NEWBERRY ‒ Rakheem Tavares Hoyt, 29, of Newberry, was charged on Saturday, April 27, with possession of trafficking amounts of fentanyl and phenethylamines, commonly known as “bath salts.”
On March 3, an Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy located a truck in Newberry that had previously fled from him. The truck was reportedly partially blocking the road in the 25400 block of Northwest 8th Avenue and was unoccupied. While waiting for backup, the deputy was approached by a woman who initially said she had been driving the truck and had fled because she was scared. She reportedly changed her story later to state that Hoyt was driving the truck and that one of the handguns belonged to her.
After more deputies arrived, a probable cause search of the truck was conducted based on the plain odor of marijuana. During the search, deputies reportedly found two handguns, an AK-47 rifle, 14 grams of fentanyl in the form of counterfeit oxycodone pills, 135 grams of marijuana and 100 grams of cannabis concentrate.
After a warrant was obtained to search a safe that was found in the truck, deputies found another 19 grams of fentanyl in the form of counterfeit oxycodone pills and 555 grams of substituted cathinones (bath salts).
Hoyt was originally charged via sworn complaint with possession of trafficking quantities of fentanyl, possession of trafficking quantities of phenethylamines, possession of cannabinoids with intent to sell, possession of marijuana with intent to sell and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Formal charges were filed on April 27 on the two drug trafficking charges. No action was taken on the others. Prosecutors recommended $1 million bond for each charge, but Judge James Nilon reduced that to $500,000 for each charge.
Hoyt has three felony convictions and 29 misdemeanor convictions. He was previously arrested on April 10 for selling drugs near two churches and $1 million has been added to his previous bail of $250,100. At the time of this writing, Hoyt remains in the Alachua County Jail.
ALACHUA ‒ An 18-year-old Alachua man was killed on Sunday, April 23, in a collision between a motorcycle and a pickup truck crash. The 8:36 p.m. crash occurred at the intersection of West State Road 235 and County Road 237.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), the pickup truck driven by a 45-year-old man from Lake Butler was pulling a trailer as he traveled north on CR 237. The truck collided with the motorcycle, which was traveling west on West SR 235.
The motorcycle rider, who was wearing a helmet at the time of the incident, sustained fatal injuries. According to FHP, the driver of the pickup truck was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash and sustained minor injuries.
The crash is currently under investigation by FHP.
HIGH SPRINGS ‒ Around 8 a.m. on Monday April 17, Alachua County SWAT team members (ASO), along with state Florida Law Enforcement (FDLE) and federal DEA agents, executed a search warrant at a suspected drug house on Northwest 240th Street and 187th Avenue in High Springs. The suspect, Anthony Rizzotto, 38, initially refused to come out. Knowing that Rizzotto was armed, law enforcement brought in an armored SWAT vehicle with a ram and knocked in two doors. Even with the entrance points available, the police waited the suspect out. “We knew he was armed and didn’t want to initiate a gunfight where either the suspect or our team could get hurt,” said an ASO officer. “We wanted a peaceful resolution and finally convinced him after about two hours to surrender.”
“They started making a lot of noise and telling the guy to come out,” said witness Charlie Brown. “He didn’t come out. Finally, the girlfriend came out...Several hours later after they had pushed down the fence trying to encourage him to come out...they finally opened the sliding glass door with a device on the front of the vehicle.”
Neighbors say they have been suspicious of activity going on at the house. “Lots of traffic, at all hours,” said Mark Bertocci. “Lot of cars coming in, a parade of cars. It’s kind of actually known and kind of not really hidden in a way.”
“All the cars coming and going all the time and they never show their license plate,” said Brown. “They always go around the back of the house.”
Rizzotto's neighbors had expressed their concerns to the High Springs Police Department who kept an eye on the house and notified State and Federal agents who put the house under surveillance. Once authorities documented the behavior, agents raided the house.
When Rizzotto surrendered, he provided the combination to his safe, and agents searched the house. Inside were two pistols, along with a magazine drum, a WWII-era submachine gun, and a 22-caliber rifle. Deputies also found meth in the home, and Rizzotto admitted to putting additional drugs down the drain.
