Man Arrested For Holding Woman Hostage, Fatally Shooting 5 Dogs

By on May 29th, 2015 | Last updated: May 29, 2015 at 5:59 pm

The Levy County Sheriff’s Office arrested a man on Wednesday after he reportedly shot five dogs in the head.

LCSO investigators received an anonymous tip that Audie Jackson Stokes, 56, a convicted felon, shot five dogs on his 35-­acre family owned property, according to a press release. When officers arrived at Stokes’ home in the Williston area, he created an unlikely explanation.

After further investigation and interviews with additional witnesses, investigators determined  Stokes, had also held a woman hostage by tying her to a bed and sexually battering her, according to the press release.

Stokes gave officers permission to search his home, upon which investigators found two firearms and ammunition in his bedroom. Officers knew Stokes was not allowed to own firearms because of a previous felony conviction.

Officers then went to the back of Stokes’ home where they found five dogs that had been shot in the head. Stokes was taken into custody.

Stokes was arrested on five counts of animal abuse, two counts of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, sexual battery and false imprisonment. He was booked into the Levy County Detention Facility where he remains. His bond was set at $1.1 million.

In 1985 Stokes was found guilty of aggravated child abuse, according to county documents. In 1990, Stokes’ most recent arrest in Levy County, he was arrested for disorderly intoxication, battery on an officer or firefighter, resisting arrest without violence and fleeing the police.

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Ford Trucks Targeted In String Of Gainesville Thefts

By on May 29th, 2015 | Last updated: May 29, 2015 at 5:50 pm

In the last month there have been a string of vehicle thefts targeting 2003 to 2010 Ford F-250s and F-350s in Gainesville.

Thieves are managing to enter locked trucks within a minute, Gainesville Police Department spokesperson Ben Tobias said in an email. The vehicles have mainly been stolen from parking lots of shopping centers and hotels.

“For some reason thieves have figured out that those particular trucks are very easy to break into and extremely easy for them to hot-wire and then steal,” Tobias said.

The latest theft involving a Ford truck occurred sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning at the Residence Inn at 3275 SW 40th Blvd.

Though it isn’t clear why F-250s and F-350s have been the only targets so far, it may be due to a security flaw specific to those models. Cars often become popular to steal when thieves figure out quick ways to get into particular models, said Omar Jawad, co-owner of auto shop Sound Depot and Performance.

Police recommend parking cars in well-lit areas near storefronts where security cameras are in view of the vehicle. Car owners also have the option of installing security systems in their vehicles to prevent theft.

Car thieves often see an alarm system in a car and decide to go for an easier target to grab-and-go, Jawad said.

The investigation is ongoing, but police have recovered some of the stolen vehicles and have identified two suspects from forensic evidence in the cars.

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In The News: Tim Tebow Takes The Lead In NFL Merchandise Sales, Meth Kitchen Found In Interlachen, Pataki Seeks 2016 GOP Presidential Nomination, Low Consumer Confidence In Florida

By on May 29th, 2015 | Last updated: May 29, 2015 at 3:56 pm
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Dollar General Awards Three Local Schools $135,000 For Fast ForWord

By on May 29th, 2015 | Last updated: May 29, 2015 at 9:56 am

The Dollar General Literacy Program awarded $135,000 to three schools in Alachua County to fund Fast ForWord, a program aimed at increasing cognitive and language skills of local students.

The computers in the media center at A.L. Mebane Middle School in Alachua are being equipped with the Fast ForWord learning program. The computer-based program is a part of Superintendent Owen Roberts' language development initiative.

The computers in the media center at A.L. Mebane Middle School in Alachua are being equipped with the Fast ForWord learning program. The computer-based program is a part of Superintendent Owen Roberts’ language development initiative. Kristina Orrego/ WUFT News

The donation will provide Alachua Elementary School, W.W. Irby Elementary School and A.L. Mebane Middle School with $45,000 each. A check for the amount was presented to the middle school Wednesday.

Fast ForWord uses computer-delivered brain fitness exercises designed to improve language and reading competency in students.

The exercises help strengthen the memory, attention and processing skills of students, according to a letter sent to parents at Alachua Elementary School.

The letter said the program’s expected outcomes include increased self-esteem and a new excitement toward learning.

According to Owen Roberts, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, the program is distinctive because it aims to re-map the cognitive processes of the brain, or increase neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity refers to changes in the strength of communication between neurons, or in the function in synapses, which is how neurons communicate, said Dr. Darragh Devine, director of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience program at the University of Florida.

