Lady Eagles reach regionals; boys miss by one placing

BROOKSVILLE – Twelve of Springstead’s 14 distance runners had career efforts Thursday afternoon during the Class 3A, District 7 Cross Country Meets at McKethan Lake Park.

Amid overcast skies and much less humidity, 86 percent of the Eagle distance runners set personal bests along the flat 5K surface.

As expected in the female 3.1-mile race, Mitchell (54) and Land O’ Lakes (58) finished a close 1-2.

Springstead, which was seeded third, finished third with 73 points highlighted by seven runners posting their seasonal bests.

The biggest surprise arrived when Belleview squeaked past Lecanto, 87-93, for the coveted fourth and final team berth into the Nov. 2 Class 3A, Region II Meet at Orlando-Lake Nona.

Rounding out the field was Sunlake (152) and Citrus (166) as both River Ridge and Fivay failed to post team scores.

The stellar local effort began on shaky ground for the Lady Eagles’ first-year distance sensation, sophomore Amber Philpott.

As the starting pistol sounded, Philpott took a step and was “accidentally tripped.”

Fortunately, a backup starter pistol went off signaling the entire 51-runner pack of a restart.

The diminutive Philpott, with open wounds across both elbows and visible scraps, somehow regrouped.

On the second start, she zoomed around the Brooksville course in a school and Hernando County record of 18:31.41 – nearly 30 seconds faster than last week’s previous county mark of 19:01.68 – also set at McKethan.

Though Philpott was the main headliner, she had plenty of company from her teammates as each set new 5K standards.

Two-time Hernando Today Runner of the Year, junior Tiana Newton, finished 12th (21:13.28), followed by sophomore Joy Jackson in 15th (21:44.01), senior Alexandrea Zieman in 20th (22:27.18), freshman Toni Pandolfo in 31st (23:05.48), sophomore Julia Diven in 35th (23:42.50) and junior Amanda Santana in 49th (26:06.23).

“It just feels good to get to regionals,” explained the 15-year-old Philpott following her school-record fourth individual victory in six meets. “That was our first goal. Even though I ran pretty well today, I can’t be satisfied; I’ve got to keep pushing.”

Philpott detailed her harrowing start.

“After I got tripped, I was just laying there hoping I’d hear another pistol,” she said. “Thank God, there was. I was trying to hold back the tears. I was hurting all over. After the restart, I was hoping it wouldn’t affect me.”

On the team’s first regional trip in three seasons, “I knew we had a chance,” she said. “I’m so glad we pulled it off.”

“I’m so proud of Amber,” added the 16-year-old Newton. “That 18:31 leaves me speechless. I never thought it would happen. All the credit belongs to Amber.”

On a personal level, “Today was not as good as I wanted, but I did better than I expected,” pointed out Newton. “After being sick last week, I felt really good. The cooler temperatures really helped.”

On the team’s placing, “It’s just amazing. We’ve all gotten so much better,” noted Newton. “My goal next week is to reach the 20s.”

Seventh-year SHS skipper Joel Myers had plenty of reason to smile.

“I definitely think running here last week really helped us this time,” acknowledged Myers on the home-course edge. “And the conditions were much cooler than last week, which also helped. A little less humidity made a big difference.”

Evaluating Philpott’s record-shattering performance, “Right now, I’d say she’s in the hunt for a state medal,” described Myers. “All this after getting tripped was remarkable. These things happen in cross country. The trip was not intentional; that’s why it’s great to have a back-up (starter’s) gun.

“Give Amber credit, she shook it off really well. Today was one of those days where all my girls had their best days. I know I couldn’t ask for more; but regionals is next and we have to have that same-type effort next week.”

In the boys varsity race, Land O’ Lakes bunched its top three runners 1-2-3 across the finish line to solve Lecanto, 25-77.

After the Panthers followed Belleview (98), Mitchell (110), Springstead (136), Citrus (162), Sunlake (180), River Ridge (200), Fivay (238) and Zephyrhills (292).

For the second week in a row, Springstead skipper Brandon Wright’s thinclads featured a terrific effort by their top four runners.

Senior James Amodie placed a team-leading seventh (17:16.52) followed by senior Jai Jackson in 17th (17:36.66), sophomore Jeff Amodie in 22nd (17:53.85), junior Josh Page in 32nd (18:24.19), senior Dennis Carroll in 53rd (20:17.30, 66), senior Hank Deslaurier in 66th (22:31.93) and sophomore Vasu Malhotra in 67th (23:15.91).

