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NEWBERRY – The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) responded to a two-vehicle head-on crash scene on Monday, March 16. The incident occurred on County Road 235 north of Northwest Sixth Lane in Newberry at 4:15 p.m.

A 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander, driven by 19-year-old Evan Scott Finnell of Newberry, was traveling south on County Road 235. A 2000 GMC Jimmy driven by 60-year-old Brett Donavan Bailey, also from Newberry, was traveling north on the same roadway.

Finnell’s Mitsubishi crossed the center line and both vehicles collided. Both drivers were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash.

At the time of the crash Finnell was wearing his seatbelt, but Bailey was not.

FHP is continuing to investigate the crash. Both drivers are being tested for alcohol, which is a standard procedure in a crash resulting in a death.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – A pandemic has gripped the world and its effects are rapidly mounting in America. The COVID-19 virus has gone from a single case in Washington state on Jan.21, 2020 to over 5,981 cases covering all 50 states as of March 17, 2020.

By March 17, 2020, it has killed 99 people, most either elderly or with prior health issues. For many younger people it is not fatal, similar to a bad flu with dry cough, fever, trouble breathing, weakness and some mental disorientation. Many of these, especially lower- and middle-income people have jobs in the service industry or retail, interact with a number of people while needing to work to pay their bills. The problem becomes not only who has it, but who their interactions.

Someone younger going to work and interacting with others can spread the virus quickly. While it may not seem bad enough to miss work to the younger person, it can be deadly to those in the at-risk groups. The same goes for public events such as concerts, movie theaters, restaurants and bars. An infected person can easily spread to others unknowingly. There is usually a 4-14-day incubation period before symptoms show up and health experts have not confirmed when it becomes communicable, but believe it can be spread before symptoms show.

The virus is highly communicable, with the infection rate typically doubling in 2-4 days in most of the 146 countries it is currently in, with the numbers changing constantly. Nations are closing their borders, limiting travel by air, train or bus, mass quarantining of anyone suspected of being in contact with an infected person and closing businesses, putting many people out of work and affecting the world economy. It is currently estimated to cost the global economy $2.7 trillion.

Although slow to realize the scope of the epidemic in America and being unprepared for expanding numbers that needed supplies or hospitalization, the federal government has begun expanding their efforts to contain the epidemic and get supplies and test kits to a much broader audience, working with state governments to get what they need to minimize the virus's spread.


The Federal government and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) health experts have announced a variety of suggested restrictions. They initially said to avoid groups over 250 and practice “social distancing” by keeping six feet away from others. Within days that was revised to groups of 50 and then on March 16 it was further reduced to groups of 10.

These restrictions have resulted in cancellations or postponement of most events. Major sports games or events have been canceled including all NBA games, Kentucky Derby, NASCAR, tennis and soccer tournaments. Any event with more than 10 people is suggested to cancel. Museums, movie and show theaters, libraries and schools have all closed down. Many businesses have also shut their doors and many companies are asking their employees to work from home to avoid spreading the disease.

In Florida, both state and local governments have put restrictions on businesses and events. On March 17, Governor Ron DeSantis ordered all of Florida’s bars and nightclubs closed for 30 days starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, upending St. Patrick’s Day revelries as the state acts more aggressively to contain the COVID-19 virus that has infected more than 171 people in Florida and killed six as of his announcement.

He also said he’s asking Florida’s University Board of Governors to require students to return home for remote learning for the rest of the spring semester. All schools in the state are closed until at least March 27. A decision will be made at that time whether to reopen.

Florida also unveiled a new online dashboard that provides the public with a clearer picture of where the virus has hit. The COVID-19 surveillance dashboard provides a color-coded map that shows the intensity of infections across the state. Information on the virus, testing, restrictions and current status can be found at http://www.floridahealth.gov

Alachua County has been lucky so far with only four confirmed cases but testing has been limited and is just getting up to speed. Each of the city governments have tried to limit contact and the spread by canceling events.