Rizzotto has an extensive criminal history, and in addition to charges for drug production and distribution and resisting arrest, he also faces charges for weapons possession by a convicted felon. Additional information from law enforcement is limited due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Only two days after the drug raid, first responders were back at the house—this time it was firefighters putting out a fire in the attic. Around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, firefighters responded to fire reports at the same house on Northwest 240th Street and 187th Road. When they arrived, smoke was pouring from the roof of the single-story home. Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading from the attic to the rest of the home. A man and woman were in the home at the time, but no one was hurt. The cause of the fire is now under investigation by the Alachua County Fire Marshal and no further information was available.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Minde Prince O’Sullivan is relieved that other families will not have to endure media coverage of autopsy reports of their children, now that the Rex and Brody Act has been passed by the legislature.
O’Sullivan’s sons, Rex and Brody, grew up in Gainesville and were killed by their father in a murder-suicide in Dixie County in May 2021; O’Sullivan was forced to relive the trauma of their murders when media outlets acquired the autopsy report later that year and ran stories about the findings.
O’Sullivan said she never wanted to know the details of their final moments, and she was also concerned that Rex and Brody’s friends were able to easily find the details of their murders in media reports because she believes children should be protected from graphic descriptions of violence.
Senator Keith Perry introduced the bill in the 2022 legislative session and Rep. Chuck Clemons introduced a companion bill that passed in the House. The Senate bill was withdrawn a few days before the end of the 2022 session. This year’s bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. When signed by the governor, the bill
will go into effect immediately and will be retroactive.
Senator Keith Perry said, “The Rex and Brody Act is a crucial step in protecting the privacy and dignity of minors who have lost their lives. It is heartbreaking to see families endure additional pain and suffering due to the public release of autopsy reports involving their loved ones. We must do everything in our power to prevent such situations from ever occurring again.”
ALACHUA ‒ On April 20, more than 500 life science industry professionals from emerging and established life sciences companies, universities and research institutions gathered at Momentum Labs in Alachua's Progress Park for the 18th Annual BioFlorida Celebration of Biotechnology, the state’s largest life sciences exhibit show. Alachua is home to a burgeoning biotech cluster and in recent years the area has seen large growth in biotech industries in Progress Park and along the U.S, Highway 441 corridor.
BioFlorida is the voice of Florida's life sciences industry, representing 8,600 establishments and research organizations in biopharma, medtech, digital health, and health systems that collectively employ nearly 107,000 Floridians. The BioFlorida event was first held in 2003 in Progress Park on UF Sid Martin’s patio with 40 attendees. With the support of the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, research and scientific advancements have grown the industry exponentially in Alachua. This year's event had nearly 500 participants with over 114 exhibitors.
The event provides an opportunity to learn about industry innovation and development, explore career opportunities, network with leaders, and drive collaborations to fuel future growth in the region. Celebration of Biotechnology exhibitors represented many of the emerging technologies in life sciences and biotechnology and representatives were available for participants to discuss the products with company personnel. Organizers also offered moderated bus tours of the local life science facilities, and following the event, Santa Fe College Perry Center for Emerging Technologies, located across Highway 441, provided a tour of their facilities.
At 11:30, President and CEO of BioFlorida Nancy Bryan gave a short introductory speech, followed with remarks by Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper and Brian Crawford, CEO and owner of Concept Companies, a nationwide real estate development company. “Scientists and researchers in the region are making advancements across multiple therapeutics areas including wound care, nerve repair, joint replacement, cell and gene therapy, Alzheimer’s, immumo-oncology, treatments for rare diseases, and many more,” said Crawford.
Referencing construction of the Momentum Lab facilities, Crawford said the facility offers growing life science companies access to needed resources, lab space and a highly desirable lifestyle. “We expect this trend to accelerate, propelling the future growth of the region,” said Crawford. “This would not have happened in Alachua if not for the support and cooperation from Mayor Coerper and the Ctiy of Alachua. They have consistently supported the vision of building the biotech hub in this area.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At their May 2 board meeting, the school board voted 3-2 to retain Andrew as superintendent through the end of June 2024 and delay the start date for a new superintendent to that date.
