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P.C. teen seriously injured while incarcerated in Okaloosa County


CRESTVIEW — An investigation is underway at the Department of Juvenile Justice’s Okaloosa Youth Academy after a Panama City teenager was seriously injured last week in an incident with an employee.

According to the 15-year-old’s mother, a video camera at the facility recorded her son “being thrown into a stainless steel table.”

Tonya Hazel said her son complained of pain after the incident, but wasn’t taken to the emergency room until about two hours later.

When he arrived, his organs were swollen and blood was filling his abdomen. His right kidney was split and ultimately removed, she said.

He was initially taken to North Okaloosa Medical Center, but was later transferred to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola where he remained in stable, but critical condition Monday, Hazel said.

“My thing is the employee should have been able to hold his professional cool,” she said. “... But he lost it on my son and damn near killed him.”

DJJ Communications Director Heather DiGiacomo released an emailed statement about the incident Monday evening. She stated, “DJJ’s top priority is the safety and welfare of the youth entrusted in our care.”

DiGiacomo confirmed a youth was injured in an incident Dec. 29 at the facility in Crestview, but did not release any additional information including the person’s gender or age.

“The incident is currently being investigated by the Department’s Office of Inspector General,” DiGiacomo stated. “The staff member involved has been removed from all contact with youth pending the completion of the investigation.”

Hazel said her son, who has a history of behavior problems and mental illness, was not given his medication the day of the incident and was “displaying a behavior” just before it took place.

The Panama City resident has been at Okaloosa Youth Academy for about ten months. He’d recently gone before a judge and received commendations for his good behavior, Hazel said.

He was slated to be released in February, she added.

According to DJJ’s website, the facility is a 38-bed center for youth “pending adjudication, disposition or placement in a commitment facility.”

Hazel said an administrator from the academy has remained in contact with her since they arrived in Pensacola last week. He even visited her son on Saturday.

She also said an investigator from DJJ had come in and spoken with them.

While no charges have been filed against the employee accused in the incident, Hazel said she wanted to see him held accountable for what he had done to her son.

“Long term, it’s just going to change his whole life, and he’s only 15,” Hazel said of his kidney loss. “I’m just thanking God he’s still alive.”

Gun in Ayers fatal shooting to be inspected


PANAMA CITY — A gun that discharged and killed a father the day he brought home his newborn child will undergo further inspection for defects as the accused shooter’s day in court approaches, attorneys agreed during a pretrial hearing Monday.

However, the manslaughter charge against 63-year-old Charles Edward Shisler will not be the subject of his first trial.

Shisler was arrested on several charges after a single round from a 9mm Luger traveled more than 200 feet into the home of his 33-year-old neighbor, Steven Justin Ayers. The stray bullet struck Ayers in the back of the head on June 17 and killed him instantly. Shisler allegedly admitted he accidentally fired the gun, but only the charge of felon in possession of a firearm will head to trial as the weapon is inspected by an independent expert for defects.

That trial has been scheduled for February. A date has not been set for the manslaughter case. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) previously has test fired the pistol for functionality. Results came back positive, FDLE reported, meaning the gun operated correctly.

After being arrested, Shisler told officers the shooting was accidental, according to the Bay County Sheriff’s Office arrest affidavit.

“The damn gun doesn’t usually shoot,” Shisler’s arrest report quoted him as saying. “You have to squeeze the hell out of the trigger to shoot it.”

Shisler told deputies he tried to pick up the gun by its trigger when it fired a hole through his window screen. According to the FDLE report, about 5 lbs. of pressure was needed to set the bullet in motion toward the Ayers’ residence next door.

Ayers and his wife had gathered family members to celebrate the homecoming of their 3-day-old baby — born on Father’s Day. But the celebration at 2502 Michigan Court ended shortly after 6 p.m. when the stray bullet entered the home from more than 200 feet away.

The bullet traveled out of Shisler’s window screen, through about 60 feet of medium-density woods, through the Ayers’ back porch glass door and into their home before striking Ayers in the back of the head.

Shisler was arrested, and a blood test taken more than four hours after the incident indicated Shisler had a blood alcohol content of 0.079, BCSO reported. Shisler was initially uncooperative with deputies and “extremely belligerent,” according to arrest reports.

Authorities filed additional charges of methamphetamine possession against Shisler the next day. BCSO allegedly found a glass pipe and “shake and bake” kit in Shisler’s residence. Both items tested positive for methamphetamine residue, authorities said.

Shisler’s attorney also has filed a motion, arguing officers did not have probable cause to initiate Shisler’s arrest.

BCSO: Man charged after hit-and-run crash


CALLAWAY — A Callaway man has been arrested and charged after allegedly crashing into several obstacles along Tyndall Parkway and injuring his passengers before they escaped from the vehicle as he drove away, according to court documents.

