Extreme Makeover For Old Brooksville Hospital

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BROOKSVILLE – From sanitized medical wards to luxury retirement apartments – the transformation of the old Brooksville Regional Hospital continues.

People traveling down Ponce deLeon Boulevard will notice two bright yellow and black banners tied with string to two trees in the front of the once-bustling medical complex. Emblazoned on the banners are these words:

“The Grande Luxury Retirement Living, opening Fall 2008.”

Once completed, the complex will have 75 new apartments, geared toward independent living, dining and deli.

The banner boasts of The Grande’s central location near parks and medical services. Most of the construction has centered around the assisted living facility portion of the new complex, Bill Rain, with Metro Bay Development, said in a letter to Michael McHugh, director of the county’s office of business development. The first floor is already about 50 percent framed with rough plumbing completed, according to Rain.

County Commissioner Rose Rocco said she is encouraged by the speed of the construction. The sooner it gets done, the faster people will find jobs there and stimulate economic growth downtown, she said.

Rocco believes that once The Grande is open, it will spur other businesses to locate in the vicinity.

County commissioners sold the old Brooksville Regional Hospital last year for $1.1 million.

The investors planned to pump $10 million to $13 million to modernize the building. The facility will contain a mix of uses, including an assisted living facility, office and medical buildings and a restaurant. The developer plans to lease space in the building to county employees, alleviating some of the space crunch at the existing courthouse at 20 North Main St.

The contract includes a performance agreement that requires the buyer to provide regular updates on redevelopment of the downtown site and to provide security for one year’s estimated property taxes should the project not proceed in a timely manner.

The contract also states that 11,000 square feet of existing office and warehouse space will continue to be used by the county fire department and remain under county ownership, until the board determines it is no longer needed.

To assure the project moves forward, the investment group took out a performance bond, or line of credit, for $150,000 until the building is completed. County commissioners opted to sell the building rather than spend the estimated $15 million to $20 million it would cost to renovate the building and convert it into a new government center, which had been considered at one point.

For more information on the project and an artist’s rendering, visit www.thegrande.net

Reporter Michael D. Bates can be reached at 352-544-5290 or mbates@hernandotoday.com.

Blueberry Farmers, Neighbors Battle Over Use Of Air Cannons

HUDSON – If you talk to the residents of The Estates and nearby communities in Hudson, blueberry season is nothing short of a nightmare, with loud cannons firing off as often as every minute during the day to scare away birds threatening the crop.

If you talk to the blueberry farmers, the pressurized cannons are a necessary nuisance to protect their livelihood from the cedar waxwing, a migratory bird that swoops in each season and takes as much as a third of their harvest.

“They come in by the thousands, and they just devastate the crop,” farmer Robert Waldo of Bob’s Blueberry Farm said. “When they find it, they don’t want to leave. They come in such flocks that they make a cloud on the ground.”

Waldo, who has been in the business for 10 years, has an interest in nearly a dozen blueberry farms in Hernando and Pasco counties, including a 25-acre farm backing up to The Estates and a handful of other neighborhoods in this northwest Pasco community. He is at the front lines of a battle among blueberry farmers and their neighbors in Hudson, who are trying to outlaw the cannons in favor of a more peaceful deterrent.

The Pasco County attorney’s office, at the direction of the county commission, drafted an ordinance to outlaw propane-powered cannons that exceed certain noise limits at blueberry farms. Certain farms designated as protected by the Right to Farm Act were exempt.

The ordinance, which has been in the works for more than a year, was supposed to be considered during public hearings this month. The commissioners backed off after the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services informed the county attorney’s office they have no jurisdiction.

The propane cannons are considered fireworks, and a 2007 state law says counties can’t regulate fireworks more than the state does. That law was passed, in part, because of Pasco’s efforts to restrict the sale of fireworks.

The fight isn’t over.

County Commissioner Jack Mariano, who represents Hudson, said at a Tuesday county commission meeting he will continue to push the Legislature to regulate the use of propane cannons at blueberry farms. He has argued in the past there are other ways of deterring birds from the crop.

State Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, is trying to separate air cannons from the fireworks law so the county can regulate them. But the fireworks law is designed to protect farmers. In fact, the sale and purchase of fireworks is legal in Florida as long as the buyer signs an affidavit saying he or she will use the fireworks to scare birds from fields to protect their crops or fish hatcheries, or for another agricultural purpose.

County officials also plan to crack down on smaller blueberry farms. The county prohibits commercial farming on tracts smaller than 5 acres. Propane cannons are used at those farms as well.

