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ALACHUA ‒ A one-vehicle crash was reported to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) and Alachua County Fire Rescue at 4:13 a.m., Tuesday, May 3. The driver of a 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis was traveling south on County Road 235 when she attempted to evade an Alachua Police Department (APD) officer who had attempted an earlier traffic stop on the vehicle.

On Tuesday, May 3 APD officers observed a blue Mercury four-door vehicle driving erratically in the area of Northwest 159th Place.

Officers attempted to catch up to the vehicle in order to effect a traffic stop. The vehicle continued traveling through the neighborhood while increasing speed. The vehicle, in disregard of a red traffic signal, crossed four lanes of Northwest U.S. Highway 441 on Alachua’s Main Street.

Due to the blatant disregard for traffic control and the risk of danger to other motorists, the original officer ceased attempting to stop the vehicle. Officers continued looking for the vehicle in the area of CR 235.

Another officer spotted the vehicle, which was traveling at a high rate of speed, heading southbound on CR 235. The officer turned around and attempted to catch up; however, due to the high rate of speed, the officer lost visual contact and subsequently deactivated their emergency equipment.

Due to the erratic and unsafe driving behavior, the officer continued searching for the vehicle, which was later found to have crashed in the tree line along CR 235.

The driver, a 17-year-old Jacksonville woman, lost control of the Grand Marquis and spun off the roadway onto the west grass shoulder, at which point the vehicle’s left rear struck a tree. According to the FHP, the vehicle came to a final rest on the shoulder of CR 235 at approximately 1,000 feet south of Northwest 164th Terrace.

Units from Alachua County Fire Rescue (ACFR) responded, along with law enforcement. When crews arrived, they found a single vehicle with heavy damage, multiple patients outside of the vehicle and one patient who required extrication with the “Jaws of Life” to remove them from the seriously damaged vehicle.

Passengers included a 15-year-old male, listed in critical condition, and a 14-year-old male, listed in serious condition, both Alachua residents.

Additional passengers listed as Gainesville residents included a 17-year-old female in serious condition, a 14-year-old female in critical condition, and two females listed as 17- and 13-year-olds, both of whom were listed in serious condition.

The driver and passengers were all transported to UF Health Shands. According to the FHP, the driver was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash. It is unknown whether the passengers were belted in.

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HAWTHORNE ‒ The City of Hawthorne is the recipient of a $3,538,035 grant through the Community Development Block Grant – CV Small Cities and Entitlement Programs. The grant is earmarked to construct a new Hawthorne Area Resource Center (HARC) that will provide a food bank, medical and outreach services to residents.

The grant is administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) with CDBG-CV funds federally awarded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The funding is earmarked to help local governments prepare for, prevent, or respond to the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.

Grant guidelines require that awarded projects must be critical to the locality and primarily benefit low- and moderate-income residents. Local governments are encouraged to include activities that benefit workforce housing, training and sustainability, as well as broadband infrastructure and planning.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry City Commissioners have certified the 2022 Newberry Municipal Election results and sworn in the 2022 elected officials.

Commissioner Group I – Ricky Coleman and Commissioner Group II – Mark Clark were unchallenged in the 2022 election and retained their seats.  Commissioner Group III – Monty Farnsworth retained his seat after a close election, winning by a three-vote margin. 

Following the official swearing in ceremonies on April 25, Commissioner Mark Clark was elected as Chairperson Pro-Tempore and Commissioner Tony Maizon was elected as Alternate Chairperson Pro-Tempore.  The Chairperson Pro-Tempore serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Adjustment and as the Chair of the Canvassing Board.

In other City business, Monarch Design Group Architect Barnett Chenault provided the Commission with an update on a conceptual phase of a proposed new City Hall. 

Commissioners expressed concern about a drive-through covered pavilion between the existing City Hall structure and the new facility.  Asphalt pavement in the design seemed to suggest vehicles could drive under the covered pavilion and between the two buildings.  Safety concerns for pedestrians as well as aesthetics led Commissioners to suggest more attractive alternatives.

The original plan called for an office for each of the Commissioners and the mayor but was changed to provide two offices for use by Commissioners.  The saved space would leave room for other options such as a conference area, or an office for the tax collector or a driver’s license renewal office at a future date.