Lance C. Elliott, 43, was arrested Monday on a warrant from a Jan. 1 hit-and-run incident near the 200 block of Tyndall Parkway. Two of Elliott’s three passengers were injured when he careened into several obstacles and then fled the area after the passengers escaped from the damaged vehicle, according to Bay County Sheriff’s Office arrest records.

Elliott was charged with operating a vehicle without a license and leaving the scene of a crash with injury when he was arrested Monday.

According to BCSO, Elliott was driving along Tyndall Parkway south of State 22 at about 9:30 p.m. when he lost control of the 2003 Dodge pickup truck and drove onto the median, deputies reported. Elliott overcorrected and struck a telephone pole and phone box on the west side of the road. He then backed up and attempted to drive off through the parking lot of a closed business and struck a water back-flow preventer, BCSO said.

Authorities reported Elliott then left, driving west in the eastbound lane of State 22, without making an effort to report the crash or render aid to his passengers — who’d  escaped the vehicle after colliding with the telephone pole.

Elliott allegedly caused an estimated $12,000 in damage during the incident.

Elliot recently had posted bond for a separate criminal charge of driving without a license in December, according to court records.

Two of the three passengers were taken to a local hospital and treated for nonlife-threatening injuries, BCSO reported.

Man gets 1 year in prison for golf cart thefts


PANAMA CITY — A Panama City Beach man who stole golf carts from his neighbors has been sentenced to more than a year in prison after the charges were upgraded to three counts of grand theft auto, according to court documents.

Nathan Michael Huston, 38, initially was charged by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office with three counts of grand theft, dealing in stolen property and uttering a forged instrument after three golf carts came up missing Nov. 23 in the area of his home at 21310 Front Beach Road. Prosecutors filed grand theft auto charges against Huston days before he pleaded no contest Tuesday, and he was sentenced to more than a year in prison.

The State Attorney’s Office specified, in the information filed against Huston, each of the EZ-GO golf carts taken between Nov. 20 through Nov. 26 fell under a “motor vehicle” classification.

One of the golf carts was returned to its owner after it was spotted in a wooded area in the 200 block of 13th Street in Panama City Beach along with the other two Nov. 23. The person reporting the whereabouts of the golf carts said two men were in the woods with the golf carts. However, when deputies arrived, only the one golf cart remained, according to the BCSO arrest affidavit.

Days later, the owner of one of the other two golf carts informed BCSO he had seen it in front of Huston’s residence, officials reported.

Investigators went to the residence, and Huston claimed to have purchased the two golf carts via the online classified website Craigslist. Huston recanted the original story and said he purchased them through a “friend of a friend” but couldn’t remember the names of those involved, BCSO reported.

Authorities only recovered one golf cart from Huston’s home, and he was arrested on three counts of grand theft auto.

Huston pleaded no contest to the charges Tuesday and was sentenced to one year and four months in prison.

UPDATE: French police ID gunmen who killed 12 in attack on newspaper


PARIS (AP) — Masked gunmen stormed the offices of a satirical newspaper that caricatured the Prophet Muhammad, methodically killing 12 people Wednesday, including the editor, before escaping in a car. It was France's deadliest terrorist attack in half a century.

Shouting “Allahu akbar!” as they fired, the men claimed links to al-Qaida in their military-style, noon-time attack on the weekly paper Charlie Hebdo, located near Paris’ Bastille monument. The publication's depictions of Islam and Islamic extremists have drawn condemnation and threats before — it was firebombed in 2011 — although it also satirized other religions and political figures.

Police identified three men, including two brothers, as suspects in the attack at the offices of weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, as security officers fanned out around the Paris region in a manhunt.

One police official said the men had links to a Yemeni terrorist network. Witnesses of the attackers’ escape through Paris said one claimed allegiance to al-Qaida in Yemen.

Both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have repeatedly threatened to attack France, which is conducting airstrikes against extremists in Iraq and fighting Islamic militants in Africa.

President Francois Hollande said it was a terrorist act “of exceptional barbarism,” adding that other attacks have been thwarted in France in recent weeks. Fears have been running high in France and elsewhere in Europe that jihadis returning from conflicts in Syria and Iraq will stage attacks at home.

In a somber address to the nation Wednesday night, Hollande pledged to hunt down the killers, and pleaded with his compatriots to come together in a time of insecurity and suspicion.

“Let us unite, and we will win,” he said. “Vive la France!”

France raised its security alert to the highest level and reinforced protective measures at houses of worship, stores, media offices and transportation. Schools closed across Paris, although thousands of people jammed Republique Square near the site of the shooting to honor the victims, waving pens and papers reading “Je suis Charlie” — “I am Charlie.” Similar rallies were held in London's Trafalgar Square as well as Madrid, Berlin and Brussels.