Incredibly, both Amodie brothers, Jackson, Page and Deslaurier each notched personal-best efforts to the delight of Coach Wright.

“Five guys PR’d (ran a personal record) including our top four, that’s an outstanding effort,” declared Coach Wright. “Again, we missed out on advancing by one place. I just can’t find fault here.

“It’s frustrating,” he added. “We’ve closed the gap (on making regionals every year). But I don’t have any regrets today. How could I? We’ve got two guys coming back from the top four which is a leg up on next year and our top four runners are also running track.”

On the day’s highlight, “It’s great to see James (Amodie) reach regionals,” he said. “He’s been recovering from injury and gotten better each time out. I just wish our other senior captain (Jai) would have qualified, too. He missed out by two spots.”

“I can’t complain,” said the 17-year-old Jackson. “I PR’d today and cut nearly 30 seconds off my best time. I tried my absolute hardest. I’m pulling for James; he was incredible today. I’m so proud of him and how the rest of the team battled.”

“This was the hardest run I’ve been on,” explained the 17-year-old Amodie, who has been battling a right calf/shin injury. “Today was ‘Go big, or go home.’ I ran as hard as I could. The key was I finished real strong. Though we didn’t make it as a team, I’m not disappointed; the guys worked as hard as they could.”

Final 3A-7 Girls Cross Country Team Scores:

PL TEAM PTS.

1. Mitchell (MIT)# 54

2. Land O’ Lakes (LOL)# 58

3. Springstead (SPG)# 73

4. Belleview (BELL)# 87

5. Lecanto (LEC) 93

6. Sunlake (SNL) 152

7. Citrus (CIT) 166

8. River Ridge (RR) NTS

8. Fivay (FIV) NTS

# Denotes qualified for Class 3A, Region II Meet @ Orlando-Lake Nona

Final Top 15 Individuals (All regional qualifiers)

PL NAME SCH TIME

1. Amber Philpott SPG 18:31.41$

2. Emily Kerns MIT 19:16.05

3. Claire Farnsworth LEC 19:50.33

4. Isabella Brown LOL 20:17.89

5. Alyssa Weber CIT 20:18.90

6. Leah Thompson MIT 20:39.58

7. Jordan Spicer MIT 20:56.30

8. Montana Gottman RR 21:10.45

9. Lauren Hale LOL 21:11.66

10. Leely Pisczek BELL 21:12.07

11. Audrey Vero BELL 21:12.69

12. Tiana Newton SPG 21:13.28

13. Jessie Boykin MIT 21:17.70

14. Noemi Anaya LOL 21:43.36

15. Joy Jackson SPG 21:44.01

$ Denotes new Hernando County 5K record, eclipsing Philpott’s previous mark of 19:01.68.

SPRINGSTEAD (73) – 1. Amber Philpott 18:31.41$, 12. Tiana Newton 21:13.28, 15. Joy Jackson 21:44.01, 20. Alexandrea Zieman 22:27.18, 31. Toni Pandolfo 23:05.48, 35. Julia Diven 23:42.50, 49. Amanda Santana 26:06.23.

Final 3A-7 Boys Cross Country Team Scores:

PL TEAM PTS.

1. Land O’ Lakes (LOL)# 25

2. Lecanto (LEC)# 77

3. Belleview (BELL)# 98

4. Mitchell (MIT)# 110

5. Springstead (SPG) 136

6. Citrus (CIT) 162

7. Sunlake (SNL) 180

8. River Ridge (RR) 200

9. Fivay (FIV) 238

10. Zephyrhills (ZEP) 292

# Denotes qualified for Class 3A, Region II Meet @ Orlando-Lake Nona

Final Top 15 Individuals (All regional qualifiers)

PL NAME SCH TIME

1. Travis Nichols LOL 15:38.62

2. Tyler Stahl LOL 15:46.42

3. Jake Poore LOL 15:48.72

4. Stephen Brown SNL 16:29.53

5. Redondo Beauplan BELL 16:39.32

6. Sam Alford LEC 16:40.69

7. Michael Lindsey LEC 16:44.45

8. Steven Barnabel LOL 16:45.64

9. Ken Walker FIV 16:49.07

10. Troy Shea MIT 16:56.58

11. Donald Swartz LOL 17:16.02

12. James Amodie SPG 17:16.52

13. Austin Dotson LOL 17:19.12

14. Trevor Nichols LOL 17:25.76

15. Cameron Grant CIT 17:29.69

SPRINGSTEAD (136) – 7. James Amodie 17:16.52, 17. Jai Jackson 17:36.66, 22. Jeff Amodie 17:53.85, 32. Josh Page 18:24.19, 53. Dennis Carroll 20:17.30, 66. Hank Deslaurier 22:31.93, 67. Vasu Malhotra 23:15.91.

