Bright House Raises Cable Rates

Brooksville –
County commissioners don’t like it and they are even drafting a letter saying so.

But there’s nothing they can really do about it.

Bright House, the county’s only major local cable company, is raising cable rates again.

Starting with the March bills, customers will see their bills go up $3 a month, from $49.49 to $52.49. That includes both the basic service and cable programming service tiers.

Digital cable customers will see the same $3 change per month.

Additionally, the price for individual premium services will increase $1 per month. Premium packages with two or more premium services will increase up to a maximum of $2 per month.

At the request of Commissioner Jim Adkins, commissioners agreed to fire off a letter to Bright House informing them they are not pleased with this latest increase.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said constituents are concerned and want to know if there will be competing cable companies coming into Hernando County.

Community Relations Coordinator Brenda Frazier said she has sent letters out to other companies but so far, no response.

Adkins asked whether Bright House has to justify these increases to the Federal Communications Commission.

County Attorney Garth Coller reminded the board that the company is allowed to hike the rates as long as there is “effective competition” in the county. That competition does exist in the form of the satellite dish systems available to customers, he said.

Gary Cassard, vice president and general manager of Bright House, wrote in a letter that the increases are necessary because of “technological advancements” in the telecommunications industry and the addition of several high-definition channels.

Commissioner David Russell instructed Frazier to draft the letter to company officials, telling them to “knock it off.”

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

Mom of Hernando Captain Killed In Crash Speaks Of Her Loss

Maureen Bierwiler’s son Frank came to her home tell her the news.

One of her children, he told her, was killed while driving to work that day. Hernando County Sheriff’s Capt. Scott Bierwiler was 42 when he died during Thursday’s head-on crash with a teenager in Brooksville.

“I said, ‘It just can’t be. It can’t be,’ ” Maureen Bierwiler said after hearing the news of her son’s death. “And we still can’t believe it. But we know he is … We’re all going to make it because we have great faith and great friends and wonderful family.”

Maureen Bierwiler spoke Friday night to News Channel 8.

She said Scott Bierwiler had wanted to be a policeman since he was 3. The family called him “our quiet strength” because he was humble but strong. He was competent, loving and compassionate, she said.

The father of three – two daughters and a son – had supervised the operations bureau, which includes patrol, aviation and canine units, since January 2008.

“And we can’t understand this, but we can accept it as God’s will,” she said of his death. “We know it’s going to be such an extreme void for our family, but it’s also going to be such a tremendous loss for the sheriff’s department.”

Visitations and a funeral Mass for Bierwiler have been scheduled for next week and will be open to the public.

The teenager involved in the crash has been downgraded to critical condition, troopers said. Andrew Frank Morris, 16, of Weeki Wachee, drove a 2002 Mitsubishi Montero head-on into Bierwiler’s unmarked 1999 Ford Crown Victoria cruiser on Powell Road about 5:45 a.m. Thursday, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Morris, a student at Nature Coast Technical High School, was airlifted to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa after the crash. On Thursday, Morris was listed in serious but stable condition, but on Friday was listed in critical condition, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a highway patrol spokesman.

Several aspects of the crash remain under investigation, said Gaskins, noting that the full review will take about 90 days.

Visitations for Bierwiler will be Monday and Tuesday between 2 and 4 p.m. and 6 and 8 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 1107 Commercial Way, Spring Hill. The funeral Mass will be at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at the church. The burial will take place after the Mass.

Bierwiler is survived by his wife, Angie, daughters Kayla, 18, and Kiley, 16, and son, Scottie, 9.

Hernando Sheriff’s Captain Killed In Brooksville Car Crash

BROOKSVILLE –
A veteran law enforcement captain died in a head-on collision this morning with a 16-year-old driver who wrote an open letter online cautioning others to be careful when driving.

Hernando County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Bierwiler, 42, died about 5:45 a.m., when a 2002 Mitsubishi Montero smashed head-on into his 1999 Ford Crown Victoria on Powell Road.

The father of two daughters and a son, Bierwiler had been driving to work and was in the habit of arriving early. He has supervised the Operations Bureau, which includes patrol, aviation and canine units, since January 2008.

Hernando Sheriff Rich Nugent fought back tears today as he described speaking with Bierwiler’s mother and family to offer condolences. He called the captain a “consummate professional.”

“This is not how you expect for this to happen,” Nugent said. “It’s a loss for the community, for the agency and for his family.”

