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Hammond_Ronnie_-_MugshotASO11HIGH SPRINGS – A High Springs man was arrested early Tuesday morning for allegedly threatening his neighbor with a shotgun and then firing a round into his own couch.

According to an Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) report, Ronnie M. Hammond, 59, of High Springs was arrested after repeatedly pumping a shotgun and threatening a neighbor.

Deputies say a 24-year-old sleepwalking neighbor walked up to Hammond’s home asking for help just after midnight Tuesday morning.  Another neighbor, who allegedly witnessed the incident, said Hammond walked out of his residence carrying a shotgun.

The neighbor claims that Hammond then pumped the shotgun and pointed it at the sleepwalking neighbor and said he was going to kill him.

The 58-year-old father of the man who was sleepwalking reportedly approached Hammond stating that his son was sleepwalking and was not trying to do anything except ask for help.  According to the report, Hammond then turned the gun on the father and said he was going to kill him as well.  After making that statement, Hammond allegedly pumped the shotgun two more times.

The father and son both ran away from the area, the report states.  The neighbor witnessing the incident said Hammond continued walking up and down his property, pumping the shotgun until law enforcement officers arrived, at which point, he went back into his residence.

Deputies report that they made numerous announcements for Hammond to surrender himself.  “At one point, he exited the residence and pumped the shotgun again,” the report states.

Hammond only surrendered himself after first returning to the residence and discharging one shotgun round into his couch, according to the police report.

The shotgun was located with four rounds still in the chamber, deputies said.

After being arrested, Hammond reportedly said someone kidnapped his son and told him they were coming for him too, but deputies said Hammond doesn’t have a son in the immediate area.

Hammond was charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.  He was taken to the ACSO Department of the Jail.  He was released Tuesday following a first appearance and posting a $10,000 bond.

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Halloween1Alachua’s Trick-or-Treat on Main Street was a popular Halloween destination for costumed youngsters to gather sweets from merchants located downtown.

ALACHUA – There was no shortage of superheroes, princesses and witches in Alachua Monday night as thousands of Halloween fun seekers flooded the downtown area during the city’s annual Trick-or-Treat on Main Street event from 6 – 8 p.m.

The downtown area’s Scarecrow Row, which has been decorated for weeks, set the stage with costumed scarecrows adorning lampposts along the winding street, greeting visitors along the way.

Trick-or-treaters, including young and old alike, dressed in their spookiest or most creative costumes, joined in the festivities.  Buoyed by the upbeat atmosphere permeating the downtown area, youngsters, families and friends scuttled back and forth along both sides of Main Street, from one end to the other, trick-or-treating door-to-door in search of sweet treats from local businesses.

Highlights of the evening included the announcement of Scarecrow Row winners and costume contests sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.  A long line formed outside the haunted house jointly sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the Alachua Police Explorers.  As the courageous waited to be beckoned into the darkened building by a ghoulish zombie, shrieks of horror forewarned of the frightening experience to come. A few steps away, an historic house transformed into a pirate’s lair was a popular spot to catch a glimpse of ghostly pirates and listen to a pirate’s chantey.  At the Alachua County Today building, spooky music, laser lights and blow-up monsters added to the festive atmosphere.

City of Alachua Recreation Director Hal Brady and Alachua Vice-Mayor Ben Boukari, Jr., delivered the much anticipated announcement naming the winners of Scarecrow Row.  This year’s winners were Capital City Bank in first place, D.W. Ashton Catery in second place and Andrews Paving in third place.

Costume contestants were divided into age groups, and Alachua Chamber of Commerce President Jim Brandenburg called each of the groups to the stage for viewing by the judges as camera flashes illuminated an assortment of characters.  In the Pre-K category, the winner was Vincent Tarallo, dressed as Raggedy Andy.  The winner in the K- 2nd grade division was Elliott Browne, dressed as King Tut. In the 3rd – 5th grade division the winner was Alexis Greenberg, dressed as a shower curtain.  In grades 6-8, the winner was Kacie Geelhoed, dressed as a can-can girl.  In the high school through adult category, winners were Robert Ferry, Meghan Abernathy, and Gaura Ely, dressed as Scooby Doo.