Birds Can Destroy 30% Of Crop

Waldo said he pulled out the cannons during blueberry season in 2005 and 2007, when he was at his wit’s end with the cedar waxwing. He had tried many other methods with mixed success. When the blueberries are ripe – usually early April – the birds come in and peck, Waldo said.

“They don’t eat most of the fruit. They just peck. They’ll peck at every berry on the bush.”

Blueberry season in Florida lasts about two months. Residents complain they can’t tolerate the noise. Waldo said that is his only chance to harvest about 140,000 pounds of blueberries, which are shipped throughout the United States and all over the world.

The birds can destroy as much as 30 percent of that crop, Waldo said. Cedar waxwings also eat holly berries and mulberries.

‘No One Thing Is Working’

Waldo uses the cannons at his other blueberry farms, and he gets complaints from neighbors there, too, he said, but most of the other farms are in more rural areas. The Hudson farms are scattered among neighborhoods.

There are other ways of scaring away birds from the fields, Waldo said. The farmers use other kinds of noisemakers, such as bottle rockets, whistlers, buzzers, air horns and shotguns. Waldo also is testing a spray repellant.

“Air cannons are just part of the artillery,” he said. “No one thing is working. The problem is, it’s an experiment. We haven’t tried it on the bird. There’s no way to know if anything works except when the birds are here.”

Even when the methods work, the birds quickly get used to them.

“The birds become accustomed to everything in about three hours,” Waldo said. “They’ll watch and see if any harm comes. They’ll fly to the edge of the field, but they don’t leave.”

Neighbors have complained about the frequency of the noise – which varies from once an hour to once a minute – and the occasions when farmers forget to turn the air cannons off.

Waldo conceded he has forgotten a few times but said it is not intentional.

“We have one crop a year. That’s the only time we make any money. We have to protect our crop any way we can,” he said. “I am genuinely sorry these people are upset and disturbed. It’s aggravating to me. I have to stand next to the cannon. But people have their life savings in this. They’ve got a right to use their land.

“Anyone who lives in a deed-restricted area, they are the trespassers. If they want quiet and tranquility, they need to buy an island. The people on a little postage-stamp lot can’t control all the thousands of acres around them.”

Reporter Julia Ferrante can be reached at (813) 948-4220 or jferrante@tampatrib.com

Local Pilot Missing In North Atlantic

BROOKSVILLE –

An international search is on for a veteran

Spring Hill pilot who went down Thursday morning in a

severe storm off the coast of Iceland.

Greg Frey, 66, was traveling from Rekyjavik to Scotland

in a Piper Cherokee single-engine plane when he made a

mayday call to report “severe icing on the plane’s

control surfaces,” according to a news release issued

Thursday from the United Kingdom Defense Ministry.

Frey (pronounced “Fry”) told traffic controllers that

he was “ditching” the plane about 100 miles south of

Iceland, the release states.

He was wearing a survival suit that could offer some

protection from the icy waters, according to the

release.

He also had a life raft aboard the plane, according to

Greg Frey Jr., Frey’s son who flew Thursday from

California to Spring Hill to be with family members

while awaiting updates on the search.

Frey had an emergency transponder that sent a distress

signal after the crash, which confirmed that the plane

was in the water, according to the defense ministry

release.

The Royal Air Force launched its Nimrod aircraft to

join the Iceland Coast Guard in the search. By Friday

evening, no trace of the plane, or Frey, had been

found.

“The weather conditions are very bad with heavy

thunderstorms and 20-foot swells,” a RAF spokesman said

in the release. “We always try to remain optimistic on

these occasions, but this is very much a race against

time to find the pilot. You have to be realistic as

well as hopeful.”

By Friday, family members had gathered at the Spring

Hill home that Frey shares with his wife Maureen,

waiting word from U.S. embassies and the Iceland Coast

Guard.

Among them was Frey Jr., who said the news that the

distress beacon sounded for more than an hour after the

crash is encouraging.

“That means he survived the impact,” Frey Jr. said.

“That’s giving us some hope.”

The search had been halted temporarily until dawn, Greg

Jr. said Friday afternoon.

The family has gotten calls from the American Consulate

and the American Red Cross. A spokesman for U.S. Rep.

Ginny Brown-Waite said Friday that the Brooksville

Republican was doing what she could to ensure the lines

of communication remained open.

Frey’s ultimate destination was Germany, where he

planned to deliver the Piper to its new owner. He works

for Globe Aero Ltd., a Lakeland-based firm that

specializes in ferrying planes throughout the world.