There were no immediate arrests and no immediate claim of responsibility for the shootings. The Paris prosecutor said the attack also wounded 11 people — four of them seriously — and was condemned by world leaders as an attack on freedom of expression. Supporters of the militant Islamic State group praised it.

Clad all in black with hoods and carrying assault rifles, the attackers forced one of the cartoonists arriving at the office building with her young daughter to open the door with a security code.

The staff was in an editorial meeting and the gunmen headed straight for the paper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier — widely known by his pen name Charb — killing him and his police bodyguard first, said Christophe Crepin, a police union spokesman.

Minutes later, two men strolled out to a black car waiting below, calmly firing on a police officer, with one gunman shooting him in the head as he writhed on the ground, according to video and a man who watched in fear from his home across the street.

The witness, who refused to allow his name to be used because he was afraid for his safety, said the attackers were so methodical that he first mistook them for France's elite anti-terrorism forces. Then they fired on the officer.

“They knew exactly what they had to do and exactly where to shoot. While one kept watch and checked that the traffic was good for them, the other one delivered the final coup de grace,” he said. “They ran back to the car. The moment they got in, the car drove off almost casually.”

The witness added: “I think they were extremely well-trained, and they knew exactly down to the centimeter and even to the second what they had to do.”

Eight journalists, a guest and two police officers were killed, said Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, giving a partial breakdown of the 12 dead. Among those killed were Bernard Maris, an economist who was a contributor to the newspaper and was heard regularly on French radio, and cartoonists Georges Wolinski and Berbard Verlhac, better known as Tignous.

“Hey! We avenged the Prophet Muhammad! We killed Charlie Hebdo,” one of the men shouted in French, according to video shot from a nearby building and broadcast on French TV. Other video showed two gunmen in black at a crossroads who appeared to fire down one of the streets. A cry of “Allahu akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great” — could be heard amid the gunshots.

Corinne Rey, the cartoonist who said she was forced to let the gunmen in, said the men spoke fluent French and claimed to be from al-Qaida. In an interview with the newspaper l'Humanite, she said the entire shooting lasted perhaps five minutes, and she hid under a desk.

The video showed the killers moving deliberately and calmly, with one even bending over to toss a fallen shoe back into the small black car before it sped off. The car was later found abandoned in northern Paris, the prosecutor said, and they hijacked a Renault Clio.

Witness Cedric Le Bechec, 33, described seeing the carjacking on his Facebook page. He said he saw “two big black guys get out of a bullet-ridden car with a rocket launcher in hand, eject an old guy from his car and calmly say hi to the public, saying ‘you can tell the media that it's al-Qaida in Yemen.’”

A tweeter from al-Qaida's Yemeni branch, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, who communicated Wednesday with The Associated Press, said the group is not claiming responsibility, but said it might have inspired the attack. In 2013, al-Qaida magazine Inspire specifically threatened Charb and included an article titled “France the Imbecile Invader.”

Two police officials named the three suspects as Frenchmen Said Kouachi and Cherif Kouachi, who are brothers and in their early 30s, as well as 18-year-old Hamyd Mourad, whose nationality wasn't immediately clear. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the sensitive and ongoing investigation.

Cherif Kouachi was convicted in 2008 of terrorism charges for helping funnel fighters to Iraq's insurgency, and sentenced to 18 months in prison. During his 2008 trial, he told the court he was motivated by his outrage at television images of torture of Iraqi inmates at the U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib.

Charlie Hebdo has been repeatedly threatened for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and other sketches. Just minutes before the attack, Charlie Hebdo had tweeted a satirical cartoon of the Islamic State's leader giving New Year's wishes.

Its offices were firebombed in 2011 after an issue featured a caricature of the prophet on its cover. Nearly a year later, the publication again published Muhammad caricatures, drawing denunciations from the Muslim world because Islam prohibits the publication of drawings of the prophet.

Another cartoon, released in this week's issue and entitled “Still No Attacks in France,” had a caricature of a jihadi fighter saying “Just wait — we have until the end of January to present our New Year's wishes.” Charb was the artist.

“This is the darkest day of the history of the French press,” said Christophe DeLoire of Reporters Without Borders.

President Barack Obama offered U.S. help in pursuing the gunmen, saying they had attacked freedom of expression and “America's oldest ally.” British Prime Minister David Cameron said his country stood united with France.

Russian President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack as a “cynical crime,” and pledged cooperation in fighting terrorism.

“I think all of Europe is crying today,” Italian Premier Matteo Renzi said. “All the free world is crying. All men and women who believe in freedom and reason are crying.”

Salman Rushdie, who spent years in hiding after his novel, “The Satanic Verses,” drew a death edict from Iran's religious authorities, said all must stand with Charlie Hebdo “to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity.”

Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French mosques, condemned the “hateful act,” and urged Muslims and Christians “to intensify their actions to give more strength to this dialogue, to make a united front against extremism.”

