Articles on this Page
- 01/09/15--06:09: _France faces 2 host...
- 01/09/15--14:25: _Roadwork scheduled ...
- 01/09/15--14:48: _LEAD Coalition call...
- 01/09/15--14:50: _Man arrested on dru...
- 01/09/15--17:35: _Former GCSC softbal...
- 01/09/15--17:38: _Crash blocks traffi...
- 01/10/15--08:51: _BCSO arrest log (Ja...
- 01/10/15--14:54: _BCSO: Rock-throwing...
- 01/12/15--12:53: _Father accused of d...
- 01/12/15--13:21: _Police find dead bo...
- 01/12/15--13:30: _3 arrested on drug ...
- 01/12/15--13:41: _Man charged with di...
- 01/12/15--14:42: _BCSO: Man defrauded...
- 01/12/15--15:59: _Judge: Sex offender...
- 01/13/15--09:48: _Woman charged with ...
- 01/13/15--10:00: _2 arrested on drug ...
- 01/13/15--10:30: _Fire damages home
- 01/13/15--15:36: _UPDATE: Released se...
- 01/14/15--08:55: _U.S. 98 flyover pre...
- 01/14/15--09:36: _WCSO seeking missin...
- 01/09/15--06:09: France faces 2 hostage-taking attacks; 1 on kosher market
- 01/09/15--14:25: Roadwork scheduled on Joan Avenue
- 01/09/15--14:48: LEAD Coalition calls on biz community involvement
- 01/09/15--14:50: Man arrested on drug charges
- 01/09/15--17:35: Former GCSC softball coach now facing seven theft charges
- 01/09/15--17:38: Crash blocks traffic, knocks out power
- 01/10/15--08:51: BCSO arrest log (Jan. 2-7)
- 01/10/15--14:54: BCSO: Rock-throwing woman charged with child abuse
- 01/12/15--12:53: Father accused of dropping child over bridge appears in court
- 01/12/15--13:21: Police find dead body, grow house inside Ocala home
- 01/12/15--13:30: 3 arrested on drug charges
- 01/12/15--13:41: Man charged with distributing heroin
- 01/12/15--14:42: BCSO: Man defrauded area Wal-Marts
- 01/12/15--15:59: Judge: Sex offender didn’t violate his probation
- 01/13/15--09:48: Woman charged with assault after firing gun
- 01/13/15--10:00: 2 arrested on drug charges
- 01/13/15--10:30: Fire damages home
- 01/13/15--15:36: UPDATE: Released sex offender arrested again
- 01/14/15--08:55: U.S. 98 flyover prep continues
- 01/14/15--09:36: WCSO seeking missing teens
DAMMARTIN-EN-GOELE, France — French security forces struggled with two rapidly developing hostage-taking situations Friday, one northeast of Paris where two terror suspects were holed up with a hostage in a printing plant and the other an attack on a kosher market in Paris involving at least five hostages.
France has been high alert for more attacks since the country's worst terror attack in decades — the massacre Wednesday in Paris that left 12 people dead at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
The two brothers suspected in the newspaper slayings were cornered by police Friday inside a printing house in the small industrial town of Dammartin-en-Goele. One lawmaker said they told negotiators they "want to die as martyrs."
Hours later, a gunman seized an unknown number of hostages at a kosher market in eastern Paris, France's anti-terrorism prosecutor said. A police official, who was not authorized to speak to the media about the events, told The Associated Press the man who has taken five people hostage in a kosher market appears linked to the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
Police SWAT squads descended on the area near Paris' Porte de Vincennes neighborhood and France's top security official rushed to the scene. The attack came before sundown when the market would have been crowded with shoppers.
The police official said the gunman opened fire in the market Friday declaring "You know who I am." Paris police had released a photo of Amedy Coulibaly as a suspect in the killing Thursday of a Paris policewoman, and the official named him as the man holed up in the market. The official said some hostages have been gravely wounded.
He said a second suspect, a woman named Hayet Boumddiene, is the gunman's accomplice. Police said 100 students were under lockdown in schools near the market.
Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the north, French security forces had poured into Dammartin-en-Goele near Charles de Gaulle airport after the two terror suspects hijacked a car early Friday in a nearby town.