Roberts said the implementation of the program is part of a five-year language development initiative, one he hopes all elementary schools in the county will eventually be a part of.

Manda Bessner, principal of A.L. Mebane Middle School, said she believes Fast ForWord is beneficial because it bridges the gap between students with different reading levels while also increasing their confidence in the classroom.

“I think there are certain parts of the brain [of students with lower reading levels] that may not be as developed as other kids’ are,” Bessner said. “So, I don’t think they’re ready to maybe pay as much attention to detail. This program forces them to actually focus and exercise some of those muscles in their brain that are going to help them be more successful.”

Bessner also said the program helped students who were afraid to participate in class become more engaged and helped them to answer critical thinking questions that go beyond the who, what, when, where and why format.

“Language development is that very pivotal base to education,” said Eva Copeland, principal at Alachua Elementary School. “And [to] just give our kids that language development will give any child a leg up.”

Since it was first established in 1993, the Dollar General Literacy Foundation has awarded more than $100 million in grants to help nearly six million students achieve their literacy goals and continued education, according to a Dollar General press release.

Alain Arrendell, director of the Dollar General Distribution Center in Alachua, called reading a fundamental building block of any education system.

“When someone learns how to read, they will go on to get a high school education or the equivalent,” Arrendell said. “That is something that is impacting their lives for a lifetime, something no one can take away from them.”

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May 28, 2015: News in 90

By on May 28th, 2015 | Last updated: May 28, 2015 at 6:21 pm

Stephanie Byrne produced this update.

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Sawmill Fire Contained By Firefighters, Debris Still Smoldering

By on May 28th, 2015 | Last updated: May 28, 2015 at 6:18 pm
J.L. Wood Gator Reman sawmill employees work to remove debris after a shed caught on fire Wednesday morning. They hope to be fully operational by Friday, said owner John Whitehead. Abbie Banitt / WUFT News

J.L. Wood Gator Reman sawmill employees work to remove debris after a shed caught on fire Wednesday morning. They hope to be fully operational by Friday, said owner John Whitehead. Abbie Banitt / WUFT News

As the sun rose Wednesday, smoke was beginning to rise with it off of State Route 121.

About 50 firefighters worked to contain a fire at a Worthington Springs sawmill. The blaze was most likely caused by a lightning strike from storms Tuesday night, according to the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

The fire continues to smolder as sawmill workers try to clear debris.

A person reported seeing smoke and flames at the northwestern portion of a J.L Wood Gator Reman sawmill building to 911 around 6 a.m. on Wednesday, said Capt. Doug York of the Union County Sheriff’s Office.

The Union County Fire Department arrived minutes after and worked to contain the intensifying fire.

“It wasn’t a huge fire,” York said. “But you are dealing with wood product that has a high content of turpentine which would certainly help it progress quickly.”

John Whitehead, owner of J.L. Wood Gator Reman sawmill, said he learned about the fire in voicemail from a customer.

“That’s when I called one of the guys who shows up to work at 6 a.m. and he told me that a fire truck was arriving,” Whitehead said.

The fire broke out in a storage shed destroying about 25 semitrailer loads of lumber valued from $5,000 to $7,000 a load, he said. Most of the equipment was stored in the other sheds and was undamaged.

Firefighters were unable to put out the fire. Instead, they worked to contain it.

“Because so much lumber was stacked, it was getting hot enough that they knew they couldn’t put it out,” he said. “They just tried to keep it from coming to these other three sheds, which they were able to do.”

The fire was contained without injury, but there were a lot of worn out Union County firefighters, according to York.

“In addition to trying to save product, they were trying to save equipment, too,” York said. “So, they had their hands full.”

York said he was happy fire units from the cities of Lake Butler, Worthington Springs and High Springs, as well as Bradford and Colombia counties, were able to help.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but there are no indications that it was anything other than an accident, York said.

“Through data obtained from the National Weather Service and lightning observatories that show the lightning strikes in that area, every indication is that this is what occurred,” York said.

Whitehead’s family has owned the sawmill since 1988 when it was first opened by his father-in-law.

Nothing like this has happened before, he said.

“We had a tornado touch down here maybe 10 or 15 years ago that came through and tore a big section of our roof off on this particular shed,” Whitehead said. “That had to be replaced and set us back with some damage, but that was a quick fix. It was nothing like this.”