Hernando Democrats push for legalized marijuana

BROOKSVILLE – If Steve Zeledon had his way, marijuana would be legal for medical and recreational use.

But first things first, he said, and that’s why the chairman of the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee is doing all he can to get people here to sign petitions to get a referendum on Florida’s ballot in 2014 that would ask voters if they favor using marijuana for medical reasons.

“I know dozens of people, especially in my age group, who have had cancer or undergone chemotherapy and have been on the verge of death who have been rescued because of the fact that they went out and got this illegal drug,” Zeledon said.

Democratic Executive Committee members have a table at the Spring Hill Farmers Market – part of their effort to get signatures.

Zeledon said some people are taken aback when they see a large picture of a marijuana leaf near the table. But once they delve into the issue, they readily sign the petitions, he said.

And support for medical marijuana crosses political party lines, he said.

But Zeledon says supporters of the ballot initiative are up against a tight clock. The state is requiring 683,189 signatures by Feb. 1.

People who wait until the last minute might be out of luck.

Hernando County Elections Supervisor Shirley Anderson said it takes 30 days or so to verify that signatures on the petition are valid before sending them along to the state.

As of Friday, Anderson said her office had checked 3,258 signatures and, of those, 2,704 were valid. The others were disqualified due to lack of information, incorrect data or a signee failing to register.

Anderson said her office does not have a petition and people would have to get them from the United For Care website at www.unitedforcare.org/

“If we get a big batch (of signatures) on Jan. 29, we are not going to be able to process a huge number in two days,” Anderson said. “We need to get those signatures in as soon as possible.”

Zeledon said he will keep fighting for the use of medical marijuana if the ballot drive fails.

It’s too important for the thousands of people who need the drug to ease their pain or help in their recovery, he said.

Zeledon said, ideally, marijuana also should be legal for recreational use. People should be able to go into a store and buy a marijuana cigarette as easy as they can buy a bottle of whiskey, he said.

The state would tax marijuana and subject it to the same regulations as liquor. Buyers would have to be at least 18 years old, he said.

Zeledon said the continued criminalization of the drug is detrimental to youths.

“It is destroying the lives of a lot of our young people,” Zeledon said. “A young person is caught with a joint in his pocket and he is put in jail. Once he gets out, his life is destroyed. He can lose his driving privileges. It makes it hard to get a scholarship. It becomes a black mark on his record.”

He believes law enforcement officials want to keep the drug illegal to fill up jails and raise money.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said he is opposed to legalizing marijuana, even for medical use.

“Emergency responders have seen, all too clearly, the effects of abuse-prone drugs on both individuals and our community,” Nienhuis said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter whether those drugs are always illegal, like marijuana or methamphetamine, or legally available through prescription, like Oxycodone. The devastation is the same if they become too accessible.

Nienhuis said there are other medications that soon could be available that would be an alternative to marijuana but would be safer and less abusive.

Leading efforts to get the issue on the 2014 ballot is a group called United For Care, which states on its website that, “doctors should have the freedom to recommend the treatment they deem appropriate for their patients – including medical marijuana.”

The drug already is legal for medicinal purposes in 20 states and the District of Columbia, “and has been shown to be an effective treatment for the symptoms and side effects associated with HIV/AIDS, cancer, hepatitis C, post-traumatic stress disorder, multiple sclerosis and other neuromuscular disorders, glaucoma and chronic pain,” the UFC said.

The Florida Department of Health, in a statement issued in April, said the United States Controlled Substance Act lists marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, and that marijuana has no currently accepted medical use in this country.

Also, the drug “lacks accepted safety for use under medical supervision and has a high potential for abuse,” according to the state agency. Possession of marijuana is a crime under federal law.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi continues to challenge the proposed ballot language, calling it misleading. The Florida Chamber of Commerce has joined with Bondi in opposing the ballot initiative.

