain in the Santa Rosa County Jail without bond until her trial.

Changes Coming To Sheriff’s Office Cantonment/Molino Precinct

March 24, 2015

Rumors spreading on social media that the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office will close the Cantonment/Molino precinct or cut back the number of deputies in the area are simply not true, according to Cpl. Rodney Eddins, the officer in charge of the department’s patrol units.

There are, however, changes coming to Precinct 4, based on Hood Drive, and Precinct 5, the Cantonment precinct based out of an office on Highway 29 in Molino.

“The changes will be transparent to the public,” Eddins said, “but will allow us to better serve the public.”

Beginning April 4, Cantonment deputies will “muster” at the precinct on Hood Drive to being their shifts. There, deputies from the 4th and 5th precincts will meet with their supervisor, discuss the day’s priorities and learn the latest information about crime and activities in both precincts. As it stands now, Cantonment deputies simply just begin their shifts, often without meeting with a supervisor.

After the muster on Hood Drive, deputies assigned to the Cantonment precinct with return to their area– roughly from West Roberts Road north to the Camp O’ The Pine on Highway 29 near McDavid.

The actual number of deputies on patrol in the Cantonment and Century precincts will be increasing slightly as a new class graduates from the academy, Eddins said. And the Precinct 5 office on Highway 29 at Omega Drive will remain open and continue to be used as it is now.

“We will continue to offer the best response times possible, and people will continue to see the faces of deputies they know in their local area, plus a few new faces,” he said.