Amtrak’s Return To The Area In Jeopardy

May 24, 2017

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal released Tuesday would eliminate all Amtrak service in Florida and end ongoing efforts to restore service in Florida’s Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast. The proposal cuts funding for Amtrak’s long-distance routes, which includes all three routes in Florida.

“This just doesn’t make sense,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “Eliminating Amtrak service in Florida not only affects the nearly one million Floridians who ride the train each year, it would have a real impact on our tourism-driven economy by making it harder for folks to come visit our state.”

The Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group was established by the FAST Act in December 2015 to evaluate the restoration of rail passenger service between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida. The previously-existing passenger rail service was stopped prior to Hurricane Katrina. Damage to the route has been repaired and freight service was restored, but the passenger rail service has not been restored.

In February 2016, a Amtrak inspection train across the Gulf Coast made stops at several location on the Gulf Coast, including Atmore and Pensacola. The train was packed with Amtrak officials, local officials and VIPs and the media to gauge the reaction to the possible return of rail service to the Gulf Coast.

Pictured top: An Amtrak inspection train rolls into Pensacola in February 2016. Pictured inset and below: The train also made a stop in Atmore. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.

Special Election: Jay Residents Vote To Appoint Town Clerk

May 24, 2017

In a special election Tuesday, voters in Jay decided that the position of town clerk will be appointed every four years by the town council rather than elected.

The vote was 31 in favor of the change, 12 against   There were no other issues or candidates on the special ballot.

With 43 total votes out of 405 registered voters, voter turnout was a low 10.62 percent. There were 30 ballots cast in person on Tuesday, while 13 were received by mail.

Brewton Mill Completes $388 Million Energy Project, Announces Another $50 Million Investment

May 24, 2017

Local and state officials recently joined Georgia-Pacific Brewton mill employees and their families to celebrate the completion of a $388 million energy improvement project after two years of construction. The project modernized and streamlined the mix of equipment in the mill’s recovery boiler system and now provides the mill with the ability to generate its own energy using natural gas and biofuel residuals from the paper-making process.

On the heels of this completion, Brewton also kicked off another $50 million investment for upgrades to the mill’s paperboard machine. Slated to begin in late summer, this project will rebuild part of the machine and will improve the quality of the mill’s white-top linerboard product and increase the mill’s competitiveness.

“The investments in Brewton, and across Alabama, drive home our focus on continuously improving operations and meeting the needs of our customers, our company and communities for the long term,” said Christian Fischer, president and CEO, Georgia-Pacific.  “I’m proud of the hard work and dedication from our 450 Brewton employees and I’m confident that the mill is positioned for continued success.”

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Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and other state and local officials were on hand to congratulate the mill team for the successful completion and startup of the energy project.  Approximately 700 people including employees, family members and special guests were in attendance.

“Georgia Pacific’s total investment of $438 million to grow and expand its business is a testament to the continued opportunity for the success of economic investment in Alabama. Our state is a great place to live, work and to raise a family,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “I am committed to continuing to work with existing businesses, like Georgia-Pacific, and to attract new ones to invest here. It’s a new day in Alabama and we’re open for business.”

Brewton Mayor Yank Lovelace, Sr., said, “We are very happy for the Brewton mill team and proud to have this mill as part of our community. This project and others at the mill demonstrate GP’s intent to remain a valued business partner of the region for years to come.”

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Georgia-Pacific’s $355 million acquisition of the Brewton mill from Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. In the last five years, Georgia-Pacific has invested approximately $8.5 billion into operations across the country, including Alabama, where approximately $1.2 billion in capital has been invested to grow existing operations, acquire new operations, and improve safety and environmental performance across all businesses.

Escambia County Commission Chairman Raymond Wiggins, added, “These projects will keep Georgia-Pacific competitive for generations to come, providing more opportunities for people to make a good living and raise their families here in Escambia County.

Teams at the Brewton mill produce white-top linerboard and solid bleached cartonboard. The mill is the largest employer in Brewton, with approximately 450 employees.

“Today is not just a celebration of this project, but also a day to acknowledge the hard work and commitment our employees made in making this a reality for the mill,” said Jeff Joyce, vice president and general manager, Brewton mill. “Today is about recognizing what we’ve achieved, celebrating those successes and turning our focus to our future and the other important projects planned for our long-term growth.”

