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GAINESVILLE – The Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) voted Tuesday afternoon to fund a City of Alachua Hal Brady Recreation Complex expansion despite a vote last week from the Alachua County Tourist Development Council (TDC) against the measure.

For the complete story, see the Oct. 27 printed edition of Alachua County Today.

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HS_EmporiumSharron Britton, owner of the High Springs Emporium, maintains an inventory of distinctive gift items appealing to a wide range of customers, from the frugal shopper to the affluent collector.

HIGH SPRINGS – Fire licks its way up the delicate feathers, consuming the creature in a pile of ashes. Out of this mass rises a colorful bird, reborn.

The mythical phoenix is the logo for the High Springs Emporium. Owner Sharron Britton, 60, knows a little about rising from the flames.

“My first store burned to the ground,” she said. “I lost everything I had. I had to reinvent myself.”

She is now the owner of what she says is the only rock and mineral store in North Central Florida. Her store sells a large variety of mineral products in a wide range of prices.

The store is located in High Springs at 600 NW Santa Fe Boulevard. Open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, the store has something for everyone, Britton said.

For people looking for unique gifts, she sells trinkets like inexpensive crystal jewelry and small, carved animals, she said.

Serious collectors can choose from Britton’s mineral collection, gathered from all over the world. For these individuals, she offers workshops, either run by her or visiting friends.

“My community is vast,” she said. “People travel hundreds of miles to come to my shop. I get the Goth kids, people looking for gifts, people using stones for metaphysical uses, even religious people. After all, God made the rocks.”

She also utilizes stones for therapeutic purposes, explaining that different minerals have unique energies. By offering consultations at her store, she said she helps people heal.

“People can heal themselves on a certain level,” she said. “They can decide to shift their focus.”

Britton has a counseling background. She moved to Gainesville in 1968 from Venice, Fla., to study psychology at the University of Florida.

Seated comfortably in a plush, scarlet couch, she shoos away volunteers hanging up swooping bats to decorate the store for Halloween. She explained that this back room is for tranquility.

“We talk about things here,” she said. “I can do better counseling at the store.”

However, she encourages people to stop by and explore her store on their own. She set up a spiral labyrinth in the wooded back area to give people an opportunity for mediation.

The labyrinth is made of agatized coral found in North Central Florida. Agatized coral occurs when silica in the ocean hardens, replacing coral with a kind of quartz.

She laid the coral down in lines, following the ancient spiral pattern.

“It creates a walking meditation that’s meant to bring you closer to God and the mystery within,” Britton said. “When you reach the center, you give thanks. As you leave, you feel all the patterns and all the things that don’t serve you leaving.”

This opportunity to learn is most important, she said. That is why she does events like the Halloween Psychic Fair, to be held on Oct. 29.

“This is not about mega-weirdness,” she said. “People can believe in this or not. It is all in the spirit of good fun, positive energy and inquiry.”

The event offers a great variety of psychic readings, from Nordic Runes to tarot cards. However, Britton includes candy for the kids, encouraging them to dress up.

“It allows them to experience reality in a different way,” she said. “It opens their imagination and allows them to create. I like this. It’s fun.”

She enjoys sharing her knowledge of geology with kids that come into the store. Britton started collecting rocks when she was a little girl.

“I like the rocks and minerals in and of themselves,” she said. “I love the possibilities and potential.”

When she moved to High Springs 10 years ago to sell minerals at her brother’s furniture and antiques store, she had no idea where it would lead. All she knew was the importance of waiting for things to reveal themselves.

A year after her move, her brother decided to leave his business. Seeing Britton’s profits, he offered to sign the business over to her.

For years, she ran a profitable business on Main Street. She lost her entire inventory in the fire, which she said totaled about half a million dollars.

However, community members asked her to start over. Her vendors offered to give her merchandise on credit.

“They said, ‘Pay me when you can,’” she said. “Everyone was wonderful and supportive.”

Since, she has paid off all her debts. She said she feels blessed to run a continually successful business, never forgetting the generosity of the community.

She pointed to a towering crystal structure in the corner of the room. The purple stone reaches to the ceiling, white tips glittering.

She explained that it is called an amethyst cathedral. It is a crystal from Brazil, incredibly rare because of the black, round marks that dot the stone.

“They call them frog eyes,” she said. “Here we call them open eyes.”