Trick-or-Treat on Main Street is a longtime annual event sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and City of Alachua offering children a safe environment to enjoy Halloween festivities.  It is one of a series of events taking place in downtown Alachua during the fall season, along with the Alachua Harvest Festival sponsored by the Alachua Business League, Shop - Dine - Stroll sponsored by the Alachua Chamber of Commerce and the Alachua Christmas Parade sponsored by the City of Alachua and the Alachua Chamber of Commerce.

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NEWBERRY – Faced with more questions than answers, in a four to one vote, Newberry city commissioners opted to continue pursuing the acquisition of Canterbury Equestrian Center.

Opposed to the measure, Commissioner Lois Forte said, “I don’t want to move forward with it.”

Forte said the City had borrowed money for another sport-related project, Nations Baseball Parks, fearing the Canterbury acquisition would require additional loans and put the City further in debt. “Newberry citizens are the ones who are going to pay it back” Forte said.

“For me, let’s stop right where we are.”

Commissioner Joe Hoffman countered by saying that the loan for the baseball park is being paid back with hotel tax money, striking down the notion that the city is in debt.

Hoffman also recalled citizen concerns voiced at a September town hall meeting about the City’s proposed purchase of Canterbury. He said that citizens will support the acquisition if they don’t have to pay it for it.

Regardless to what happens to Canterbury, Hoffman proposed that Newberry should still pursue building another sports arena in other parts of the city.

One issue that commissioners did agree on was citizen opposition to having a carnival-like atmosphere at the equestrian center.  Commissioner Jordan Marlowe said it was clear that no one wants a carnival at the site.

City attorney S. Scott Walker said the commission should draft a set of criteria detailing what Newberry would like to do with the equestrian center and start negotiations with the county. One of the concerns is if the Alachua County fairgrounds, which is currently located in Gainesville, and Canterbury are regarded as a package deal, precluding negotiation if separated.

Commissioners were surprised to learn about a rumor circulating of a possible $ 4-million donation if the fairgrounds were to move to Newberry. None of the commissioners were aware of alleged donation.

Lawson commented that the price of the property was still vague, referring to the numbers discussed in September, which ranged between $4 million and $5 million.

Explaining that the owner’s asking price likely doesn’t match what the appraisal or value price would be, Ashby said, “That’s the nut that has to be cracked.”

Moving forward with the process, the City plans to conduct a workshop, possibly involving Canterbury’s property owner and staff.

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McCall_-_Mugshot_ASO11JBN010562Patrick A. McCall

HIGH SPRINGS – A skeet-shooting match at Forest Grove Baptist Church ended in life-threatening injuries for a High Springs man on the evening of Oct. 20.

According to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), a group of church members was shooting skeet with shotguns at the church, located at 22575 NW 94th Avenue. Patrick A. McCall walked out of his house, which is located across the street from the church at 9306 NW 226th Street, and randomly fired a handgun in the direction of the church.

According to the arrest report, McCall said he was inside his house when he heard gun shots coming from the direction of the church. He retrieved his 9 mm Sig handgun that had a loaded magazine and grabbed another magazine that was loaded.

Standing four feet behind his house, he fired quick, successive shots until the magazine was empty. He reloaded and fired again, but could not remember if he emptied the magazine.

He said he was pointing the gun in the air in the direction of a pecan tree that is in front of his house. McCall said he fired rounds because he heard other people firing rounds. It is something he has done in the past.

Later, he said he fired the rounds because he wanted the church members to stop. He admitted that it was not the best idea to shoot rounds into the air without knowing where they will land, but he said he had no intention of hurting anyone.

ACSO Deputy Heather Phillips interviewed Thomas Jackson, Sr., one of the skeet-shooters at the scene. He said the church members were shooting on the south side of the property in a southerly direction.

As they reloaded their shotguns, there was a lull in the shooting. They heard a succession of shots and saw Judah go down, saying he had been shot.

Jackson did not see the suspect. He took his two sons inside for cover. His vehicle was hit by gunfire, shattering the back windshield.