In Newberry, Mayor Jordan Marlowe announced on March 17 that he will be declaring a State of Emergency for the City of Newberry. This will help make additional funds available to the city to combat the virus. Gainesville has also declared a State of Emergency and canceled all public events. Newberry has canceled all recreation programs, including any activities at the Easton Sports Complex. They have canceled all city meetings that are not time sensitive and set up a drive-through center for people interacting with city departments as well as creating online payments for all utilities. The mayor has also recommended that employees work from home. Open air parks in Newberry will remain open at present. Newberry also has two meal programs to feed students that depend on school meals. The city distributes meals at the MLK Community Center during the week. For information call the city at 352-472-2161. United Methodist Church also has a food program on Sundays for students.

High Springs

In High Springs, the city has suspended all city activities, including food giveaways, excluding school board-sanctioned services, until further notice. Enclosed structures, including the bathrooms in city parks and playground equipment are closed. Large pickup games and parties in city parks are also discouraged, as the CDC encourages “social distancing.” High Springs City Hall will be closed as of March 17, 2020 at 6 p.m. and will remain closed until April 6. Residents are encouraged to utilize online services available through the website at highsprings.us, including tag renewal.

Online fees will be reduced during this time from $3.50 to $2.50. Canceled events include the weekly Farmers Market, Music in The Park series and all non-essential meetings. Several businesses have also shut their doors including Rum 138, which provides river trips and rental kayaks. The owners felt that because they have customers from all over the world interacting it would be best to minimize the risk to customers by closing. The Chamber of Commerce has also postponed their annual Murder Mystery charity play. Deeper Community Church in High Springs is organizing a free meal program for students. The Alachua County School Board is also offering free meals at a number of campuses including Santa Fe High School.


In the City of Alachua, City parks remain open for public use, although that may change. However, no organized gatherings are permitted. All youth sports have been suspended until at least March 30, 2020. All special events have been suspended until at least March 30, 2020. Two large annual events, the Cattleman's Ball sponsored by the Alachua Lions Club and the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life have been canceled or postponed as well. City services are available under normal operating conditions including online pay options and all facilities are operating with increased sanitizing and disinfecting protocol. Several restaurants including Mi Apa have switched to take-out or delivery only to avoid crowds.

The restrictions and business closings will affect both the local and national economy, possibly for a much longer time and may even bring about an economic recession. The virus's exponential infection rate, data and developments are constantly changing, often within hours. While the disease is serious and unprecedented, it must be remembered that it can be mild in younger patients but deadly in others.

Containment depends on all people working together and being aware of others around them. Alachua Today will continue to provide updated information. For up-to-the-minute information, readers can go to Florida Health Department website https://floridahealthcovid19.gov/ or the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/

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HIGH SPRINGS – At about 4:50 a.m. on March 3, 2020, Columbia County sheriff deputies responded to several 911 calls of a robbery and shooting at the Vegas One Internet Casino at 4201 South U. S. Highway 441 in Lake City.

A nearby deputy saw a gray four-door sedan leaving the parking lot at a high rate of speed and attempted to stop it as other units responded to the casino.

The vehicle failed to stop and fled southbound on U.S. Highwayv441 with units in pursuit. As deputies pursued the vehicle, other deputies arriving at the casino discovered a male employee suffering from a gunshot wound to his upper body. Witnesses at the business reported three masked men entered the casino, robbing it and shooting the employee before fleeing. The victim was airlifted to a Gainesville hospital

Meanwhile, the vehicle pursuit continued into High Springs where the car stopped near U.S. Highway 441 and Northwest 222nd Street, and the suspects fled on foot. Inside the vehicle police found body armor and several firearms and determined that the fleeing suspects were probably armed and dangerous.

Units from the High Springs Police Department, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ASO), Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), Gainesville Police Department, Fish and Wildlife officers (FWC), Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and Department of Corrections (DOC) joined officers from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) and converged on the area. The area, which contains several neighborhoods, was cordoned off and K9 teams were deployed.

