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Latest from John Engel

    New charges have been filed against the Jacksonville Beach man accused of murdering and dismembering a Nassau County teen more than 20 years ago.  Ronnie Hyde, 60, was arrested earlier this month for the 1994 murder of Fred Laster. According to Duval County court records, Hyde now faces an additional 12 counts for possessing photographs of sexual performance by a child.   The additional charges were filed on March 28.  Laster was reported missing in 1995, but he wasn’t tied to the body found behind a dumpster in Lake City until Feb. 2016. Laster’s sister told investigators she had last seen her brother with Hyde.  Hyde worked with children as a counselor through a Jacksonville church, leading investigators to believe there may be more victims. 
  • More than 100 structures were saved by fire crews in Nassau County, while two homes were destroyed by the wildfire near Bryceville this week. Fire officials maintain this destruction could have been avoided.  “The two (homes) that were destroyed didn’t have any defensible space; they had woods and flammable brush very close to the home,” said Annaleasa Winter, a wildfire mitigation specialist for the Florida Forest Service. “The homes that were saved had a good, clear defensible space where it’s drivable all the way around the structure.” Simply clearing dry brush and wood from around your home, trimming tree limbs and keeping the lawn mowed and irrigated, can alleviate much of the fire risk for your home. By installing metal or fiberglass shingled roofs, you can take additional steps to protect your home structurally from fires.  Winter suggests keeping dry materials and brush, at least, 30 feet from the home. If that’s not possible, because of challenges with space, work out a plan with your neighbor or the business you live next to.  The Florida Forest Service also offers many free services to home owners, like mechanical fuel reduction and the mowing, mulching and chopping of brush around a property. For more tips, visit the Florida Forest Service website here. 
  • The death sentence imposed on a Jacksonville man for the 2008 murder of a local woman has been vacated, in yet more fallout over the state’s death sentencing procedure. Randall Deviney was convicted of first degree and a jury recommended death by an 8-to-4 vote, which was accepted by the court. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Florida’s death penalty sentencing procedure to be unconstitutional because a recommendation did not require a unanimous jury.  On Thursday, The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Deviney’s murder conviction and ordered a new penalty phase.  Deviney was found guilty of killing his neighbor, Delores Futrell, in 2010, but the Florida Supreme Court overturned the ruling. The court determined police coerced Deviney’s confession. A second jury found Deviney guilty of first degree murder in 2015.
  • The owner of two Jacksonville businesses has been arrested for his part in a multi-state cargo theft ring, amounting to more than $1 million in stolen property. William Shepard Ellison, the owner of Shep’s Chicken and Auction House and Shep’s Discount Store on Jacksonville’s Westside, is accused of selling stolen property brought to him by three other suspects.  Pedro Hernandez and Lewis Dominguez are both in custody for stealing semi-trucks, trailers and cargo and taking the property to Ellison, while another suspect, Juan Quintana, remains on the loose.  This isn’t Ellison’s first run-in with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, either. He was arrested on gun charges more than a year ago, after two shotguns were found in his home. As a convicted felon, Ellison is barred from possessing firearms.
  • A Jacksonville woman has been arrested and charged for carrying out a scheme to defraud travelers making trips to religious sites. Maria Constanza Shults, 62, is accused of raking in more than $100,000 by selling pilgrimages to religious places, only to cancel the trips and keep the money, according to Florida law enforcement officials.  “Preying on people’s religious faith to defraud them will not be tolerated and my Office of Statewide Prosecution will aggressively prosecute this case,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement.  “Thanks to a great partnership with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, this travel fraud scheme has been shut down.”  Shults allegedly collected payments ranging from $2,500 to $7,000 from Catholic parishioners in 2015, offering them trips to Israel, Italy and Portugal. Authorities say Shults then canceled the trips without returning any money.  FDLE found 27 victims throughout the investigation, estimating a total loss of $106,000.  Shults has been booked into the pre-trial detention facility in Jacksonville and is facing one count of an organized scheme to defraud in excess of $50,000.