One of the men had been convicted of terrorism charges in 2008, the other had visited Yemen. A U.S. official said both brothers — 32-year-old Cherif Kouachi and 34-year-old Said Kouachi — were on the American no-fly list.
"They said they want to die as martyrs," Yves Albarello, a local lawmaker who said he was inside the command post, told French television station i-Tele.
At least three helicopters hovered over the town, and authorities appealed for residents to stay inside. Charles de Gaulle closed two runways to arrivals to avoid interfering in the standoff or endangering planes.
Authorities evacuated a school near the CTF Creation Tendance Decouverte printing plant around midday Friday after the suspects agreed by phone to allow the children safe passage, town spokeswoman Audrey Taupenas told The Associated Press. About an hour later, an AP reporter counted nine large, empty buses headed toward the area, apparently to evacuate the children.
Taupenas said there appeared to be one hostage, a number confirmed by a police official on the scene who was not allowed to discuss the operation.
A man who said he had his car stolen early Friday told Europe 1 the first man who approached him had machine gun and the second man had a gun "with a kind of grenade at the end."
Tens of thousands of French security forces have mobilized to prevent a new terror attack since the assault on Charlie Hebdo, which decimated its editorial staff, including the chief editor who had been under armed guard after receiving death threats for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. He and his police bodyguard were the first to die, witnesses said.
Cherif and Said Kouachi were named as the chief suspects after Said's identity card was left behind in their abandoned getaway car. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said both suspects had been known to intelligence services before the attack.
Louis Zenon, a 14-year-old who lives close to siege site, watched as helicopters hovered over closed-off industrial area.
"There is a lot of fear," he said, adding everyone he knew was staying home with their doors and shutters closed. "We're scared. The schools are being evacuated."
A senior U.S. official said Thursday the elder Kouachi had traveled to Yemen, although it was unclear whether he was there to join extremist groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is based there. Witnesses said he claimed allegiance to the group during the attack.
The younger brother, Cherif, was convicted of terrorism charges in 2008 for his links to a network sending jihadis to fight American forces in Iraq.
Both were also on the U.S. no-fly list, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said. The American officials also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss foreign intelligence publicly.
Nine people, members of the brothers' entourage, have been detained for questioning in several regions. In all, 90 people, many of them witnesses to the grisly assault on the satirical weekly, were questioned for information on the attackers, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
A third suspect, 18-year-old Mourad Hamyd, surrendered at a police station Wednesday evening after hearing his name linked to the attacks. His relationship to the Kouachi brothers was unclear.
The Kouachi brothers, born in Paris to Algerian parents, were well-known to French counterterrorism authorities. Cherif Kouachi, a former pizza deliveryman, had appeared in a 2005 French TV documentary on Islamic extremism and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for trying to join up with fighters battling in Iraq.
Charlie Hebdo had long drawn threats for its depictions of Islam, although it also satirized other religions and political figures. The weekly paper had caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, and a sketch of Islamic State's leader was the last tweet sent out by the irreverent newspaper, minutes before the attack. Nothing has been tweeted since.
Eight journalists, two police officers, a maintenance worker and a visitor were killed in the attack. Charlie Hebdo planned a special edition next week, produced in the offices of another paper.
Authorities around Europe have warned of the threat posed by the return of Western jihadis trained in warfare. France counts at least 1,200 citizens in the war zone in Syria — headed there, returned or dead. Both the Islamic State group and al-Qaida have threatened France, home to Western Europe's largest Muslim population.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Joan Avenue between Thomas Drive and North Lagoon Road on Panama City Beach will close to through-traffic at 7 a.m. Tuesday for maintenance and repair work to the existing stormwater system.
The closure is expected to last no more than two days as Bay County Roads and Bridges workers replace a cross drain at the roadway.
Businesses adjacent to Joan Avenue will remain accessible during the road closure. Motorists are asked to seek an alternate route during this time.
For more information, call Bay County Roads and Bridges Division at (850) 248-8810.
PANAMA CITY — Panama City Police Chief Scott Ervin called upon the local business community Friday to join in on a new initiative to combat crime among youth in the area following a string of gun-related homicides last summer.