Frey, who’d worked for the company for about a year,

left Lakeland on Monday and headed up the east coast to

Bangor, Maine, Globe Aero president Phil Waldman said

Friday.

He then flew into Canada, across Greenland and on to

Iceland, where he ran into storm delays and spent three

days “waiting for the weather to move out of his way,”

Waldman said.

Frey took off Thursday and likely encountered that same

storm system, Waldman said. Ice on the wings slows an

airplane down, forcing the pilot to descend, he said.

Waldman acknowledged Friday afternoon that, nearly 36

hours after the crash, it would be “a miracle” if Frey

is found alive.

“The North Atlantic is not forgiving,” he said.

Waldman and others reached Friday described Frey as the

most competent of pilots, a man with a serious love for

flying and an easygoing personality.

He started flying at the age of 16, when he left a job

in a steel mill to pursue a career in commercial

aviation, Frey Jr. said.

He retired at age 60 after flying commercial planes for

34 years. But he kept flying, doing aerial photography

for a real estate company and working as a private

pilot for a real estate developer before taking the job

with Globe Aero, Frey Jr. said.

“It wasn’t a job, it was a passion,” he said. “It was

something he loved second to his family.”

Frey also is well-known in the local aviation

community.

He is a former board member of the Hernando County

Aviation and Airport Authority and an active member in

the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Hernando County

chapter.

Frey was instrumental in securing a hanger at the

county airport for the chapter, fellow EAA member

Bernie Berger said.

Berger described Frey as “an idea man.”

“He has an ability to get people together,” Berger

said.

Frey, who owns a single-engine Cessna, also works to

instill a love of flying in young people as an active

member of the Young Eagles program. He and other EAA

members recently made plans to visit local schools to

talk about the joys of aviation and the career

opportunities in the field, Berger said.

Greg and Maureen Frey moved to Spring Hill in 1981.

They have another son, Chris, and two daughters, Megan

and Lisa.

The couple would celebrate their 33rd wedding

anniversary on March 2 and Frey’s 67th birthday two

days later.

Frey Jr. said the family knew the possible perils of

crossing the ocean in a single engine plane.

“Everybody understood the risk, and we had confidence

in him,” he said, “but sometimes situations tend to be

out of our hands.”

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286

Deputies Cleared In Fatal Shooting

OCALA – No criminal charges will be filed against two deputies who fatally shot a 25-year-old Spring Hill man last November.

The State Attorney’s Office justified the lethal force used by deputies Christopher Croft and Michael Glatfelter in a letter obtained by Hernando Today on Thursday.

Its contents are the result of a closed investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the death of Kyle Gabelman.

The letter, written by Assistant State Attorney Richard Ridgeway, provides new details about the events that led deputies to fire six shots at Gabelman outside his parent’s house in the early afternoon of Nov. 20, 2007.

It paints a picture of a troubled man high on drugs and alcohol who told his mom that day she would hear about him on the evening news.

To his dad, he revealed his plans to “go out with a blaze of glory.”

Sheriff Richard Nugent said through a spokeswoman that the report speaks for itself and declined to comment further.

An internal investigation at the sheriff’s office will now be opened per policy for any officer-involved shooting.

Gabelman’s father, Tom, answered the door at their home on Banyan Drive and turned away a reporter.

The letter provides this narration of that day’s events:

On that morning, before noon, Gabelman showed up at his parent’s house angry about a recent breakup with his girlfriend. He appeared to have been drinking.

Tom Gabelman was concerned enough to call the sheriff’s office, but by the time deputies arrived his son was gone. Gabelman’s parents believed he was suicidal, so his name was entered into the National Crime Information Center as an “endangered missing person.”

Gabelman returned about 1 p.m. Deputy Croft responded and Glatfelter served as his backup. But Gabelman had left again, so Glatfelter made his way to a hit-and-run accident in the area.

In one of the two visits, Gabelman demanded prescription drugs from his father. When Tom Gabelman refused, his son fired a shot into the ceiling with a handgun.

Meanwhile, Glatfelter discovered that one of the vehicles involved in the hit-and-run belonged to Gabelman. When deputies went to his apartment to find him, they found it abandoned and in disarray.

An empty box for a 9 mm handgun and its ammo was also discovered.

The third and final time Gabelman turned up at his parent’s house was around 2 p.m. Again, deputies were called and this time Gabelman was home when they arrived.

Glatfelter and Croft found the suspect at the front door, demanding he be let inside. Because of previous reports that Gabelman was armed, the deputies drew their side-arms.

