For One Gator Walk-on, Hard Work Pays Off

By on September 4th, 2015 | Last updated: September 4, 2015 at 3:51 pm

Case Harrison joined the Florida football team in 2013 as a walk-on and is one of six walk-on candidates to score an athletic scholarship this year.

WUFT’s Nikko Tan profiles Harrison, who grew up a lifelong fan of the Gators and who sold drinks in the stands of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium his senior year at Gainesville High School.

Harrison scored his first touchdown in the exhibition game earlier this year. “It was probably one of the happiest moments I’ve ever been in my life,” he said.

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Gainesville City Commission Approves Vehicle-For-Hire Ordinance

By on September 4th, 2015 | Last updated: September 4, 2015 at 12:21 pm

The Gainesville City Commission passed the vehicle-for-hire ordinance Thursday night.

Uber, a ride-sharing service, has been working with the city on the ordinance for months, said Cesar Fernandez, the company’s public policy associate.

The newly-passed ordinance’s regulatory framework for Uber and its drivers allow the city to periodically audit the company to make sure it’s following the complete ordinance, which includes prohibiting street-hailing.

It became effective immediately following the passing vote.

Uber’s longstanding dispute with Gainesville taxi cab services is part of what brought the issue before the city commission. Cab drivers like Mike Stevens sent public emails taking a stand against Uber.

“Does Gainesville not want to support the small business man anymore…?” Stevens wrote in an email.

Mayor Ed Braddy explained the first measure of business was not to accommodate Uber, but provide “relief to taxi cab companies with the idea that we’re going to try to do the best we can to even the playing field.”

“You shouldn’t be forced to become a taxi cab company any more than regulatory code should force taxi cab companies to become like Uber,” Braddy said.

Fernandez explained that being regulated in the eyes of city commissioners means more safety measures on the company’s end, but also a chance to expand and gain driver entrepreneurs locally.

“It gives the city accountability over the process,” Fernandez said.

Commissioner Todd Chase said this was one of the most difficult topics he’s dealt with. Immediately following the decision, Chase wrote in an email that the commission took a lot of time to hear questions and concerns from stakeholders.

“It balances the demand for public safety while encouraging innovation and modernizing outdated requirements on traditional vehicles for hire,” Chase wrote.

Fernandez described the ordinance as an innovative model because it is not as strict as older regulations, and was designed for transportation network companies, like Uber and Lyft.

However, Stevens speculated if Ubers are allowed to pick people up from the Gainesville Regional Airport that several local cab companies will go out of business.

The issue of Ubers at the local airport however, is completely separate from the city ordinance passed Thursday night.

The Gainesville airport has given Uber a contract, said Laura Aguiar, manager of public relations and governmental affairs for the airport.

Aguiar said if the company agrees to the terms, pays the proper fees and acquires the proper licensing, it can provide service to airport passengers without issue.

“The ball is in their court,” Aguiar said.

Fernandez said the airport’s offer is a business issue that will be decided after the commission’s decision.

In regards to the passing of the ordinance, Braddy said he is happy with the decision.

“My goal beginning more than a year ago was to make sure students and other citizens could choose Uber, remove the unnecessary regulations on taxi companies so that they can better compete, and ensure that all rides are provided to a high standard of public safety,” Braddy said.

“This ordinance accomplishes all of these.”

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Santa Fe College Professor One of 22 Arrested In Undercover Project

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 4, 2015 at 9:13 am
Kevin Kasper is being held on a $75,000 bond after three charges were filed in relation to the child sex sting.

Kevin Kasper is being held on a $75,000 bond after three charges were filed in relation to the child sex sting.

A Santa Fe College professor, Kevin Kasper, was one of 22 people arrested in Gainesville Police Department’s undercover project to identify online sexual predators.

The college offers a popular dual enrollment program for students as young as sixth graders.

“We are very fortunate that we have a task force of law enforcement that proactively attempts to find offenders before they can victimize somebody,” Santa Fe College Police Chief Ed Book said.

Book said that he believes that no community in the nation can be considered safe enough for minors to be unaware of potential threats to their safety, but the college provides resources to equip them to be prepared if they are in a dangerous situation.

There are about 700 dual enrollment middle and high school students at Santa Fe College every semester, and they are able to take college courses for credit for free said Jen Homard, the director of the program.

There are special dual enrollment advisors available to help dual enrolled students, but are mostly integrated into the college community.

