With an eye toward raising the district’s state grade, Hernando superintendent shuffles principal jobs

BROOKSVILLE — Weeks after telling five high-level district staffers that their contracts with the Hernando County schools would not be renewed, superintendent Lori Romano is shaking up the lineup of school-level administrators.

“We’re a C district, and we’re trying to move to be an A-rated district,” said Romano, explaining that the moves are intended to further that goal.

Hernando superintendent shuffles principal jobs

Hernando District Schools Superintendent Lori Romano talks during the school board workshop held at the Hernando County School Board on 8050 Mobley Road in Brooksville on Tuesday, November 4, 2013. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]

Along with changes to 14 assistant principal jobs, Romano has transferred Michael Maine, principal at Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics, to struggling Spring Hill Elementary School.

Former Powell Middle School principal Jamie Young will return to a school-level job — principal at J.D. Floyd K-8 — one year after Romano had appointed her to the newly created position of district executive director of teaching, learning and technology.

Floyd’s current principal, Rick Markford, will become an assistant principal at Springstead High School.

Markford and Young, whose job was just below the level of an assistant superintendent, both face salary cuts of more than $9,000. Maine’s salary will drop by $3,000.

School district spokesman Eric Williams said Young was moved because Romano “had a new vision for what needed to happen in (Young’s) departments and needed to make a personnel change in that position.”

Williams, as well as School Board members who had been told about the moves, compared the transfer of Maine to that of former Brooksville Elementary School principal Mary LeDoux, who was moved to Eastside Elementary two years ago and raised that school’s state grade from F to C.

Spring Hill Elementary, an A school five years ago, received a D from the state for the 2013-14 school year, the most recent grade available.

“I don’t think anybody viewed it as a demotion when Mary went to Eastside to turn that around,” said School Board member Matt Foreman. “Though I’m sure Michael is somewhat sad to leave Challenger, I imagine he is excited for the chance to turn around Spring Hill.”

Neither Maine, Markford nor Young returned telephone calls from the Times requesting interviews.

Maine’s pay cut reflects his transfer to an elementary school from a K-8. To make up for that loss, he may be allowed to take on paid supplemental duties, such as coaching assistant principals, Williams said.

Foreman said Young previously had proven herself to be a good principal at Powell.

“I think it’s really great that she is willing to be part of the team and take on this job,” he said.

Romano said she reassigned Young because “she is a very strong school-based administrator.”

The shuffling of assistant principals is designed to make sure administrative teams at each school have a full range of specializations, Romano said.

“We wanted to make sure we had balanced teams that could problem-solve together,” she said.

It is typical for superintendents to make changes in principal jobs at the end of each school year, said School Board member and longtime Springstead High principal Susan Duval.

But including the assistant principal moves, said School Board member Beth Narverud, “there does seem to be a lot of change very quickly.”

The district-level staffers previously removed included both of Romano’s assistant superintendents. Halfway through the 2013-14 school year, she also reassigned a previous assistant superintendent, Ken Pritz, to manage the district’s warehouse.

Pritz’s contract was not renewed at the end of the year, a move he has challenged in the courts. Romano spent several hours testifying last week during an ongoing hearing to determine whether Pritz should be temporarily reinstated.

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

Source : tampabay

Developer eyes SR 50-Mariner Blvd. site

The 20-acre commercial parcel at the southwest corner of State Road 50 and Mariner Boulevard has had a ‘for sale’ sign on it for years.

Its age is evident from the weathered look of the sign and the slightly fading lettering.

But today, there is a new sign adjacent to the old one. This one is yellow and alerts nearby residents that the property will be discussed at Monday’s planning and zoning meeting.

And, according to the property owner’s representative, there is finally a developer who wants to develop the tract, which has access off S.R. 50 – by the CVS drugstore – and off Mariner Boulevard.

Peter Creighton, spokesman for commercial landowner Hardy Huntley — one of the biggest commercial landholders in the county — said there is a developer interested but could not divulge details.

Creighton said it would be multiple retailers, some of whom may not currently be in Hernando County.

“Hopefully, it will be a very nice development,” Creighton said.