They demanded Gabelman show his hands. He turned and dropped “objects” in his hands, then removed a handgun from his waistband.

He waved the gun, but did not point it at the deputies. Instead of obeying their commands to drop the gun, Gabelman went around to the back porch of his house.

At one point, he put the gun to his head and said, “You’re going to have to kill me.”

After a “short period of time”, Gabelman fired a shot through the sliding glass door to get inside the house.

That shot prompted Glatfelter to go back to his car and retrieve his department-issued AR-15 rifle. Croft took a defensive position at the corner of the house with a view of the front of the house.

While the deputies were taking cover, Gabelman was inside in a confrontation with his father. Tom Gabelman pleaded with his son not to go outside because he would be shot.

Gabelman’s reply: “You want to see something, watch this.”

When Gabelman stepped outside, he held the gun where deputies could see it and chambered a round. Deputies yelled, “Put the gun down.”

Instead, Gabelman walked towards Deputy Glatfelter and fired two shots. The letter does not specify what direction those shots were fired.

Glatfelter returned four shots that struck and killed Gabelman. Croft also fired two shots, but they missed.

“Based upon these facts, there is no question that the actions of Deputy Glatfelter and Deputy Croft were completely justified by (Florida law),” the letter concludes.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com.

Slow Start To Bartlett Trial

BROOKSVILLE – A pool of 50 jurors and almost eight hours were needed, but a 10 person jury was in place by the end of the opening day of Steve Bartlett’s trial.

Now that a jury is seated, their job is to decide whether Bartlett deliberately stole nearly a million dollars from customers expecting homes from his now bankrupt company, Coral Bay Construction.

The trial is expected to take upwards of four weeks as more than 100 witnesses take the stand and close to 1,000 pieces of evidence are submitted.

The prospect of spending a month in court scared off many prospective jurors, while others were dismissed because of prior knowledge about Bartlett’s case.

By 3:15 p.m. – about seven hours from when jurors first showed up – the core group of six jurors was chosen.

In the end, all the parties involved settled for four alternates instead of the originally proposed six. Every juror in the original pool of 50 was either used or dismissed.

“It came down to the last juror,” Assistant State Attorney Mark Simpson said.

Opening arguments will begin today at 9 a.m.

Bartlett is charged with grand theft of more than $100,000; his attorney, Donald Harrison, has made the argument that Bartlett simply took on more jobs than he could handle.

Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com

Help! I’m Turning 50!

First of all, it’s very important for me to say that as you read this, I am still in my 40s (OK, I’m a very late age 49). I won’t turn 50 until next week.
About halfway through 2007, people began asking me if I thought turning 50 would bother me. Actually, until people started asking me if it would bother me – it hadn’t. Of course, there are those, like my 12-year-old son, who put the worst spin on it, “Gee, Dad, you will be half-a-century old!”
So You’re Turning 50
Of course, what I fear most is not the age, but the payback. Didn’t all those people know I was just kidding when I joked with them about turning 50? I can already imagine the kind of bantering I’m going to get:
– “50 is the age of discovery … you discover you’re old!”
– “After 50 it’s a matter of maintenance.”
– “Fifty isn’t old … if you’re a tree!”
– “Remember when you were little and thought 50 was so-o-o old. You were right!”
– “Nifty Nifty … look who’s 50!”
– “If things get better with age, then you’re approaching magnificent.”
Precious Memories
It seemed like it wasn’t that long ago, that I was 27 years old, six months married and a new minister at Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill. This month, I will be almost twice that age; married for 22 years; and oh, yes, I have four children. I can also remember when my weight stayed at 135 pounds (blame it on the chips and salsa at Chili’s); the only pills I took where M & Ms; and the only two gray hairs I had were dealt with by a pair of scissors once a year. People can say that graying is a sign of distinction, but me and my mirror aren’t buying it. Only this past year, I have found myself in the store looking twice at a container of “Just for Men” hair coloring (“Touch of Gray”). I realize that some readers will shake their heads and think “I wish I was only 50.” While other readers will think, “He really is a senior pastor, now.”
At times, I feel like I can’t be turning 50. Just this past week, at one of our local hospitals, a senior adult volunteer called me “Hon.” Granted, as a minister, I am usually addressed as “pastor,” but as I get closer to you-know-what, I didn’t seem to mind that she felt I was still a youngster. On the other hand, after getting a haircut this past month, the young lady cutting my hair asked, “Do you get the senior discount?” Why would she ask me such a question? Her statement knocked the fantastic right out my “Fantastic Sam’s” haircut.
In the midst of all these changes, there is one thing that has not changed in my life – the faithfulness of God. In the Bible, God says, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). He is the One constant I can count on no matter what else (even my age) changes. Realizing the reality of this wonderful truth, led me to incorporate the faithfulness of God into my prayer life. On Mondays, part of my time with God goes like this: “God, thank you for 49 years of faithfulness. For 49 years, You have never failed me.”
Now, have there been times when things didn’t go the way I wanted? Yes. Have I experienced hurts in my life that have left inner scars? Certainly. Has my life been stress-free, problem-free, struggle-free? Absolutely not. But no matter what the problem, God has always been there for me – giving me His assurance, His peace, His comfort, His direction and His love.
The Wisdom of
a 50-year-old
Sometimes – no guarantee – age can bring wisdom. You start sharing bits of wisdom like: “Wealth has nothing to do with your bank account.” “Friends are a special gift from God.” And “Growing old isn’t always fun but it sure beats the alternative.” But no matter what my next 50 years bring (even though I doubt I will be here that long) I will always be able to hold on to the fact that God never changes. He is always dependable. I can always count on Him. He is always faithful. Which is why next Monday morning, I will say to God, “God, thank you for 50 years of faithfulness. For 50 years, You have never failed me.” And what God has done for me, He will do for you, if you will turn to and trust in Him.

