McCall_-_Mugshot_ASO11JBN010562  McCall

 HIGH SPRINGS – The 36-year-old man allegedly shot by a disgruntled neighbor while skeet-shooting at Forest Grove Baptist Church in October died Tuesday.

According to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) officials, Robert Matthew “Matt” Judah had remained hospitalized since being struck by a bullet more than a month ago.  Injuries resulting from the shooting reportedly required a follow-up surgery Tuesday.  Judah did not survive that procedure.

ACSO Spokesman Todd Kelly said in a news release Tuesday evening that a full examination would be conducted by the medical examiner’s office.

The Oct. 21 incident occurred at about 6:40 p.m. while a group of church members were engaged in a skeet-shooting match with shotguns on the church’s property located at 22575 NW 94th Avenue.  That’s when 71-year-old Patrick A. McCall walked out of his house, which is located across the street from the church at 9306 NW 226th Street, and randomly fired a handgun in the direction of the church, ACSO deputies reported.

According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun that had a loaded magazine and grabbed another magazine that was loaded.

Standing four feet behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine, the report states.

He said he was pointing the gun in the air in the direction of a pecan tree that is in front of his house. McCall said he fired rounds because he heard other people firing rounds. It is something he has done in the past.

But, according to the police report, McCall later said he fired the rounds because he wanted the church members to stop. He said he had no intention of hurting anyone.

ACSO Deputy Heather Phillips interviewed Thomas Jackson, Sr., one of the skeet-shooters at the scene. He said the church members were shooting on the south side of the property in a southerly direction.

As they reloaded their shotguns, there was a lull in the shooting. They heard a succession of shots and saw Judah go down, saying he had been shot.

Jackson did not see the suspect. He took his two sons inside for cover. His vehicle was hit by gunfire, shattering the back windshield.

His 12-year-old son saw the suspect. He heard a pause in the shooting, followed by “a lot of fast shots” that sounded like they were coming from across the street.

He saw the man focusing on something in the direction of where everyone was skeet shooting. It sounded like the shooter ran out of bullets. He then saw the man walk back to his residence.

Another witness, Jayde Roof, went over to help Judah, seeing that he had a hole on one side of his stomach and a graze on the other side. He applied pressure to Judah’s wounds while telling the others they should shoot the suspect if he approached.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office received a call at approximately 6:41 p.m. saying that someone had been shot. Medical personnel from Alachua County Fire Rescue and deputies from the sheriff’s office arrived to find Judah suffering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The deputies and fire rescue personnel administered first aid on the scene, and the victim was air lifted to Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Deputies evacuated the remaining people, including several children, from the church due to the nature of the investigation. They located several objects that had been struck by the random gunfire.

After several hours, McCall reportedly exited his home and surrendered himself to deputies.    He was arrested and charged with attempted homicide and is still being held in the Alachua County Jail on $750,000 bail pending court appearances.

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NEWBERRY – The City of Newberry has scrapped plans to lure the Alachua County Fairgrounds to the Canterbury Showplace equestrian center located within the city.  The decision to drop the proposal was confirmed Monday as commissioners voted to approve sending a letter to the county, stating that they will no longer pursue the fairgrounds project.

City manager Keith Ashby said the letter will be sent out sometime this week and that the county should already be expecting withdrawal. However, Ashby said the city will continue pursuing the acquisition of Canterbury.

During an Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting held Nov. 22, the board said that the fairgrounds should be the number one priority for the tourist development tax funding in Gainesville. Assistant County Manager Richard Drummond referenced Newberry’s previous interest, but suggested a revised plan. Newberry was not cited in the fairgrounds’ future plans, hinting that the city had lost its interest before the official motion was made. Drummond said as of the day of the meeting, Gainesville could not afford a $20 million new fairground.

Drummond said more detailed plans will be provided in January and his goal is to bring the overall cost of the first phase of the fairgrounds down to $14 million. Board members also expressed concerns that Gainesville residents might be upset if the fairgrounds moved out of the city as it was previously promised it would stay in the area.

Even if Newberry wanted to acquire Canterbury and the fairgrounds, a number of residents have expressed their disapproval of a carnival-like atmosphere at the equestrian center, dating back to September during a town hall meeting.

In past meetings, Newberry city commissioners have said they didn’t want a fairgrounds if residents opposed it, and also worried about the safety issues it could bring.

