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Author Archives: Doug

Trio was packaging drugs in motel room

Three persons were arrested in the early morning hours of March 17 as county deputies uncovered a drug packaging operation in a Macclenny motel room.

One of the suspects is charged with attempting to run over a county deputy before leading them on a high-speed chase through a nearby residential neighborhood.

Deputy Daryl Mobley responded to a disturbance call at the Econolodge on Woodlawn Rd. shortly after midnight, and about the time he and Deputy Chris Walker reached the area a vehicle left the motel on Woodlawn Rd. at high speed and entered Interstate 10 eastbound.

Deputy Walker and Cpl. Matt Riegel stopped it shortly after and took Shameka Armstrong, 32, of Jacksonville into custody.

She allegedly had kicked out a motel room window, and when officers went to investigate they found the room unoccupied and evidence that it was being used to package marijuana into small baggies for sale.

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Bills could alter state retirement

The Florida Legislature is poised to pass additional reforms to the Florida Retirement System, a public pension plan benefitting more than 40 percent of Baker County’s workforce.

Three week’s into the 2013 session, bills are making their way through both the house and senate to move the Florida Retirement System away from a “defined-benefit” plan to a more risky “defined-contribution” plan for new hires.

The existing defined-benefit system guarantees pension benefits based on a worker’s top annual earnings and years of service. The defined-contribution plan functions as a 401K-style investment plan that’s subject to the ups and downs of market forces.

The house bill (7011) filed in February by Rep. Jason T. Brodeur (R-Sanford) and pushed by House Speaker Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel, FL), would automatically enroll government employees hired after January 1, 2014 into the investment plan.

The senate bill (1392) filed by Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-New Port Richey) takes a more flexible approach.

It would give new hires the option of enrolling into the investment, or defined-contribution, plan or the traditional plan. If they fail to make a choice, they’ll default into the investment plan, not the defined-benefit plan as they do today.

Sen. Simpson’s proposal would require elected officials and senior management employees to enroll in the investment plan, however.

The senate bill also includes incentives to attract workers to the defined-contribution plan.

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Two large wildfires contained, no property damage

Two large wildfires that erupted Saturday, March 16 were contained early the following day and no property damage was reported, according to Doc Bloodworth, a wildfire mitigation specialist with the Florida Forest Service.

He said about 65 acres were scorched off L.E. Harvey Road in the south county, coming close to residential properties like the one shown above. That blaze was contained Sunday afternoon and crews remained there early this week for “mop up” operations.

A 22-acre wildfire started on Sawtooth Dr. off  Steel Bridge Road north of Macclenny the same windy afternoon and was contained about two hours after the L.E. Harvey Road fire.

Both fires resulted from authorized burns that got out of control. The threat of wildfire activity remains moderate to low in Baker County, according to state’s drought and fire danger indexes. So far this year in the Suwannee Forestery District (Baker, Bradford, Suwannee, Columbia and Hamilton counties), 104 wildfires have burned 408.8 acres.

Gets 15 years for DUI double fatality

Mr. Wheeler listens to victim statements during his sentencing hearing.A Glen St. Mary man was sentenced to 15 years in prison this week for his part in a drunk driving accident on U.S. 90 that killed two Sanderson men more than two years ago.

Christopher Wayne Wheeler, 37, was at the wheel of a 1994 Jeep Cherokee that ran the stop sign at the Smokey Road intersection and collided with the Ford Explorer driven by Ardris D. Paige, 43, a part-time basketball coach on his way home from practice at the Baker High the evening of November 16.

Mr. Paige and passenger Christopher V. Jefferson, 20, a former Wildcat athlete who played in a scrimmage game that night, were ejected in the crash and died. Two players on the basketball team, Delano Lee Paige, 19, and Marquis Paige, 17, were injured.

Members of victims’ family expressed their grief during a tear-filled sentencing the morning of March 19. Many members of both the victims’ and defendant’s families were present and comforted one another after the hearing before Circuit Judge Mark M. Moseley.

“If you were in his [Christopher Jefferson] presence, you were easily smiling,” said the victim’s cousin and friend Marcell Thomas.

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