Jerry Waugh is senior pastor of Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill. He can be contacted at 352-683-5882.

District’s Gifted Education May Change

BROOKSVILLE – Gifted education is set to change considerably for students in Hernando County.

With the Hernando County School Board’s decision Tuesday to place the district’s future gifted education center at Spring Hill’s Explorer K-8, the new, 2,100-student school set to open this August off Northcliffe Boulevard, there is much to be learned about the gifted program itself.

Defining ‘gifted’

A student is defined as “gifted” if he, or she, scores at least two standard deviations above the mean IQ score of 130 (minus the standard “error of measurement” of three points) and meets at least one characteristic of a gifted student on the state’s standard scale or checklist.

An average IQ is thought to be in the range of 85 to 115.

But it’s not quite that simple.

If the student does not meet state criteria, they can also qualify under a Plan B, or socioeconomic plan meant to assist various subgroups.

In Hernando County, a student can qualify for this if they have a mean IQ score of 120 and are a member of an underrepresented group – such as a low socioeconomic level or if English is not their first language.

This year, the district reported 2.5 percent of its 22,708 students as gifted. The current state average is 4.9.

One reason the state average is higher may be because different counties use different alternate criteria to identify children as gifted.

However, at press time, a request to obtain other districts’ Plan B information had not yet been filled.

Another reason is that counties such as Alachua County – where many of the school system’s students are children of University of Florida faculty members – boast a significantly higher percentage of gifted students, increasing the average, said Cathy Dofka, Hernando’s Director of Exceptional Student Education.

Currently, 14 percent of students in Alachua County are identified as gifted.

There are even larger discrepancies between states, with some states not even requiring IQ score as an identifying factor. While Florida has kept its standard high by labeling its program as “gifted,” other states have a program known as “gifted and talented,” in which teacher recommendation – not IQ – is the determining factor.

Identifying ‘gifted’

Once identified, students who qualify as “gifted” fall under the umbrella of exceptional student education, or ESE, and bring in about $2,100 more in state per-student funding.

With the creation of the new gifted center, local officials expect to see a rise in the county’s percent of gifted children for several reasons.

One reason is because they believe many other local students have simply not been identified – either because teachers don’t know what to look for, or because parents haven’t bothered to request testing because local gifted offerings were not enough of an incentive to do so.

“The gifted task force is looking at the (ways in which) we can train teachers on how to look for (students who would benefit from gifted classes), such as kids that don’t perform well in certain areas but might be gifted,” Dofka said.

An IQ test itself has nothing to do with academics. It typically consists of verbal and nonverbal activities, such as visual puzzles.

Students may be tested by a school psychologist more than once, if parents or teachers deem it necessary.

Parents may also pay to have their child tested by an independent psychologist in the community – and as long as the psychologist says the student meets the criteria, they’re admitted to the program.

With the opening of the new center, officials are also hoping it will attract families with gifted children who move to the area from elsewhere.

However, while the initial identifying requirements may vary by region, a student who is considered gifted elsewhere is automatically considered eligible for the district’s gifted services.

Once a student has been identified, their parent can choose whether or not they want their child to receive gifted services, which includes enrollment in instructional programming and an individualized progress report known as an educational plan, or EP.