Chenault suggested it would take six to 10 months for civil and architectural work to be completed and another 10 months to build out the structure. 

Newberry Finance Director Dallas Lee said $200,000 has been set aside in this year’s budget for the City Hall project, but Chenault said the cost could be $400,000 to $550,000 to finish up the design concept.  Lee said they could set aside another $200,000 to $300,000 in next year’s budget and that there were other funding sources that would be available to them.  In addition, Commissioners are considering increasing development fees.

Concern was expressed about the Southwest 15th Avenue project vs. City Hall.  City Manager Mike New said the population is growing and if the City is going to keep up with providing services to citizens, a new City Hall structure was going to be needed.  “We already have people located all around the City,” he said.  The only other option was to put staff in portables.

In a roll call vote Commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of going ahead with the City Hall project.  Commissioners Mark Clark and Rick Coleman provided the dissenting votes.

In other business, Commissioners unanimously voted to increase the original State Revolving Fund (SRF) Loan Agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) from the original loan amount of $275,000, with a 50 percent grant forgiveness, to $1.1 million.  The original amount was to develop an engineering report on the expansion of the City’s wastewater treatment plant. 

In December 2021, the City Commission entered into a land purchase agreement to acquire additional property at the City’s existing plant.  With this action the Commission authorized the increase to the loan amount to cover the cost of the land purchase at an interest rate of 0.02 percent.

Commissioners unanimously approved Resolution 2022-23, requesting that the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners include funding in their FY 2022–23 budget to develop an annual rural highway improvement/ resurfacing program and receive suggestions on rankings of county rural highways in and around Newberry for improvements and resurfacing.  New said a joint meeting with the County is scheduled for the end of May.

New initially proposed seven roadways in and around Newberry, but Commissioners whittled that list to three top choices.  County Road 337 was at the top of the list due to the high fatality rate and number of curves on that roadway.  Second and third are CR 235 and 232 due to the high trip count on both roadways.

In other action, three expiring Planning and Zoning Board seats will be filled by Donald Long, Anne Polo and Linda Woodcock.  Their seats will expire on April 30, 2025.  Mellina Parker will join the Historic Architectural Review Board.  Her term will also expire on April 30, 2025.

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GAINESVILLE -  The National Association of Letter Carriers’ annual Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive returns Saturday, May 14, after a two-year absence from the community due to the COVID pandemic.  This one-day event provides an opportunity for the community to help hungry individuals and families.  

The Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive, the country's largest one-day food drive, provides residents with an easy way to donate food to those in need.  People are encouraged to leave a sturdy bag containing non-perishable foods, such as canned soup, canned vegetables, canned meats and fish, pasta, rice or cereal next to their mailbox before the regular mail delivery on that Saturday. 

The food donations collected locally stay in the community, going to help local residents.  Food collected will be distributed through the following local agencies:  Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, Catholic Charities, Food for Kids and Gainesville Community Ministry.  

Sherah English, Agency Relations Director and Co-CEO of the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, said, “We are pleased to partner with the local mail carriers and appreciate their efforts to make a significant contribution toward hunger relief.”  In the 30 years since it began, the Stamp Out Hunger Food Drive has collected about 1.88 billion pounds of food nationwide, helping to feed millions of Americans.  

Dave Hill, President of Union President Branch 1025, Florida said, “The timing is important, with food banks, pantries and shelters running low on donations from the winter holidays and with summer approaching, when most school meal programs are suspended.  Mail Carriers see the need every day and are proud to make a difference in the lives of the hungry.”

Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, established in 1987, serves the counties of Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Lafayette and Levy.  Bread of the Mighty Food Bank acquires, stores and distributes food and basic essentials through the support of over 170 agency partners, including feeding programs, churches, food pantries and shelters.  

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WALDO ‒ Ernest Francis Dority, 86, of Waldo was arrested at 10:47 p.m., Saturday, April 23, after allegedly shooting a man who wouldn’t give him his car keys after he had been drinking at a party.

According to the arrest report, Dority had been engaged in a verbal dispute after a party with a man who had taken his car keys in the belief that Dority was too intoxicated to drive.

Dority reportedly left the party on foot and returned with a revolver, pulled it from a holster and demanded his keys. He then allegedly fired one round, striking the victim in the face/head. Dority then left on foot and was detained by deputies a short time later. Deputies reported that he had an empty holster in his pocket when he was detained and that they found a revolver sitting on the passenger seat of his vehicle.