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations, added its condemnation.

On social media, supporters of militant Islamic groups praised the move.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie was trending as people expressed support for the weekly and for journalistic freedom. The weekly's website collapsed earlier Wednesday but was later restored.

Associated Press writers Samuel Petrequin, Angela Charlton, Sylvie Corbet and John Leicester in Paris; Raphael Satter in London; Sarah el-Deeb in Cairo; Zeina Karam and Diaa Hadid in Beirut; and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this story.

Police: Florida man attempted burglary while carrying infant


ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — Police say a Florida man carrying his 5-month-old son acted as a lookout while his friend tried to break into a house, then threatened the owner of the home with a knife.

St. Petersburg Police said in a news release that a homeowner found 22-year-old Corey Mathews outside his home Monday, holding a baby in a car carrier.

Police say that when Mathews spotted the homeowner, he alerted another suspect attempting to break into the home. The other suspect fled, and the homeowner called 911 as he followed Mathews. Mathews then pulled out a knife and threatened to kill the man if he kept following him.

Mathews was held Tuesday on $15,000 bond on burglary and other charges. Pinellas County jail records didn't show whether he had an attorney.

Police say Mathews’ mother took custody of the baby.

Man arrested after fleeing, crashing into police car


YOUNGSTOWN — A Panama City man is in police custody after allegedly fleeing law enforcement and crashing into a deputy’s cruiser, the Florida Highway Patrol announced Wednesday.

Lyle David Kirkpatrick, 41, was driving a 2005 Kia Sorento east on State 20 Tuesday at about 8:50 p.m. while allegedly fleeing the Bay County Sheriff’s Office.

Kirkpatrick drove from the westbound lane through the eastbound lane, and onto the grass shoulder. He then attempted to re-enter the eastbound lane, continuing westbound, FHP reported.

A deputy then tried to go around Kirkpatrick in order to get in front and prevent him from continuing westbound in the eastbound lane. When the deputy maneuvered to the side of the Kia, Kirkpatrick hit his brakes and swerved right, causing the deputy to strike the car’s rear, FHP said.

Officials reported that the deputy again attempted to position his patrol vehicle ahead of Kirkpatrick, but Kirkpatrick intentionally swerved right twice, striking the cruiser on the left side on both occasions.

Kirkpatrick was finally stopped and BCSO took him into custody, and he was taken to the Bay County Jail.

Among the charges associated with fleeing arrest and battery on a law enforcement officer, Kirkpatrick was charged with domestic battery by strangulation and harassing a victim or witness, according to court documents.

Kirkpatrick made a first appearance in court Wednesday.

Man charged with drug possession


CALLAWAY — Deputies have arrested a driver allegedly in possession of illegal narcotics and loose cash after a traffic stop in Callaway, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday.

While on patrol on Seneca Avenue just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, a BCSO deputy observed the driver of a grey Chevrolet Malibu fail to stop at a stop sign. The deputy conducted a traffic stop at Sims Avenue and Willow Street, and the driver was identified as 51-year-old Michael Gus Kaufman. A further check revealed his driver’s license was suspended.

A search of Kaufman’s person revealed a small tin of Oxycodone pills in a pocket, and another tin with Xanax (alprazolam). Kaufman also was in possession of about $1,600 in cash.

A search of the vehicle revealed about 49 Methadone pills and 25 pills of Hydromorphone, which were seized as evidence.

Kaufman, 6919 Lois St., Callaway, was charged with driving while license suspended, failure to stop at a stop sign, four counts of possession of controlled substance and possession of paraphernalia. He was booked into the Bay County Jail.

Judge denies accused killer’s request


PANAMA CITY — A Bay County circuit judge will allow jurors to view a taped murder confession in connection with an August 2010 fatal shooting at a Panama City Beach church construction site, according to court records.

The trial of Christopher Ray Hyler, 50, for the shooting death of his former landlord, 43-year-old Robert S. Ellison, is scheduled to begin Monday. As the trial looms, Hyler’s attorney requested the judge not allow a taped confession from his arrest to be admitted as evidence, arguing police coerced his testimony after only briefly reviewing his Miranda rights. However, Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark denied the defense’s motion to suppress the video, and jurors will have the opportunity to weigh it among other evidence, Clark wrote in his ruling Tuesday. cq

Hyler “validly waived his Miranda rights, and, based on the totality of the circumstances, (Hyler) appears to have voluntarily issued his confession,” Clark said.

Ellison’s death lingered without an arrest for nearly three years, and, in May 2013, authorities received a confession from Hyler during a taped interrogation. But his legal counsel argued that after two hours of intense questioning, he simply agreed to the facts presented by interrogators.

Hyler “had used methamphetamine heavily prior to his arrest by law enforcement and was still under the influence of the drug during the interrogation,” defense attorney Henry Sims wrote in his motion to the court.