A parent may pull their child out of gifted classes at any time, and reenter them in the program when they deem appropriate. Students do not have to be retested to reenter the program.

The program now

The gifted program aims to develop the following skill areas in students: critical thinking, creativity, communication, leadership, research, self awareness and career/future.

Its curriculum tends to focus on creative activities and “higher-order thinking skills” that would not necessarily be found in a regular classroom, Dofka said.

Currently, services vary by school.

Gifted children at J.D. Floyd, Moton and Suncoast Elementary Schools are pulled out of class one day per week for instruction in interdisciplinary units and a cross-curriculum approach to science, math, reading and social studies. At Chocachatti Elementary School and Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, students follow this model, and are also with their gifted teacher for one period in an “inclusion” setting, in which the teacher joins the students’ regular classroom to co-teach social studies, science or math.

In middle school, students receive gifted instruction in reading and language arts for two periods per day, with curriculum matched to their ability level and other options including advanced instruction and core subjects and art, music and foreign language.

While gifted students may take gifted classes in high school, most choose to enroll in International Baccalaureate or advanced placement classes instead – which is why district officials chose to focus the centralized program on younger students.

Contrary to popular belief, gifted classes are not simply “a grade level above” regular classes. Instead, students are encouraged to learn as much as they can and are capable of, Dofka said.

However, not all students are “gifted” in all areas.

“They’re kids,” she said. “They have strengths and weaknesses just like other kids. We have kids in there that are gifted in a lot of areas, but others who might not be strong in everything.”

Gifted children – who can be years ahead of their peers academically, but underdeveloped emotionally – often think abstractly and with complexity, and may need help with study and test taking skills, Dofka said.

A centralized program

The center will aim to place more than 400 of the county’s kindergarten through eighth-grade students in gifted classes in one location, instead of the district’s current means of offering separate classes at each school.

“The gifted center will have gifted (education) all day, every day,” Dofka said.

The number of gifted students whose parents actually decide to switch to the new school is yet to be determined.

Now, the gifted task force has until March 31 to submit its recommendations to the board concerning curriculum and other details of the centralized program.

“The task force is currently working on curriculum models, used all over the world, to see what’s best for our county,” Dofka said. “That’s the best thing for our kids right now. We’re going to work on differentiating to their ability levels and going above and beyond what we’ve (been doing).”

Other questions yet to be answered include rules regarding siblings of gifted children, how much transportation will be needed and how much money the program will ultimately cost.

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or lbrown@hernandotoday.com.

VA Clinic Expands At PineBrook

BROOKSVILLE – Up until recently, some mental health patients at the VA Community Clinic on Cortez Boulevard communicated with psychologists in Tampa via two-way television monitors.

“Obviously, that’s not ideal,” Leonard Orban, chief medical officer at the Brooksville clinic, said Friday.

A second psychologist, Guillermo Cadena, joined the clinic staff last summer, but space was so tight he was relegated to a file room.

Now Cadena, the other psychologist and support staff are seeing patients in a 1,100-square-foot suite in the PineBrook Medical Center. The medical center has housed the clinic for the last 10 years. The mental health division expanded into the suite in November.

The consultations via television are no longer necessary.

“It’s nice to have the whole team together in one space,” Cadena said. And, he added, “It’s more private.”

Officials will celebrate the new space with a ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. Friday, Dec. 11.

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite will be on hand.

The Brooksville Republican pushed for funding for the extra space, as she did for the clinic’s first expansion in 2004, to ensure reasonable wait times for appointments as the county’s veteran population grows.

“The need is there,” Brown-Waite said in an interview last week.

In 2005, the Brooksville clinic had 19,773 visits. That number jumped to 23,909 in 2006 and climbed again to 26,000 last year.

Brown-Waite, whose 5th Congressional District has the second-highest number of veterans of any district in the nation, said “today’s warriors” need to be considered, too.

“We have to remember we have (military personnel) serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and they’ll be coming back and needing services,” she said.

Orban, the PineBrook chief medical officer, said the wait time for appointments is 30 days or less in most cases. Wait times to see a psychologist have dropped in the last two months since the expansion, he said.

In addition to a second psychologist, the clinic also recently added a fourth physician and a nurse case manager. Two more nurses and three additional clerks also will come on board soon, Orban said.

He also hopes to add a third psychologist.

Adding several staff members would have been difficult or impossible without the expansion, he said.

“We were packed to the gills,” Orban said.

The clinic had operated with roughly 8,000 square feet since 2004. Officials limited the most recent expansion to 1,100 square feet so as not to surpass a total square-footage of 10,000.