Ervin served as the keynote speaker at the Bay County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly First Friday event this week, and urged the hundreds of local business leaders in attendance to get involved in the Leadership Empowerment and Authentic Development (LEAD) Coalition, an organization formed in the wake of the shootings.
“In a short, five-month period we had eight homicides, and that obviously sparked a lot of community concern,” Ervin said. “Even though we had had homicides in the city in the past, in … Panama City every year ... we had not seen them happen in such a short time period.”
Offenders in the string of violent crimes ranged in age from 14 to 25, with victims aged 17 to 25. The crimes, Ervin said, were targeted attacks over seemingly minor incidents, including a stolen bike and a dispute over a girl, and showed “complete disregard for human life.”
Ervin said the LEAD Coalition is seeking to collaborate with more businesses, schools, churches and civic organizations in the community to help combat the issue.
“We don’t want to lose our youth, and we don’t want to see this violent trend continue,” he said. “Prevention doesn’t start with the police department. Prevention starts at home. Prevention starts at school; it starts at church, in the neighborhoods.”
While the homicide rate was up 1.2 percent last year in Panama City, rates decreased for other violent crimes, including robbery and sex offenses, he said. The city also saw a 16.9 percent increase in property crime including burglary and theft, spiked by a 60 percent increase in motor vehicle theft.
Of all types of crime, however, Ervin said homicides have the biggest impact on a community, both financially and perceptually.
“When those reports hit, especially with the homicides and how fast they occur, it creates a perception in the community,” Ervin said. “We also have to be concerned with the whole, big picture here, the economy, the climate.”
LEAD Coalition Director Janice Lucas encouraged the business community to attend organizational meetings, held on the second and fourth Friday of each month at 8:30 a.m. The next meeting will be Jan. 23 at the Panama City Marine Institute, 200 E. Beach Drive, in downtown Panama City.
“The managing partners have formed the organization for us now to collaborate and move forward with what it is we need to do,” Lucas said. “We need this business community to come and join us.”
Other business: Friday’s event was a collaboration between the Bay County Chamber of Commerce and the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce, and was sponsored by Copy Products and Superior Residences of Panama City Beach, which will host a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Feb. 24.
The Bay Chamber awarded the Life Management Center on E. 15th St. in Panama City with the “Apple of our Eye” Award for renovation, and new Panama City Beach apartment complex Edgewater Crossings with the same award for new construction.
The Panama City Beach Chamber also recognized Terrance Woullard, owner of Fahrenheit Grill and Lounge in Panama City Beach, with its quarterly Small Business Award.
PANAMA CITY — Investigators have arrested a Panama City man allegedly concealing a bag of methamphetamine in his sock during a traffic stop, according to a Bay County Sheriff’s Office news release.
BCSO investigators conducted a traffic stop on Ronnie Bass, 38, Wednesday at about 2:30 p.m. at 11th Street and Florida Avenue. Bass was allegedly driving with a revoked driver’s license. A search of the vehicle turned up a marijuana pipe and a meth pipe. Bass admitted to having a bag of methamphetamine hidden in his sock, BCSO reported.
Bass, of Panama City, was arrested and transported to the Bay County Jail. He was charged with driving with license suspended or revoked, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute.
PANAMA CITY — Prosecutors have filed seven counts of grand theft against Gulf Coast State College’s former softball coach for allegedly pocketing money raised by her students, according to court documents.
Susan Marie Painter, 52, was ordered to once again turn herself in following a motion hearing Friday at the Bay County Courthouse. Painter initially was arrested on one count of grand theft in May for allegedly taking about $10,250 from the softball team members over several separate occasions. However, prosecutors outlined those charges as seven different offenses Friday.
Each count could amount to as much as five years of incarceration.
State prosecutors also made the case for Painter, who now lives in Atlanta, to be taken back into custody and a bond be set on her release.
“She no longer has ties to this community, and I don’t know if she still has family around here,” said Barbara Beasley, assistant state attorney.
However, Painter was allowed to turn herself in at the jail and leave on the pretrial release program.
BCSO charged Painter with grand theft after an investigation led to about $10,250 in unaccounted for funds collected from students.