The Florida Highway Patrol said Andrew Frank Morris of Weeki Wachee was driving the Mitsubishi, which crossed from the westbound lanes into eastbound traffic.

Morris, a student at nearby Nature Coast High School, was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. Troopers said he is in serious but stable condition.

The highway patrol said Morris’ mother owns the Mitsubishi; investigators were sorting out whether he had permission to use it.

Routine tests are being conducted to determine whether Morris was under the influence of alcohol.

According to his profile on the online social network MySpace, Morris is an only child who has competed on the school’s wrestling and cross-country teams.

In November, he posted an open letter on the page in reference to 10 people he knew who had had died.

“Listen up, this year has been a very hard year for ALOT of people. The reasons why? Well, everyone is getting into car accidents, drugs are killing them, or suicides,” he wrote.

He urged readers to be kind to each other: “[M]ake the world a better place so when it’s your time to go people will be like, ‘Hey he/she did a great thing for me the other day.'”

Morris also wrote for his friends to be careful when driving: “[W]hen you get in your car to drive somewhere, or to drive someone else somewhere, be aware of your surroundings. Do not have the music too loud, or be messing with your cell phone or iPod. Please, this is important to say that hundreds of people die a year from car crashes. Do not get into a car with someone who has been drinking. Listen, please be careful out there and before someone you love gets severely injured or killed in a car crash or suicide.”

Morris’ neighbor, Linda Peterson, said the teenager was helpful and would do small jobs such as feeding their cat and yard work.

“He’s a good kid,” she said.

Morris was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, but the captain was, troopers said.

Gerald Kline, whose backyard abuts Powell Road and California Street, said he called 911 after hearing the crash. He said arriving deputies were devastated to find one of their supervisors was involved.

“They were all tore up,” he said.

Deputy Steve Klapka, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter, remembered his longtime friend as a “gentleman’s gentleman.”

It was Bierwiler who influenced Klapka to move from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office in 1987 to a budding town called Spring Hill. After a few hours riding patrol with Bierwiler – who was just fresh out of training – Klapka was impressed with his positive attitude.

“I’ve been proud to know him from that day forward,” a tearful Klapka said.

Bierwiler was well-liked as a supervisor because he never forgot his roots in patrol. From his rise from sergeant, to lieutenant to captain, “he treated everyone the same,” Klapka said.

Bierwiler’s reputation extended beyond Hernando County’s borders. Today, Klapka was fielding calls from police union chapters across Central Florida expressing their condolences.

Bierwiler spent the weekend at the Daytona 500 with his 9-year-son, Scottie, Nugent said. Survivors also include his wife, Angie, and daughters Kayla, 18, and Kiley, 16.

A native of Cold Spring, N.Y., Bierwiler joined the sheriff’s office as a deputy in 1986. He was one of a select few law enforcement officers across the country to graduate last year from a three-month class at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Jim Powers said.

He received several awards during his career, including one for helping track down a man who shot and killed a New Jersey police officer in 2003.

Many at the sheriff’s office felt close to Bierwiler because the new Emergency Operations Center is named for his father, Sgt. Frank Bierwiler, a former public information officer for the agency.

“We’ve been a family for a long time,” Nugent said. Now Bierwiler “is at rest and is in the arms of his father in heaven.”

Burn Ban In Effect For County

BROOKSVILLE –
Drought-like conditions prompted county commissioners Wednesday to issue a burn ban.

After weeks of little or no rain, the grass and foliage is like a tinderbox in Hernando County.

According to County Fire Chief Michael Nickerson, Hernando County on Wednesday posted a 611 on the Keetch-Byram dryness index. The index goes as high as 800, which signifies desert conditions.

“We are fast approaching the desert level,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson said his department’s response to brush fires is up 100 percent since the first of the year. In all, firefighters have responded to 36 brush fires, 12 since Monday.

More than 180 acres have burned in the county since Jan. 1, he said.

Once the rains return in earnest and dry conditions are alleviated, Nickerson said he will recommend rescinding the ban.

There is no rain in the forecast until Saturday. Florida’s rainy season typically is from June through September.

Also at Wednesday’s Land Use Hearing, county commissioners:

•Voted 5-0 to approve spending $130,000 to purchase a single-family home and adjoining lot located on the southeast corner of the old Department of Public Works compound in Brooksville.

The property owners, Essie Mae Holmes and Sandra Holmes, have agreed to release the county from any future personal injury claims arising from the old DPW site, which was found to be contaminated.