“They are still considered college students, if they are 10, 11, 12 or 70– all the resources of the college are available to them,” Book said.

The college’s resources include free safety training and suspicious person reporting programs Book said.

All full-time staff at the college are subjected to background checks and finger printed.

“When someone commits a crime on or off campus, we take it seriously, especially if it’s by staff,” Book said.  “The more serious the crime, the more serious the potential ramifications they face.”

“I consider these crimes very serious as chief, and the college and all college staff would consider any crimes that involve sexual violence and victimization to be extremely serious,” Book said.

He said the college’s human resources department will determine what actions to take with the professor in light of the arrest, once they have enough information from the investigation.

“We don’t tolerate victimization of any kind,” Book said.

Kasper is being held in the Alachua County Jail on a $75,000 bond and faces three felony charges.

Editors Note: The story was changed to reflect that Kasper  was one of 22 men arrested.

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Alachua County Sheriff Candidate Proposes Changes to ACSO Budget

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 3, 2015 at 5:11 pm

An Alachua County Sheriff candidate said he believes 10 deputies will be able to keep their positions if resources are reallocated within the departmental budget, after the Sheriff said the positions would have to be cut without extra funding.

In a County Commission board meeting on Tuesday, candidate Zac Zedalis said changes could be made within the Alachua County Sheriff Office to avoid cuts with the upcoming fiscal year budget voted on by the board.

Zedalis, a detective for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, said he believes cuts can be made in the budget toward amenities – such as painting law enforcement vehicles green – to comply with the budget voted on by board members in August.

“You treat a regular budget, even though it’s larger, like a household budget… you can cut the amenities,” he said.

The ACSO budget is the county’s largest budget item with an excess of $70 million allocated, said County Commissioner Ken Cornell.

Those funds are used to run multiple departments with the office such as the jail, the combined communications center and its law enforcement branch. Cornell said a little more than $31 million of those funds are budgeted for law enforcement.

However, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell’s presentation slides stated the tentative law enforcement budget was just over $30 million, which includes officers’ pay.

Darnell pleaded with board members Tuesday to increase her fiscal year budget.

The budget for law enforcement is not enough for Darnell to keep 10 deputies employed after Alachua County Public Schools decided to hire local law enforcement instead of ACSO officers for the School Resource Deputy program, implemented after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.

She requested an increase in her law enforcement budget to accommodate those deputies’ salaries at Tuesday’s meeting after the board voted on a reduction Aug. 13. Her certified budget request was close to a $930,000 difference in the tentative amount she will be provided, which is $30,104,868, according to her presentation slides.

Part of Darnell’s request for a budget increase is to accommodate the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for her employees. For all ACSO employees to earn a 3 percent COLA this year, it would cost her $1.4 million, according to her slides.

“I can’t find $1.4 million,” she said.

Darnell added that she compromised by taking employees who are eligible for a step plan – the process in which employees are eligible for a raise – off the table to not receive the COLA. She said she couldn’t find it in her budget to provide such funds because the ACSO’s budget has only increased by $39,600 in the last nine years, she said.

Darnell’s specific request of the board was to not eliminate 10 deputy positions.

“We need your support more now than ever,” she said to the board.

Cornell said the board decided to reduce a portion of those 10 deputy salaries in her budget because they’re being paid for in other law enforcement budgets.

Last year ACSO received $800,000 for its positions within the school resource program, which is funded through a state program, Cornell said. This year, the fund has been reduced to just over $400,000. The money was reallocated by the school board to local law enforcement, he said.

The $400,000 difference is the amount being cut from the budget, Cornell said. He said those costs are still being paid for by taxpayers, but are allocated to other local law enforcement agencies instead of the Sheriff’s office.

Zedalis thinks the office can find a way to reallocate the funds to keep those 10 deputies on the road.

Over the last nine years, the law enforcement budget has steadily increased while the number of first responders out on the roads has decreased, Zedalis said.

He also said there are fewer officers protecting citizens on the roads because of the department’s current philosophy. He suggests focusing on “straight, basic law enforcement,” making cuts in other areas and not funding other projects.

“Our main function is service and protection,” he said, while stressing the importance of making those things a priority, something he does not believe the sheriff’s office has done.

