W - KFC DemolitionThe KFC in Alachua is being cleared out to make room for a new southbound ramp at I-75.

ALACHUA – The KFC near Interstate 75 has been demolished.

The demolition of the restaurant happened on Tuesday in order to make room for a new on ramp for I-75.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) paid $1,754,900 for the land.

Currently, the southbound ramp is on the north side of the road. The new southbound ramp will be on the south side of the road for easier access, said Gina Busscher, public information director for the FDOT District 2, in an earlier interview.

In addition to the ramp, the old KFC site will host a new parking lot for commuters to park their vehicles while they carpool with someone else.

The demolition of the restaurant was the start of the project, which the FDOT says could be finished in early 2015.

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W - High Springs Shooting columbia

HIGH SPRINGS – Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter announced Sunday that deputies of the U.S. Marshals Service had captured Willie J. Wingfield III, 21, of Ft. White, at the home of a family member in Daytona Beach late Sunday afternoon.

Wingfield was wanted for questioning in connection with the shooting of two men in the parking lot outside of the Santa Fe Bar, 23731 U.S. Hwy 441, High Springs, early the previous morning.

According to Hunter, no one was injured in the capture.

The Santa Fe Bar is on Columbia County’s side of the Santa Fe River.

The men reportedly had a heated argument outside the bar after closing time, said Third Circuit State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister. During the exchange, Wingfield pulled out a gun and began firing, deputies said. “Once the first man was shot, another came to help him” and was also shot, Seigmeister said.

The shooter and several witnesses left the scene before the police arrived. Wingfield was immediately identified as a person of interest and his photo was released to the public.

High Springs Police Department officers and Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to the disturbance call, which was made around 1 a.m. Saturday.

High Springs Police Department officers Jamey Yakubsin and Kendrick Hampton were first on the scene at 1:09 a.m. They performed first aid on the victims, according to High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley. Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputies, in whose jurisdiction the incident occurred, arrived and pronounced Dennis Lamont Smith, 38, and Erik Antonio Akins, 24, both of Ft. White, as dead.

Holley said Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputies were in the northern part of the county when the disturbance call came in. Their department called High Springs Police for mutual aid at 1:08 a.m., realizing High Springs Police would be closer and able to respond more quickly to the scene.

Officer Yakubsin happened to be at a nearby convenience store and Officer Hampton was also nearby. Both received the call on the radio at the same time they heard from other sources that a shooting had just happened. “They were able to be on the scene within one minute,” Holley said.

Once Columbia County Sheriff’s deputies arrived, officers Yakubsin and Hampton stepped aside and allowed Columbia County to take control of the scene, Holley said.

Detectives and investigators from the sheriff’s office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement were on the scene until around 11 a.m., Saturday, collecting evidence and conducting forensic analysis throughout the night.

Wingfield was taken into custody the following afternoon by the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Task Force with the assistance of U.S. Marshals from Gainesville, Orlando and Jacksonville. He is being charged with two counts of homicide.

The Gainesville Police Department, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office assisted in Wingfield’s arrest.

Wingfield has a previous arrest record on drug-related charges from last March. He is being charged with two counts of homicide. His criminal record includes arrests for grand theft auto, fleeing police, battery on an employee at a detention facility and cocaine possession, according to records from the Florida Department of Corrections. He has served previous prison terms and listed an address in Daytona Beach when he was released in 2011.    

“I am extremely proud of the efforts that went into this investigation, from all of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office employees, citizens of Columbia County, and the multiple agencies that were able to assist in bringing this investigation to a close so quickly,” said Sheriff Mark Hunter.

Anyone with additional information for the investigation can contact the Columbia County’s Sheriff’s Office detectives at 386-719-2005.

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ALACHUA – For the first time ever, Santa Fe Softball and Santa Fe Baseball are hosting the 12U 2014 Babe Ruth World Series.

Alachua’s assistant recreation director Damon Messina says that as of now, he knows the tournaments will take place a week apart at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex on the World Series field and three softball fields.

