Hourly News Update
By Kathryn Williams on February 17th, 2014 | Last updated: February 17, 2014 at 10:57 am
By Ana Krsmanovic on February 17th, 2014 | Last updated: February 27, 2014 at 1:03 pm
North Central Florida domestic abuse survivors may receive more help after a local victims services agency expands its facilities through grant money and local donations.
The Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network’s emergency services campus is expanding to serve twice as many victims, said Peaceful Paths outreach services director Maria Ferguson.
Construction will break ground at 12:30 p.m. on March 4 at the agency’s main outreach office, at 2100 NW 53rd Ave. in Gainesville.
“I am impressed almost every day with the ability and the resilience of the human spirit and people being able to rise above these horrible circumstances,” Ferguson said. “It just kind of sticks with you, but in a positive way.”
Peaceful Paths operates an emergency shelter and provides transitional housing and counseling for battered women and children throughout Alachua, Union and Bradford counties.
A total of 1,769 domestic abuse cases were reported in Alachua, Bradford and Union counties in 2011 year, according to 2012 data from Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Only one in 10 domestic violence cases is reported to law enforcement, Paths executive director Theresa Beachy said. The actual number of victims in the three counties should be much higher.
Ferguson said that in addition to a general rise in population, more people living below the poverty line can influence the amount of domestic violence the shelter sees.
“My hope is that in reality we are actually building a better community, so more people are responding and it’s not actually an increase of crime.”
Victims have had to travel across town to receive care and counseling, but with an expanded shelter, all of the facilities would be in one area, offering greater protection.
The agency will build about 12 apartments for victims. Tenants usually stay from 18 months to three years, said Brandi Corbin, director of residential programs.
“The most dangerous part of transitioning out of an abusive relationship for victims is leaving, Beachy said. “That’s why the most critical aspect is safety and providing them with a shelter during that time.”
The planned expansion will provide 75 beds, an increase from the 37 now offered, Beachy said.
Expansion plans were announced in 2011 when the agency received a $1 million donation from a trustee and board of directors member and bought 16 acres of land near the current facility, according to a press release.
In addition to the donation, the agency received a $3 million grant in 2013 from the state Department of Children and Families in partnership with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Construction should finish in June 2015.
During their time with Peaceful Paths, victims receive counseling and training to prepare them emotionally and financially for a life after abuse, Beachy said.
“Domestic violence affects victims across socioeconomic groups, across differences in race and religion,” Beachy said. “We try to provide a place for all of them.”
By Leah Harding on February 15th, 2014 | Last updated: February 15, 2014 at 7:36 pm
Lionel and Victoria Phillips have been married for 42 years, but they’ve loved each other longer than that.
They met in Belize, where they were born and raised. Victoria was 6 and Lionel was 7. When Lionel was in his 20s, he moved to New York, leaving Victoria behind.
“He broke my heart when he went to New York and didn’t marry me,” said Victoria.
Lionel thought she would ask him to get married during one of their phone conversations.
Years passed. Lionel and Victoria saw other people but never forgot each other.
Years later, Victoria moved to New York. They got married in their early 40s.
Now in their 80s, they live at the Parklands Nursing Center in Gainesville.
“He is very particular about her with everything. Her clothes, her hair,” said Emma Melendez, their nurse.
They’ve lived at Parklands Nursing Center for two years. While they don’t have any children, they said they’re thankful they can call those they live with in the nursing home family.
By Chris Peralta on February 15th, 2014 | Last updated: February 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm
A Gainesville man arrested Friday on suspicion of loitering downtown near The Gelato Company is now accused of a burglary and grand theft earlier that day.
Titus L. Smoaks was seen on surveillance video first taking a $630 rolling recycling cart from The Continuum Apartments, according to arrest records. He told police the container was for picking up trash around a downtown club.
He entered the building through a trash chute around 3:20 a.m., according to the records. Video shows his distinct yellow shirt, black wind-pants with yellow zipper pulls, gold chain with a $100 bill pendant and a smaller gold chain of gold dice.