  • It’s been nearly a year since outrage surrounded Friends of Hemming Park, the non-profit tasked with managing Jacksonville’s most centralized meeting space, over questionable spending habits and exorbitant salaries. The controversy led to the resignation of the organization’s chief executive officer, Vince Cavin, and intense scrutiny over financial decisions by the City Council and Mayor’s Office. But with an end-of-month expiration looming, Friends of Hemming Park was able to reach a 6-month, $415,000 contract agreement with the City, pending Council approval. Interim CEO Bill Prescott stepped into his role when the future of Friends of Hemming seemed bleak, and the organization was requesting additional funding from the City just to stay afloat. In the months since, Prescott says the entire mission of the non-profit has shifted. “City Council and the Mayor’s Office was much more interested in clean and safe, and making the park welcoming, and I really think that Friends of Hemming Park has changed that focus and really concentrated on those areas,” Prescott told WOKV. Under the pending contract’s current wording, $240,000 will be used by Friends of Hemming Park for approved operational expenses and $175,000 will go toward capital improvement expenses. Prescott believes the organization’s relationships with the City and Council have improved in recent months, too. He says stricter financial reports are important but giving the City Council an opportunity to hear the challenges facing the Friends of Hemming Park has also helped. 
  • A 5-foot long dead shark was found in a St. Augustine Walmart parking lot last week, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies tell WOKV the shark was found by the owner of an RV who was staying in the parking lot. The man says he heard a loud noise around 7:30 a.m. on March 3 but thought it was made by store employees pushing carts. The man told deputies he got out of his RV to go to work when he noticed the shark on the vehicle’s hood. He then took the shark off his RV, laid it on the ground and went to work. Officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were called to the scene, and picked up the shark for disposal. According to the incident report, deputies reviewed surveillance footage from the store but the location where the shark was found is not in view. 
  • The Jacksonville Port Authority Board of Directors has agreed to part ways with its chief operating officer. Brian Taylor decided to “pursue other business opportunities,” according to an official statement released by JAXPORT on Wednesday. “I am proud of my tenure at JAXPORT and I look forward to watching their successes in the future,” Taylor said in a statement. “Together with (Florida Department of Transportation) and Governor Rick Scott, we have made great strides to ensure the Jacksonville port is increasingly competitive.” The board voted 6-to-1 on the decision to move on from Taylor and unanimously approved Eric Green, the organization’s senior director of government affairs, to acting CEO. “We look forward to working with (Taylor) in the private sector in the future,” said JAXPORT Board Chair Jim Citrano. “We have every confidence in (Green’s) ability to take our efforts to the next level…”
  • A St. Augustine Beach man has been arrested after police say he attacked a neighborhood security guard. Jake Dewerth, 19, is accused of attacking the guard inside the Sea Colony security office on Sunday night, causing significant trauma to the victim’s face. The victim was able to flee the scene and returned once he saw police arrive. Shortly after, Dewerth was found and matched the descriptions provided by the victim and witnesses. Police found signs of a violent struggle inside the security office and believe the guard was attacked with a deadly weapon – possibly an assault rifle. It is still unclear why Dewerth attacked the guard or if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the incident. WOKV will update this article as more information comes in from the St. Augustine Beach Police Department. 
  • A man with dual citizenship in the United States and Turkey has been convicted of kidnapping his own child from his estranged wife in Jacksonville then taking the child to Turkey. Salih Zeki Uces, 39, returned to the United States with the child in Dec. 2016 upon learning of a warrant out for his arrest. He was taken into custody by FBI agents at Miami International Airport and child was returned to his mother. Days before taking the child during an overnight visit in Jacksonville, Uces went through his estranged wife’s apartment, stole her passport and discovered a draft document for divorce in her email. He then flew with the child to Adana, Turkey. Federal courts records go on to show Uces, originally, had no intentions of returning to the U.S. – he signed over power of attorney to his brother and closed out his safety deposit box at a bank. Despite repeated calls from his estranged wife to return the child, Uces stayed in Turkey for several months. It wasn’t until he learned of a warrant issued for his arrest that he returned with the child to the U.S. in Nov. 2016. Uces faces up to three years in federal prison and will be sentenced in June. 