Police believed there were three to four suspects, three black men and one white man. Police did a reverse 911 call to warn residents and ask them to be on the lookout for suspicious activity. Shortly after the warning, officers were alerted by a resident of a man hiding in the backyard. Authorities apprehended one suspect, Caleb Bowers of Lake City, who was also the owner of the getaway vehicle.

According to Sgt. Frank Kinsey of ASO, multiple units were on scene quickly and set up a perimeter. As SWAT teams arrived, they began their search. “We discovered several empty houses, outbuildings and residences with no one home and unlocked doors. We had to stop and search each to make sure they were not behind us as we searched. This slowed down initial searches,” Kinsley said.

“We pulled all our resources from multiple agencies to coordinate the search,” Kinsley said. “That included SWAT teams, K-9s, armored vehicles and helicopters. Based on the fact they shot someone and had armored vests and weapons in the car, we know these are very dangerous men and want to get them with no further injuries to residents or officers. We went door to door to check on the safety of the residents.”

By noon, there were enough SWAT teams on site to initiate a grid search pushing forward through the neighborhoods. The search lasted until dark when visual contact was limited. Despite the extensive effort the other three suspect eluded police and remain at large. Anyone with information is asked to call the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office at 386-758-1095.

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HIGH SPRINGS – Much of north Florida's beauty is based around its rivers and springs. The Silver River is a short, spring fed river east of Ocala with crystal clear water, abundant wildlife and seven miles of pristine undeveloped land. There have been settlements at nearby Silver Springs since before the first Europeans. The history of the Silver River is haunting and familiar. The film, “Out of the Mist: A Silver River Story,” explores its natural beauty and the lives of people who lived there and depended upon the river for their livelihood.

After Florida became a United States territory, settlers established a town at Silver Springs in 1852. Since the mid-19th century, the natural environment of Silver Springs attracted visitors from throughout the United States and became a popular tourist spot for visitors who poled their way along the narrow stream through overhanging cypress and Spanish moss. With the invention of the paddle wheel boat, Silver River also became a distribution center for Central Florida. Plantations growing produce used the river as a transportation route from nearby Ocala to settlements to the east.

Silver River’s Glass Bottom Boats

In the late 1870s, Phillip Morrell fixed a piece of glass in the bottom of a rowboat and a new enterprise began. Silver River's glass bottom boat tours have been world famous for more than 100 years.

In the early 1900s, Ed Carmichael purchased much of the land around the river and by the late 1920s he had developed a park that eventually became known as Silver Springs Nature Theme Park. The attraction featured native animal exhibits, amusement rides, and 30 or 90-minute glass-bottom boat tours. Upon Carmichael”s death, the land was donated to the University of Florida to ensure that the land would stay undeveloped so its pristine beauty could be maintained.

The tourist attraction continued after his death under lease to several corporations. The undeveloped tropical nature of the land also made it a popular spot for Hollywood films and was a frequent location for the series of Tarzan films in the 1930s to 1950s. Other films shot on the Silver River include the James Bond movie “Moonraker,” a “Smokey and the Bandit” sequel and the series “Sea Hunt” with Lloyd Bridges.

State of Florida Buys the Land

Beginning in 1993, the first thorough scientific studies of the springs were conducted and wildlife rehabilitation was started. That year, the State of Florida bought the underlying land, while private businesses continued to operate the attractions and concessions. The park went through a number of changes and revenue dropped off and the company running the park ended their lease. In January 2013, the state of Florida announced it would begin managing the park. Palace Entertainment agreed to pay a $4 million buyout to end their lease. The private park closed as of Sept. 21, 2013 and it became part of the Florida State Park system. The state also continued the glass bottom boat tours that were a long tradition at the park.

Cinematographer Mark Emery Grew up on the River

Double-Emmy-Award-winning wildlife cinematographer, naturalist and longtime Ocala resident Mark Emery moved to Ocala at age four and graduated from Vanguard High School in 1972. He grew up on the river, and as a young adult he worked at Silver Springs as a glass-bottom boat captain and wrestled alligators and milked rattlesnakes at reptile expert Ross Allen’s institute at Silver Springs. Emery also spent six months employed as a guard against poachers on the then 23,000-acre Drake Ranch in western Marion County and lived in very primitive conditions.