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On Eve of Opening Game, Program Designed to Protect Against Gameday Assaults Suspended

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 4, 2015 at 4:33 pm

As the countdown continues to this season’s first kickoff on Saturday, the University of Florida says it is making sure it is taking the necessary precautions to keep students safe during and after games.

But one program ended two weeks ago that was put in place after three unsolved assaults on the campus caused unease in the Gainesville community

The University of Florida Police Department’s Walk Safe Student Escort Program was suspended this semester due to insufficient funds. The program, which provided volunteer escorts to students walking alone on campus, may be restored if or when the proper funds are obtained, said Dean of Students Jen Day Shaw.

The assailant in last year’s incidents is still out there, but even if he or she is caught, the university’s safety measures are here to stay, Day Shaw said.

In the meantime, students still have plenty of other ways to ensure they get home safely after football games, Day Shaw said.

The additions that were made to Later Gator and Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol (SNAP) services following the assaults will remain.  If students must walk at night, they should stay in groups or find someone to walk with, she said.

“Every Gator counts,” Day Shaw said, “Take a minute to talk to those around you and make sure everybody’s got a safe way home.”

For Sarah Gaies, a 21-year-old UF health science senior, the assaults reminded her of the importance of taking precautions when it comes to safety, but they didn’t stop her from going to games. She now tries to avoid walking alone at night and stays off the phone so her attention is focused on her surroundings.

“You think it can’t happen to you,” Gaies said, “but it really could happen to anybody, so it’s always good to be careful.”

Day Shaw said that around campus, trees and bushes are regularly trimmed so that pathways are clear even when it’s dark, and Emergency Blue Light phones are monitored to make sure they are working properly. Building entrances are checked to ensure doors are locked at night. The university also boosted the amount of camera surveillance and outdoor lighting, she said. 

UF Student Affairs regularly tweets out safety tips through the Twitter handle @UMatterWeCare.

Local police departments are also dispatched for student safety.

About 200 to 250 officers are positioned in and around campus during football games, UFPD Major Brad Barber said. Following the assaults, some of the officers were reassigned shifts to fit the safety needs of the campus.

Although he avoided specifics for security reasons, Barber said that officers are deployed in a manner that is determined in part by when the game occurs and whom the Gators are playing. 

Come game day, students and local residents should be aware of the safety precautions included in the timely warnings issued by UFPD. In many cases, it is imperative to a successful arrest that any suspicious activity be reported to law enforcement immediately, Barber said.

If people feel they are in danger, they should never be embarrassed to attract attention and get help — they can utilize an Emergency Blue Light phone if one is nearby or phone apps like TapShield to contact law enforcement with just one tap, he said.

“If you see something, say something,” Barber said.


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New Program Offers Transportation to Gainesville Seniors

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 3, 2015 at 5:03 pm

The City of Gainesville plans to launch a new transportation program targeted toward seniors ages 60 and up.

Freedom in Motion, which will begin its six-month pilot phase later this month, aims to provide Gainesville seniors with an alternate option for safe, reliable transportation.

The city partnered with ElderCare of Alachua County, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Uber to create the program.

“Seniors and their families love that, with a touch of a button, they can move safely and conveniently around the city,” said Uber operations manager Tony Spadafino, who spoke at a launch event at ElderCare Wednesday.

Freedom in Motion will operate much like any other Uber ride service — seniors can access the Uber application on a smartphone, and Uber drivers will transport them to their selected destination.

Thanks to the city commission’s $15,000 investment, the project is subsidized, lowering the cost of a ride to a maximum of five dollars. ElderCare will also offer classes on how to use the app.

Although riders’ destinations can be all over the city, the pilot period has limited potential customers to residents of two neighborhoods — Turkey Creek Forest on U.S. Highway 441 and the 400 Building in downtown Gainesville.

Mayor Ed Braddy said the city chose the two locations to get a good look at two different living patterns — single-family suburban for Turkey Creek Forest and multi-use high-rise for the 400 Building.

“That’s going to give us a lot to look at in terms of where rides go, what times of day they’re utilized and all of that so that we can have a good sense of how to expand it community-wide,” Braddy said.

The city began Freedom in Motion in recognition of the growing senior population in the area and questioned how it could solve the problem of transporting this demographic. It was quickly decided that a transit-based approach would not work, according to Braddy.

When Braddy talked with students at UF on how they got around, the resounding response was Uber, which came to Gainesville in August of last year. Braddy then met with ElderCare executive director Anthony Clarizio to see if a similar transportation would work for his constitutes.