Winners from each of eight regions throughout the country will compete in the World Series tournaments in Alachua. Teams come from the Southeast, New England, Middle Atlantic, Ohio Valley, Southwest, Midwest Plains, Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest regions.

Florida teams follow the same procedure as teams from other states. Each team competes in district competition to then move on to state level tournaments to qualify. The champions in the state play against winners from other states within their region. Each host location has a team that will participate in the World Series.

Aside from the regional winners, there are qualifiers throughout the country that get an automatic bid to play, Messina said.

The local baseball organization has not hosted the World Series since 1992, he said.

The softball organization hosted the 2010, 2012 and 2013 tournaments.

It is expected there will be at least 20 softball teams and 10 baseball teams participating in the tournaments.

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HAWTHORNE – This time of year it isn’t uncommon for welcome back to school nights and open houses for students and parents. But in Hawthorne, teachers are the recipients of a special annual welcome back to school celebration. Teachers in a small town can sometimes be overlooked as important members of their community, said the Hawthorne PTA president. However, the city of Hawthorne is dedicated to prevent this from happening in their community.

Heather Surrency, president of the local PTA, has worked to put together a Teacher Appreciation Day every year for several years. Assuring Hawthorne teachers they are supported is important to her, she said.

“They have low funding and show incredible commitment,” Surrency said. “Showing them our support and offering both old and new teachers some insight into hidden areas in Hawthorne is the least we can do.”

This year’s event took place at the Little Orange Creek Nature Park Tuesday, and was attended by some 70 teachers and staff from both Shell Elementary School and Hawthorne Middle/High School. The park is not yet open, but a special charter was granted to allow Little Orange Creek to host the event.

All of the teachers were served lunch and sat inside chatting and enjoying the new nature park. Following lunch they were walked around the grounds and explored the venue.

“It’s a beautiful area and we really are lucky to have this support behind us all,” said Sue Bruce, a front office employee at Shell Elementary. “It’s exciting to see the park open and to have something new to advance the city.”

The city has tried to offer this type of day for its teachers for at least the last 15 years, hoping that they feel the dedication Hawthorne has in fostering growth in the community, said Surrency. So far, the effort has not gone unnoticed.

“It means a lot to everyone that they care about what we do and want to help in any way,” said Pam Guttormsen, a media center assistant from Hawthorne Middle/High School. “We have a common goal to put Hawthorne back on the map.”

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W - Craig Fugate

ALACHUA – When a natural disaster strikes, so does Craig Fugate.

Fugate has been on the hot seat under pressure of quick action when Mother Nature hits since President Barack Obama nominated him in March 2009.

Born in Jacksonville, the appointed Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director was prepared by the skills and knowledge he began acquiring in his high school days in the city of Alachua.

The 1977 Santa Fe High School graduate was appointed FFA chapter reporter in his senior year.

He pitched ideas to local media on a regular basis for news articles relating to the Santa Fe FFA chapter.

He was handpicked by advisers as the chapter reporter due to his ability to communicate with the public.

FFA is a vocational student organization involved in the agriculture industry that helps develop student leadership skills and prepares students to be confident and involved in agriculture in Florida, the nation and the world, said Larry Reese, Fugate’s former vocational agriculture teacher at Santa Fe High School.

Fugate developed a good foundation through his leadership skills gained through the FFA, said Chuck Clemons, former Santa Fe High student and FFA member.

It helped him make sound decisions in the heat of chaotic situations.

Fugate took particular interest with parliamentary procedure, a method of conducting a business meeting in a prescribed fashion to maintain order, Reese said.

Fugate is a deep-thinking individual with a dry sense of humor, Clemons said. He jokes with a straight face.

He was focused on what he was doing and whatever task he had undertaken, said Bud Riviere, another of Fugate’s former teachers. He was a dependable student.

Fugate thrived on organization and did not tolerate inconsistencies, Reese said.

It was hard to miss the senior standing at about 6’2” with square-shaped glasses.

Forty years later, the people who have known him for a long time would say he hasn’t changed. His demeanor remains serious with a strict sense of leadership.

After high school he attended Santa Fe College. Upon completion of college, Fugate became a volunteer firefighter, then a paramedic and lieutenant for the Alachua County Fire Rescue.