For now, if Newberry officials want to save Canterbury from being purchased by a private party, it appears the city will have to fork out potentially millions of dollars. The last purchase price bandied about in September was $4 million or more.

What is next for Canterbury is unknown, as city commissioners plan to discuss the matter at future meetings.

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HS_Dean_DavisMayor Dean Davis confers with fellow commissioners shortly after being selected to lead the commission.

HIGH SPRINGS – In a High Springs election cycle that saw two incumbents defeated, one of the victors became vice mayor Thursday night. Commissioner Dean Davis was selected by the commission to serve as the mayor of High Springs. Bob Barnas, who was elected to the commission on Nov. 8, will serve as vice mayor.

With every seat filled, residents crowded the meeting room on the second floor of City Hall to watch Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin be sworn in as the two newest members of the High Springs City Commission, replacing incumbents Larry Travis and Byran Williams.

Williams congratulated the new commissioners and thanked the citizens for allowing him to serve for seven years. He said while he was proud of the work the commission has done and was honored to serve, someone close to him is excited about the election results.

“Who is really happy about all this is my grandbaby,” he said. “I always used to tell her, ‘Granddaddy has a meeting to go to.’”

Travis was not present at the meeting due to a family commitment, but Interim City Manager Jenny Parham read a letter from him praising their efforts and looking forward to the direction the town will be taking.

One of the first orders of business for the new commission was to select a new mayor and vice mayor.

Commissioner Sue Weller nominated former Vice Mayor Eric May for the mayoral position. But Davis was selected as the new mayor garnering votes from Barnas and Gestrin, after Barnas nominated him for the slot.

Gestrin then nominated Barnas for vice mayor, once again defeating Weller’s nomination for May to continue serving in that capacity.

Davis has served on the High Springs Commission since 2009, winning a seat that expires in 2012. While neither of the new commissioners has held prior political office, they won their seats with campaigns focused on a change of direction in High Springs.

Barnas thanked the townspeople for their support, saying that throughout his life in High Springs, “It is unreal what people will do for you.”

Davis said this is characteristic of the High Springs he grew up in. He said he wants to have High Springs return to being the friendliest town in the South, a title he said he once read in a magazine.

“I am overwhelmed by the love and support for me and my family since I was a kid,” he said. “I was raised by the citizens of this town. My goal for this year is healing for our city.”

His first act as mayor was asking all commissioners and audience members to shut off their cell phones at the meeting.

“It invariably goes off at a very tense moment,” he said. “Once this year I let mine go off and y’all forgave me and I appreciate that.”

The commission also filled vacancies on the planning board, code enforcement board, housing needs and improvements board, parks and recreation board, tree board and the Mayor’s Youth Council.

Barnas said he is excited for the future of the city. He wants to make this an active year for High Springs, with citizen involvement bringing a new direction for High Springs.

Gestrin said now is the time because the people of the town are “finally awake.” She pointed to the packed room at the meeting, a room usually hosting a handful of the same faces, describing it as a “cross-section of High Springs.”

“You did it. City Hall, the government belongs to you,” she said. “You worked your heart out.”

“Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to serve. It’s a moment in time.”

May said he is looking forward to the next year, a time to look toward the future.

“I think we have five people up here who are committed to the future of High Springs,” he said. “The people have spoken.”

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ALACHUA – On Monday night, the City of Alachua Commission approved the rezoning of a parcel of land near Shaw Farms and San Felasco Hammock Preserve State park. The 275-acre property, owned by University of Florida Foundation (UF Foundation), was previously zoned as both agricultural and industrial, but now it falls under the new zoning designation titled Corporate Park.

At the Nov. 14 meeting, the Commission approved the establishment of the Corporate Park zoning category, and the new zoning designation was applied to the UF Foundation’s property on the future land use map.

Monday’s action was the first in at least two meetings required to finalize a full rezoning of the property to Corporate Park, which would allow for multi-use purposes on the land, and would be the first zoning designation specifically intended for biotechnology facilities.

According to Gerry Dedenbach of Causseaux, Hewett & Walpole, an agent for UF Foundation, the rezoning would allow for a campus-like atmosphere for a future medical radioisotope laboratory. With residential units on the property along with retail establishments, scientists, researchers and their families can live and work in one place.