According to BCSO records, two students paid about $2,000 in rent, though they were on a rent-free scholarship. Some students, who were not charged rent, paid a $100 cleaning fee. During a five-day trip to Las Vegas, 20 students paid $300 each for “plane tickets,” though GCSC paid $10,428 for the players’ and coaches’ plane tickets, BCSO reported.
Once there, Painter allegedly disseminated $116 worth of meals when the players were supposed to receive $216 worth of meals. Several players complained to BCSO of having to pay out of their own pocket for food once the allocated funds were spent, investigators reported.
Some students told investigators they fundraised for a trip to Disney World. The amount raised by each was unclear from the interview transcripts, but some estimated the money was about $500. The trip never happened, according to the students.
GCSC has reimbursed the students for the Las Vegas trip and identified itself as the victim in the case.
Painter was allowed to return to Atlanta. Her next court date was set for April 6.
SOUTHPORT — A Panama City commercial truck driver has been charged with reckless driving and not having a valid license after crashing into a power pole Friday evening, according to a Florida Highway Patrol news release.
Douglas Eugene Smith, 29, swerved into a utility pole on State 77 near McCormick Road for unknown reasons at about 2 p.m. Friday. The 1987 GMC truck left the roadway, traveling onto the west shoulder, and struck the power pole with its front. After impact, the truck toppled over on its left side. Power lines were knocked down and northbound and southbound lanes of State 77 were closed for several hours, officials said.
Smith was not injured during the collision, FHP reported.
The truck sustained about $26,000, and traffic was backed up and rerouted for several miles around the crash site. Several people were without power during the repairs. The road was reopened at about 6:30 p.m.
Information is provided by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office on people arrested on charges Jan. 2-7. Those arrested can contact The News Herald if charges are dropped or if they are acquitted. Addresses are those given by the defendant during arrest.
William Dean Green, 35, Gadsden, Ala., possession of controlled substance without prescription
Jerome Whitfield, 62, 1522 Flower Ave., Panama City, possession of cocaine
Scott Steven Virden, 42, 215 Maine Ave., Panama City, possession of cocaine
Cullen Alexander Spence, 19, 7100 N. Lagoon Drive, Panama City, burglary
Terry Lynn Perez, 32, 612 Fitness Road, Southport, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill
Kedrick Jamal Mcneil, 18, 801 E. 14th St., Panama City, grand theft, possession or use of narcotic equipment, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Jamil Ahmed Banaga, 19, 2556 Michigan Court, Panama City, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill
Niya Nakelka Reynolds, 38, 3810 E. 10th St., Panama City, possession or use of narcotic equipment
Zachary Steven Wallace, 22, 2001 Greenbriar Ave., Lynn Haven, burglary, possession of controlled substance without prescription, grand theft
Jay Daniel Tilley, 30, felony or domestic battery by strangulation
Troy Brian Wetherbee, 24, 415 Gray Ave., Panama City, abuse child without great bodily harm
Rico Ricardo Hughes, 33, 1209 W. 13th St., Panama City, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill
Troy Thomas Henson, 30, 211 Springfield Ave., Springfield, grand theft
Destiny J Leeds, 18, 1314 Frankford Ave., Panama City, possession or use of narcotic equipment
Michael Gus Kaufman, 48, 1109 Clay Ave., Panama City, possession or use of narcotic equipment, possession of controlled substance without prescription
Donnie Ray Warren, 40, 609 Allen Ave, Panama City, possession of weapon or ammunition by felon
Lyle David Kirkpatrick, 37, 14312 Kids Lane, Panama City, aggravated battery
Brian Michael Whitlow, 24, Montgomery, Ala., possession or use of narcotic equipment
FOUNTAIN — A Fountain grandmother has been arrested for allegedly hitting and throwing a rock at her 10-year-old grandson while she was intoxicated, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office arrest records.
Sherry Lee Young, 44, was arrested Wednesday night at her Nonawood Road home in Fountain. Deputies arrived shortly after 10 p.m. to find several rocks in the home, a shattered window and signs of struggle before they arrested Young on charges of aggravated child abuse, BCSO reported.