One of the retailers whose name crops up every so often is Olive Garden.

Creighton joked that he’s heard the same thing but was unable to say if the time is finally right for the Italian restaurant chain.

There is also speculation that the Wawa convenience store chain is shopping around for a site in Hernando County as part of a major expansion into west central Florida.

Wawa recently opened a new store off U.S. 19 in Pasco County, on property owned by Huntley.

Creighton said to get the site development-ready, he must update the master plan on the property, which he will seek to do Monday. County commissioners would also have to approve the plan the following month.

Then comes the permitting process, Creighton said.

Local real estate broker Gary Schraut said there is a resurgence of commercial activity in Hernando County right now.

Dormant for many years because of the economy, developers and retailers are now willing to take a chance, Schraut said.

Also, the widening of SR 50 may be conducive to retail activity. Once completed in 2015, SR 50 will be six-laned from U.S. 19 to the Suncoast Parkway.

Creighton said that widening project will certainly be attractive to developers but cited the commercial uptick as the reason behind the master plan updating.

The 20 acres is divided into two properties. In 2001, Hardy Huntley Properties Inc. purchased the tract with SR 50 access for $800,000, the county property appraiser’s website shows. The land is now valued at $1.49 million.

The second tract accessing Mariner Boulevard, bought by Huntley in 2002 for $850,000, is now valued at $1.12 million, according to property appraiser data.

Planning and zoning commissioners will consider the Huntley property at their meeting which begins at 9 a.m. Monday at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.


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Brooksville toddler helps raise money for cystic fibrosis

Maddison Rae Tarulli is only 2 but the Brooksville toddler has already done more to bring awareness to cystic fibrosis than many adults.

On Saturday, a football signed by Heisman Trophy winner and Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston will be auctioned with the proceeds being donated in Maddison’s name to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
money for cystic fibrosis
Harry Johnson holds his granddaughter, Maddison Rae Tarulli, with John and Sallie Prince as they were given the Heisman Trophy Award football, signed by FSU quarterback Jameis Winston. The football will be auctioned at a banquet after Saturday’s game between Florida State and the University of Florida. Proceeds from the auctioned football will be donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation on Maddison’s behalf.

Maddison was diagnosed at birth with cystic fibrosis, leaving her family devastated and uncertain about her future. But a lot can happen in two years, especially when her family decided they had no time for self pity. They would do whatever was necessary to help Maddison thrive.

Her grandmother, Penny Johnson, stumbled on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation online and latched onto their support. She became active with local foundation representatives and began reaching out to family and friends to help build Team Maddison Rea for fundraising.

The family participated in the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Walk, held in Homossassa, before Maddison took her first step. They held various fundraising events in the community, including softball tournaments, live concerts and a bicycle roundup where donated bikes were auctioned at a 5K bike ride in Vera Beach.

All money raised was under Team Maddison Rae and donated entirely to Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in hopes of finding a cure for Maddison and countless others diagnosed each year.

Team Maddison Rae made such an intense statement about the power of persistence that Maddison was chosen to represent the foundation, her photo and story being shared nationally at teaching conferences and workshops sponsored by the foundation.

Even the Enrichment Center at Bayfront Health Brooksville recognized the incredible work Maddison’s family had done so far to bring awareness and funding to a disease that effects as many as 30,000 children and adults in the United States. The Enrichment Center, which has raised funding for the foundation for four years, decided to place this year’s donations into a special college fund for Maddison.

“Everything is really coming together for Maddie,” said Johnson, who explained the tremendous stress the disease puts on the entire family. Maddison’s parents, Thomas Tarulli and Danielle Whitman, work full time while balancing Maddison’s breathing treatments and keeping her safe from exposure to illnesses that might cause deadly consequences. The entire family has stepped in.

The Heisman football, another unique twist in this story of hope, came about quite by accident, a simple “right place, right time” cliche. Johnson, who was a home health nurse more than 10 years ago, took care of and befriended Leslie Prince, who has multiple sclerosis.