Andrew was appointed as Interim Superintendent on March 15, 2022, and he negotiated a contract through June 30, 2024, at a salary of $175,000; the contract guarantees that he can return to his previous position of Chief of Operations if he is terminated from the Interim Superintendent job.
During the part of the meeting that is set aside for comments from the teachers’ union, ACEA President Carmen Ward said every educator she has spoken to wants the “stability of Shane Andrew” as superintendent.
During the adoption of the agenda, Member Sarah Rockwell requested that the board table the agenda item about Andrew’s contract, which she had requested. She said, “I don’t think it is fair to discuss the Superintendent’s contract when the board’s evaluations weren’t available to all board members and the public until this afternoon.” The motion failed, 2-3, with only Rockwell and Certain favoring the removal of the item.
Board evaluations of Andrew
The board first discussed their individual evaluations of Andrew. The evaluations were posted just a few hours before the meeting; Rockwell rated Andrew “Unsatisfactory,” Chair Tina Certain rated him “Needs Improvement,” and Members Kay Abbitt, Diyonne McGraw, and Leanetta McNealy rated him “Effective.” The highest rating on the form is “Highly Effective.”
Certain decided to take public comment before the board discussed the evaluations. Twelve people spoke in favor of retaining Andrew as Interim Superintendent, one person spoke against Andrew, and three people spoke about more general issues. Stability was a consistent theme in the comments of those who spoke in favor of keeping Andrew as Superintendent.
Rockwell said her evaluation was “thorough and lengthy” and said the board needs to make “really good decisions for our children.” She said many people are frustrated by the lack of progress in the school district and that Andrew has an opportunity to improve. “I think the way to improve this is through project management documentation… I would like to see [project management documents] for all our major projects” with timelines and updates presented to the board. She said she would be open to creating a position or contracting a position to help with project management and that she wanted Andrew to be successful and wanted the board to “move forward with unity and a plan.”
McGraw said she had hoped to never be at a meeting like this again and that she had thought the board was unified. She emphasized that the “focus always has to be on children” and spoke at length about discipline (her vision is covered here, and there will be another workshop on discipline tomorrow at 10 a.m.). “Mr. Andrew is–just like the rest of us, we all have our challenges, we all have our strengths… You build a team around you that’s able to make you successful.” She said it’s not “time for change” because that “would be disastrous” in preparing for the 2023-24 school year.
Abbitt said Andrew had “inherited a lot of turmoil” and “you can’t expect miracles to happen.” She said that when new leaders come in, they just need to observe at first and that the board had only provided guidance to the superintendent two months ago. She added that Andrew had “brought a sense of calm to the district.”
McNealy said Mr. Andrew has strong ties to the local community and that stability and consistency are important. She concluded, “We need to leave as-is right now and move forward.”
Certain said she was “perplexed” at the uproar around the evaluation because it’s board policy to evaluate the superintendent once a year. She asked Andrew about an incident that was reported in the Gainesville Sun in which unnamed district employees said Andrew brought a Bible into a staff meeting and read Bible quotes about people betraying Jesus.
Andrew said, “The Gainesville Sun article is not accurate. Never happened.” He said the Sun did not name the staff members because they don’t exist; he said he had never opened a Bible and read to employees out of that Bible: “I let my light so shine, but I’ll leave it at that.”
Certain said the board had made their priorities clear in early November “and I don’t believe, and I don’t see evidence of a coordinated strategy of really addressing what’s happening in the school building.” She said the district staff didn’t seem to have the authority to direct school staff to make changes. She said her evaluation was intended to “adjust our practice.”