Young had returned home after drinking alcohol earlier in the night, deputies said. She allegedly began to yell for an unknown reason at her grandson, who was sitting on the couch. While yelling, Young picked up a rock from under the living room table and threw it at the 10-year-old but missed and busted out a window, BCSO reported.
The glass rained down on the child, and Young then grabbed him by the foot in an attempt to pull him off the couch. As Young twisted the ankle, she allegedly began to strike the 10-year-old in the head with a closed fist, according to arrest records.
The alleged attack was only stopped by the grandfather. The grandson told deputies that Young keeps rocks in the house solely for the purpose of throwing them at him, and this was not the first incident of its kind, officers reported.
Young, who has a “love life” tattoo on her hand, was further questioned by deputies. To all additional inquiries into the incident, Young responded: “Well, I have a temper when I drink,” deputies said.
Young’s bond was set at $5,000 during her first appearance Thursday, and she was ordered to not have contact with her grandson.
ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — A man seen throwing his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge refused to answer questions Monday as a judge appointed him a public defender.
John Jonchuck had rejected a court-appointed attorney last week when he said he wanted to leave his fate “in the hands of God.”
Police say 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck was likely alive when her father sped past a police officer early Thursday morning, then pulled over to the side of the bridge. The officer could only watch from a distance as John Jonchuck pulled the girl from the back seat and dropped her to her death in the waters of Florida's Tampa Bay.
Jonchuck's own divorce lawyer had warned authorities of his mental state about 12 hours earlier, calling the local sheriff's office for help. Florida's child protection hotline also was called with a plea for intervention. Deputies met with the father and daughter at a church but found no reason to take the girl away. Child protective investigators decided not to investigate.
The director of Florida's Department of Children and Families pledged Monday to do a better job of checking on parents and other caregivers with mental health and substance abuse issues. To start, a “Critical Incident Response Team” will examine the agency's prior interactions with the Jonchuck family, DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said.
“I think our real issue is, how we deal with complex substance abuse issues and mental health issues and families that are fragmented,” he said. “Based on the criteria, they decided it didn't rise to the level of a formal investigation,” Carroll added. “To me, my gut says we should investigate that every time.”
In response to Phoebe's killing, Carroll changed the agency's hotline protocol: From now on, if a caregiver seems to be experiencing a psychotic episode, a child protective investigator will be required to visit within four hours.
The girl's friends and family held a candlelight vigil Saturday night. Visitation for Phoebe is scheduled for Tuesday and her funeral is Wednesday.
Jonchuck's next court appearance, on charges of first-degree murder, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, and aggravated fleeing and eluding, is scheduled for February. He's being held without bond.
OCALA — Police responding to reports of a man found dead inside his Ocala residence on Friday afternoon stumbled upon a marijuana grow house upon their arrival.
In addition to finding a body inside the three-bedroom, one-bath residence at 2604 NE 15th Ave., police also said they found 56 marijuana plants in a northwest corner bedroom that apparently had been converted into a marijuana grow room.
Jesse Hampton Terrell had found his 56-year-old father, Larry Terrell, in the hallway in front of the bathroom and had notified police. He was charged with cultivation of marijuana, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Booked into the Marion County Jail, the younger Terrell was released Saturday at 3:18 a.m. on $4,500 bond.
According to officers, around 3:30 p.m. Friday, they were called to the home after the younger Terrell, who also lives there, came home and was unable to get in after trying to call his father. Forcing his way through a window, the man found his father dead and called the police.
When officers went to the home, they smelled a strong scent of marijuana. Authorities wanted to search the home. However, the younger Terrell refused to give them permission and told them they needed a search warrant.
Officers then called the Unified Drug Enforcement Strike Team – made up of Ocala police and Marion County sheriff's deputies – about their suspicions and obtained a search warrant.
Drug agents then went to the home, and inside, they found the plants in various growth stages, ranging from 3 ½-foot to 4-foot plants, some of which were ready for harvesting.
Officials described the grow house as fairly elaborate with lights, cooling fan and a water irrigation system that supported the plant growth.
Aside from the marijuana, officials said they seized two handguns, two assault weapons, a shotgun and cash.