Leslie’s parents, John and Sallie Prince, have led a project to help fund MS research in honor of their daughter by obtaining footballs signed by the Heisman Trophy Award winner each year to auction off in support of MS.

John Prince’s father, Williard Prince, was editor and publisher of the DAC Journal, described as the “house organ of the Downtown Athletic Club in lower Manhatten.” Williard Prince founded the Heisman Trophy Award in 1935.

To honor his father’s passion after his death, John crusaded the Heisman Trophy Award football donation project, auctioning the previous year’s signed football at the home game of the Heisman Trophy winner. The money from the auction would then be donated to the MS Foundation chapter in that city.

After learning of Maddison’s diagnosis and the family’s incredible efforts to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Princes elected this year to honor Maddison and support the foundation.

It was a huge gesture, one Johnson didn’t realize at the time. Although her husband and brother knew of the Heisman Trophy Award, she had no idea. “I laugh at it now,” she said.

Unfortunately, Maddison won’t be well enough to make the trip to Tallahassee on Saturday. She is battling a cold that could turn dangerous if exposed to other illnesses. But her photo will be on display as the Heisman Trophy Award football is auctioned.

Last year’s ball went for $26,000, Johnson said. She doesn’t expect that response but is thankful for even the starting bid of $1,500.

Still riding the waves of adapting to life with a child with cystic fibrosis, Maddison’s family is thankful for the lifeline they received from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and will continue to advocate for the cause.

“She has changed my life for the better forever,” Johnson said about her granddaughter. “I’m so devoted to CFF and finding a cure.”

Email Hernando Today correspondent Kim Dame at damewrites@hernandotoday.com.

Erhard wins seat on Brooksville City Council

BROOKSVILLE — Betty Erhard, a member of Brooksville’s Charter Review Committee, will replace outgoing Mayor Kevin Hohn in Seat 4, according to unofficial results from the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Erhard, 50, outpaced retired accountant Bill Kemerer, 64, and Vivian “Vi” Coogler, 62, to capture the post, which pays $5,400 a year.

“I’m very excited,” Erhard said. “It’s a win for the people. That’s the bottom line. I am going to represent the people my heart and soul. I got into this to be their voice, and I don’t want to disappoint them.”

Erhard joins Natalie Kahler and Robert “Butch” Battista as the council’s new faces. They will serve four-year terms. In 2012, Erhard ran an unsuccessful bid for city Councilman Frankie Burnett’s District 2 seat.

One of the main issues in Brooksville centered on the city’s controversial red-light cameras.

Erhard and Coogler, a long-time coach and volunteer at Hernando High School, favored eliminating the cameras entirely, while Kemerer suggested raising Brooksville’s 5 mph speed limit for right-on-red turns to 15 mph.

Brooksville’s right-on-red speed limit is the lowest in the Tampa Bay area among cities that have established such a speed limit.

Increasing the right-on-red speed limit to 15 mph, Kemerer said, “would eliminate at least two-thirds of these violations.”

“I wish (Erhard) the best of luck in her new position,” he said. “I deeply appreciate those who supported my campaign over the last eight or nine months.”


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Hernando voters strike down penny sales tax increase

BROOKSVILLE — The unprecedented collaboration failed.

The Penny For Projects one-cent sales tax was denied by Hernando County voters on Tuesday, leaving the School District to figure out other ways to generate $85 million over the next 10 years.

penny sales tax
Revenue from the penny sales tax increase would have funded a slew of high-ticket projects that would benefit the school district, county and Brooksville.

County, school district and Brooksville officials collaborated on efforts to inform the public about ways the penny revenue could be spent, mostly on improvements to roads and schools.

Proceeds from the Penny were to essentially be split between the county, Brooksville and the school district.

School Superintendent Lori Romano initially recommended that the district instead seek an extension of a half-cent sales tax that sunsets this year.

“We narrowly missed an opportunity give all Hernando County students a real competitive advantage in college and in the workforce,” Romano said in a news release. “We still have significant needs in our schools, and we will continue to work to find new sources of funding.”

Romano said district staff are “already working on plans to increase funding, decrease spending and still meet state digital instructional material and computer-based assessment requirements.”