• Postponed action on setting a date and location for a Hernando Progress economic workshop.

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

Suspect Named In Fatal Hit-And-Run

BROOKSVILLE –
Police say they have the man responsible for running over a homeless man on Tuesday night.

Darrin Spivey, 31, of 14312 Leisure Lane, was arrested Thursday on charges of leaving the scene of an accident causing death and tampering with evidence.

No one actually witnessed the 8 p.m. collision on Broad Street, but good tips from people who suspected Spivey’s involvement or heard the crash helped crack the case for investigators, according to Police Chief George Turner.

Detectives spent most of Thursday trying to track down Spivey and finally convinced him to come to the police station for an interview. There, Spivey eventually confessed to striking the victim, David Williams, 51, with his green Chevy pickup and leaving the scene, the police chief said.

Spivey’s defense was that he “panicked” and that he didn’t think authorities would believe his story because he is a registered sex offender, Turner said.

Regardless of motives, Spivey drove for as long as he could on the truck’s flat tire before pulling over and calling a friend for a ride. The next day, he went to Tampa to buy a new hood for his truck, which had a “coconut-sized” dent, and a replacement headlight, the police chief said.

Spivey reportedly hid the damaged hood in his mother’s garage. Turner said she had no knowledge of the crash.

The police chief said Spivey didn’t drive his pickup to the police department for his interview Thursday.

On Friday, investigators were verifying the chain of events leading up to the crash. Spivey told detectives that he had spent the day fishing before dropping by his girlfriend’s house for a few hours.

He was driving north on Broad Street, in between Saxon Avenue and Mondon Hill Road, when he struck Williams from behind, Turner said. Investigators believe Williams was riding his bicycle on the pavement, but outside the white line. He was wearing dark clothing at the time of his death.

Police were summoned to help about 30 minutes after the 8 p.m. collision.

Records show Spivey has an arrest record dating back to age 17, when he was convicted of grand theft and vehicle burglary. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to committing a sex act in the presence of a minor and was labeled a sex offender. In 2007, he was sentenced to a year’s probation for DUI.

Turner said Spivey admitted to drinking a few beers while fishing, but detectives are still determining whether alcohol or drugs played any role in the crash.

Tribune researcher Stephanie Pincus contributed to this report. Reporter Kyle Martin can be reached at 352-544-5271 or kmartin@hernandotoday.com.

Police: Suspect Strangled Van Slyke

BROOKSVILLE –
Monty Albright was homeless on Wednesday.

Now he’s got a bed at the county jail.

Albright, 35, was brought in by Brooksville police late Wednesday afternoon to answer some questions about the homicide of property appraiser Steven Van Slyke. At 10:45 p.m., he was led out of the Brooksville Police Department in handcuffs, accused of first-degree murder.

Police Chief George Turner said Albright confessed to the killing and that he offered this account to investigators:

On Monday, Jan. 19, the suspect went to Van Slyke’s house at 27 Cherry St., off Howell Avenue, just south of Hernando High School. Albright and the victim knew each other, but the depth of their relationship is unclear, Turner said.

While at the house, Albright bound Van Slyke to his bed and stole his bank card. He used Van Slyke’s car to drive to a local bank cash machine and withdraw cash. With money in hand, Albright returned to Cherry Street and strangled Van Slyke with a “ligature,” according to a press release.

A ligature is something used to bind (like a rope), but Turner wouldn’t identify exactly what type of ligature was used to kill Van Slyke. Albright hid the victim under the bed and tried to clean up the scene before leaving in Van Slyke’s gold Volvo.

On Tuesday afternoon, one of Van Slyke’s friends came over to check on him. He found the body and called authorities.

Turner wouldn’t give any specifics as to what led investigators to Albright, except for witness interviews and retracing Van Slyke’s steps. A press release mentions that Albright continued to use the victim’s bank card after his death.

Earlier in the investigation, detectives said they were looking for two other men who were with Albright Tuesday night. Turner said they’ve identified those men, one of whom was brought in for questioning at the police department Wednesday.

At this point, though, all indications are that Albright acted alone, Turner said.

Albright is being held on suspicion of first-degree murder, but only a grand jury can officially indict him on that charge.