The shed is not covered by insurance, he said, but the equipment is.

Whitehead plans to continue working and hopes to get the sawmill back to being fully operational by Friday.

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Court Limits Damages In UCF Player’s Death

By on May 28th, 2015 | Last updated: May 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm


©2015 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 28, 2015………. Seven years after University of Central Florida football player Ereck Plancher collapsed and died during conditioning drills, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that his parents are limited to collecting $200,000 in a lawsuit they filed in the high-profile death.

Justices, in a 6-0 decision, found that UCF Athletics Association, Inc., which administers the university’s athletics department, is covered by the state’s sovereign-immunity law. That law shields government agencies from having to pay huge legal judgments — and, as applied to the Plancher case, limits the payment to $200,000.

A jury in 2011 said Plancher’s parents should receive $10 million, but the 5th District Court of Appeal in 2013 rejected that award because of sovereign immunity. The case then went to the Supreme Court. With Thursday’s ruling, the family would need to convince state lawmakers to pass what is known as a “claim” bill to be able to collect more than $200,000.

The appeals in the case focused heavily on whether UCF Athletics Association, Inc. is an arm of the university or whether it operates with little day-to-day control by the university and should not receive sovereign-immunity.

In a 14-page opinion, Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston wrote that the university created the association as what is known as a “direct support organization.” Also, he wrote that the university has control over issues such as the association’s board of directors, operations and budget.

“The Planchers argue that UCF does not have sufficient control over UCFAA’s (the association’s) day-to-day operations to entitle UCFAA to limited sovereign immunity under (the section of state law). We disagree,” Polston wrote. Justice James E.C. Perry was recused from the case.

Ereck Plancher collapsed and died March 18, 2008, and the case drew widespread attention, at least in part, because of questions about football coach George O’Leary’s handling of the drills.

In a brief filed in the Supreme Court, attorneys for the Plancher family described Ereck Plancher as a “real-life example of the American dream” who arrived at UCF shortly after turning 18 and died 14 months later. The attorneys argued that the UCF Athletics Association should not be covered by sovereign immunity, as it was the result of the university “privatizing” the athletics program.

“UCFAA wants to enjoy the benefits of operating as a private corporation, free from any state control, while at the same time shielding itself from liability as if it were a state agency,” the brief, filed last year, said. “UCFAA cannot have it both ways.”

But attorneys for the association filed a brief disputing such characterizations — and, ultimately, the Supreme Court sided Thursday with the association’s position.

“Simply put, UCF has complete authority to control UCFAA,” the association’s brief, filed last year, said. “UCF controls UCFAA’s operations, its finances, and even its existence. UCFAA is a captive and entirely subservient entity, created by UCF and existing for the sole purpose of serving UCF by administering its athletics department.”


© 2015 The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. Posting or forwarding this material without permission is prohibited. You can view the Terms of Use on our website.

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In The News: Two Police Dogs Found Dead In SUV, Cuba-US To Reopen Embassies, Bradenton Woman Jailed For Sex On Beach Released, Three Florida Women Make Forbes List

By , and on May 28th, 2015 | Last updated: May 28, 2015 at 11:25 am
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University Of Florida Services Offer Help For Anxiety

By on May 28th, 2015 | Last updated: May 28, 2015 at 10:57 am

It was nearly 8 p.m. and she’d been standing for hours testing slide after slide of fish cells.

It was just another night in lab. Then, as suddenly as always, the intrusive thoughts came.

“You can’t do this anymore.”

She tried to shake it off. Blinking, she stared harder at her notebook.

“This will never stop.”

She flipped a page, her hand shaking.

“It’s terrible. You’ll have to do it again.” 

She ran through her list of coping techniques. She couldn’t stop and breathe with the experiment going. She couldn’t call friends to talk her through it – her phone was nearly dead.

When she tried to send messages through her computer no one answered.

Her brain screamed a broken record of abuse. Her breaths were quick and shallow as her body shook. Her heart pounded with fear, sweat beading on her skin.

She curled up on the laboratory floor and sobbed until the worst of the anxiety attack had passed.

When she could breathe again, she stood up and continued the experiment, tears dripping down her face.

She knew she had to hide it.

“Quiet, now, or they’ll see,” she thought. “This is normal. This is fine.” 

Anxiety Disorders

Taylor Dole, 23, has been living with anxiety for about a decade. A graduate student studying food science at the University of Florida, she learned the hard way to deal with her anxious mind.