Expansion beyond that requires Congressional approval and oversight and must be included in the VA’s Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services, or CARES, program.

The program, established in 2004, acts as a guide for where the VA will invest in capital projects to provide additional medical services.

It can be a lengthy process, however, and Brown-Waite and other officials wanted to make sure the Brooksville Clinic got at least some extra space as soon as possible.

The Brooksville clinic is one of five community-based clinics under the auspices of James A. Haley Veterans Hospital that provide primary care and behavioral care services so veterans don’t have to travel to Tampa.

The other four clinics are in Zephyrhills, Lakeland, Kissimmee and Sanford.

New Port Richey has a larger outpatient clinic that provides more specialist services than the community clinics. Veterans from Hernando County visit that 40,000-square-foot facility for a full range of primary and mental health care and laboratory services, as well as access to an array of specialist services such as orthopedics, radiology and dermatology.

Brown-Waite said that she fielded many complaints about waiting times at the clinic after she was first elected in 2002.

Now she receives hardly any and said she plans to work with the VA to help it stay that way: Her office is currently compiling data on expected growth in Hernando and surrounding counties that Brown-Waite said will show a need for a new clinic in Brooksville.

It could be as large as 30,000 square feet and built by 2011, she said.

“My job is to convince the CARES Commission of that,” Brown-Waite said. “I think veterans will help me.”

If You Go

WHAT: Ribbon-cutting for the expanded Brooksville VA Community-based Clinic.

WHEN: 9 a.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

WHERE: PineBrook Medical Center, 14540 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.

CONTACT: 352-597-8287.

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or lmarrero@hernandotoday.com.

Gang Presence On The Rise

SPRING HILL –
SPRING HILL – The teenager with the red handkerchief

across his face dances for the camera, keeping time to

a beat only he can hear.

As he bobs and postures for the camera, his hands began

forming intricate signs and signals, including the word

“blood.”

The 17-second video ends with the teen pointing an

imaginary gun at the camera and squeezing off several

shots.

That’s what chills Detective Pete Ciucci.

He collected the footage during a “knock and talk” not

long ago at the teen’s Spring Hill home. A tip that the

teen was carrying a gun led him to the house and his

mother invited the detective inside.

She gave him permission to look through her son’s room.

There were no weapons, but Ciucci did find bead

necklaces, an ashtray covered in gang signs and a

closet full of mostly red and black clothes.

The detective also noticed a digital camera and asked

the teen if he could flip through the pictures. As he

did so, he came across video footage of the teen

“stacking” or flashing his hand signs.

“Can you do that for me again?” Ciucci asked as he

flipped on his own camera.

Though alarming, the video captured that night was

nothing more than a footnote in a new chapter for

Spring Hill.

SIGNS OF A NEW ERA

Historically, there have only been a few pockets of

gang members in Hernando County. They mostly kept a low

profile and were considered more of a nuisance than a

menace.

But things have changed.

The teen Ciucci recorded wasn’t arrested that night

because it’s not illegal to be a gang member. But

within a few days, he was charged with aggravated

assault for attempting to run over a rival with a car.

That is a crime.

There are other signs that the gang presence is

mounting.

Within the past month, a man was stabbed in the arm by

a rival gang member. The suspect in the guerilla knife

attack was aiming for the chest and missed.

Ciucci said a marijuana grow house busted at 4456

Chamber Court last week had ties to gang members.

Teens gathering outside bowling alleys, movie theaters

and parks are exchanging complicated handshakes. One

teen told Ciucci he wouldn’t go to Beacon Theater alone

on a Friday night for fear he would be jumped by the

rival gang.

The fights spill out into the street. Neighbors will

call and say there are packs of kids facing off at a

certain intersection that borders a territory. Deputies

will race over with lights and sirens and the

confrontation dissolves as the suspects flee and

discard baseball bats and other weapons.

They’ll claim it was just a get together, Ciucci said,

but their body language tells you differently. That and

the gang tattoos on a bare chest.

Territorial graffiti is flaring up again. On Wednesday

night, Delta Woods Park on Deltona Boulevard was the

target. Most of the letters and symbols are

incomprehensible to the uninitiated, but Ciucci knows

what it means when the Crips spray BK about their rival

gang: Blood Killer.

“This is not Compton or Miami, it’s more loosely

organized,” Ciucci said. “But we’re still pulling guns

and drugs off the streets.”

When Ciucci took the post as the gang detective for the

sheriff’s office four years ago, his job mostly

entailed giving talks to school kids about not falling

into gang activity.