Pat Crowley, president of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, said there has been no discussion of the matter with her organization’s advocacy or general affairs committee.

Often the state chamber will ask for local affiliates to join certain causes but this does not appear to be one of them, she said.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

Membership up 17 percent in effort to save Little Rock Cannery

BROOKSVILLE – It was Rachel Watler’s first time canning and she was a bit nervous.

Watler’s mother, herself fairly new to the craft, asked her to come to the Little Rock Cannery on Wednesday morning and the two tried their hand at making caramel apple jam.

Watler, 33, did much of the slicing and dicing of the apples and placed them in a large bowl of water before taking them to the cannery kitchen for processing.

“That’s a little bit intimidating,” said Watler, peeking inside the next room at the big ovens, pressure cookers and steam machines.

Watler and her mom, Kim Link, spent much of the time talking and visiting with others who were invited for a tour of the facility.

“It’s a lost art,” Watler said of canning. “I don’t see a lot of young women doing this anymore.”

But in the past six weeks, more have started doing it than ever before at the Little Rock Cannery. That’s good news for the cannery, which has come close to having its doors shut these past four years due to budget cuts and other reasons.

County commissioners, in a last ditch attempt to get the cannery off the public dole and make it self-sufficient, asked a group of volunteers and cannery regulars in September to unite and form a business plan to save the Little Rock, located at the corner of Citrus Way and U.S. 98, north of Brooksville.

Commissioners approved that plan and also agreed to fund the cannery through the end of this calendar year. The board plans to meet in January to revisit the funding needs of the cannery, and could vote to pay its operational costs through the end of the fiscal year in September.

Frank Paonessa, president of the 2013 Leadership Hernando graduating class, said the plan is succeeding in the short term due to a promotional push.

The Little Rock Cannery is up to 113 members, a 17 percent increase from the 96 members about six weeks ago.

Paonessa credits that growth to a full-court information blitz and getting the cannery’s name out in several different venues.

Volunteers have scheduled some fundraisers in the next few weeks designed to further increase awareness before they must go back before the county commission board to update their progress.

“They truly want to see the cannery succeed,” Paonessa said of the commissioners. “They really do. (But) the county needs to know it’s here.”

Those interested can buy a year subscription for $50 or pay a day fee of $10. At the Little Rock, they can fruits, vegetables, seafood and meats. Staffers and volunteers assist people in preparation, preservation and heat processing.

Paonessa is working with volunteer Renee Oij, also a member of the Leadership Hernando Class of 2013, who said the cannery cannot sustain itself on member subscriptions and so must look for alternative funding sources.

She agreed with a task force’s findings that the cannery must be run as a business. The group, she said, has already obtained the services of the school district’s grant writer to seek money from that source.

“We feel like we’ve gotten a lot of information out there for people,” said Oij.

The Little Rock Cannery is one of only three canneries in Florida and the only one that allows membership to residents throughout the state.

Its kitchen has six pressure-cooker pots capable of canning 96 quarts of food at one time.

While the apple chopping and grating was going on in one room, Russell Johnson was busy in the kitchen cooking previously prepared apples and the white and brown sugar that would eventually go into jars for the jelly.

“It’s starting to smell good now,” said Johnson, as he stirred the ingredients on the stove.

He turned things over to his wife, Laura Johnson, long-time cannery member, who took a ladle and tested the concoction for consistency.

Johnson said it is imperative the cannery stay open in these hard economic times. It is far cheaper to can, she said, than buy groceries in the store.

“It stretches the dollar,” she said. “I’ve cut my grocery bill in half. You can make enough for a month or a year.”

And it’s not all about economics, said Jennifer Raines, one of the cannery’s employees.

“When you buy from the store, you don’t know what’s in there,” she said.

People are also stuck with a product with the existing ingredients, she said. A brand name spaghetti sauce, for example, comes as is and there’s no deviation.

By making your own sauce at the cannery, people can add ingredients to taste and leave out preservatives.

“I’ve canned forever,” Raines said, as she helps supervise the morning’s apple jelly project. “My mom ran this place for 18 years. I kind of grew up in here.”

So why can’t people can at home and save the membership dues?

They could but it wouldn’t be as much fun, said Harry Johnson, the county’s recreation coordinator.

The cannery falls under the purview of the parks department.

People can bring their jars and cans and food to the cannery and use the facility’s ovens and other machinery, which makes for faster processing, he said.