Of the school district’s $85 million, nearly $62.4 million would be spent on electronic tablets for each Hernando student, as mandated by the state. Leftover money would be used to replace roofs; for heating, ventilating and air-conditioning units; and for fire alarms at schools.

Revenue from the penny also could have funded a slew of high-ticket projects that would benefit the county, as well as Brooksville. Some of them included:

♦ A nearly $20 million, two-part expansion of Barclay Avenue from Elgin Boulevard to San Antonio Road, and from San Antonio to Lucky Lane.

♦ Nearly $14 million for two projects at heavily congested Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50, including intersection improvements and a frontage road system on the south side of the intersection.

The money was to be tracked by citizen oversight committees.

Earlier this year, the county commission voted to reinstate impact fees for county parks, libraries, and transportation — but not education.

Options to increase funding, decrease spending and still meet state digital instructional material and computer-based assessment requirements will be presented to the board early next year, Romano said.


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Fine Arts Council eyes new home

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Fine Arts Council has endured a bumpy ride in recent years as it deals with friction at board meetings, loss of members and declining revenue.

Now a new obstacle has surfaced: a $2,400-a-year lease. Council Vice Chairman Sonny Vergara said he will ask the board at its Oct. 9 meeting to ask County Administrator Len Sossamon if he can find the nonprofit organization a rent-free office.
Arts Council
MICHAEL D. BATES/STAFF The Hernando County Fine Arts Council rents space at Nicholson Engineering Associates, off Horse Lake Road in Brooksville.

“We have a really, really lean budget and we cannot afford (it),” said Vergara, a local artist who specializes in digital photography.

It has reached the point where the council is spending most of its budget on its own needs rather than supporting local artists, he said.

“We’ve really got to get away from paying for ourselves and make it available to the community,” he said.

For two years, members have paid $200 a month to maintain an office and gallery inside one of the rooms at Nicholson Engineering Associates off Horse Lake Road in Brooksville. That expenditure is eating up the council’s budget and makes it difficult to pursue state grants to help artists, said Vergara.

The troublesome situation became particularly apparent last year, he said, when the state handed out $40 million in grants to all 67 counties. Citrus County received $50,000 to restore the historic Valerie Theater in downtown Inverness. Hernando County got $2,000, and that is unacceptable, Vergara said.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “We should be looking at getting as much money as possible.”

Vergara said the council needs an office, perhaps at the library, a park or some other county-owned facility, so a volunteer can work the phones.

The county created the council in 1987 and appoints its members.

“We’re a child of the county so it is not unreasonable to think they can provide us with an office to save us rent money if they want us to be successful,” Vergara said.

Vergara noted past frictions among council board members and a lack of cohesion at meetings. Three years ago the council lost so much money it almost had to shut down.

“We still have a long way to go in understanding our mission” and avoiding internal bickering, Vergara said, but the council now functions better. Members follow Robert’s Rules of Order at meetings and the “personalities and politics” are starting to disappear, he said.

The Hernando County Fine Arts Council’s stated purpose is to encourage, promote, support and showcase creative arts in the county. Through grants, the organization supports local groups including the Hernando Youth Orchestra, the Hernando Jazz Society, the Spring Hill Art League and the West Hernando Middle School Sculpture Garden.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said precedent already has been established: The fine arts council about four years ago had a small office at the Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville.

“I’m certain there’s space where we can accommodate their needs,” Russell said.

County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said though the council’s lease at his building expires in February, he would accommodate members if they were to leave early.

“They can do what they want to do,” he said. “It’s up to them.”

Spring Hill man crushed to death by loader at Cemex plan

BROOKSVILLE — A Spring Hill man was killed at the Cemex cement plant on Wednesday after he was pinned against the cab of a semi truck by a front loader, the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said.

Workers at the Cemex plant at 10311 Cement Plant Road in Brooksville tried to help Ismael Santana, 51, but he died of “catastrophic injuries” Wednesday morning at Bayfront Health Brooksville, the sheriff’s office said.
Spring Hill man crushed to death by loader at Cemex plan
Cement silos tower over the Cemex plant in Brooksville. FILE

Investigators said the incident happened just before 9 a.m. when Santana, delivering the day’s first load of ash, was getting out of his truck, the sheriff’s office said.