There was an emotionally abusive boyfriend. There was pressure from her parents to do well academically. There was the constant fear of failure.

It all affected her daily life.

“It really did become all-encompassing which was the worst part,” she said. “It felt like there was no way out.”

Unfortunately, Dole’s situation is not uncommon. In the 2013 American Psychological Association survey of college counseling directors, 70 percent said they believe the number of students with severe psychological problems has increased in the past year.

The survey also found that anxiety is the top presenting concern among college students at 41.6 percent. This is closely followed by depression (36.4 percent) and relationship problems (35.8 percent).

Dole began visiting UF’s Counseling and Wellness Center in 2013 and has continued off and on ever since. Specialists described her as having anxious and depressive tendencies.

She hasn’t been diagnosed with a specific disorder, but the patterns are there. The worries about her friendships, existential crises, panic attacks, night terrors and episodes of depression were regular.

Dole learned to wrestle with her brain to override the poisonous thoughts. She knew most of the time her worries were unrealistic. But the cycle can be hard to break.

“Paranoid me says, ‘No, you’re stuck like this,’” she said. “The rest of me says, ‘It has to get better. It has to.’”

College students experience stress, but the difference between everyday anxiety and an anxiety disorder is important. Nervousness helps people stay safe and prepare for important events like tests and interviews.

But when anxiety starts interfering with everyday activities, it can be a sign something more serious is lurking. Recent studies show anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric illnesses affecting children and adults.

Generalized anxiety disorder  is the most common out of the many types of anxiety disorders. It affects nearly 7 million adults — 3.1 percent of the U.S. population — yearly, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Women are twice as likely as men to be affected.

The ADAA says those with generalized anxiety disorder experience constant and unfounded worry, often about work, family, health or money.

The worry is daily, sometimes disrupting their ability to eat, sleep and focus.

This, certainly, Dole is all too familiar with.

“If it’s something small like, ‘I have a paper due next week I haven’t started yet,’ normal people would be like, ‘Okay, I’ll work on this,’” she said. “But for me it just becomes overwhelming: racing heart rate, nausea, headache. Absolutely anything stressful – it’s the same response.”

A friend described it best, she said: There’s no proportional response. Just a trap door into adrenaline. It’s exhausting.

Quality Of Life

According to a 2009 University of Houston psychological study, people with anxiety disorders can have a lower quality of life than non-anxious adults.

Mental illnesses are difficult to test objectively. This test did what most avoid: It asked its patients subjective questions and applied them to a scale.

“Behavioral changes take practice and work,” said Dr. Brian Ess, a psychologist at the UF Counseling and Wellness Center. “People with that lower quality of life, it’s their main motivator to come in for help.”

But because it can be hard to identify the difference between healthy levels of anxiety and serious problems, students often don’t ask for help until they’re absolutely desperate.

Dole recognized that her anxiety was out of control. People with average anxiety levels, she said, don’t go through mental checklists before every conversation and decision. Part of her knows she will be fine but she can’t quite believe it.

“It’s doubting everything, being concerned about every little thing — my future, my relationships with people, day-to-day communication,” she sighed. “Pure doubt. Some days it is just easier to lay in bed with my cats.”

Her worries about academia are even worse. Dole equates her academic excellence with her self-worth. One mistake in school means she’s damaged her future.

This is not an abnormal worry. Ess said grades and social anxiety are the most common pressures plaguing anxious students at the wellness center.

The wellness center’s annual reports show that UF students are seeking help for anxiety more than any other psychological problem.

Last year, 14.3 percent of college students were diagnosed with or treated for anxiety problems, according to the American College Health Association.

Why mental illness seems to be rising among college students is unclear. It is likely a combination of many factors. Increased outreach means more students are aware of the existence of anxiety disorders and can recognize the need to seek help.

“It can be challenging to make the adjustment here, with 50,000 students,” Ess said. “It feels overwhelming. But I want people to know that this is something that can be treated. We have a lot of different tools for helping anxiety.”

The Counseling and Wellness Center offers individual, group and online therapy. Medication, biofeedback and classes, such as “Taming the Anxious Mind,” are also available.

The class focuses on a technique quite helpful to those who can’t calm their thoughts: mindfulness.

“I find a lot of anxiety takes place in the future or the past,” Ess said. “Things like mindful walking and looking internally can help shift focus to the present. We can understand what’s going on. The present is the only time we can do anything about anything.”