“You have more room and space to can here and the mess stays here,” he said.

Plus, people can get together and play a game of cards or simply chat while cooking and that kind of ambience is hard to match at home, he said.

Commissioners came close to closing the Little Rock Cannery the past four years because of budget shortfalls. It survived the budget ax thanks to two $50,000 donations from an anonymous resident who later was revealed to be civic activist Janey Baldwin.

Baldwin died in June 2012.

The Auroveda Foundation, which had a lease with the county to operate the cannery, decided not to renew last September when the lease expired.

County Commissioner Diane Rowden, one of the facility’s staunchest supporters, is assisting members of the cannery group as they come up with an operating plan. She said 17 percent membership growth in two months was more than she expected.

“Impressed would be too small of a word to express my appreciation for everything that they’re doing,” Rowden said. “It’s just incredible.”

Rowden added that the Little Rock Cannery is too important a part of Hernando County’s history to let it close. In the 1940s, the facility was used as a schoolhouse and became a cannery in the mid-1970s.

“I’ve always believed in the cannery,” she said. “It’s part of our heritage. We’ve got to take care of it.”

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

Allegations against teacher to be considered by state on appeal

BROOKSVILLE – The Hernando County School Board voted Tuesday to refer the decision to the state on whether action should be taken against a legally entangled social studies teacher’s license.

The decision came after Jesse T. Mockler, 36, appealed school superintendent Lori Romano’s recommendation that the board fire Mockler from his position at Powell Middle School.

Romano made the recommendation after an internal investigation alleged Mockler falsified his teaching certificate renewal application, potentially provided a false written statement knowingly and failed to report a criminal conviction to the Florida Department of Education.

Following an appeal letter submitted to the district by Mockler’s attorney, Romano amended her recommendation that Mockler’s case be considered by the Division of Administrative Hearings, or DOAH, which provides dispute resolution to Florida governmental entities.

Also part of Romano’s recommendation was to suspend Mockler without pay starting Wednesday, which the board approved.

When asked in an Aug. 22 predetermination meeting why he didn’t renew his teaching certificate prior to the June 30 deadline, Mockler said he could not afford the $104 certification cost between attorney fees and moving expenses.

Mockler also said he never received letters to renew his teaching certificate.

The Florida Department of Education denied Mockler’s certificate application in 2008, the district’s investigation showed.

The school district’s Human Resources department notified Mockler in August 2010 that his certificate was suspended for failing to meet the terms of a final disciplinary order requiring him to complete consecutive drug tests.

Court records show Mockler was sentenced to one year probation on July 18 for a misdemeanor DUI charge and for refusing to submit to a breath test.

Mockler previously faced a battery charge in 2012, which was later dropped after the victim wrote a letter to the State Attorney’s Office requesting the charge be dismissed.

Audit: Hernando complied with mental database for gun purchases

BROOKSVILLE – A state audit of Florida’s Firearm Purchase Program shows the Hernando County Clerk has complied with requirements to send information about the mentally ill to a database in a timely manner but at least 10 other clerks have not.
gun purchases
Clerks are required to send information to the database about individuals who are found mentally defective or have been committed to a mental institution. That database is accessed by gun store owners to determine if an individual is eligible to buy a firearm.

The audit was conducted as a follow up to a federal grant for criminal background checks received by Florida in June 2012.

The database, called the Mentally Defective Database, works much like the criminal background checks that gun stores are required to do through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Hernando County submits mental health court orders instantaneiously every month to the database, according to Clerk of Court Don Barbee.

“We have an electronic link, and take anyone involuntarily committed and submit that information directly to FDLE,” he said. “We have 30 days to get the information in, and we do it monthly electronically in order to alleviate any chance of that happening.

“As long as we’re notified of the involuntary commitment, then we would absolutely process it and do what we need to do,” Barbee said. “I have someone who handles this specific report for me without fail, because I understand the importance of the report.”

Other counties were not as compliant.

Among records entered after February 2007 the audit found:

? 11,307 took more than a month to be submitted

? 3,711 took three years or longer to be submitted

? 325 took between two and three years to submit

? 335 took between one and two years to submit

? 1,449 took between one month and a year to submit

? 5,487 records were submitted within a month as required

Between July 2011 and April 2013, 10 counties did no submit any records of people who were adjudicated mentally deficient or committed by court to a mental institution.