The driver of a front-end loader apparently did not see Santana and backed into him while moving debris, pinning him against the cabin of his truck, the sheriff’s office said.

When emergency personnel arrived, Santana was on the ground, where Cemex workers tried to help him, the sheriff’s office said. He was pronounced dead at the hospital at 10:09 a.m., records said.

Several vehicles were parked in Santana’s driveway on Thursday, but people inside the house declined to comment.

James Morris, manager of aggregate resources for Cemex, also declined to comment.

Classified as an accident, the incident is being investigated by the sheriff’s office and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

Santana’s death was the 16th mine fatality in the nation this year, according to the MSHA. It is the first such incident this year in Florida, MSHA records show.


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Brooksville woman accused of killing baby born in shower

BROOKSVILLE — Maria Macdelena Castillo told Brooksville Police she didn’t know she was pregnant, but investigators say the 27-year-old woman understood right from wrong when she killed her newborn daughter in April.
woman accused
Castillo, of 385 Union Street, was charged with negligent manslaughter this week in the April 28 death of a baby girl who she gave birth to in the shower that day. Castillo lived with her mother and adult siblings in the Tanglewood Apartments off East Jefferson Street.

A medical examiner listed the baby’s cause of death as asphyxiation, hemorrhage and inattention at birth.

After giving birth, Castillo placed the baby in a trash bag that she hid in her bedroom under a pile of dirty clothes, Brooksville Police Chief George Turner said. Castillo was arrested Wednesday after the medical examiner confirmed that the child was alive at birth.

“We waited on the official cause of death to support the charges,” Turner said. “We had a lot of conversations back and forth with the State Attorney’s Office. She understood right from wrong.”

He said that Castillo’s family and neighbors questioned her about pregnancy after they noticed her gaining weight.

Turner said the family confronted Castillo again April 28 after her brother went to take a shower after her.

“He saw the scene” in the shower, Turner said. “The mother and brother started banging on her (bedroom) door and asking where the baby was. (Castillo) pointed to a pile of clothes, and the mother called 911.”

By that time, Turner said, the baby had been in the bag about an hour. The family tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but could not revive the baby, Turner said.

“Only she really knows” if she knew she was pregnant, Turner said. “She knew she hadn’t had her period for a long time. She was gaining weight. The neighbors and mother asked her about it. Her boyfriend was around.

“We asked her specific questions about right and wrong, and we’re very comfortable with the charge. She acknowledged afterward that she didn’t do the right things — it wasn’t the right course of action.”

At Tanglewood Apartments on Thursday, Latoya Patrick questioned Castillo’s claims of ignorance regarding her pregnancy.

A hairdresser with two children, Patrick said “there’s no possible way (a mother) could not know” she is pregnant.

“I mean, I’ve heard of that,” Patrick said. “I’ve seen that kind of thing on Lifetime. Your body just shifts altogether. I can’t imagine that.”

Still, she described Castillo as a large woman who was friendly, but seemed to have mental challenges. Patrick said she often saw Castillo riding a bicycle around the neighborhood.

Other neighbors described Castillo’s family as quiet.

No one answered the door at Castillo’s home.

Turner said that Castillo had “all kinds of options.”

“There’s a law in place specifically for mothers who don’t want a child,” he said, referring to the Florida Safe Haven Law.

Under the Florida law, a parent — or “practically any responsible adult” — can leave a baby up to seven days old with an employee at any hospital, emergency medical services station or with a firefighter at any fire station in the state, according to information on a website offering specifics of the law.

“In Florida, no one ever has to abandon a child again,” the web site says.

Castillo was being held in the Hernando County Jail Thursday with bail at $30,000, records show.


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Hernando leaders debunk Six Flags hoax

BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners Tuesday shot down a pervasive rumor that Six Flags is poised to break ground on a new theme park on property located at State Road 50 and U.S. Highway 19, right across from Weeki Wachee.