Just Breathe

Inhale for seven seconds. Exhale for 11.

Or inhale for four seconds, exhale for four.

Or perhaps start inhaling for one second and exhaling for one, then slowly increase the length of each breath.

There are many different breathing techniques taught in mindfulness classes. The reason why is simple: Slowing one’s breathing slows one’s heart rate. Calming the body is the first step toward calming the mind.

“Nine out of 10 times now, it works,” Dole said. “The one time it doesn’t, I call someone. But I have to be self-reliant. I can’t get to a point where I can’t handle something if I’m alone.”

She’s tried many techniques. For those with anxiety, relaxing is not an easy task. Yoga, exercise and meditation can slow some of the constant, whirling laps an anxious mind runs. The techniques are proven to be relatively successful. The most effective remedy, however, is cognitive behavioral therapy.

“Our thoughts and behavior certainly have an impact on our emotions, and vice versa,” said Dr. Joe McNamara, the co-director of the UF Health Medical Psychology Clinic at Springhill. “It’s amazing how much of an impact we can make using CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) with exposure response prevention for people struggling with the vast majority of anxiety disorders and OCD.”

McNamara and his team work with people whose anxiety has severely crippled their ability to function. They accompany patients in anxiety-provoking situations and coach a different response to stimulus. When the bad things don’t happen, it disconfirms the fear and the anxiety decreases over time.

The therapeutic techniques matched with exposure response prevention are effective because they target elements of anxiety, according to McNamara. There’s a cognitive component, a behavioral component and the emotional attachments to both.

“Basically, our brain doesn’t do a very good job of communicating with our brain,” he said.

An anxious brain can’t differentiate between a dangerous situation and a safe one. So a little trickery is needed to challenge the hyper arousal: diaphragmatic breathing mantras, medications.

Eighty percent of people who go through cognitive behavioral therapy have a 50 percent decrease in their symptoms by their 15th session, McNamara said. Many can decrease their anxiety from extreme clinical conditions to something they can then handle.

“Unhealthy anxieties generally don’t just stay where they are,” McNamara said. “They normally either get better or they get worse. The main thing for people struggling is that there definitely is hope out there. There are evidence-based treatments that people can get that really help turn things around.”

The Sum Of The Parts

On a Sunday in April, Taylor Dole felt good.

She pounded a clove of garlic into paste, and she scraped it with steady hands from the cutting board into a pan on the stove.

Taylor Dole, 23, bakes chocolate chai biscotti to distract her nerves the day before her thesis defense.

Taylor Dole, 23, bakes chocolate chai biscotti to distract her nerves the day before her thesis defense.  Dahlia Ghabour / WUFT

“I don’t think about my issues when I cook,” she said as she peeled an onion. “I just cook. I’m creating something.”

She enjoys putting together a bunch of ingredients that would not work on their own. Even if it doesn’t look perfect on the outside – even if the cake is sloppy, or the pasta doesn’t stick right – the food tastes the same.

“Even in cooking, I’m self-critical,” she said. “But no matter how bad I think I do, people say I’m amazing. And then yes, I’m amazing.”

Dole cooks to relieve stress. It’s her litmus test.

When she’s especially anxious, she stops cooking. That’s when she knows it’s time to take a break, bake something and invite a friend over to try it.

School is stressful but she knows she is capable of handling the workload.

Relationships can also incite anxiety, but she is aware she is a good girlfriend. She is aware that she is now in a healthy relationship, one that can build her up instead of tear her down.

Dole wiped her hands on a towel. The roasted vegetarian meal was ready.

“I know the anxiety is built out of fantasy,” she said. “So I have to go to an idealized fantasy. You’re not as bad as you think you are. You have to be greater than you think you are, too. I guess it’s kind of the sum of the parts.”

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Florida: Pot Strain Likely Available Later This Year

By on May 27th, 2015 | Last updated: May 27, 2015 at 6:24 pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials are predicting that a strain of low-potency marijuana should finally be available for medical purposes later this year.

Legislators in 2014 voted to legalize a strain of marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web to treat epilepsy and cancer patients.

But there have been disputes over rules drawn up by the Department of Health to implement the law.

An administrative law judge on Wednesday threw out the latest challenge to those rules.

The department put out a statement that the ruling should clear the way to put in place regulations to govern the distribution of the marijuana strain. The department said it is “moving swiftly to facilitate access to the product before the end of the year.”

A constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana was narrowly defeated last fall.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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