From their investigation, drug agents said they believe that Terrell, 23, was involved in the drug operation and thus they arrested him. They say the investigation is ongoing.
As for Terrell's father, at this point, police don't suspect foul play. However, they're awaiting a toxicology report that would give a cause and manner of death.
PANAMA CITY — Authorities have arrested three individuals after developing information about a drug transaction that was to take place on Kurze Avenue, according to a Bay County Sheriff’s Office news release.
Narcotics officers believed Fredricus White, 27, intended to deliver a quantity of marijuana for cash. Several investigators from the Criminal Investigations Division went with narcotics officers to the area of Kurze Avenue and 11th Street to set up surveillance, the release stated.
After a short wait, investigators said they learned Fredricus White was on his way to the area and driving a dark-colored Dodge Ram truck. At about 8 p.m., the truck arrived at a residence at the north end of Kurze Avenue. Investigators drove south on Kurze and spotted the truck backed into the driveway at 1020 Kurze Ave., the residence of White. A BCSO vehicle was positioned in front of the Dodge Ram and investigators surrounded the truck, according to the news release.
All three occupants of the truck — identified as White, Willie Whitsett, and Daidren Hill — were arrested, and investigators located marijuana inside the truck during a search. According to police, Hill, 26, of Panama City, was found to be in violation of his probation on drug charges and subsequently charged with violation of probation.
White was charged with possession of marijuana, using a communication device and driving with license suspended or revoked. Whitsett, 27, of Callaway, was charged with possession of marijuana, according to BCSO.
All three were transported and booked in to the Bay County Jail.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Police have arrested a Panama City Beach man on charges of intending to distribute heroin — the first incident of its kind for 2015, according to court records.
Clayton Merrill Brown, 26, was arrested Sunday on a charge of possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute after police allegedly found less than a gram of heroin in his pants pocket, Panama City Beach Police reported.
PCBPD discovered a baggie with about 0.35 grams of heroin in Brown’s left front pants pocket during a search Monday at about 2 p.m. Officers also reported finding 32 clear plastic baggies on Brown and 10 syringes before taking him to the Bay County Jail, according to an arrest affidavit.
In 2014, authorities arrested 10 people on charges of possessing heroin. Four of those were charged with intending to distribute the controlled substance, according to court records.
Brown’s arrest was the first of its kind in 2015. He made his first appearance in court Monday.
CALLAWAY — Deputies have arrested a man accused of running a variety of schemes to defraud local Wal-Marts, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.
BCSO responded to the Wal-Mart in Callaway on Saturday afternoon after a man suspected of stealing from several local Wal-Mart stores was spotted inside the store. The store’s Loss Prevention staff advised deputies the person was responsible for several felony theft cases at stores in Callaway, Panama City and Lynn Haven. Deputies made contact with the man as he sat in the seating area at the McDonald’s located inside Wal-Mart, BCSO reported.
Reginald Gainer, 26, initially became angry as deputies questioned him, stating he was “the wrong guy,” BCSO said, but deputies had witness statements and pictures obtained by Wal-Mart security cameras of the suspect committing a theft. The suspect gave deputies a fictitious name and denied being able to remember his Social Security number. He was then detained for providing false information to law enforcement conducting an investigation.
According to BCSO officials, in December, Gainer returned stolen merchandise for gift cards and used receipts from purchased merchandise to return additional stolen items for reimbursement.
Gainer was charged with two counts of dealing in stolen property and booked into the Bay County Jail. Additional charges from other cases are expected, BCSO said.
PANAMA CITY — A sex offender whose release drew complaints from law enforcement has again been released after a Bay County judge found he did not violate the terms of his probation.
Horace Monroe Wood, 45, argued Monday during a violation of probation hearing that authorities excessively monitored his activities following his conditional release. Wood had pleaded no contest to one count of child molestation in October and was taken back into custody eight days later when he failed to carry an electronic monitoring device with him on an outing.
Family members of Wood’s alleged victims hoped for a sentence of life in prison at the end of Monday’s hearing. However, Wood was released after Circuit Judge James Fensom said the court could not find a substantial legal reason to keep Wood in custody. Family members of the victims stormed out the courtroom following the ruling.