His 12-year-old son saw the suspect. He heard a pause in the shooting, followed by “a lot of fast shots” that sounded like they were coming from across the street.

He saw the man focusing on something in the direction of where everyone was skeet shooting. It sounded like the shooter ran out of bullets. He then saw the man walk back to his residence.

Another witness, Jayde Roof, went over to help Judah, seeing that he had a hole on one side of his stomach and a graze on the other side. He applied pressure to Judah’s wounds while telling the others they should shoot the suspect if he approached.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office received a call at approximately 6:41 p.m. saying that someone had been shot. Medical personnel from Alachua County Fire Rescue and deputies from the sheriff’s office arrived to find Robert Matthew “Matt” Judah, 36, suffering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen. The deputies and fire rescue personnel administered first aid on the scene, and the victim was air lifted to Shands Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Deputies evacuated the remaining people, including several children, from the church due to the nature of the investigation. They located several objects that had been struck by the random gunfire.

After three hours, the SWAT team took the suspect into custody without incident.

McCall was arrested and charged with attempted homicide. He is currently being held in the Alachua County Jail on $750,000 bail pending court appearances.

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HS_CandidatesThe New Century Woman’s Club Candidates Forum brought together High Springs commission candidates incumbent Byran Williams, Linda Gestrin, Bob Barnas and incumbent Larry Travis.  The four candidates are vying for two seats which will be decided in the Nov. 8 election.

HIGH SPRINGS – Tempers flared as High Springs City Commission candidates discussed the economic future of the city at the 12th annual New Century Woman’s Club Candidates Forum held Tuesday.

Commission hopefuls Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin are running for the two expired seats, currently held by Mayor Larry Travis and Vice Mayor Byran Williams. Both incumbents are running for re-election.

The New Century Woman’s Club asked the candidates a combination of prewritten and citizen-submitted questions.

The forum started with the candidates introducing themselves to the 70 attendees and explaining their reasons for running. All of the candidates affirmed their love for High Springs and commitment to its future.

Williams began the discussion, explaining that he is from High Springs and has been involved in local government since 2003.

“I want the best for High Springs,” he said. “I’ve always had a High Springs address.”

Barnas said he believes that every candidate loves the city, but “that’s where the line in the sand gets drawn.”

“We have a great town, but it’s a mess right now,” he said. “We need to bring the passion back to the whole city. We need a change.”

Gestrin also called for a new direction in local politics, saying that the town must restore civility to its proceedings. She said she feels more women are getting involved in government because it requires certain skills they inherently have.

“We can balance a checkbook, we can stick to a grocery list and we can discipline the children,” she said. “The principles are the same.”

Travis expressed his confidence in the path the city is taking. He mentioned his leadership positions like chair of the Economic Development Task Force and president of the Alachua County League of Cities, citing his six years of service as proof of his success.

“A lot of tough decisions were made in the last year, but they were made so we can move forward,” he said. “This city has grown. This city has things working in its favor that it never has.”

As the forum moved into the question period, disagreements arose about how to handle the city’s problems. One such issue has been central to the campaign thus far: High Springs’ economic development.

Travis admitted that the issue has plagued the sitting commission for the past few years. He said the problem is not the city’s friendliness; rather, businesses have trouble staying open because of limiting ordinances.

Williams said improvements in zoning and the ease of obtaining business permits would give High Springs a better image. He said this would make it more appealing for businesses to come into the city.

Barnas expressed his frustration about the path the commission has taken. He said it is important to be realistic.

“Bring people here, start slow,” he said. “This has been talked about for the six years the incumbents have been in office, and we’re still talking about it today.”

Gestrin agreed, saying that the city needs more than talking about economic development. She said action must be taken, likening the current commission’s action to driving a car.

“You put the gasoline in the tank, you’ve got the keys in the ignition, the tires are there, but you don’t know how to turn the key,” she said.

Williams stood up, responding passionately to Barnas and Gestrin. He said the divisions in High Springs make governing difficult.

“There’s so much division in this town,” he said. “If I don’t like you, I don’t like your ideas. That’s not how it should be. We must come together.”

Barnas and Gestrin offered economic opportunities in response, saying that the community must capitalize on things like the rivers, railroad and theaters. Gestrin again said the time for talking has past.