His love of the area and experiences as a boat captain eventually led him to become a photographer and cinematographer. He worked with and learned his craft from Academy Award winning underwater cinematographer Jordan Klein, Sr. Over the years, Emery has received two Emmys for National Geography nature films. He also has been involved in producing, filming and directing shows on channels including the Discovery Channel, PBS Nature and BBC, and has made a film with the Navy SEALS.

Boat Captains Inspired Film

His relationship to the river and the older boat captains eventually led him to his newest film, “Out of the Mist: A Silver River Story featuring four of the old-time boat captains and their cumulative experience of over 200 years. Intersected with beautiful footage of the nature and wildlife on the river, the film interviews the four captains, three of whom are now retired.

Emery produced the film with his own resources and sponsored “go fund me” finances, working on it for five years in between other jobs. Three of the four captains featured in the film are African Americans who worked at the park during the time of segregation. While they drove the boats and gave tours, the visitors were all white and the boat captains only worked at the park and were unable to bring family or friends for the tours. A now defunct park along the river was called Paradise Park was for “coloreds” only.

In the film, the four boat captains, Virginia Ferguson, Roosevelt Faison, Oscar Collins and Leon Cheatam, tell of their work on the river and the information they shared with some 12 million visitors over the years. They also reflect on their experiences in a segregated society and the changing times.

But the captains spent much of the interviews on what they loved about their job, the beauty and passion they felt for the river. How they enjoyed watching the wonderment of the tourists at seeing the unique beauty of the river and its wildlife. To the captains, it was the perfect job, with each day bringing something different. The film also tells of the ebb and flow of certain species of wildlife and the increase in algae in the river.

Contamination and Restoration

In the 1970s to 1990s human growth in the surrounding area, including increasing numbers of septic tanks, fertilizer and livestock operations, caused nitrate-nitrogen contamination along the river, increasing algae growth which also affected the park’s tourism. Since that time the State of Florida has been leading a restoration effort that has brought the river back to its former beauty.

Due to the environmental impact on the river, the Florida Springs Institute has sponsored showings of Emery's film and on March 5 the movie was shown at the historic Priest Theater in High Springs. Starting with a BBQ dinner at the High Springs Brewery, the attendees were able to meet and talk with Emery and then hear his discussion on what the film was about and his passion for the area.

Emery also talked about the unique qualities of the river for underwater photography, stating that the Silver River environment provides an atmosphere where filmmakers don’t have to deal with salt water in their equipment and the light conditions in the water are very positive.

Emery hopes that the film will make people aware of the uniqueness of Florida's environment and help raise awareness on the need to preserve it for future generations.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Alachua County and the City of Gainesville have issued a stay-in-place order effective March 24, 2020 at 12:01 A.M. Accordingly, essential businesses have been defined to include grocery stores, healthcare providers, news outlets, banks and gas stations. Also included are restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, which will be allowed to continue to operate in compliance with the Governor's executive orders 20-68, 20-70 and 20-71. EMERGENCY ORDER NO. 2020-09 STAY AT HOME AND CLOSE ALL NON-ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES IN ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA may be viewed at the Alachua County website at: https://alachuacounty.us/Documents/Emergency%20Order%202020-09.PDF

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HIGH SPRINGS – The continuing battle over Nestlé pulling 1.152 million gallons a day of spring water from the Seven Springs Bottling plant took another turn on Monday, March 9. Nestle has been fighting for the renewal of a permit owned by Seven Springs that would allow Nestle to draw the 1.5 million gallons from Ginnie Springs. Although Seven Springs initially received the permit 25 years ago for that amount, the plant has never drawn more than 0.26 million gallons per day. Nestle is requesting a permit to be able to draw the full amount to sell as their Zephyrhills brand.