Sims said Hyler’s intoxication, coupled with a reasonable self-defense scenario presented by law enforcement to “escape” the pressure being asserted on him, amounted to coercion.

Sims also argued Hyler did not have privileged knowledge of the crime, and parts of the confession did not jive with the physical evidence or the sparse witness accounts from around the time of the shooting.

“He did not provide any details of the crime nor did he divulge facts only the perpetrator would know,” Sims wrote.

Investigators confronted Hyler with a variety of scenarios until more than an hour into questioning, when he finally nodded in agreement. Police presented Hyler with the scenario that he confronted an abusive husband and pulled the gun out of self-defense. Hyler continued from there.

“He told me that I needed to mind my business and came out from behind the desk. … He looked pissed,” Hyler told investigators. “I pulled (the 9mm), thinking he’d back up. He got his hand on it once.”

Ellison was found dead in the construction office of First Baptist Church in Panama City Beach at 204 Cobb Road from five gunshot wounds, and Hyler was arrested after investigators began to look at previous tenants of properties owned by Robert and Stephanie Ellison.

Though police suspected other parties contributed to Ellison’s death, no other arrests were made.

Jury selection for Hyler’s trial begins Monday. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Animal cruelty charge against Springfield grandmother still pending


PANAMA CITY — A Springfield grandmother who was cited for animal cruelty after posting an inflammatory picture on Facebook is continuing her legal struggle against the charges, according to court documents.

Loretta Bozeman, 41, faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty.

Bozeman was cited by police in August after posting a picture in which a brown and white Chihuahua apparently “is being tormented” by two young girls in the back of a vehicle, according to Springfield Police Department reports.

Attempts to contact Bozeman for this report were unsuccessful; however, court records indicate she has been assigned a defense attorney and is moving toward a trial on the charges.

Members of Bozeman’s family received hundreds of threats to their personal safety after the widespread dissemination of the pet picture, which started out as a post on Bozeman’s Facebook page. The picture, which drew ire from around the country, depicts two young girls in a vehicle who have fashioned a pulley system through a clothes hanging latch with a jump rope. On one end of the rope are the two young girls who appear to be laughing playfully, while on the other end of the rope is a small dog dangling by its haunches.

Family members have since reached out to media outlets to clarify that the girls were re-enacting an animal rescue from a TV show.

However, Bozeman was cited by Springfield Police with a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals after the picture was reported to Bay Animal Control, and two of Bozeman’s dogs were taken into custody.

The family received more than 500 death threats and threats to their personal safety through social media websites, according to officials. Springfield Police Chief Philip Thorne urged public civility in the ensuing firestorm of pro-animal reactions.

Some residents heeded the suggestion and wrote Circuit Judge Shane Vann, who is overseeing the case, in hopes of keeping Bozeman from regaining custody of the animals.

“If it is within your judgment, please do not release any of the dogs to her care,” wrote one resident. “Allow them to be placed in loving homes that are financially stable and hopefully model respect for all living things.”

Court records are unclear whether the animals were returned to Bozeman.

Bozeman is scheduled for a trial management hearing in February.

Construction on Business 98 to start Monday


PANAMA CITY — Construction on U.S. Bus. 98 from Harrison Avenue to Tyndall Parkway will begin next week.

Work includes milling, resurfacing, curb and gutter work, installation of improved traffic signals, new highway signs and guardrails. Between 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., there are no planned lane closures or detours, although drivers are recommended to watch for workers and plan for slower traffic.

Construction is scheduled for completion this summer.

FSU shooter killed by police had drugs in system


TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Medical reports show that the gunman who shot at students and employees on the campus of Florida State University had drugs in his system.

Autopsy and toxicology reports released this week by the medical examiner's office show Myron May had .24 milligrams/per liter of amphetamines in his system.

May was killed by police Nov. 20. The autopsy report shows that he had 24 gunshot wounds.

The 31-year old May shot inside and just outside the campus library where hundreds of students were studying. Three people were hit and one student was left paralyzed from the waist down.

May was a 2005 Florida State graduate. Police reports show that he had previously complained that cameras were watching him in his apartment and that he heard voice talking about him.

Gateway is next step for Florida Avenue development


LYNN HAVEN — The two city gateways, on the east and west sides of Ohio Avenue, will include sandstone columns, adorned with Spanish style roofing tile and decorative tile facing toward the street. An archway of stucco veneer will connect the two columns, “LYNN HAVEN” in block letters over the arch with founding year 1911 dangling underneath.

“It seems like putting lipstick on a pig,” Main Street Board member Patrick Jones said Thursday, repeating criticism uttered at a Dec. 18 public meeting.

During a Main Street board meeting, Rich Walker, one of the leaders of the Lynn Haven Heritage Society, echoed the concern of one of his fellow residents for Florida Avenue, although not as bluntly.