While there were records for the historical project time period added to the database for eight of the 10 counties, two had no such records entered at all between July 2011 and April 2013. According to FDLE, those counties are Baker, Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty, Taylor, and Washington.

“If those lawful authorities are not giving information in a timely fashion to Florida Department of Law Enforcement, that sounds like a communication problem,” said local firearms dealer, Peter Resnick. “Mentally incompetent people should not own firearms.”

Resnick said he has never had a problem with mentally deficient clientele, but he has refused to sell guns to some customers for other reasons.

“I’ve had clientele I’ve refused to provide a firearm to that have passed the background check, but through other information, learned the person probably shouldn’t have a gun,” Resnick said.

Resnick is extra cautious because he’s sold a gun to someone who used it in a crime.

In 2007, he sold a .45-caliber revolver to Thomas J. Hall, 51, a 15-year veteran of the Tampa Police Department. Hall accused Jason Mullis, 35, of having an affair with his wife and used the gun to kill him.

“Face it: If the sheriff’s office makes 30 calls, and never arrests anybody for domestic abuse, and if they don’t have any other issues in their life, they’re still qualified gun buyers,” Resnick said. “If there’s no arrest, that’s it.”

How many firearms purchases were approved, if any, that wouldn’t have been otherwise if the records were submitted on time, is unknown, according to FDLE. That’s because Florida law prohibits the department from keeping gun registrations of those who make firearms purchases for longer than two days.

FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the department agrees with the findings, and will continue to work with clerks to ensure timely records keeping.

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

Governor appoints county judge to district court

BROOKSVILLE – Governor Rick Scott has appointed Hernando County Judge Donald Scaglione to the Fifth Judicial Circuit Court.

“I’m excited about the new challenge and look forward to continuing to serve Hernando County,” said Scaglione, 54, when reached by phone on Tuesday.

Scaglione said he will finish out the year as county judge and start his circuit judge duties on Jan. 1. Those duties include family law, child support, dependency hearing, foreclosure and Jimmy Rice cases (the involuntary civil commitment of sexually violent predators).

“Judge Scaglione’s service on the Hernando County Court bench has demonstrated his commitment to his community and the law. I am confident that his decades of service and experience will make him a strong addition to the Circuit Court bench,” Scott said.

The circuit judge seat opened up after Fifth Circuit Judge Sandra Edwards-Stephens announced her retirement earlier this year. Circuit Judge Anthony Tatti is transferring to Marion County, leaving a vacancy in Hernando County.

Scaglione and two other local private attorneys, Thomas R. Eineman and John E. Napolitano, were submitted for the governor’s consideration by a nominating committee.

Scaglione was elected as a county judge in 2004, and ran unopposed for re-election in 2010. Before serving as county judge, Scaglione worked as an assistant state attorney for the Fifth Circuit, which covers Hernando, Marion, Lake, Sumter and Citrus counties, from 1990 to 2004. Before that, Scaglione was a assistant state attorney and public defender in the 19th Circuit, which covers Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties.

Scaglione’s appointment means Scott will need to make two more judicial appointments in the near future.

In addition to a new county judge to fill Scaglione’s seat, Circuit Judge Lisa Herndon is transferring to Marion County to replace retiring Judge William J. Singbush. Applications for her replacement are being reviewed on Dec. 4, said Derek Schroth, chair of the Fifth Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission.

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5283

Suncoast Parkway through Hernando County to get median barriers

BROOKSVILLE – Motorists have probably noticed strips of cement going up in the medians along certain stretches of the Suncoast Parkway.

Pretty soon, work crews will be attaching posts to those cement strips and on those posts will be steel wires. By the fall of 2014, these high-tension wires, or barriers, will be in place to prevent motorists from going off the road and having a head-on collision with a vehicle on the other side of the Suncoast Parkway.
Suncoast Parkway
PHOTO COURTESY OF FLORIDA’S TURNPIKE ENTERPRISE High-tension cable barriers line the Suncoast Parkway medians in Pasco County. Hernando County will soon be getting the same kind of barriers.

Christa Deason, public information officer with Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, said if a car hits those barriers, it will either be redirected back on to the grass or come to a stop.

Law enforcement officers nationwide support the barriers as a means to cut down deadly crashes.