Fugate served as the emergency manager for Alachua County for about 10 years. He was responsible for all local emergency response efforts. That effort included delivery of food, water and ice to disaster victims. But the process involved more than just delivery of much needed items, it also required that large quantities of food are broken down and mixed with other food products in local kitchens and provided to the public in mass feedings rather than disseminated in large containers to individuals, Reese said.

Fugate was also appointed bureau chief for preparedness and response for the Florida Division of Emergency Management. His position was to manage the state’s response to disasters and coordinate with FEMA and other federal agencies.

During the time Fugate served as the director of the State of Florida Division of Emergency Management, he also was Florida’s coordinating officer for 11 presidentially declared disasters.

It was under his leadership that four hurricanes devastated areas of Florida in 2004: Hurricanes Charlie, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne. Florida was struck again in 2005 with three hurricanes that touched land: Dennis, Katrina and Wilma.

Also, under Fugate’s leadership, the Florida FEMA program became the first statewide emergency management program in the nation to be awarded full accreditation from the Emergency Management Accreditation Program.

It was this hands-on training that caught the attention of President Barack Obama when nominating Fugate as the FEMA administrator.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Fugate’s management of Florida’s hurricane seasons was a testament to his qualifications as head of FEMA.

Clemons said Fugate is the most qualified director he has seen in over 30 years, having honed his skills on the dozens of tropical storms and hurricanes that impacted Florida.

In a 2009 interview with Alachua County Today, Fugate attributed his successful leadership skills to his small town upbringing.

More recently, in May 2013, Fugate was a guest speaker at Santa Fe College’s commencement ceremony.

“American people are fortunate to have someone of his caliber leading FEMA,” Clemons said.

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WALDO – The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) is helping the City of Waldo replace its water meters as part of an initiative to help local governments with water conservation.

“The district is pleased to partner with the City of Waldo in a project that will conserve water,” said Ann Shortelle, district executive director for the SRWMD.

The funds, about $76,836, will pay for 543 new water meters in Waldo to replace the outdated and broken ones. The new meters are more accurate, according to the SRWMD, and are better at detecting leaks. The new meters could save nearly 5 million gallons of water a year.

The SRWMD set aside about $1.5 million in cost-share funds for the current fiscal year to help water conservation in the district, finding alternate water supplies, providing flood protection, ecosystem restoration and water quality improvement projects. Waldo was one of 14 local governments that were approved for the funding.

“We are grateful that the district is assisting the city with the installation of meters that have better detection capabilities,” said Waldo City Manager Kim Worley.

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W - World Series Santa Fe DSC 1059The Santa Fe team eagerly watches the action on the field. Santa Fe lost to Pitt County, 6-5.

ALACHUA – On Sunday afternoon, parents and family members braved the incredible heat to cheer on the players of the Babe Ruth Softball World Series 12U Commissioner’s Cup. These teams didn’t make it into the regular World Series games, but that didn’t stop the parents in the crowd from cheering on at the spectacle.

“We are proud of you,” the crowd chanted in unison at the players.

During the last games of the day, Lodi Extreme, from California, played the Oakleaf Bandits, from Florida. Tri-County, from Florida, played Prairie Village, from Kentucky.    

Parents and players attended games until Tuesday night, as teams from around the country competed at the Hal Brady Recreation Complex.

“Seeing these girls improve and doing their personal best is the best part of all this,” said Shawna Ahlbach, from Lodi, Calif., mother of Madison Ahlbach, 13.

Despite the crowd of parents in the stands, even more people showed up for the regular World Series games.

Monday night at 7:30 p.m., the Santa Fe team, 2010 champions, played Pitt County of North Carolina, the 2012 champions. Both of the teams went into the game undefeated, but only Pitt County left unscathed. Pitt County won the game by a single point, 6-5. In double elimination play, going teams will go on to the finals.

Alachua City Commissioner Shirley Brown attended the game so she could support children and families she knows from her time as a teacher.

“We’ve got to be here to support our girls,” she said. “They’re serious about this game.”

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