An issue raised by a resident at the meeting Monday was of increased traffic in the immediate area. Alachua City Planner Brandon Stubbs said in a presentation that the applicant would still be required to provide a site plan before development and it will only be approved if the proposed development did not degrade a public facility, including traffic.

Another city resident requested of commissioners to “keep our concerns in mind”

Vice Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr. responded with “We hear you,” and added that the commission would “do what we can to make sure things are done the right way.”

A second public hearing on the rezoning is required, but a date has not yet been determined.

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NEWBERRY – A Gainesville based company is looking to open a new corporate office in Newberry.

At a city commission meeting held earlier this month, representatives from the North Central Florida Diagnostics and DNA Technologies presented their interest in doing business in Newberry, and announced some positions open in the company.

Robin Harpe, the company’s chief operating officer, said that factors leading to Newberry’s consideration for the company’s new location include economic development activity around the city and that the city was welcoming to the idea.

“Right now, we are researching different location within Newberry, different complexes,” Harpe said, noting that the company hasn’t found a place yet.

For Newberry, the number of jobs that North Central Florida Diagnostics and DNA Technologies might bring is not certain, but it is expected the office will open sometime next year.

For now, Harpe said the laboratory is hiring for positions such as executive assistant, lab director and technicians. Those jobs are located between Gainesville and Alachua.

According to the company’s website, the North Central Florida Diagnostics and DNA Technologies is poised to pinpoint the genetic mutation causing seizures in epilepsy patients, and will make and provide quality primers, which are used for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplifications used for laboratory DNA research.

Parent company, North Central Florida Neurodiagnostic Services, was in 2010 and is located at 5318 SW 91st Terrace in Gainesville.

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ALACHUA – The Alachua Police Department may soon be outfitted with new Tasers funded by contraband materials seized by officers. Monday night the City of Alachua Commission approved the use of funds from a restricted forfeiture account to buy new equipment for the department.

It will cost $23,825 to equip all officers with X2 Tasers. The devices currently being used by officers are bulky and cumbersome, according to information provided by Alachua Chief of Police Joel DeCoursey.

The Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act allows law enforcement to use the funding once approved by the commission. Contraband materials generally include cars and money, with this particular fund paying for equipment totaling $37,459.

“I haven't heard about too many people getting tasered,” resident Connie Canny said during the citizen's comments portion of Monday night’s commission meeting.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Commissioner Robert Wilford said. “They're not just going to go around willy-nilly shooting people.”

Along with the Tasers, the commission also approved the use of the funds for new M16 rifles and stop sticks. Stop sticks are devises placed on roadways that are used to puncture and deflate tires to impede or stop vehicles.  Currently the department does not have stop sticks, and the rifles were requested in response to a school shooting that happened in a neighboring community. The cost of stop sticks is estimated to be $5,634 and the cost of the rifles will be $8,000.

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ALACHUA – The City of Alachua officially opened its new advanced water reclamation facility, inviting the public to a grand opening Thursday at the 233-acre wastewater treatment plant on NW 126th Terrace.

Public Services Director Mike New said the open invitation gave “people the chance to come in and see what they got from their investment.”

The new wastewater facility uses different technology than the old plant to make reclaiming water a more viable option.  In the new system, the wastewater is biologically cleaned and more nutrients are removed from the effluent.  The updated system also increases the volume of reclaimed water available for irrigation.  The previous 940,000 gallons per day cap on available reclaimed water has been increased to 1.5 million gallons per day with room for expansion up to 4 million gallons per day.

The old facility consisted of two parts, one built in early 1990s and the other in 1976. All the treatment technology was built into one tank that was compartmentalized. Now, stages of treatment have their own dedicated facilities to increase the quality of the final reclaimed water output.

Instead of using steel, which can wear down under the corrosive wastewater and last for 20 to 30 years, the new plant uses materials that have a 40 to 50 year lifespan.

“It's like going from a bicycle to a new car,” New said.

The new facility is more energy efficient, has increased longevity and lower maintenance costs, New said.

Residents are picking up about $7 million of the total project cost which rings in at about $23 million.  Nearly $2 million was spent on design and planning while actual construction accounted for some $21 million.  The majority of the costs were funded through federal grants and state appropriations.

Many of the invitees to the grand opening were participants in the project, New said, and the opening was a chance to show the outside world the city's accomplishments.

The plant is located at 13700 NW 126 Terrace near Progress Corporate Park.

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