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

Man Arrested On Suspicion Of DUI

BROOKSVILLE –
A man who sat in his car at the gas pumps for two hours was arrested Saturday night on suspicion of DUI.
A traffic deputy pulled into a BP Gas Station on Cortez Boulevard when she noticed a black Crown Victoria that resembled an unmarked police car. The owners of the station told her that the driver had been idling there for two hours after pumping gas.
The deputy approached the driver, Philip Martinez, who she said was “disoriented” and “jittery” and had constricted pupils. She also noted in her report that the interior of the car he was driving strongly resembled a law enforcement vehicle, from a roof-mounted camera system to the laptop in between the front seats.
Martinez said he wasn’t law enforcement, just a security guard, and that his sister had given him a pill for depression earlier that day, according to an affidavit. Field sobriety tests indicated Martinez, 36, of St. Petersburg, was impaired and he was arrested on suspicion of DUI, an affidavit states.

City Creates Ambassador Of Business Position

BROOKSVILLE –
The city of Brooksville has created a new position charged with attracting new businesses and ensuring the city stays friendly to the industry that has already set up shop here.

And it won’t cost the city a penny.

Dennis Wilfong, a prominent Brooksville businessman, will serve on a volunteer basis as the city’s first Ambassador of Commerce and Employment.

Wilfong will reach out to businesses searching for a new home and help existing businesses thrive and expand, Mayor Joe Bernardini said at a press conference at City Hall called to announce the new position Wednesday afternoon. That will help the city get through the current recession and be well-positioned when conditions improve, Bernardini said.

“(For) far too long Brooksville has taken a passive approach to economic development partly because of our own budget constraints and partly because we have lacked the cohesive partnership between the city, county and our community leaders,” Bernardini said.

The tight budget is still there. But Wilfong, 61, has stepped up to work for free, and by most accounts the city’s relationship with the county is the best it’s been in years, if ever.

That’s especially important in tough economic times because it pays for both governments to work together, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said.

“Sharing of staff and limited resources enhances what both the city and the county can accomplish more than any single individual or focus,” Norman Vacha said.

Wilfong will work closely with Mike McHugh, the county’s business development director, who was on hand Wednesday along with County Administrator David Hamilton.

McHugh has been “a steady advocate” for the city, but now it’s time for the city to “assume a greater responsibility in that partnership,” Bernardini said.

McHugh has worked in the past with Wilfong, who serves as chairman of the county’s Business Development Committee. McHugh said Wilfong’s business acumen will be an asset as an ambassador to convince new operations to settle here.

Wilfong can not only “talk the talk with business people,” but point to himself as a success story, McHugh said.

“He’s been here, he’s prospered here,” McHugh said. “They know they’re getting the straight talk.”

Wilfong’s name came up when Norman-Vacha asked city council members to come up with an innovative way to stoke the city’s economic development, Bernardini said.

“I am honored to be asked and able to serve in such a unique way for the community that I know as home,” Wilfong said.

Wilfong and his wife Pam have lived in Brooksville for about 30 years. He is the founder of Innovative Technology, Inc., a multi-million dollar business that provides surge suppression technology on a worldwide basis, according to his bio.

Wilfong conducted seminars on the technology for organizations ranging from NASA to Frito Lay. He’s been featured in Success and Florida Trend magazines, and won the Hernando County Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year award in 1996.

He sold Innovative Technology in 1997 and founded Mountaineer Development Corp., which purchases and develops property in Florida and West Virginia.

Wilfong said his first goal will be to create an inventory of available property in the city that could be used by new businesses seeking to set up shop here or existing firms looking to move.

He also plans to “showcase” the Enterprise Zone that extends from the southern portion of the city into the county. The zone offers tax incentives for businesses who settle there.

Wilfong also emphasized the need to meet the needs of Brooksville’s current business community. He used the analogy of a young couple in the courtship phase that sometimes transitions to a failed marriage because one of the partners stops working to make the other happy.

“We don’t want to get a divorce from the businesses that are already here,” he said.

He said he could dedicate as much as 20 hours a week to the position, trying to live by the saying that “God only charges us one rent for the space we occupy, and that is our service to our fellow man.”