In Alabama, Georgia-Pacific employs approximately 2,300 people directly, and those jobs create an additional 8,500 jobs indirectly. Total compensation and benefits for Georgia-Pacific Alabama employees is approximately $216 million directly, resulting in a broader economic impact of $644 million in combined wages and benefits.

Jay Tops Northview In Spring Game (With Photo Gallery)

May 24, 2017

In Spring Football action, the Jay Royals defeated the Northview Chiefs 30-16 Tuesday night in Bratt.

This fall the Northview Chiefs will open with a Kickoff Classic game away on August 18 against Lighthouse Christian. The Chiefs will open the 2017 regular season at home against J.U. Blacksher of Uriah, AL. The Jay Royals will open their season at home against Baker on August 18 and travel to Flomaton on August 25.

The Chiefs and the Royals will meet again on October 6.

For more photos, click here.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

McDavid Man Charged With Weapons Theft, Assaulting His Grandmother

May 23, 2017

A McDavid man has been charged with assaulting his grandmother and in connection with the theft of several firearms.

Dakota Forest Smith, 22, was charged with four counts of grand theft of a firearm, armed burglary, grand theft, aggravated assault, resisting without violence and possession of drug paraphernalia. He remained in the Escambia County Jail without bond.

The woman told deputies that her grandson had threatened to shoot her while holding a rifle in his hand at her Brown Road home. The grandson lives on the same property in a separate small apartment.

When deputies went to that apartment, Smith answered the door and then attempted to shut the door in a deputy’s face before running inside. Deputies located Smith hiding inside a bathroom.

Deputies reported finding a bolt action rifle in plan view on a bed; the rifle matched the description and serial number of one stolen in a burglary last Friday. The rifle, boxes of ammunition and a crossbow were discovered, and the grandfather provided deputies a photo of four firearms on Smith’s bed on May 19 that matched the description of firearms stolen from an address on Fannie Road.

Smith provided information to deputies, which was redacted from an arrest report, that led to his arrest for burglary.

Deputies also found syringes and 78 pills believed to be trazodone in Smith’s possession, according to an arrest report.

Supreme Court Won’t Hear Nine Mile Road Popeye’s Murder Case

May 23, 2017

Bolstering a state law requiring unanimous jury recommendations in death penalty cases, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to consider an appeal by Attorney General Pam Bondi on the issue.

The court’s decision to deny what is known as a “writ of certiorari” essentially cements a state law enacted this year in response to a seminal Florida Supreme Court decision in a case involving convicted murderer Timothy Lee Hurst.

That Florida Supreme Court ruling and the subsequent law said juries need to make unanimous recommendations before judges can sentence defendants to death. As is common, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday did not give reasons for turning down Bondi’s appeal of the Florida Supreme Court ruling.

“It would be hard to read exactly what exactly the U.S. Supreme Court meant by it, except that it will probably end most of the state’s litigation with regard to these issues,” said Pete Mills, an assistant state attorney in the 10th Judicial Circuit who also serves as chairman of the Florida Public Defenders Association Death Penalty Steering Committee.

Hurst, who was sent to Death Row for a 1998 murder in Pensacola, has been at the center of two major rulings that found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system unconstitutional.

In an appeal by Hurst, the U.S. Supreme Court early last year struck down the state’s system of allowing judges, instead of juries, to find the facts necessary to impose the death penalty. The court found the state’s system was an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury, and sent the case back to the Florida Supreme Court.

At the time of the January 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida’s system allowed jurors by a simple majority to recommend the death penalty. Judges would then make findings of fact that “sufficient” aggravating factors, not outweighed by mitigating circumstances, existed for the death sentence to be imposed, a process known as “weighing.”

Florida lawmakers in 2016 hurriedly rewrote the law to address the U.S. Supreme Court decision, requiring jurors to unanimously find that at least one aggravating factor exists before a defendant can be eligible for a death sentence and requiring that at least 10 of 12 jurors recommend death for the sentence to be imposed.

In October, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the statute was unconstitutional because it did not require unanimous jury recommendations about imposing the death penalty, something not addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Bondi’s office in December asked the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit the Florida court’s ruling.