“I’m ready to get things done,” she said.

Earlier in the forum, she said putting ideas in writing was one thing, but living the decisions made a big difference. She said the city needs a change in leadership to bring about the necessary differences.

Travis said his record of success speaks for itself.

“You don’t know me too well, Linda,” he said. “I’m a pretty nice fellow. All my awards, you don’t get those for being a bad person.”

He said he has personally taken steps to bring business to the town. He said he went to Publix a year ago and brought them to High Springs. However, he said, the city needs to bring development across the 441 corridor.

“We’re not far off, folks,” he said. “But if we do not have the infrastructure in the ground, it’s not going to happen.”

The candidates also discussed the noise ordinance, the city manager form of government, the proposed preamble to the city charter and their personal volunteer efforts.

Williams closed by saying that he has no personal agenda, wanting the best for every citizen in High Springs. If the citizens could put aside their differences and have intelligent discussions about the issues, the town could really prosper, he said.

“I feel like I’m in a fist fight,” he said. “If we come to the table and set aside our differences, this can be one of the greatest cities in the state of Florida. We have wonderful, wonderful people.”

Travis affirmed his dedication to the city. He spoke out in support of the efforts of the current commission.

“I’ll die here. My ashes will be spread on my farm,” he said. “This is my city. I’m glad I’m an incumbent that’s been part of building this city.”

He explained that neither Barnas nor Gestrin have experience in local government. He said he started out by volunteering with city boards.

Gestrin rebutted firmly, saying that she has done her part for the town, helping various individuals and groups in need.

“Just because you haven’t served on a named committee doesn’t mean you haven’t served,” she said. “I think we need to restore a new direction in civility in City Hall.”

Barnas said he has tried to get involved in government committees before, but has been turned away because of his name. He said because he is a controversial person who is willing to disagree with people, his ideas have been ignored.

“We need to let everybody speak and not shut them down,” he said. “Enough is enough. We will get it done.”

The general election will be held on Nov. 8.  High Springs Citizens will be casting ballots to fill the two commission seats as well as approving or denying six amendments to the city charter. Add a comment

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

The City of Alachua has been eyeing a 105-acre tract of land lying adjacent to its recreation complex along County Road 2054 for more than a year.  City officials have reportedly negotiated a $1.2 million purchase price on the land, which is already zoned for a 215-home development with a taxable value of $1.9 million.

Dubbed ‘Project Legacy,” the additional land would more than quintuple the 25-acre recreation complex area the city currently owns.  For several years, the owner and developer of the property has allowed the city to use the land as a parking area during its annual Fourth of July celebration.

Of the $1.2 million needed to purchase the land, some $700,000 has already been raised, Adam Boukari, Assistant to the City Manager said Tuesday.  The funding gap of $500,000 has kept the City from closing on the deal which must be completed by Dec. 31 according to a contract with the owner.

The City of Alachua has committed to building three multi-purpose arenas with seating and lighting that could be used for lacrosse, a growing sport, among other activities.  Those arenas would come at an estimated cost of $300,000, City officials say.  But before the City can construct those facilities, it needs the half-million dollars to buy the land.

In a 6-2 vote last week, the TDC recommended against funding Alachua’s request for the $500,000, which would be taken from the bed tax, fees collected on hotel, motel, campground and similar rentals.

In turning down Alachua’s request, several members of the TDC cited concerns that Alachua’s project did not have enough details and circumvented the process for divvying up the funds raised from a two-cent hike in the bed tax last year.  A portion of that tax has been designated for Nations Baseball Park, under construction in Newberry, while another portion was to be set aside for a new fairgrounds.

In the meeting Tuesday, County Commissioner Rodney Long said he was opposed to funding Alachua’s request by essentially raiding the funds set aside for the fairgrounds.

“I’m not going to take one dollar out of the fairgrounds project until this board makes a determination of what it’s going to do with the fairgrounds and how it relates to the commitment you’ve made to the people in Plan East Gainesville,” Long said.

In challenging claims about the commitment to the fairgrounds project, Commissioner Lee Pinkoson commented that the board, including Long, already transferred $1.2 million from the fairgrounds project to county jail construction projects.