“I’m concerned this is a little ahead of its time,” Walker said. “You don’t have an idea of what Florida Avenue is now.”

As of now, the Main Street board could not address Walker’s other concern, which is the cost of a gateway. The board approved a plan that was a combination of three designs from Wood Partners Inc. that will be sent to the City Commission on Jan. 27. They do not have an estimated construction cost for the gateways that would be located just outside of City Hall and near the intersection of Ninth Street and Florida Avenue.

Main Street Board Chairman James Slonina countered that the board is following the Community Redevelopment Agency master plan established in 2010. Main Street was already instrumental in placing flare out pieces at the intersection of Florida Avenue with trees and bushes inserted inside. CRA director Ben Janke said the idea was to create a feeling that drivers were entering a special section of the city and the gateway would add to that idea.

Other aspects of the Lynn Haven master plan include landscaping, lighting and decorative street improvements at the intersection. However, one of the next steps Janke is pursuing is a new zoning designation for Florida Avenue that would allow for lesser setbacks and parking for commercial spaces. He said it is next to impossible to get developers to put anything on Florida Avenue.

“Back 100 years ago, when Florida Avenue was established,  you didn’t have as many cars,” Janke said.

The only part of Florida Avenue that has the clear historical identity Janke is looking to inspire is the intersection at Ninth Street, where Roberts Hall, the “Old Bank Building” and Victoria’s Last Bite Restaurant reside on three of the four corners. Walker and the Heritage Society renovated Roberts Hall a few years ago.

Main Street Board members would like to see action with the Bay County Tax Collector’s Building, actually owned by the city, and the empty lot across from it. The timing might be beneficial with many businesses looking to relocate with expansion looming for State 390. However, Janke is unsure what businesses might be interested — each with unique visibility, space and customer concerns.

Currently, the sequence for Florida Avenue starts with the gateways.

“It doesn’t fit the logical sequence but it’s part of the sequence,” Jones said. “It has to do with sequence, whether this is cake or icing.”

Woman charged with drug possession


PANAMA CITY — A woman was arrested for drug possession and the Department of Children and Families was contacted to provide care for her teenaged daughter, the Panama City Police Department reported.

Heather Kirstie Harris, 35, of Panama City, was stopped at the intersection of West 15th Street and Balboa Avenue for a minor traffic infraction at 8:50 p.m. on Wednesday, according to a PCPD press release. Investigators detected an odor of marijuana and Harris soon admitted to having concealed drugs, the release stated.

Investigators retrieved 2.1 grams of crack cocaine, 0.9 grams of cocaine HCL and 2.26 grams of marijuana from Harris, according to the release. Harris informed investigators she had left her 13-year-old daughter in her hotel room in Panama City Beach. Deputies made contact with the daughter and when Harris was unable to arrange care, DCF was brought in to ensure the safety of the child, the release stated.

Harris was charged with possession of crack cocaine with the intent to distribute, possession of cocaine HCL with the intent to distribute, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. She was transported to the Bay County Jail and awaits first appearance for her charges.

UPDATE: Dad accused of tossing girl off bridge called lawyer 'God'


ST. PETERSBURG (AP) — Just 12 hours before police said John Jonchuck threw his 5-year-old daughter off a bridge — perhaps while she was still alive — the father calmly told a sheriff's deputy he didn't want to hurt himself or his little girl and had “new clarity in his life.”

The officer had made a point of interviewing Jonchuck in person because Jonchuck's own attorney frantically called 911 to report that he was acting “strange.” The attorney, Genevieve Torres, said Jonchuck had called her “God” and asked her to translate a Bible in Swedish when they met Wednesday to talk about Jonchuck's custody case for his daughter, Phoebe.

Yet, when police talked to Jonchuck at length, everything appeared OK.

Then police encountered Jonchuck again shortly after midnight Wednesday. He was going about 100 mph toward the Sunshine Skyway bridge. By the time an officer caught up with him, Jonchuck had pulled over on the approach span to the bridge.

Jonchuck got out, and started toward the officer, who pulled his weapon. Jonchuck grabbed Phoebe from the back seat and “held her face to his chest” as he carried her to the railing, St. Petersburg police Chief Anthony Holloway said.

It wasn't clear whether Phoebe was alive when Jonchuck threw her into Tampa Bay about 60 feet below, though the officer said he “thought he heard the child scream,” Holloway said.

Phoebe's body was recovered about a mile from the bridge about two hours later. An autopsy and cause of death is pending.

The Florida Department of Children and Families said late Thursday that the agency received a call to the abuse hotline at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday “regarding the mental health of Phoebe's father.”

The anonymous caller said Jonchuck was “depressed and delusional.”

Secretary Mike Carroll said a team is reviewing the agency's involvement with the family, which included at least three prior investigations.