The items were matched to Smoaks’ belongings at the Alachua County Jail, where he was held on a loitering charge, according to the records.
Surveillance video shows Smoaks, 40, trying to get into a nearby pickup truck about 40 minutes after entering the apartment complex. Finding the truck locked, he took $50 worth of bungee cords and tie-down straps from the truck’s bed, according to the arrest records.
Smoaks, who told police he works as a painter, was seen loitering near The Gelato Company at 11 SE First Ave. at 4:15 a.m., according to the records.
Wearing a pair of rubber gloves, he pushed on the window of The Gelato Company and the door of the Scruggs & Carmichael law office, 1 SE First Ave. Smoaks couldn’t give a police officer a reason for trying to enter the business.
He is held in the Alachua County Jail on a $31,000 bond. He’s charged with burglary of an unoccupied structure, grand theft, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance, petit theft and loitering, according to jail records.
By Alex Harris on February 15th, 2014 | Last updated: February 15, 2014 at 8:44 am
Raquel Rizkalla will be released from UF Health in the next few days after a skydiving accident left her hospitalized for a month and unable to walk.
The 19-year-old was on her tenth jump with Skydive Palatka when a botched landing slammed her into a metal fence, resulting in broken ribs, a shattered pelvis and a broken femur. She was on her last jump before earning her accelerated freefall certification.
The University of Florida sophomore was airlifted to the hospital via helicopter. She hopes to walk again in the months following her release, and plans on tossing herself from airplanes again not long after that.
“I still love it,” she said. “The first time I jumped and landed, I thought ‘This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.’”
Rizkalla’s jump began like normal — 13,500 feet above the ground, she and her skydive instructor willingly stepped out the door of a single-engine Cessna airplane.
She shot toward the ground. Specks and squares grew into trees and fields as the Earth rushed up to meet her.
She pulled her chute cord. The canvas blossomed above her, reducing her breakneck speed to a tranquil drift as she floated to the ground.
But trouble began at 1,000 feet, when Rizkalla realized she wasn’t in the right position to follow the correct landing pattern.
She was on a collision course with a metal chain-link fence. Rizkalla had to decide: Hit the fence at a reduced speed or make a high-speed last-minute turn that would send her hurdling toward the hard ground below.
She chose the fence, striking one of the metal poles that separated and supported the chain links.
“I just kind of raised my knees to my chest and took it,” she said.
Her choice likely saved her from more severe injuries — or death — but it landed her weeks in the hospital and took her ability to walk for the next couple of months.
Rizkalla’s accident was what Art Shaffer, drop-zone owner of Skydive Palatka, called a “very seldom, rare occurrence.”
There’s plenty of space for skydivers to land at his jump zone, he said. The way Rizkalla flew her canopy took much of that space out of the equation.
“It’s kind of like painting yourself in a corner,” he said. “There’s no way to get out without stepping in wet paint.”
Nancy Koreen, the United States Parachuting Association’s director of sport promotion, said there were 24 fatalities out of 3.2 million jumps last year. She said the current skydiving fatality rate is “maybe .0007 percent.”
“It’s usually jumper error,” Koreen said. “Most commonly it’s more advanced skydivers trying advanced maneuvers and not executing them properly.”
As her wounds slowly heal, Rizkalla said she feels lucky that her injuries weren’t as severe as they could have been
“I landed on the ground, on my side,” she said. “I wiggled my feet and my toes and thought, ‘I’m not paralyzed; I’m happy.’”
The accident did nothing to diminish her love of skydiving, she said. Instead, it increased her respect for the sport.
“I still want people to get into it,” she said. “Chances are, what happened to me isn’t going to happen to them.”
Sean Stewart-Muniz edited the story online.
By newsin90 and Stephanie Matarazzo on February 14th, 2014 | Last updated: February 14, 2014 at 5:16 pm
By Rachel Kurland on February 14th, 2014 | Last updated: February 15, 2014 at 8:48 am
LEESBURG, Fla. — Leesburg drivers are driving downtown in a more convenient way: By golf cart.