Nestlé purchased the Seven Springs bottling plant last year in anticipation of receiving the permit after Seven Springs renewed the permit. Despite not yet having the approval, Nestle has already invested over $1 million to upgrade the plant to handle the increased capacity.

Nestlé has argued they are good stewards of the environment and would not harm the health of the river since that would be detrimental to their business. They also argue that they bring jobs and tax revenue to Florida's economy and they will help protect the river from increased pollution from agricultural and increased population use since that would also be damaging to the bottling plant.

Over a 20-year period, the aquifer has dropped approximately three feet. Consequently, the Santa Fe River flows many cubic feet per second less than when Seven Springs initially received their permit. In the water management district in which Ginnie is located, the springs flow has declined an average of 48 percent from 1930–2010.

Opponents of the Nestlé plant argue that allowing up to 1.152 million gallons a day to be pumped would harm the Santa Fe River system, reduce water for public use and is not in the public interest as required by state law for approval of permits. They also cite the increased truck traffic and the fact that Nestle would pay only $115 for the five-year permit and an undisclosed amount to Seven Springs and the Wray family that owns Ginnie Springs. Nestlé currently sells $7.7 billion worth of bottled water worldwide a year. Opponents argue that since the water is free for use by all Florida residents Nestle is making a profit selling a free resource back to Florida residents. The High Springs City Commission sent a letter to the Suwanee River Water Management District (SRWMD) suggesting that the permit be restricted to the previous amount drawn rather than the 1.52 million gallons requested by Nestlé.

Regarding the permit, SRWMD requested several reports from Seven Springs to show that the higher withdrawal amount would not cause damage and was in the best interest of the public. SRWMD staff recommended denying the permit since the requested information was not provided, and they considered the application incomplete. The denial was to be reviewed by the SRWMD Board of Governors on Tuesday March 10.

On Monday March 9, Seven Springs and Nestlé filed a petition for an administrative hearing and forwarded the petition to the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) for consideration by an Administrative Law Judge as required by law. This action resulted in removing the SRWMD Board of Governors from acting on the denial recommendation since it does not have jurisdiction to act on the petition until the administrative process is completed.

Both sides will present their case at the judicial hearing. However, the judge's ruling will not deal with the general issues or concerns with the permit, but only whether Seven Springs met the required requests for information and whether SRWMD fairly considered the application. No new evidence regarding the effects of the permit will be considered, which means the judge’s decision will not be based on any issue but the legality of the SRWMD's information request. No date has been set for the judicial hearing. While the hearing could be expedited at the request of either party, it typically takes 60-90 days to get on the calendar.

Upon issuance of the recommended order, the SRWMD Executive Director will render a decision about the permit.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Pursuant to the authority granted by the Florida Supreme Court in AOSC20-13, Chief Judge Nilon has issued the following directives for the Eighth Judicial Circuit effective on March 16, 2020, at 5 p.m. and continuing through March 27, 2020, at 5 p.m.:
  • All jury selection, jury trials, and grand jury proceedings are suspended.
  • All county and circuit criminal court events are suspended, with the exception of first appearances, bond reduction hearings, in custody Change of Plea in which the release from incarceration of the Defendant is expected, and matters which the court determines to be urgent upon motion of a party.
  • All hearings in the family, juvenile delinquency, juvenile dependency, county civil, circuit civil, probate, guardianship, mental health, and civil traffic divisions shall be conducted by electronic means or shall be continued, with the exception of juvenile detention hearings, Domestic Violence Injunction hearings, and matters which the court determines to be urgent upon motion of a party.
The 311 Critical Information Line
The 311 Critical Information Line is now being staffed by live operators. This line is for those who have questions or need information.
COVID-19 Call Center
The Alachua County Health Department has created a new call center for the community to address questions about testing and any concerns with COVID-19.
The phone number is 352-334-8810. Operators are on call from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. After hours call 352-334-7900.
The number we originally published, 352-225-4181, will be for practitioners with screening/testing or referral questions.
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