Before her death, Jonchuck and Phoebe had an odd encounter with his attorney. Torres told the 911 dispatcher that she had asked Jonchuck if he wanted her to file paperwork in his custody case.

“It's not going to matter anymore,” she recalled him saying.

“That really scared me,” Torres told the dispatcher, her voice trembling. He was “out of his mind.”

Police found him a short time later at a church, and everything seemed fine. He told officers he was once on 37 different medicines for a variety of ailments, but none this week. He said he had recently lost weight and was eating healthy, “trying to better his life.”

The church's priest told a deputy that Jonchuck had made the statement “I am the Pope,” only to then say: “I know I am not.”

Officers decided they didn't have enough evidence to commit Jonchuck.

“She was smiling and appeared healthy, properly clothed and happy,” an officer wrote of the little girl.

Phoebe had long, curly hair, a wide smile and loved princesses. She hated baths and water, making her death even more gut-wrenching.

Phoebe's mother, Michelle Kerr, was with Jonchuck for six tumultuous years, and police were called numerous times. Since 2008, Jonchuck has been charged with domestic battery six times, but in every case, the charges were dropped or never pursued.

Kerr had an arrest record consisting of child neglect, petty theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, among other charges.

Jonchuck had custody of Phoebe, and they lived with Jonchuck's parents in Tampa.

“I always saw him as a good dad,” Kerr said. “She would always say, ‘I love you daddy.’ She loved her dad.”

Jonchuck was charged with first-degree murder. At his first court hearing, Pinellas County Judge Michael Andrews asked him if he wanted an attorney.

“I want to leave it in the hands of God,” Jonchuck said.

The judge responded: “I'm pretty sure God's not going to be representing you in this case. You're going to be standing trial.”

Linda Mattos, the owner of a daycare that looked after Phoebe, said Jonchuck and Phoebe were homeless in 2013. Jonchuck had a back injury from a fall at a restaurant and didn't work, so Mattos allowed them to stay at her house for about six months, until Jonchuck started to pick fights with her.

When she asked him to leave, he tried to get revenge, Mattos said, by calling child protective services.

“He was very revengeful,” she said. “He tried to ruin me.”

It was a claim that Kerr echoed.

She said she last saw her daughter and Jonchuck on Christmas Eve. They had a nice evening together, and then he called child protective services on her and made false abuse allegations, she said.

“He does the Jekyll and Hyde. It's just something that goes on in his head, he just wasn't wired right,” she said.

AP Researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.

Calhoun County drug trafficking ring busted


CALHOUN COUNTY — A long term drug investigation has culminated in the arrests of 16 people allegedly involved in a trafficking ring, according to a Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office news release.

The busts were instigated by the CCSO, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. CCSO officials released the names of nine of the individuals who have been charged are in connection with a crystal methamphetamine trafficking organization.

Among those arrested are: Victoria McClure, Laura December Wilson, Cathrine Davis, Cheri Ann Morris, Amanda Harris, Angela Tindall, Chandra Goodman, Joann Lewis and Kelli Odom.

CCSO said more names are to follow.

2 charged with credit card fraud, theft


PANAMA CITY BEACH — Police have arrested two Pennsylvania natives in connection with a string of stolen credit cards being used to purchase thousands of dollars in products, according to a Panama City Beach Police Department news release.

Lester Jones, 38, and Gabriellia Savage, 19, were arrested Thursday at the Pier Park Target, 15555 Starfish St., following an investigation into stolen credit cards from Panama City.

Investigators determined that four people were targeting women at a local restaurant to steal their wallets and credit cards. Two of them would then use the cards at retailers in the Panama City Beach area to purchase several thousands of dollars in merchandise, according to the news release.

Police identified Jones and Savage as two of four people involved in the scheme and they were arrested Thursday on charges of credit card fraud and grand theft.

PCBPD is still actively seeking the two other suspects, whose identities are unknown, police reported. If anyone has additional information pertaining to their identities, PCBPD encourages the public to call (850) 233-5000 or Crime Stoppers at (850) 785-TIPS.

House-sitter charged with stealing cash


PARKER — A Southport woman on probation for taking $22,000 worth of jewelry has been arrested again on grand theft charges, according to court documents.

Ashley Lynn Coatney, 31, was arrested on grand theft charges Tuesday by Parker Police for allegedly taking about $8,000 in cash while house-sitting for an acquaintance in November. The arrest was a violation of probation for Coatney, who had previously been arrested for a similar theft of about $22,000 in jewelry from a separate residence, according to court documents.

Coatney agreed to 15 years of probation and $29,063 in restitution after bundles of jewelry came up missing from a Panama City home in June 2013. Police said Coatney was working for a house cleaning service when she allegedly took 15 pieces of jewelry from a home, police reported.