An open mind is all she asks of visitors. She is careful not to reveal her own beliefs, instead focusing on what she calls the wonderful things people have taught her about other religions.

“I will never say, ‘You have to follow my way to God,’” she said. “We know we are here to turn towards love. I certainly remember that from my Sunday school.”

Britton said she wants any people of good will to come into her store.

Whether people drive 200 miles to take a class or walk down the street to buy a present, everyone is welcome at the High Springs Emporium.

“I want people, when they come in, to imagine the possibility of peace,” she said. “We are all children together in the same place.” Add a comment

HIGH SPRINGS – Excessive noise became a disturbance at the High Springs City Commission meeting Thursday.

Ironically, it was discussion of the city’s current noise ordinance that aroused fierce opinions among attendees. Commissioner Eric May said the ordinance is unclear and needs to be rethought.

“I believe we have a very archaic noise ordinance that is difficult for our staff to enforce,” he said.

The current ordinance, part of the land development code, requires enforcements on noise violations after 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends. Receiving a permit from the city allows events to be exempt from the ordinance.

May said he brought the issue to the commission because he has heard citizens’ complaints. He called for clear expectations to be put into place.

Thomas DePeter, city attorney, agreed with May, explaining that certain language in the ordinance is confusing.

“If you hear the noise, then they seem to be violating the regulation,” he said. “But it’s not just hearing the noise, it has to actually be a noise disturbance.”

Bob Bentz, owner of local restaurant Great Outdoors, said the city needs to set acceptable decibel levels.

Since a crucial part of his business is the live musical performances that take place on the patio of the restaurant, he bought a decibel meter. However, he does not know what the appropriate thresholds are.

“We don’t want to be bad neighbors to the community,” he said. “If they don’t tell us, we don’t know it.”

Bentz said a possible solution would be for commissioners to go down to the restaurant with him, stand in the street and determine an acceptable noise level with a decibel meter.

May said the important thing is agreeing upon what is tolerable in the community’s eyes.

“People are not going to be annoyed and businesses are not going to be unfairly harassed or anything like that, because there are set standards,” he said. “You know what to expect.”

DePeter said the ordinance is typically not enforced unless there’s a complaint. May agreed, calling the enforcement “probably close to zero.”

“We just need to get it done,” he said. “We want to give our officers and our code officers the actual tools to enforce the law.”

Bob Barnas, a citizen and city commission candidate, said if the police are not allowed to force people to unplug offending speakers, the officers cannot do anything about the problem.  He suggested adding a fine, saying that it “gives the officers the teeth to deal with those issues.”

May disagreed, saying people will simply take the fine into account when planning for an event. They will factor in the cost and take that as permission to ignore appropriate noise levels.

“Say there’s a big event with a big concert and you go hit them with a citation,” he said. “That’s just the cost of doing business. They’ll just do it.”

Mayor Larry Travis said the problem could be easily fixed with a combination of citations and a three-strike system. On a third violation over any period of time, an individual’s event would be shut down.

He also asked for a police directive to instruct officers in proper enforcement of the ordinance and to encourage them to be proactive about implementation.

DePeter said he will make small changes in the language of the resolution. It will be discussed at an upcoming meeting to modify the land development ordinance.

Whatever the solution, local resident Leda Carrero said something must be done. She said she called the police last year about the permit for an event held at Catherine Taylor Park. She asked for the volume to be turned down and was told that nothing could be done.

“There have been occasions where there’s a permit giving for them to have a 10 hour event, and the volume is so loud that I cannot sit on my porch and talk to someone next to me,” she said. “That’s excessive. And it doesn’t seem right to me to call and say look, ‘I don’t want to put up with this for 10 hours,’ and hear ‘there’s nothing we can do.’”

Vice Mayor Byran Williams responded to her comment, telling her she should notify the event’s planner about any noise issues.

“Me myself, every time I do something in the park over there, I’m the noise monitor,” he said. “I walk around. You can shake your head if you want to. Just, if you’ve got a problem, call and say, ‘Turn it down. I asked you to turn it down.’”

Carrero said, “I did.”

May said a citizen calling an event’s planner about a noise disturbance is “part of the problem we’re trying to eliminate.”

“There’s automatically going to be animosity between the two,” he said. “You want to call a neutral party like the police.”