Last year, city residents asked for golf-cart access to and from downtown.
“Enough people started asking for it that our commissioners asked us to take a look at it,” said Robert Sargent, public information officer for the City of Leesburg.
Now the city is trying to install a golf-cart crossing at U.S. Highway 441 and State Road 44, also known as Dixie Avenue.
In December, city commissioners approved access to the central part of downtown. A month later, golf-cart drivers were allowed to drive around the southern portion of downtown Main Street. On Feb. 7, the northern district of Main Street opened up.
But golf-cart goers are looking for simpler paths to get around.
“That section of 441 is very highly traveled,” Sargent said.
There are between four and six lanes on the highway. The speed limit is 45 at that intersection, but golf cart drivers can only go up to 25 mph.
Within the area, U.S. 441 and Dixie Avenue cut through most of the golf-cart district.
“Having golf cart access to downtown adds an extra level of convenience for our local residents,” Sargent said.
Downtown Leesburg hosts many local events, so golf cart drivers — who must be 18 or older — want an easier way to get there.
Part of Main Street is run by Lake County, which falls inside the city’s golf cart district. About 70 signs around town designate where drivers are allowed to be, but crossing major highways is currently prohibited.
Jim Stivender Jr., the public works director for the Lake County Department of Public Works, said county commissioners want to support the city and its golf cart districts.
However, he said he has heard some complaints about golf carts getting too close to other drivers on the road.
“Mixing pick-up trucks and golf carts can be a bad situation,” he said. “So far we’ve had some issues, but most of them have been very minor.”
The city needs permission from the Florida Department of Transportation to create these crossings. The city would also like to install crossings at Dixie Avenue and Canal Street and U.S. 441 and 3rd Street.
Rick Morrow, the district traffic operations engineer for the Florida Department of Transportation, said the state can only permit golf carts on state roads and highways by request.
He said he would have to evaluate Leesburg based on different criteria — speed limits, number of highway lanes and amount of lanes on the side streets — to consider allowing highway crossings.
“The golf carts would only be crossing the road at a signalized intersection,” he said. “Whether someone crossing 441 is in a car, golf cart, bicycle or on foot, we want to make that a safe opportunity for them.”
Jayson Nobles, manager of Nobles Golf Carts, sells, repairs and services golf carts. As an owner, he prefers driving a golf cart if he can because it saves money on fuel.
Nobles said he sells about 50 to 70 golf carts a month, but it’s too soon to tell if business will improve due to future changes in the golf cart district.
“It’s quieter, easier and more fun than a car,” he said.
By Perri Konecky on February 14th, 2014 | Last updated: February 20, 2014 at 11:25 am
Lovers look forward to Valentine’s Day, but the florists delivering roses and teddy bears look forward to Feb. 15.
Valentine’s Day is the busiest day of the year for florists, said Elizabeth Cavallo, manager of Floral Expressions Florist.
Cavallo said employees work from dawn to dusk for many days in preparation for the holiday, and although they do not get to celebrate, Cavallo said it’s great for business.
“We start months ahead,” she said. “We look at our sales from last year, we organize how many roses we need to order, we have to pre-order them, we have to order plush, balloons and ribbon.”
Christen Crevasse of Crevasse’s Regency Florist said florists must dedicate their time and plan thoroughly in advance in order to have a successful Valentine’s Day.
“We double to triple our staff as far as designers, computer and phone help, drivers,” she said, “And we have to order a lot in advance just to make sure we get the best pick of everything.”
Crevasse said unlike other holiday preparation, which usually spreads over a three- or four-week period, the majority of their customers buy their gifts two or three days in advance.
Floral Expressions Florist has prepared for last-minute gift-givers, and like many other flower shops in North Central Florida, it is still taking deliveries today.
“We’ve been so prepared, which is a great thing,” Cavallo said.