Five Busted In Undercover Escambia County Child Predator Sting

July 23, 2014

Five people have been arrested after an undercover child predator sting in Escambia County. Operation Blue Guardian focused on adults soliciting and traveling to meet minors to engage in sexual activity.

The five day operation concluded on July 20. Investigators will continue to follow up on leads and additional arrests may be forthcoming.

According to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, the following were arrested:

  • Jerry Armes, 40. Traveled from Fort Walton Beach  for the purpose of having sex with what he believed to be an 11-year old girl. He was charged with obscene communication, using a computer to solicit/lure a child for sex, and obscene communication using a two-way device. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • William Johnson, 49. Traveled from Pace for the purpose of having sex with what he believed to be a 12-year old girl. He was charged with obscene communication, using a computer to solicit/lure a child for sex, and obscene communication using a two-way device. His bond was set at $100,000.
  • Douglas Lee Shearer, 44. Traveled locally in order to have sex with what he believed to be a 14-year old boy. He was charged with obscene communication, using a computer to solicit/lure a child for sex, and obscene communication using a two-way device. His bond was set at $150,000.
  • David W. Slater, 52. Traveled locally in order to have sex with what he believed to be a 14-year old boy. He was charged with obscene communication, using a computer to solicit/lure a child for sex, obscene communication using a two-way device and possession of marijuana. His bond was set at $100,500.
  • Taylor James Walker, 18. Traveled from Shalimar, for the purpose of having sex with what he believed to be an 11-year old girl. He was charged with obscene communication, using a computer to solicit/lure a child for sex, and obscene communication using a two-way device. His bond was set at $100,000.

The operation was conducted by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the Pensacola Police Department and additional local, state and federal agencies.

Deputies: Thompson Confessed To Three Murders

July 22, 2014

The person of interest in a weekend double murder in Santa Rosa County is now behind bars. Derrick Ray Thompson was arrested Tuesday morning without incident in Troy, AL, on a Bay County warrant for homicide in the death of Allen Johnson, a former deputy and businessman.

Johnson’s body was found Monday afternoon at his home. At the time of his arrest, Thompson was driving the Toyota truck belonging to Johnson, and he was in possession of several handguns and one assault rifle.

According to investigators, Thompson confessed to Bay County murder as well as the double homicide in Santa Rosa County. He waived the extradition process and has been transferred to the Bay County Jail.

Thompson was also wanted on outstanding warrants for burglary/grand theft and fraud in Santa Rosa County where he was sought for questioning as a person of interest in the double murder of a husband and wife on Sunday.

Deputies say they responded to a 911 call for a medical emergency just about 8:50 a.m. Sunday in the 6200 block of Goliath Road in Milton. They found 60-year old Steven Tyrone Zackowski and 59-year old Debra Lynn Zackowski shot to death at the home.

Bay County Sheriff Details Events Leading To Arrest

Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen held a press conference this afternoon at the Bay County Sheriff’s Office to release details in the Allen Johnson homicide case and the arrest of the man believed responsible for Johnson’s death.

Johnson was discovered deceased on July 21, at about 1:43 p.m. in his residence on Wilson Avenue when family members, concerned when they could not reach him by phone, went to his home, made entry and found his body.

Derrick Ray Thompson, already a person of interest in a double homicide in Santa Rosa County, was quickly identified as a suspect. Thompson’s vehicle had been left in Johnson’s driveway and Johnson’s vehicle, a silver Toyota Tundra, was missing. Law enforcement believed Thompson had taken it.

Subsequent investigation revealed that while in Johnson’s vehicle, Thompson used money obtained from Johnson and Johnson’s cell phone to purchase illegal narcotics in Bay County shortly after the homicide. Based on this information, a warrant was obtained for Derrick Ray Thompson for the murder of Allen Johnson.

Information on the suspect and the vehicle was distributed to local media and media in the Alabama area when it was suspected that Thompson might go there. Thompson has done electrical work on a hunting lodge in that area.