In its request for discretionary review, the state argued that Florida court’s “expansive reading” of the U.S. court’s decision in the Hurst case was erroneous.

Hurst was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of fast-food worker Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola. Harrison, an assistant manager at a Nine Mile Road Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant where Hurst worked, was bound, gagged and stabbed more than 60 times. Her body was found in a freezer.

A jury in 2000 recommended the death penalty for Hurst, now 38. After the state Supreme Court ordered a new sentencing hearing, a jury recommended death by a vote of 7-5 in 2012.

In its October ruling in the Hurst case deciding that death-penalty recommendations must be unanimous, the Florida Supreme Court relied both on state and federal constitutional guarantees to the right to a trial by jury.

The Florida court decision regarding unanimity will likely result in new penalty-phase hearings for about 55 percent of Florida’s 386 Death Row inmates.

The state court has already ordered new sentencing hearings for numerous cases involving non-unanimous jury recommendations, and Monday’s decision by the federal court takes the unanimity issue off the table, according to defense lawyers.

“It’s certainly good news for Mr. Hurst,” said Dave Davis, a recently retired assistant public defender in the 2nd Judicial Circuit who represented Hurst.

Davis and other public defenders, who warned lawmakers that the lack of unanimity in the 2016 law would not withstand court scrutiny, were relieved but not surprised by the U.S. court’s refusal to take up the case Monday.

With more than 100 cases poised to be sent back to lower courts, prosecutors are now faced with seeking capital punishment or life imprisonment. Some of the cases are decades old, posing problems with witnesses and evidence for prosecutors.

“Prosecutors are going to have to decide is it worth the effort to try to get death again. They’re going to have to examine their evidence … and decide what the likelihood is that they’re going to get 12 jurors to decide death,” Davis said.

The new requirement is especially relevant in the Hurst case, where a jury has never unanimously recommended the death penalty, Davis pointed out.

“Prosecutors have a tough problem here,” he said. “Some cases just get old. Can you find witnesses in a case that’s 14 or 15 years old? … Logistical and practical problems that crop up with cases that are in some cases 20 years old.”

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Seven People Involved In Highway 97 Three Vehicle Crash

May 22, 2017

Seven people were involved a in a three vehicle crash Monday afternoon on Highway 97 near Dogwood Park.

The driver of a Hyundai Elantra apparently rear-ended a southbound vehicle that was stopped to turn across traffic onto Pine Circle Drive. The Elantra was then struck from the rear by the driver of a Ford Mustang.

Three people in the Elantra were transported to a Pensacola hospital by Escambia County EMS with injuries that were not considered serious.

The accident is under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol. The Molino Station of Escambia Fire Rescue also responded to the crash.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.


Century Saves Cash On AED Units, You Can Too With Escambia County Program

May 22, 2017

The Town of Century is purchasing three automated external defibrillators (AED). And they discovered they could save hundreds of dollars using a county program that is available to all Escambia County residents.

The best quote Century obtained for the LifePak CR Plus was $1,659 each, including a wall-mount cabinet. The town was able to purchase the exact same unit at a price of $1,317.31 plus $99 for the cabinet through the Escambia County program, saving the town $818 on the three devices.

Century will place their new AED units at town hall, the community center on Highway 4 and the maintenance shop.

Escambia County announced the program last July that gives churches, businesses and even individuals the chance to purchase an AED at the same cost ($1,317.31) the county received during its last bid solicitation.

An automated external defibrillator is a lightweight, portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart. The shock can stop an irregular heart rhythm and allow a normal rhythm to resume following sudden cardiac arrest. Sudden cardiac arrest is an abrupt loss of heart function. If it’s not treated within minutes, it quickly leads to death.

According to Escambia County, AEDs are important because they make it possible for more people to respond to a medical emergency where defibrillation is required. Because AEDs are portable, they can be used by anyone who has been trained how to use them – not only by medical professionals. They can be made part of emergency response programs that also include rapid use of 9-1-1 and prompt delivery of CPR. All three of these activities are vital to improving survival from cardiac arrest.

For more information, contact Escambia County Public Safety at (850) 471-6400.