“It’s ridiculous that people who do less can end up in prison, but if you molest a child you can be set free,” said Karen Wesley, mother of one of Wood’s alleged victims. “It’s not right.”
Fensom said the decision was due to probationers experiencing a “period of adjustment” after they are released.
“It is not uncommon to make a mistake within the first week of probation,” Fensom said. “The court cannot find there is any type of substantial violation.”
Wood was released under the Jessica Lunsford Act the day he was supposed to go to trial at the end of October, although he was accused of sexual battery by four under-age victims. He pleaded no contest to one count of lewd and lascivious molestation and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Following Wood’s release, Bay County Sheriff Frank McKeithen criticized the handling of the case and lack of punishment, stating in a letter to State Attorney Glenn Hess that Wood had “not been held accountable.”
Days later, Wood was arrested for allegedly violating his probation by separating himself from his monitoring device for about two hours. During his short-lived release, Wood complained of excessive monitoring from authorities.
“Deputies came by sometimes four times a night, beating on my door and asking for ID,” Wood said during the hearing. “One officer said he had explicit instructions from (McKeithen) to check on me every two hours.”
Wood said the visits contributed to his misplacement of the monitoring device.
McKeithen has denied officers paid Wood special attention because of the nature of his release.
Prosecutors argued simply that Wood understood the rules of his release, yet he violated them anyway.
“The only thing getting between Wood and the Department of Corrections were the rules he signed and appeared to understand,” said Christa Diviney, assistant state attorney. “For the safety of the community, that was something that needed to be maintained.”
However, Fensom found that the circumstances surrounding Wood’s apprehension did not amount to a substantial probation violation. The terms of Wood’s release were reinstated. If those terms are violated in three years, he could face 15 years in prison.
A woman was arrested on Tuesday in a domestic dispute that involved her shooting at her husband, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office reported.
Julie Forren, 52, was charged with aggravated assault shortly after she was located in a residence at 7618 Old Bicycle Road, a BCSO press release stated. Deputies responded to the home at 8:32 a.m. on Tuesday after a 911 call was made reporting gunshots. Deputies arrived and made contact with the victim, who made the 911 call, the release said
He stated that he and his wife began arguing on Monday and he ended up leaving the home that night, the release said. When he returned Tuesday morning to get his things from the home, they began to argue again, and his wife shot at him with a handgun, according to the release.
The victim was not injured. Forren was booked into the Bay County Jail.
LYNN HAVEN — Two residents have been arrested on narcotics charges following a raid on a Lynn Haven home, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Tuesday.
BCSO narcotics investigators developed information about illegal narcotics activity in a home at 2203 Andrews Road. A search warrant was obtained, and the search revealed a trafficking amount of the synthetic drug called MDMA, known on the streets as “Molly.” High grade marijuana and hydrocodone were also found in the home, BCSO said.
Jonathan Quocdan Nguyen was charged with trafficking in MDMA, possession of marijuana less than 20 grams, and possession of drug paraphernalia. Hien Khac Nguyen, also a resident of the house, was charged with possession of marijuana less than 20 grams, possession of a controlled substance, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Jonathan Nguyen was found to be on probation and an additional charge of violation of probation was added. Both were taken to Bay County Jail.
PANAMA CITY — Fire crews have determined a house fire Tuesday that left a Lawton Court home with smoke and heat damage was “accidental,” according to a Panama City Fire Department press release.
No injuries were reported by PCFD.
The fire was located in the kitchen area of the one-story, wood frame home at 3019 Lawton Court. The alarm was received by PCFD and units responded at about 11 a.m. The fire was brought under control within minutes and officially the “loss was stopped” at 11:55 a.m., PCFD reported.
The home was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
The fire was contained to the kitchen area, but smoke and heat damage was throughout the home. After an investigation and speaking with the owner, the cause was determined to be “accidental in nature.”
PANAMA CITY — A sex offender released twice from custody is now being held without bond on a new rape charge stemming from a 1995 incident, according to court records.
Horace Monroe Wood, 45, was released on probation Monday for a second time after a Bay County judge found he had not violated his probation. Hours later, however, deputies took Wood back into custody and since have charged him with sexual battery.