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

Death On Cherry Street Considered ‘Suspicious’

BROOKSVILLE –
Deanna Yardas wasn’t sure at first what she was hearing, so she paused and listened. It sounded like wailing.
She stepped outside onto her front porch to investigate. The pitiful sound was coming from next door. Yardas hurried over and found a man lying on the sidewalk leading up to 27 Cherry St. He was weeping.
“I think someone broke into Steve’s house and killed him,” the man cried, according to Yardas.
Confused and scared, Yardas tried to get more information from the man. He asked her to quit asking questions. She glanced at her neighbor’s front door.
“There’s no way I was going to go into that house,” Yardas recalled Tuesday afternoon.
Minutes later, around 1:30 p.m., a fire rescue vehicle turned down narrow, brick-lined Cherry Street to check on the situation. Police were not far behind.
Police Chief George Turner said Tuesday that they found a dead man inside 27 Cherry St. and his death is considered suspicious. He named the deceased as Steven Floyd Van Slyke, 58.
By the time students began walking home from nearby Hernando High School, police had roped off the two-story tan house with yellow crime scene tape. Forensics technicians gathered on a porch populated by rocking chairs and accented by slender white columns.
Yardas had few conversations with her neighbor in the 15 years she’s lived on Cherry Street, but they always said “hello.” Van Slyke operated a property appraising business out of his home, Yardas said. She placed his age at mid-50s.
Van Slyke had friends, but he “kept to himself,” Yardas said.
One thing she found curious on Tuesday is that Van Slyke’s car was missing from the driveway. Police are searching for that car now, described as a gold 2004 Volvo with Florida tag 163 KIV.
The man who apparently discovered the body said the last time he spoke with Van Slyke was Tuesday morning around 10:30 a.m., according to Yardos.
Across the street, neighbor Faye Rosser estimated Van Slyke had lived at that home for 30 years.
She stood on her porch, arms crossed to ward off the cold, and watched crime scene technicians set to work.
“This is ordinarily a real quiet street,” she said.

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

Woman Getting Tired Of Boyfriend’s Inattention To Her

QUESTION: My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for almost a year. Initially, he would freely show me a great deal of respect and affection. Lately, however, I’m seeing less and less of this attention. I don’t want to be overly sensitive, but I don’t want to be used as a doormat, either. How can I know for sure what is the case?

DR. DOBSON: Give yourself a little test by answering these questions about the relationship: Are you making all the phone calls to the other person? Does he tell you the truth invariably? Have you been “stood up” without a reasonable excuse? Do you fear he is slipping away, and is that causing you to “grab and hold”? Are you tolerating insults that others would not accept? Does he show evidence of cherishing you and wanting to make you happy? Does he reveal your secrets to others and make comments about you in public that embarrass you? Is he physically abusive at times? Does he ever reach for you instead of your reaching for him? Do your friends ever say, “Why do you put up with the stuff he does?”

These are questions that only you can answer. But if you are honest with yourself, you will have no difficulty identifying disrespectful components to your relationship. If you come up with the wrong answers, the solution is not to beg him to do better. It is to pull back and see if he follows. If he doesn’t, you’re better off looking for someone else.

QUESTION: I don’t believe kids are as easily influenced by the media and entertainment industry as you say. What they see does not necessarily determine how they behave.

DR. DOBSON: Well, look at it this way. Back in the early 1980s, the most popular movie was a science-fiction film entitled “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” It included a brief scene where the little creature from outer space was given a few pieces of the candy Reese’s Pieces. The brand was not named, but children recognized it during its few seconds on the screen. In the months that followed, the sale of Reese’s Pieces went through the ceiling. Isn’t that a clear example of a movie’s influence on children’s thinking?

Why do advertisers spend billions of dollars to put their products before the people if what we see and hear does not influence our behavior? Why do schools and colleges purchase textbooks for children and young adults if what they read does not translate into influence of one form or another? Of course children are vulnerable to what they witness! We all are. How much greater impact is made by dramatic, sexually oriented, no-holds-barred musical and theatrical presentations that are aimed at the hearts and souls of our kids? Whom are we kidding when we say they are not harmed by the worst of it?

QUESTION: When parents need help with sex education, who do you think should provide it?

DR. DOBSON: It is my strong conviction that churches believing in abstinence before marriage and in lifelong marital fidelity should step in and offer their help to families sharing that commitment. Where else will moms and dads find proponents of traditional morality in this permissive day? There is no other agency or institution likely to represent the theology of the church better than the church itself. It is puzzling to me why so few have accepted this challenge, given the attack on biblical concepts of morality today.

A few parents who enroll their children in private schools are able to get the help they need with sex education. Even there, however, the subject is often ignored or handled inadequately. What has developed, unfortunately, is an informational vacuum that sets the stage for far-reaching programs in the public schools that go beyond parental wishes, beginning in some cases with kindergarten children.

Dr. Dobson is founder and chairman of the board of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80995 ( www.family.org). Questions and answers are excerpted from “Solid Answers” and “Bringing Up Boys,” both published by Tyndale