“A head-on collision at highway speeds is one of the worst accidents that can occur,” Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in an email. “Keeping oncoming expressway traffic on their side of the roadway, even if they lose control, is an obvious life saver, especially as utilization of the Suncoast Parkway increases over the next several years.”

The overall median crossover crash rate decreased by 78.8 percent after the installation of cable median barriers, according to Florida Department of Transportation statistics.

Installing the barriers is part of a $20 million Suncoast Parkway project in Hernando County, which includes resurfacing from County Line Road to U.S. 98, signs and pavement markings.

The DOT is also making road and drainage enhancements that include raising the roadway northbound and southbound at the U.S. 98 ramps and expanding the pond on the west side of the road. That area became flooded during Tropical Storm Debby in 2012.

The entire project will be completed in phases in the fall and late fall of 2014.

Deason said all of the roads in the turnpike system are getting safety upgrades, including the median barriers. Most of the barriers are already in place in Pasco County’s portion of the parkway, she said.

Deason said the barriers have four stands of cable and, depending on trajectory, can either redirect the vehicle back into the proper lane or cause it to get hung up there and stop.

Sgt. Steve Gaskins with the Florida Highway Patrol said the Suncoast Parkway is a limited access, high speed road with medians that are narrow and unobstructed by trees.

If a vehicle going 70 mph was to lose control and cross the median and collide head-on with a vehicle in the opposite lane, the impact could be as high as 140 mph, he said.

Whether it’s a guard rail, concrete barrier or cable barrier, there needs to be something to halt the progression of a vehicle that goes over the median, he said.

“Most of the interstates being constructed will see some kind of median barrier come into play,” Gaskins said.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

Judge sentences Brooksville man to 30 years in death of his wife

BROOKSVILLE – One month after a jury found Alan Osterhoudt guilty of manslaughter in the death of his wife, Judge Anthony Tatti sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors were seeking a second-degree murder charge against Osterhoudt, 63.

On the night of Feb. 25, 2012, Osterhoudt called 911 and told a dispatcher he had shot his wife Maria Osterhoudt, 65, at their 7190 Raymond Place home in Spring Hill.

“I am afraid I have done the most heinous thing that I have ever done in my life,” Osterhoudt said on the call.

During the trial, Osterhoudt’s attorneys said their client believed his wife was an intruder, and shot his wife while investigating.

Before sentencing, Kenneth Foote asked Tatti for a new trial, saying Osterhoudt’s right to remain silent was violated when a state’s witness told jurors she would have liked to have spoken with Osterhoudt the night of the murder.

Foote also said jurors should have heard about a toxicology report that showed Maria Osterhoudt had a .09 blood alcohol level, as well as Valium and Xanax in her system.

“This marriage should have never happened,” Sylvia Clark, Maria Osterhoudt’s sister, said during a fiery statement to the court during the sentencing hearing.

Clark said Alan Osterhoudt was a “mean drunk,” and “envious” of his wife’s accomplishments.

Maria Osterhoudt, a professor who taught computer science at St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs, was just four months away from retiring at the time of her death. Family and friends remember her as a lifelong learner, active member in her church and creative and giving person.

“I hope you get the maximum and live to survive it,” said Clark, turning to look at Osterhoudt, who was dressed in an orange inmate outfit. “I’m sorry but you’ve got to pay.”

Alan Osterhoudt addressed the court, as did his brother, Michael Osterhoudt.

“My life is over, I knew that,” Osterhoudt said. “But I did not mean to do this. I am not a monster.”

Tatti, without any comment, sentenced Osterhoudt to 30 years in prison and ordered him to pay about $5,000 in restitution to Raymond Carter, Maria Osterhoudt’s son.

After the hearing, Carter said he was “very glad” the proceedings were over.

“I know what she (Sylvia Clark) said touched the judge,” Carter said. He listened. I can sleep tonight.”

wbiddlecombe@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5283

Hernando Head Start stops for hundreds in poverty amid shutdown

BROOKSVILLE – A breakdown in communication in Washington that froze billions in federal funding will be acutely felt by 225 Hernando County children and their families in poverty.

Hernando Mid Florida Community Services Head Start Brooksville and Spring Hill are partial recipients of a federal grant just shy of $9 million, which funds child and family development services for a total of 924 three-and four-year old children from low-income families in Hernando, Sumter and Volusia counties.

As one of eight such programs in the state with a grant funding year between Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, the two centers were forced to close its doors indefinitely on Friday in the absence of federal funding.