Wood is now being held without bond in the Bay County Jail.
The sexual battery charge stemmed from a 1995 incident, according to Bay County Sheriff’s officials, in which Wood allegedly engaged in an unlawful sexual act with a person less than 16 years old. Further details of the charge against Wood were not made public Tuesday.
However, Circuit Judge James Fensom, who released Wood on Monday after a violation of probation hearing, ordered Wood to be held without bond.
Wood previously had been released the day he was supposed to go to trial at the end of October, although he was accused of sexual battery by four underage victims. He pleaded no contest to one count of lewd and lascivious molestation. Following Wood’s release, Sheriff Frank McKeithen criticized the handling of the case, stating Wood had “not been held accountable.”
Wood later complained that authorities excessively monitored his activities during his release.
According to the prosecution’s notes on the case, the incidents took place as far back as 2006 on girls as young as 3 years old. The time lapse since the incident and the ages of the alleged victims both conspired to result in deficient memories among the girls. Several of their accounts conflicted with one another when pressed on details, which would be used at trial, according to the prosecutor Matt Pavese.
Attorneys reached a deal, and Wood was released with three years probation. Prosecutors received a life-long designation on Wood as a sex offender.
Eight days later, probation officers caught Wood without his court-required electronic monitoring device and apprehended him outside a Youngstown motel. Fensom ruled the nearly two hours Wood spent without the monitoring device was not a “substantial violation” of his probation.
A few hours later, however, Wood was rearrested and charged with a sexual battery incident from 1995, BCSO said.
Wood appeared in court for his first appearance Tuesday. An arraignment date of Feb. 10 was set on the sexual battery charge.
PANAMA CITY — The Florida Department of Transportation has finished acquiring the property it needs to build a massive piece of infrastructure aimed at clearing up traffic congestion at the intersection of U.S. 98 and 23rd Street.
Now, FDOT is in the process of demolishing structures, including several low-cost motels, to clear the properties for the beginning of construction on the $73 million flyover, which is scheduled to begin this summer, said FDOT spokesman Ian Satter.
"Luckily for us the right of way acquisition that we needed for this project has gone pretty smoothly," Satter said.
FDOT spent about $32.5 million to acquire 33 parcels of land to make way for the project, he said. That's going to take some, but not all, of those properties off the tax rolls, said Panama City City Manager Jeff Brown.
Brown estimated (based on the $32.5 million figure from Satter and the assumption that FDOT might have paid a little more than the fair market price to placate property owners who were put out by the project) the city would lose a little more than $100,000 annually in tax revenue.
That's a relatively small price to pay for a project that will benefit anyone who drives in Panama City, he said. The flyover, once complete, will not only shorten commutes; it will improve public safety as well, Brown said.
"The whole of the community," Brown said. "The benefit is traffic flow will improve through town."
One of those put-out owners is Mynta Harbison, who runs Los Antojitos on U.S. 98. She said she understood the need to fix the traffic problem, but she thought it wasn't fair that FDOT didn't compensate her for the loss of future earnings.
FDOT has allowed Harbison to stay open; the state will take possession of the property on March 1, and the restaurant will close Feb. 21, she said. Harbison said they will reopen at 1236 Beck Ave. in about a year with a new space and expanded menu, but she wasn't sure what the roughly 20 full- and part-time employees will do in the meantime.
"We're definitely going to try and find our employees employment while we're closed," she said.
Satter said FDOT designs projects like the flyover with an eye toward keeping such disruptions minimal.
"We try to have the least amount of impact on businesses and homes," he said.
While the flyover will result in smoother traffic flow when it's finished, during the construction local motorists should expect headaches navigating the area, Brown said.
"Everybody is going to have to exercise some patience," Brown said.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is seeking information regarding two teens reported missing as of Tuesday.
Isabella Wood, 14, and Felicity Nix, 15, were last seen at 10 p.m. on Tuesday near Gallagher Drive and Auburndale Drive in Washington County. Wood is 4-foot-8, 110 pounds with long brown hair and green eyes. Nix is 5-3, 155, with long brown hair, hazel eyes and was believed to be wearing pajamas and a gray jacket.
Anyone with information is asked to call (850) 638-TIPS.