Shane Andrew responds
After all the school board members had spoken, Andrew said he received the self-evaluation document at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, and he was asked to turn it in by April 25, so he only had two workdays to complete it. He added, “But let’s evaluate me on comprehensive rezoning, that wasn’t even approved until April 4th? That’s not even a month ago… I’ll just say the timeline was unrealistic for that self-evaluation… I’m humbled by the kind comments, the support, and the constructive feedback. I hear that. I know we have fallen short as a system. I know we have failed… And I’ve been part of that system… Blame me, but give me some time to change the system.”
Andrew continued, “Our staff has not had time to do the work. And we have these monumental things that we have to do–we’ve been preparing the next slide deck.” He mentioned the large number of meetings and workshops that have been held over the past few months and requested that staff be given time to do the work. He said he had previously run schools, and when he got to the district office he said, “Oh my gosh, yes, that is the problem… It might be that we all need to be cleared out of here, and we start over.” He said they need to focus on “assessment, getting our kids safely through the school year, getting them to their graduations, focus on supporting our teachers as they close out the year, we need to change what we do so we have equitable access and opportunities for all kids.”
Certain asked him what he meant by “systemic change,” pointing out that schools with the largest number of students in poverty usually have the most staff vacancies and the least experienced staff. Andrew responded, “Just like we addressed the hiring, yes. And if you call it out, systemic racism has to be addressed. That’s just the way it’s been… systemic assignments.” He said that the least effective teachers are often sent to the lower-performing schools: “We plan to address that.”
Abbitt made a motion to postpone the search for the new superintendent until January 2024 and honor Andrew’s contract through June 2024. McGraw seconded the motion. Abbitt said it would be hard for Andrew to get much done by the original date of November, although she seemed to be talking about a start date for the search compared to the previous target hiring date of November.
Rockwell didn’t want to push it off that far because it wouldn’t leave much time for transition. McGraw said, “We need to regroup, we need a retreat” and said Abbitt’s motion would give Andrew a full school year to implement his plan. McNealy said she would prefer holding to the compromise that had been reached the previous day on the start date for the new superintendent. Certain wanted to go forward with the search as they decided yesterday. Andrew said it made more sense to have the new superintendent come in during the summer instead of in the middle of the school year, and he thought that schedule might attract more candidates.
During public comment on the motion, 12 people spoke in favor of the motion, and nobody spoke against it.
When the discussion came back to the board, Certain clarified that the intent is to start the search in January 2024 with the intent of having the new superintendent start at the end of Andrew’s contract in June 2024. The motion passed 3-2, with Certain and Rockwell in dissent.
NEWBERRY, FLA. ‒ The proposed Newberry meat processing facility garnered top billing at the Monday, April 24, Newberry City Commission meeting. Newberry citizens packed the meeting room to hear Newberry City Manager Mike New review high points of a meeting he attended with members of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) regarding the Newberry Environmental Park and the meat processing facility.
New said that Newberry would not be operating the meat packing facility, but would be partnering with the County to provide land for the 10,000 square-foot facility. The property that will likely be available to the County comprises approximately 40 acres. With a 10,000-square-foot facility within that much land, New said there would be a significant buffer around the meat packing facility. The rest of the project site is earmarked to be used for the proposed wastewater treatment facility, a new location for the City’s Public Works Department, a firefighters training facility, a composting facility and a limited pilot wetlands educational project. A number of citizens opposed to the meat processing facility approached the podium to express their displeasure that the City would consider such a project.
BoCC Chair Anna Prizzia, a proponent of the project, was in the audience and said the meat processing facility would not only support small to mid-sized ranchers, but also promote local resilience and food security. Prizzia said project costs are estimated to be $5.25 million and that the facility would serve ranchers within a 100-mile radius and is anticipated to create 70 jobs.
The BoCC has set aside $2.5 million in ARPA funds for this project and Prizzia said they are working with legislators to obtain matching funds.
Some 26 people voiced their opinion about the meat processing facility with 14 in favor of the facility and 12 against. Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said he kept track of whether comments were from Newberry residents and reported that a higher number of Newberry residents wanted the facility than did not.
The next step in the process is for the County to present an interlocal agreement to the City for the property for review by City staff and the City attorney.