Coatney pleaded no contest to dealing in stolen property for attempting to sell some of the jewelry at pawn shops and metal dealers. Prosecutors consolidated the grand theft charge in the plea deal.

However, Coatney allegedly violated terms of her release in November when $8,000 was stolen from a Parker residence. Coatney and her boyfriend were house-sitting for an out-of-town acquaintance at the time, police reported.

Coatney’s family also told police she “was responsible for this offense,” according to arrest reports.

She was arrested Tuesday on grand theft charges. Coatney’s bond was set at $10,000, but if she is found to have violated her probation she could face up to 15 years in prison.

Killer sentenced to 25 years


PANAMA CITY — A Panama City Beach man who gunned down his former landlord on church property accepted a plea deal Thursday to 25 years in prison after learning his taped confession would be played for jurors during his forthcoming trial.

Christopher Ray Hyler, 50, accepted the plea deal, reducing the first-degree murder charges he faced after being arrested in May 2013. Hyler was scheduled for trial next week for the shooting death of 43-year-old Robert S. Ellison in August 2010 on a Panama City Beach church construction site. However, after a circuit court judge’s decision to allow prospective jurors to view a taped confession made at the time of his arrest, Hyler pleaded no contest Thursday to charges of second-degree murder.

Judge Brantley Clark then sentenced Hyler to 25 years in prison.

Ellison’s death lingered without an arrest for nearly three years before, in May 2013, authorities elicited a confession from Hyler during a taped interrogation.

Hyler was brought in after investigators began to look at previous tenants of properties owned by Ellison. After about an hour and a half of questioning, Hyler told investigators he’d gone to the First Baptist Church in Panama City Beach construction site, at 204 Cobb Road, in search of work when Ellison aggressively approached him. Hyler pulled the 9mm Luger — which he’d brought to ask for a job — and fired in self-defense, he told investigators.

The investigators then presented Hyler with the scenario that he confronted an abusive husband and pulled the gun out of self-defense. Hyler continued from there.

“He told me that I needed to mind my business and came out from behind the desk. … He looked pissed,” Hyler told investigators. “I pulled (the 9mm) in regards to thinking he’d back up. He got his hand on it once.”

At about 9 a.m. on Aug. 10, 2010, emergency crews discovered Ellison face down in the office with five gunshot wounds throughout his body.

Although no one distinctly saw Hyler leave the office, cellphone records would have been coupled with Hyler’s confession, court documents indicate.

Hyler attempted to have the video suppressed as the date of his trial neared. His legal counsel argued that after hours of intense questioning, he simply agreed to the facts presented by interrogators.

Defense attorney Henry Sims said Hyler’s intoxication, coupled with a reasonable self-defense scenario presented by law enforcement to “escape” the pressure being asserted on him, amounted to coercion.

Hyler “had used methamphetamine heavily prior to his arrest by law enforcement and was still under the influence of the drug during the interrogation,” Sims wrote in his motion to the court. Hyler’s “statement was a result of police coercion as evidenced by the video of the interrogation process.”

However, Clark denied the motion to suppress the murder confession, because it appeared Hyler voluntarily gave his confession, according to the ruling.

Though Hyler was not the only suspect on the authorities’ radar, he was the only person arrested and charged with the murder. An agreement to testify against anyone else who might be charged in the future was not part of Hyler’s plea deal.

UPDATE: Deputy fired after arrest for child molestation


PANAMA CITY — A Bay County Sheriff’s deputy has been fired after his arrest on suspicion he molested a child multiple times, according to the BCSO.

David K. Mudge, 24, was arrested and charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious molestation on a victim under 12 years old after investigators with the Department of Children and Families notified the Sheriff’s Office of a complaint of possible molestation. After investigating the claim, deputies arrested Mudge on Tuesday. He was fired immediately, according to BCSO officials.

Maj. Tommy Ford personally delivered the notice of termination to Mudge, who was still in field training after only recently being hired.


“There were no indications that he had any of this in his past,” Ford said. “I am personally angered that he chose this profession.”

The victim told investigators Mudge molested him or her on three occasions in 2014, twice in Bay County and once in Valdosta, Ga., where police opened a separate investigation and which has resulted in a warrant being issued for Mudge.

The victim said the incidents occurred before Nov. 1, which is when Mudge was hired by the Sheriff’s Office. Evaluations conducted during the BCSO hiring process came up negative for a criminal history.

Mudge also passed a computerized voice stress analysis, designed to detect signs of deception during the interview, Ford said.

Prior to his employment with BCSO, Mudge was employed as a substitute teacher by Bay District Schools and was a server at restaurants in Bay County, but he had been unemployed since July, according to his employee record.

Mudge majored in criminology at Florida State University.

He is being held in the Bay County Jail on $100,000 bond. The judge has ordered Mudge to not have contact with the victim.