Commissioner Mike Byerly remained opposed to Alachua’s request for the funding citing similar concerns as TDC members that it fell outside of a prescribed process.  Byerly said he was in favor of re-opening the process and reviewing all of the proposed uses of the bed taxes, but not Alachua’s alone.

Pinkoson noted, however, that Alachua’s project did not meet the criteria to be considered in the review process undertaken last year.

Standing squarely behind the project, Commissioner Susan Baird detailed numerous reasons she believed the expansion was important and worthy of funding.  Baird pointed to Alachua’s track record with recreation, bringing numerous major tournaments over the years.

She also said that Alachua has a strategy to improve the quality of life by attracting major companies, which are some of the county’s largest taxpayers, including Dollar General, Walmart and Sysco distribution centers.  The $500,000 would be an investment in something tangible, said Baird.  “We’d provide a quality of life…for those groups that have decided to invest in our area.”

Although concerned about how the City would fund construction of the three multi-purpose fields, Commissioner Paula DeLaney also supported the funding.  DeLaney described it as a “transformational” project that would have long lasting impacts on the area.

In hopes of allaying concerns expressed by DeLaney and others, Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper told county commissioners the City was committed to the project.

“We have been committed to the recreation and the kids in this county for 30 plus years and we’re not going to let them down or let anyone else down who makes a decision for us to move forward with this commitment,” Coerper said.

Pinkoson noted that using the 105 acres as recreation was a more desirable alternative to homes.  “If it’s allowed to be developed, you lose that opportunity forever,” he said.

Details of the agreement haven’t been hammered out, but commissioners gave the green light to start drafting the deal.  In a 4-1 vote, the commission agreed to support the project.  Byerly cast the dissenting vote.  Commissioners referred the matter back to the TDC for a determination of how the request is to be funded.  At issue is whether or not it should be funded through the TDC’s reserve funds, the fairgrounds funds or a mixture of both.

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ALACHUA – Monday night, the city commission unanimously passed at the second and final public hearing, an ordinance that provides the terms and the process for individuals or businesses to produce and sell energy back to the City.  The ordinance, which includes written policy, application fees and insurance requirements, provides for interconnection and net metering of customer-owner regeneration systems to the City’s electric system.

Kevin Stratten, representing NanoSonic Products, thanked the commission for approving the measure. NanoSonic Products, located across the street from the Progress Corporate Park in Alachua, recently had a 34 kilowatt solar panel system installed on the roof.  The company expects to generate enough electricity to cover its own energy usage with some excess to spare, which will be returned to the grid and purchased back by the City of Alachua.

Referring to the company’s owner, Mayor Gib Coerper said, “I know Dr. Tate is happy with this.”

Others in the audience were not so happy.

“Sometimes the devil's in the details,” said Michael Canney. He was concerned about the cap on how much solar power could be produced while being connected to the grid.

There shouldn't be “artificial barriers” on how much power can come from solar, he said. He hopes this ordinance does not restrict people from going to solar power.

City of Alachua public service director Mike New addressed the expenses of buying solar panels and the long-term payoff. He recommended putting the cost into the mortgage. By law, customers can't oversize panels for their homes, most likely resulting in having zero electricity charges beside the minimum utility customer charge, rather than making money.

Canney also brought up the issue of businesses taking up over half the quota of solar power contributions to the grid.

Vice-mayor Ben Boukari said, “I look at that cap as a checkpoint to look at where we are.” He added that at some point, a time will come when the City may have to charge people for the interconnection.

New said a cap of 2.5 percent of customers that can connect to the City's electric system with their own power “won't be an unfair burden on anyone,” where non-solar panel users are paying for the entire system. He said it would be a disincentive if solar panel users are charged.

Audience member Robert Perez suggested that the city could get off the necessity of depending on big power companies with the possibility of a solar powered, cooperative electric company.

Commissioner Robert Wilford said the ordinance could be used as a starting point, because of changes and “surprises coming up.”

Commissioner Gary Hardacre said the City is far away from not having to use the present power grid, adding “I think this is a good first step for us.”

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