Now he has 200 people at any given time on his radar

believed or known to be gang members. That doesn’t

include the friends or associates that hang out with

them.

THE GANG ROOTS

But are these real, documented gang members or just

teens up to no good?

A little bit of both. Spring Hill hosts its own gang

chapters, such as the Pinehurst Crew and 20 Deep. In

today’s Internet age, it’s easy to learn all of the

handshakes, signs, colors and philosophies of notorious

gangs such as the Crips and Bloods.

There has also been an influx of hardcore gang members

to Hernando County that are spreading their street

knowledge and bolstering ranks. One person proudly

proclaims he has been with Piru Bloods since he was

9-years-old.

“It’s alarming because they’re not trying to hide it,”

Ciucci said.

But anyone posing as a gang member has to realize that

there will come a time when they will be tested. If

confronted by a genuine rival, they can either run or

assert their membership in the gang. That’s a big step

towards becoming a documented gang member.

The National Gang Crime Research Center has been

tracking gang trends for 17 years. Its director, George

Knox, finds that crackdowns on gangs in major cities

drive the members to small counties like Hernando.

“The natural tendency is to move where they can operate

in impunity,” he said.

Lockup in a juvenile detention facility or the county

jail also exposes budding gangsters to dedicated

members. A conversation is struck up about a gang

tattoo and the rest is history, Knox said.

THE UPSIDE

It’s not all bad news.

School resource officers have made “a serious dent”

towards preventing violence in the schools and spotting

dangerous trends, Ciucci said.

Detectives in the Major Case and Vice and Narcotics

divisions openly communicate with Ciucci if they

suspect gang activity is tied to their case.

But largely it’s the information pipeline from the

street that keeps Ciucci busy. Street sources are

calling to say where a fight is brewing, who has hits

out, people to keep an eye on.

And not everyone dabbling in gangs is headed towards a

lifetime of crime. Sometimes Ciucci informally counsels

his informants and it pays off. “I just got a call from

guy who wants to give me some information,” Ciucci

said. “I asked him what he wanted in return and he said

nothing. He just started thinking about what I told

him, that he could go to prison for life and someone

else would raise his kid. That stuck in his mind.”

Why The Liberals Want The US To Lose The War In Iraq

Why the liberals want the U.S. to lose the war in Iraq
COL. DONALD J. MYERS (Ret.)

This past week convinced me that the left, especially the Democratic Congress, does not appreciate the fact that we are at war. When one is in a war, one attempts to amass as many allies as possible. It may be that some of these allies have significant moral differences.

A good example was the Soviet Union during World War II or Saddam Hussein during the war between Iran and Iraq. The adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” holds true.
During World War I, the Ottoman Empire, Turkey, killed over a million Armenians. Today, we call that genocide.
Our Congress led by the Democrats picked this particular time to announce to the world how wrong that was and passed a resolution in a committee. Now the speaker, Ms. Pelosi, is trying to have the entire House pass this resolution. As a result, Turkey has recalled its ambassador, and is massing troops on the Iraqi border to deal with Kurdish rebels who conduct raids across the border into Turkey. Much of our supplies to support our troops in the war in Iraq pass through or over Turkey.
Why would our Democratic-led Congress pick this particular time to bring up this issue? There is only one reason — to make it more difficult for the U.S. to win this war in Iraq.

Sen. Harry Reid has declared that the war is lost. Rep. John Murtha has accused Marines of murder before any investigation, and investigations have proved that he was wrong.

Sen. John Kerry has accused our troops of acting like terrorists in the dead of night. Sen. Richard Durbin has likened our troops to the worst in the Pol Pot regime, the SS in Germany and the Gulags in Russia. Sen. Ted Kennedy has said that Abu Grahib is under new management and is no different than when Saddam ran it. The current resolution is merely another ploy to make it more difficult to win this war, especially since the surge is doing so well.
Since the left has done so much to make it more difficult to win this war, then they will be unable to revel in any type of victory.

Therefore, they must do whatever is necessary to ensure that victory does not occur. There will be many who do not agree with me, but just look at the facts. Who has been denigrating our military, who is constantly portraying nothing but bad news, and who insists that incompetence is the norm in the running of the war? The answer is always the same — the liberals and leftist lawmakers.

As of Wednesday, the Turkish parliament has authorized cross border attacks into northern Iraq against Kurdish rebels who have been raiding into Turkey. The Turkish prime minister has stated that an attack is not eminent. Since we are showing such little regard for an ally, that ally may just do the same.

Don Myers is a retired Marine colonel living in Spring Hill. He is a columnist for Hernando Today.