A witness told deputies that they saw Dority return to the party with a gun in his hand. That person made everyone else go inside. They then said they heard a gunshot and found the victim in the yard with a gunshot wound to the head. Witnesses told deputies that the victim did not have a gun.

Post Miranda, Dority reportedly admitted to shooting the victim from roughly six feet away but claimed that the victim had a gun in his hand and that he fired in self-defense.

Dority has been charged with attempted murder and is being held on $500,000 bond.

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ARCHER ‒ Donteau Ontrais Symonette, 41, was arrested early Saturday morning, April 23, following an attempted shooting at a card game in Archer.

According to the arrest report, an Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a call regarding an armed disturbance in Archer and found a victim bleeding from the back of his head.

The deputy learned from witnesses that a group of 10-20 people, including Symonette, had been playing spades on the front porch of a home. Symonette reportedly began losing money and told the other players he was going to get more money. When he returned, he allegedly pulled a handgun from his waistband and racked the slide back, then fired a round into the floor of the porch, saying, “Empty your pockets.”

The witnesses said that people started running, and Symonette said, “Don’t run, empty your pockets.” Symonette allegedly took money from some of the players and from the card table. He allegedly approached the victim and started hitting him in the head with his gun, then pointed the gun directly at the head of the victim and pulled the trigger multiple times. The gun malfunctioned, so the victim was not shot. The victim was able to strike the gun with his hand, causing Symonette to lose his grip. The gun fell in the bushes located just in front of the porch.

Witnesses said that Symonette retrieved the gun from the bushes and sat down at the table, racking the slide back and forth to try to clear the malfunction. Only one person was left sitting. Symonette placed the firearm on the table and allegedly exclaimed, “Don’t worry I’m not going to shoot you.” When deputies arrived, Symonette reportedly got into his truck and tried to drive away.

The deputy saw the truck driving away and relayed that information to other deputies, who pulled Symonette over and arrested him.

The deputy said he saw the hole in the wooden floor of the elevated front porch. Deputies were able to retrieve one spent .40 mm shell casing.

Post Miranda, Symonette denied ever being in the area of the incident location.

Symonette has previous felony convictions in Levy County and has been charged with attempted homicid, possession of a weapon by a convicted felon, and unlawful discharge of a firearm. He is being held on $350,000 bond at the Alachua County Jail.

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NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission has agreed to drop two counts against Alachua County in a lawsuit. During the April 25 Newberry City Commission meeting, Newberry City Attorney Scott Walker provided an update on the City’s case against the Alachua County Charter Review Commission that has been pending since Oct. 26, 2020. The City of Newberry, along with the Cities of Alachua and Archer, filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief against Alachua County and the Charter Review Commission.

The lawsuit raised three separate counts asking the court for relief from an amendment to the Alachua County Charter establishing a Growth Management Area to be managed by Alachua County instead of by municipalities, thereby removing the individual cities from the ability for Home Rule which would affect such matters as property use and zoning.

Count I of the Complaint was an action for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief alleging that the ballot title and summary for the charter amendment were defective pursuant to Section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes.

A summary judgment hearing was held Dec. 14, 2020, and the court granted the County’s motion for summary judgment and denied the plaintiffs’ (Alachua, Newberry and Archer’s) joint motion for summary judgment on Count I of the complaint.

On Feb. 22, 2021, plaintiffs filed a joint motion for reconsideration and on March 2, 2021, the plaintiffs filed their notice of appeal, which is currently pending in the First District Court of Appeal (DCA).

At a status conference on Monday, April 18, 2022, summary judgment hearings were set for Oct. 17, 2022 and trial was set for Dec. 1, 2022 on Count II and Count III of the complaint. Lead counsel David Theriaque advised the plaintiffs to await the appellate court’s ruling on Count I prior to proceeding with Counts II and III.

Based on a recommendation from Walker, the Newberry City Commission voted 4-1 to voluntarily withdraw Counts II and III with Commissioner Tim Marden dissenting. Walker had pointed out that those two Counts “are not our strongest arguments.”

Upon ruling of the appellate court on Count I, Walker said he would advise the Commission on the best way to proceed with Counts II and III at that time.

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