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GAINESVILLE – The State Attorney’s office plans to seek the death penalty against 58-year-old Russell Dewayne Hogg, the High Springs man accused of killing his wife and son in a September shooting.

The news came Oct. 13 when the Office of the State Attorney filed the notice of intent to seek the death penalty.  According to the filing, the notice also invokes another provision in the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, which requires Hogg’s mental state to be considered.

The rule states that the defense should present during the penalty phase of the trial, “expert testimony of a mental health professional, who has tested, evaluated, or examined the defendant, in order to establish statutory or non-statutory mental mitigating circumstances.”

The State Attorney also filed a notice of intent to seek enhanced penalties against Hogg under the “10/20/Life Offender” law.  The law mandates a minimum sentence based on the use of a firearm during certain crimes.

A case management hearing has been scheduled for Nov. 10.

Hogg was indicted by a grand jury in September on five charges, two of which were murder in connection with the Sept. 11 shooting deaths of his wife and son.

The grand jury indicted Hogg on two counts of first degree murder, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and two counts of aggravated assault with a firearm.

Hogg is being held without bail on the murder charges and on $100,000 for each of the other three charges.

The Public Defender’s office has been assigned to represent Hogg against the charges.  Hogg’s counsel submitted a plea of not guilty on his behalf on Sept. 22.

Hogg, 58, has been accused of shooting and killing his wife, Trenda Hogg, 48 and their 22-year-old son, Anthony Wayne Hogg, on Sept. 11, reportedly after a family dispute over a pickup truck.

A recently-released report from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO), where Hogg was picked up, sheds new light on what may have occurred at the scene of the shooting.  Some statements in the CCSO report are inconsistent with an earlier report by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO).

According to the CCSO report, as Russell Hogg exited his car, he pulled out an AK-47 rifle and pointed it at his son who had reportedly just exited the truck in which he was sitting.

According to the report, Anthony Hogg said, “What are you gonna do, shoot me?”  In response, Russell Hogg is reported to have said, “I sure will,” after which he fired 2-3 rounds at Anthony, killing the 22 year old.

The CCSO report also states that after Russell Hogg shot his wife several times, she “fell to the ground and was still breathing momentarily.”

According to an ACSO arrest report, just before 1 p.m. on Sept. 11, Russell Hogg pulled into the driveway of the family home at 240 Poe Springs Road in High Springs.  He allegedly exited his vehicle, pulling out an AK-47 rifle and pointed it at his son stating, “I told you I was going to kill you,” to which Anthony Hogg replied, “shoot me then.”

Russell Hogg reportedly fired two rounds at his son, striking him in the torso.  The report states, “[Russell Hogg] then walked up to him and shot one round to his face.”

Upon realizing Anthony Hogg had been shot, Trenda Hogg ran outside where “Russell [Hogg] pointed the gun at her and fired several rounds at her,” the arrest record states.

Russell Hogg then threw the gun down and an eyewitness grabbed the gun and threw it under the house to prevent further access to it.  Russell Hogg then got into his car and left, officials report.

Two witnesses told investigators that Hogg stated his intentions to commit the crime beforehand.  “Russell was at their home and made the statement he “was going over to kill them.”  After the shooting, Russell Hogg allegedly returned to the witnesses’ home where he stated, “I told you I was gonna’ kill them,” the report states.

Columbia County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Russell Hogg on U.S. Highway 441 a short time after the shooting.

Hogg made several statements acknowledging that he killed his wife and son, according to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Detective Sandra Myers.

Among his statements to investigators was that, “Tony [Anthony Russell] had gotten too big for his britches,” and that if he could have whipped his son, he would have, “rather than having to kill him.”

Myers wrote, “Russell [Hogg] also stated that it hurt him to see his wife laying there barely breathing because he did not want her to die.”

“I just killed my family and the bread winner of the home,” Russell Hogg allegedly said.

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NEWBERRY – Newberry is working with the University of Florida to hear Newberry residents’ opinions about the impact and use of its sports facilities.

Shannon Kerwin, UF assistant professor at the Department of Tourism, Recreation, and Sports Management, and one of the researchers conducting this study, said the survey will include 14 questions. Questions include how the sports facilities, Easton Newberry Sports Complex and Nations Baseball Park, are affecting the city economically and socially. She said she hopes to get 10 percent of the population to participate, around 300 residents.