The program is designed to provide rides for seniors, but seniors can also participate in Freedom in Motion as drivers, such as Julie Anspach.

Anspach has worked as a driver since July, and said the program is good for seniors to utilize because it’s reliable.

“The buses don’t go everywhere,” she said. “I ride the buses. On Saturday, I can’t get home from downtown. They stop at 5 p.m.”

Her friend Angie Ferkovich, 70, isn’t planning on working as a driver, but she might end up becoming one of her customers.

“I’m going to be getting in late from the airport one night, about 10:30 p.m. or so,” Ferkovich said. “I’m thinking, ‘You know what, gee, I’d hate to take a taxi.’”

Over 200 seniors attended Wednesday’s launch event.

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In The News: Meridian Healthcare Receives ACA Grant, Biden Defends Iran Deal, Former Gov. Scott Aide To Be Appointed To FAMU Board Of Trustees, South Florida Developer Seeks Zoning For 10,000 Homes

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 4, 2015 at 11:11 am


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Ocala Man Blinds Helicopter Pilot With Hair Comb

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 3, 2015 at 4:46 pm

A Marion County Sheriff’s Office helicopter pilot was temporarily blinded when an Ocala man pointed his hair comb toward the sky Wednesday morning.

Mark Geoghagan, 55, said he was experimenting with his Bosley hair laser comb in the backyard of his Ocala home, testing the laser’s reach when he aimed it at the sky. A helicopter piloted by Sgt. Darren Bruner and tactical flight officer Sgt. John Rawls, was flying overhead, according to a police report.


Mark Geoghagan.

Geoghagan was arrested shortly after the incident by MSCO officials, and charged with pointing a laser light at a driver or pilot of a sheriff’s department helicopter or pilot, a third degree felony.

“When they flew by I pointed it that way, and I had no idea that that would even reach anywhere, no sir!” Geoghagan told police when they confronted him at his home, according to the report.

When Geoghagan handed the comb over, the arresting officer pointed out the yellow label on the comb that stated to avoid direct eye exposure.

While in discussion with the officers, Geoghagan offered his personal services to anything Bruner or Rawls might need, according to the report.

“Is there anything I can do for them?” Geoghagan said to officer on site. “I’ll even cut their grass.”

The police report cited Geoghagan showed signs that he may be under the influence of alcohol.

Bruner and Rawls had been assisting ground deputies with a suspicious vehicle investigation before Bruner cautioned that his helicopter had been struck by a laser three to four times, according to the report.

Bruner then directed ground patrol to Geoghagan’s address.

Lauren Lettelier, spokesperson for MCSO, said their aviation units come into contact with lasers quite frequently, and she wants the public to understand just how dangerous they can be.

“It seemed to the investigators in this case that this gentleman did not do it maliciously, but what if that laser had blinded our pilots for so long that they couldn’t see where they were going and they crashed?” Lettelier said.

“I mean that’s just the worst case scenario that could happen, and we don’t want that to happen.”

In August of 2014, Geoghagan was charged with boating under the influence and was sentenced to two days in the Marion County Jail. He was also sentenced to 12 months of probation through this August.

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UF Student Survives Cancer, Goes On To Medical School

By on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 3, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Hannah Peterson studies in the shadow of the University of Florida Health facilities, where she says she is very familiar with doctors and nurses.

Peterson, 24, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in the spring of 2003. She said doctors ran tests and made the discovery after they noticed swollen lymph nodes and a cough that wouldn’t go away.

“I just tried to be strong and positive,” the Gainesville native said.

After rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Peterson said she’s been cancer-free ever since. Now, she’s pursuing a career in medicine as a medical student at UF.

Dr. Patrick Duff, a lifelong friend of Peterson’s, thinks her illness will help her better relate to future patients.

“I don’t think Hanna will ever fail to be incredibly sensitive and passionate in dealing with patients,” Duff said.

“I’ve evolved more to just use my story to help patients and their parents,” Peterson said.

Peterson’s not sure what kind of medicine she wants to practice, but she’s leaning toward becoming an OB-GYN.


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In The News: Native Americans Protest St. Augustine Commemoration, Cobra Escapes Near Orlando, Brady Suspension Overturned

By and on September 3rd, 2015 | Last updated: September 3, 2015 at 12:25 pm
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