A citizen in Troy, AL, familiar with a description of the vehicle from media reports, spotted the Toyota Tundra entering the hunting lease late last night and reported it to local law enforcement. A team comprised of the US Marshals, the Troy Police Department, and the Pike County Sheriff’s Office formed a perimeter and, due to the fact Thompson was believed armed and dangerous and weather was bad, decided to wait for daybreak to move in on the suspect.

Thompson attempted to leave just before daybreak. When he got out of the Tundra to open the gate and leave the property, SWAT teams deployed a flash bang device and took the stunned Thompson into custody on the warrant from the Bay County Sheriff’s Office without further incident.

Law enforcement from Bay and Santa Rosa counties traveled to Pike County, Alabama and spoke with Thompson. After interviewing Thompson, investigators believe he committed the double murders in Santa Rosa County on Saturday, July 19, 2014. He fled Santa Rosa County and stayed that Saturday night with a friend on Panama City Beach. Sunday morning, Thompson went to Chipley and stayed overnight in a motel. After checking media reports online, he found out law enforcement had connected him to the double homicide in Santa Rosa County. On Monday, Thompson used a borrowed phone from the motel clerk and called Allen Johnson and asked if he could come to Johnson’s home on Wilson Avenue under the guise of borrowing money.

It is believed that Allen Johnson, an acquaintance of Thompson’s, was unaware that Thompson was a person of interest in the double homicide in Santa Rosa County.

Thompson was able to give law enforcement details about the murder of Allen Johnson not yet released to the public.

Allen Johnson was a deputy with the Bay County Sheriff’s Office from 1974 to 1988, working as a confidential informant prior to becoming a law enforcement officer. Johnson was the first to work undercover in drug enforcement for the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

Derrick Ray Thompson was charged with an open count of murder in the death of Allen Johnson. He was extradited to Bay County to face a  first appearance on the murder charge. After this the State Attorney’s Office for the first and fourteenth judicial circuits will work together to determine which homicide case will be tried first.

Century Takes Step Forward To Repair Gas Leak Under Highway 29

July 22, 2014

Over three years since the problem was first publicly revealed as a potential “major public safety issue”, natural gas continues to leak under Highway 29 in Century.

Monday night, the Century Town Council voted to take out a short term loan, up to 180 days, with United Bank for $678,300 to pay for the project before receiving reimbursement from a USDA program. The loan will cost the town $350 in fees at 2.75 percent in interest.

Back in April, the town awarded a repair contract to R.A.W. Construction, LLC of Tallahassee for $393,500 to repair the problem. The overall repair portion of the project, according to the town’s engineer, was estimated to about $1 million.

About 6,515 feet of 4-inch steel natural gas line was buried beneath the southbound lanes of Highway 29 when the road was widened to four lanes. Now, over 45 years since the almost 1.25 mile long pipe was put into the ground, the town believes the steel is corroding and leaking somewhere between West Highway 4 and McCurdy Street.

In April 2012, Century signed off on a $1.4 million USDA Rural Development loan to cover the cost of replacing the pipe. But, according to town officials, the town received the wrong form from the USDA, and as a result advertised the meetings incorrectly.

That meant heading back to the drawing board and starting the loan process again.

A new 4-inch pipe will be placed on the west side of Highway 29, while a new 2-inch pipe will be installed on the east side of the highway, eliminating the need to install pipes under the road to service natural gas customers. The pipe will be installed where existing easements exist or can be obtained at no cost, otherwise, it will be installed under existing sidewalks.

Two other bids were received on the project — one for $795,700.75 from Utility Service Company  and one for $897,000 from Roberson Excavation, Inc. of Milton.

Pictured above and below: Natural gas is leaking somewhere under Highway 29 in Century. Pictured inset: Century Mayor Freddie McCall signs documents in April 2012 for a $1.401 million USDA Rural Development loan to repair the leaky gas lines. The loan was later invalidated by the USDA due to  an incorrect form. photos, click to enlarge.