“But if we don't get that at the town hall meeting on Thursday, then we are going to try to mail them those surveys to see if we can get more opinions from the community members," Kerwin said.

The team has previously interviewed residents about this subject, and a research report is expected to be released this year.

"We are hoping to have a report on the community perspective by the end of November or early December," Kerwin said.

Since five-member team has developed a relationship with city manager Keith Ashby and parks and recreation director Richard Blalock, Kerwin said they are going to provide the report along with recommendations, if issues needed to be addressed within the community.

Once everyone turns in their 10-minute paper surveys, the research team and Blalock will be present to answer questions.

One meeting was held Tuesday at the Easton complex.  The next meeting will be held Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. at the Newberry Municipal Building, located at 25440 W Newberry Road in Newberry.

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GAINESVILLE – An arraignment hearing for charges of criminal contempt of court against Charles Grapski was delayed Tuesday afternoon.  The delay came at the request of the Office of the State Attorney after Grapski filed two separate motions to dismiss the charges.

Judge James Nilon said Grapski’s motions would need to be considered at the same hearing with the arraignment.  Assistant State Attorney Brian S. Kramer said he could argue in general Tuesday, but not specifically, on the points of law cited by Grapski in the motions to dismiss.

Grapski has reportedly also filed a motion requesting a statement of particulars, a document with pertinent information regarding the alleged contemptuous behavior.

One of those motions to dismiss essentially challenges the accuracy of the charge.

“The order shows that Grapski’s allegedly contemptuous acts took place in open court with the Court on the Bench,” the motion states.  “If true, these acts constitute direct contempt and not indirect criminal contempt.”

The first motion to dismiss was not available as a public record as of press time.

Judge Nilon granted the motion to continue the hearing until a later date when the arraignment and consideration of the motions filed by Grapski could be considered.  That hearing is tentatively slated for Nov. 22.

A one-time State House and City of Alachua Commission Candidate, Grapski is being charged with indirect criminal contempt of court following his alleged actions and statements made on June 21 in Nilon’s courtroom.

In a September hearing, the judge granted Grapski’s motion to dismiss the original charges on the basis of procedural flaws.  The dismissal came after Grapski argued that a sworn affidavit of the alleged events did not accompany the charging documents and that the Assistant State Attorney filing the contempt charges was not witness to the June 21 events.

The petition alleging Grapski’s contemptuous behavior resulted from a June 21 violation of probation hearing in which it is reported that he approached the podium and told Assistant State Attorney Shawn Thompson to “get a real job.”

At a later hearing on the same day, Grapski allegedly approached the table of Thompson in an “aggressive manner,” pointed his finger at Thompson and stated to him, “you are a f---ing liar” not less than two times, the order alleges.

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NEWBERRY – As the City of Newberry seeks to build an identity centered around sports, Newberry Mayor Bill Conrad has reached out to Gatorback Cycle Park with a proposal about possibly annexing the company into the city limits.

Conrad and Wyrn Kern, event promoter for Gatorback, met several weeks ago and discussed how the cycle park could help Newberry further develop its sports image.

While the meeting failed to result in Gatorback’s agreement to voluntarily annex into the city, the cycle park did offer support to the Newberry community.

"What they want us to do is to push Gatorback as part of Newberry so people would go to Newberry, [its] restaurant, hotels or whatever they have," Kern said.

He added, “The only way we would promote Newberry is through our customers."

Conrad expressed his interest during the Oct. 10 city commission meeting, saying that Gatorback could possibly buy land in the future.

"He told me about his desire to have more land, to buy a second location where he can run more different types of races," Conrad said.

However, Kern said Gatorback is not interested in buying land in Newberry anytime soon.

Conrad said he hopes the business considers annexing in the future, adding that Gatorback is closer to Newberry than to Alachua – with only one parcel of land between Newberry’s city limits. The cycle park is five miles from Newberry City Hall, three miles closer than Alachua, according to Conrad.

Gatorback has been in the motocross business for around 40 years, and it offers four events a year, attracting over 1,000 people to the area, Conrad said. He said the city is currently in talks with several hotel chains, and including sports venues such as Canterbury Equestrian Center and Easton Sports Complex into what he calls a “sports event package,” would help attract hotel chains to Newberry.

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