Six Flags in Florida

Six Flags in Florida
The rumor, masquerading as a factual news story on a local blog site called the Spring Hill Courier, has created a minor firestorm of phone calls and inquiries to county staffers and commissioners this past weekend.So much so that it reached the county commission level at Tuesday’s meeting.“There are some members of the public who have bought into this,” county attorney Garth Coller told the board at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a joke.”The article went on to quote a high-ranking official purportedly from Six Flags, who said the entertainment giant was eager to start construction and the amusement park could open in 2018.It also cited someone from the county’s Tourism Procurement Planning Commission which, as County Commissioner Diane Rowden pointed out, is a fictitious department.“This rumor’s been going on for about 20 years,” Rowden said.

Six Flags has been rumored to go into multiple sites in Hernando County, including the Boy Scout reserve on State Road 50.

A building department official said something this massive would likely require a comprehensive plan amendment and if such a theme park was coming, the word would get out officially and not by rumors.

Rowden called the blog site Hernando County’s version of The Onion, a satirical entertainment Internet website.

The writer of this article was listed as Frank Fencil. Other stories on the site include pieces about golfer Tiger Woods shopping for a wedding ring at the local Kohl’s and a beached whale that exploded Memorial Day at Bayport.

Virginia Singer, the county’s public information manager, said she plans to put something on the county’s Facebook site to let people know the Six Flags story is a hoax.

“It’s not an official or accurate news source for Hernando County,” Singer said.

Hernando Today has been unable to track down the writer of the Spring Hill Courier.

The last time Hernando County had a blog devoted to satire was a few years ago when ex-County Commissioner Jeff Stabins wrote Rusty’s Tale. Stabins, still a commissioner while he wrote the blog, poked fun at local, state and national public figures.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he assured a constituent that a Six Flags is not on the radar for Hernando County.

But then, Dukes said, “I’m the last person to know.”

County Administrator Len Sossamon quipped that if Six Flags ever did come here, it may be downsized.

“We’re too small to get six flags,” he said. “We’re only getting three.”


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Sleeping driver injures Brooksville officer, 2 others, police say

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville Police Officer Meredith Blackman was flown to a trauma center Tuesday morning after her patrol vehicle was struck from behind by a 1994 Ford F-150 operated by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel, police said. The crash resulted in a six-vehicle pile-up — and several injuries — on Broad Street at 8:12 a.m., police records said.
Sleeping driver

Brooksville Police Chief George Turner said the pickup’s driver, Catlin Joseph Nichols, 25, fell asleep at the wheel after working all night on a road construction job. Nicols was cited for careless driving.

“He’s been very cooperative,” Turner said of Nichols, who was treated and released from Brooksville Regional Hospital. “It’s unfortunate, but obviously it’s his responsibility to stay awake. People don’t fall asleep behind the wheel on purpose, but it happens, and fortunately no one was killed.”

Blackman’s vehicle, a Ford Crown Victoria, sustained heavy rear-end damage, as did the front of Nichols’ truck, including a badly cracked windshield.

Blackman, 30, was on patrol, and stopped behind four vehicles, when Nichols’ truck struck her squad car without braking, the Police department said. Blackman was alone in the patrol car, Turner said.

Also treated and released from Brooksville Regional on Tuesday were Tisa N. Thomas, 29, who was driving a 1999 Nissan that Blackman’s vehicle hit, and Lucille Chwalick, 51, who was driving a 2012 Ford, according to a police report.

Turner said that Blackman, a 2011 graduate of Pasco-Hernando State College’s Law Enforcement Academy, has been with the Police department since October. She has a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement and previously worked in the restaurant industry, Turner said.

Blackman was flown to the trauma center at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson, records said.

“She’s been doing great” since October, Turner said. “When they first get here, they go through a 14-week field-training officer program. It’s a very regimented program where they ride along with multiple officers. We have absolutely great faith in her abilities, knowledge of the law and knowing what she’s doing out there. We’re hoping for a quick recovery, but it’s definitely too soon to say” when she might be back.

“We’ll support her any way we can,” Turner said.