Ascend Volunteers Pitch In To Help Panhandle Equine Rescue

July 22, 2014

A group of volunteers from Ascend Performance Materials went up against the heat and humidity Monday to make some much needed improvements around the Cantonment home of Panhandle Equine Rescue.

“Despite the heat, 17 men came out, tore down an old stall that was rotting and built a new one,” said PER President Diane Lowery. “They also did fencing and painting. We appreciate large corporations who help non-profits since they have the manpower and resources that can be so difficult for organizations who depend on volunteers and donations.”

Ascend donated materials, in addition to the labor needed, for Monday’s improvements. Panhandle Equine Rescue is a non-profit organization that rescues and rehabilitates abused or neglected horses.

As part of their orientation program, new hires at Ascend participate in a community volunteer project.

Deputies: Man Hid, Fed Wanted Woman In His Shed

July 22, 2014

A Century man has been charged for allegedly hiding a wanted woman in his backyard shed, even feeding her there, to help her avoid arrest on felony warrants.

Gregory Lee Martin, 53, was charged with resisting an officer/obstruction of justice and released from the Escambia County Jail on a $500 bond.

Over a period of about a month, Martin allegedly allowed wanted felon Judy C.  James of Atmore to stay  in a shed in the backyard of his home in the 4700 block of Highway 168. Once arrested at Martin’s home, James told deputies that Martin routinely brought her meals from inside the main house to the shed for her to eat. James was charged with a probation violation and possession of drug paraphernalia.

During the period the woman was hidden in the shed, Martin reportedly told deputies several times that he had not had any contact with James and did not know her whereabouts.

Martin is current awaiting trial for felony unarmed burglary of an unoccupied structure, felony larceny and and obstructing an officer without violence.

According to an arrest report, Martin told deputies that he allowed a suspect in a nearby burglary to store stolen property in his shed. Martin also admitted to allowing the suspect to get dressed in camouflage on his property prior to a burglary, the report states.

Old Sid Nelson, Ransom Middle Coming Down For Bus Compound

July 21, 2014

The old Ransom Middle School on Muscogee Road is coming down, most likely to make way for a school  bus compound.

Most recently, the buildings housed the Sid Nelson Community Learning Center with a preschool and alternative school that shut down about four years ago. And a head start program called the old campus home, but it has now been moved to the Molino Community Complex for the next school year.

The Escambia County School Board voted to demolish the buildings, and, unless there’s a change in the next few weeks, construct a paved bus compound to park school buses overnight,  provide basic maintenance and provide a fueling station.

But the Cantonment Improvement Committee, which was formed in 2012 to address blight in Cantonment, wants a community center on the property because their area is currently without one.

“There is a need for the bus compound in that part of the county, whether it is that site or not,” Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas said. “That site must come down; there is no building there suitable for a community center.”

Thomas said he’s game to listen to proposals for the site if someone can find him about 10 acres in the Muscogee Road and Highway 29 area that is on a major road and suitable for the bus compound. Or, he said, it might be possible for the bus compound and a small, newly constructed community center at the Sid Nelson site to c0-exist on the 12 acre parcel.

“But I will not deal with the Cantonment Redevelopment Committee,” Thomas said, “because community centers are a county responsibility. I would deal with the county directly.”

But so far, there’s been no positive news from Escambia County about a possible community center for the Cantonment area. For now, the Escambia County Commission has pulled the renewal of the local option sales tax (LOST) off the August 26 primary ballot.  LOST dollars are often used for project like community centers, but there are no funds for a Cantonment community center on a “wish list” of projects that would be funded by a LOST renewal.

“The Sid Nelson site ads to the blight of the area,” Thomas said. “And right now I’m stacking buses on school sites where there’s not room and inadequate light. That Cantonment site is what we need — and it’s already owned by the taxpayers.” photos, click to enlarge.