“The hardest thing, I think, is not only do we provide education services, but two-thirds of their medical needs, and dental if needed,” said Head Start Assistant Director Amy Thomas. “We also work with parents looking for a job, or getting their GED and going back to school, so we really support the whole family.”

Children in Hernando whose basic food requirements were previously met by the program’s now-furloughed 125 staff members has been compromised by the shutdown, Thomas said. The two sites sent letters Tuesday to parents notifying them of a potential closure, and again on Thursday conveying to parents hope that any closure will be a temporary one.

“We have a very large number of single parent families, grandparents raising their children, and we have two families not making enough to make ends meet,” Thomas said. “We were vital support for them, because they were not making enough to purchase private child care.”

Private child care costs more than $100 a week, Thomas said

“We refer (parents) to outside sources to find assistance, and they are able to do that because their children are safe with us throughout the day,” Thomas said. “Parents have said, ‘I can lose my job over this. Before, if I don’t have anybody else to look after my child, I can’t go to work.'”

The halt on roughly $9 million in grant funding follows $421 million in cuts nationwide for the program, which occurred during sequestration this spring, Thomas said.

So far local churches, businesses, and organizations are picking up the slack through local nonprofit People Helping People. On Friday, PHP board member Maureen Follansbee and Pat Yoos of Nativity Lutheran Church coordinated with Pine Grove Elementary guidance counselor Cindy Kufner to deliver 23 backpacks of food. It’s enough food to feed 60 over the weekend, Follansbee said, and the organization is working with 12 total Hernando school sites, including both Head Start locations.

Since the government shutdown, Holy Trinity Lutheran and Grace Presbyterian churches have agreed to continue the backpack program for Head Start students and families at their church locations, Follansbee said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to these children during the day, because they’re dependent on two of their meals,” Follansbee said, adding that social workers with Head Start reached out to them for help. “These parents can’t afford day care. They don’t have day care, they can’t work. They can’t work, they can’t buy gas to pick up the backpack.”

So far several local businesses have pledged support. Jiffy Lube has cards offering 25 percent off oil changes where $3 of that purchase goes to the program. Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ on U.S. 19 will also donate 15 percent of purchases next Tuesday, Oct. 8, to the program, Follansbee said.

To contact PHP or help the backpack program, call (352) 686-4466 or go to www.phpinhc.org. Anyone interested in offering assistance to the Hernando Head Start sites can call (888) 227-0010.

Anti-texting while driving campaign teaches high schoolers

BROOKSVILLE – A Vermont woman was walking her dog when she was hit by a teenager texting and driving.

The woman went over the windshield and neighbors found her lying in the grass. At the hospital, she had to have the blood in her skull drained to relieve pressure on the brain and had a shattered pelvis, ripped-off thumb and permanent brain damage, among other injuries.

Family members no longer know the woman who surfaced from that coma.

The teenager who hit her served 30 days in jail and received 500 hours community service.

This was one of several stories portrayed in a documentary seen by almost all of Hernando High School’s students Thursday, and was part of the “It Can Wait” campaign.

“There are stories like that all over Hernando County,” said Brooksville auto accident and injury attorney, Frank Miller. “We don’t want you to be a part of that story.”

The anti-texting while driving campaign, sponsored by AT&T, was headed Thursday by Matt Mucci as one of 11 counties he’s responsible for. Miller and school staff collaborated to bring the campaign’s message to Hernando County high school students.

“It’s just a safety issue,” Mucci said. “It’s all about creating awareness.”

It’s not just for teenage drivers, either, said Miller. Students can act as role models to their peers and parents.

“We all do it,” Miller said about texting and driving. “You see so many accidents are preventable, so I’m thankful to be a part of that message.”

According to statistics provided by the campaign, 3,417 messages were exchanged per teenager in 2011, or seven per every waking hour. Texting is also the number one mode of communication, the statistics show, and 75 percent of all teenagers text.

Mucci gave students the chance to sign a pledge to not text and drive as well as drive a computer simulator while answering text messages at the same time.

One simulation resulted in many traffic violations and quickly ended in a T-bone accident.

Starting in October, a state law will take effect to prevent such scenarios, making texting and driving a secondary traffic offense enforceable by a fine.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Miller said about the new law.

Hernando High School teacher Nicole Poggi said she was grateful the campaign was able to be at the school and present its message to students.

“It’s a message really important for the kids,” she said.