  • John Engel

    Afternoon Anchor, Producer

    John Engel is the Afternoon Anchor and Producer at WOKV and has been with the news team since Aug. 2015. Originally from Southern California, John moved to Boise, Idaho with his family and attended Boise State University. He started working in sports media and still has a love for watching, and debating about, sports.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • A little girl named Rayna is melting hearts around the globe in a short video that shows her loving encounter with a new “robot” friend. The YouTube video posted Monday, titled “Rayna meets a ‘robot,’” is just 24 seconds long, but by early Tuesday it had been viewed nearly 665,000 times. In it, the girl walked along a street and saw what she thought was a robot.  The “robot” was a discarded water heater awaiting pickup by trash collectors. >> Read more trending stories “Hi, robot,” Rayna said cheerfully, looking up at the top of the heater and into what looked like big, round eyes. “Hi, robot.” She wrapped her arms around the heater, glancing back at one point to look at the person filming her. “I wuv you, robot,” she said. “I wuv you, robot.” Rayna’s ardent love of the water heater faded fast as her attention was drawn to a new friend -- a nearby manhole cover.   Watch Rayna’s heartwarming encounter below.
  • A Florida woman accused of injecting Fix-a-Flat, cement, silicone, mineral oil and Super Glue into the buttocks of women in to try to enhance their figures was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison over a death resulting from the toxic mix, according to local media reports.   The 2012 death of Shatarka Nuby, 31, was dubbed the “toxic tush” case. O’Neal Morris, 31, served nearly a year in prison on charges of practicing medicine without a license after it was discovered she illegally injected toxic substances to enhance women's buttocks, leaving many scarred for life. >> Read more trending news Morris, who police say was born a man, but identifies as a woman, pleaded for mercy before a Broward County judge.  'I have never, ever, or would dare ever to inject, or have injected any human with any type of unknown substance, such as Super Glue, cement, Fix-a-Flat, concrete, nothing that comes from Home Depot, nothing that comes out of any hardware store,' Morris said. Related: ‘Toxic tush doctor’ facing steep prison time if convicted in death Nuby’s family members appeared in court asking for justice.  'What you took from me, that was a precious jewel,' said Nuby’s mother, Sherri Pitts. >> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here A plea deal called for a sentence of up to 15 years. The judge decided to sentence Morris to 10 years in state prison, followed by five years of probation along with restitution, local media reported.  Over her attorney’s arguments, the judge ordered Morris to serve time in a men’s prison because Florida law doesn't make exemptions for transgender inmates.
  • Three local men are among the 15 nabbed in an online child sex sting. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and five other law enforcement agencies - including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement - pitched in as the Gainesville Police Department led the way in Operation Resilient. GPD Chief Tony Jones says all the suspects made arrangements online to have sex with teenagers, but those suspects didn't know until it was too late that they were actually chatting with undercover detectives posing as the guardians of those teens. '15 men made the conscious decision to get into a vehicle and travel with the intention of having sex with a teenager,' Jones added. 'I'm proud of everyone involved in this operation as they seek to get these offenders behind bars and away from our children.' Among those arrested are 39-year-old Doe Doe (left in photo) and 22-year-old Cristian Torres-Vega (right), both from Jacksonville. The other local man arrested is 25-year-old Joshua Gillen (center) from Keystone Heights. Most of the others arrested come from Gainesville or the Alachua County area. Operation Resilient wrapped up in five days after beginning on March 15th, per GPD.
  • The news from retailers across the country this quarter has not been good.  More than two dozen stores and restaurants, including the likes of Macy's, Payless Shoes, Outback Steakhouse and Noodles and Company, have either closed locations or have announce plans to shutter stores across the country. As people choose e-commerce over shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, experts said customers can expect to see more deserted storefronts and “going out of business” signs. 'It's going to be a year of transition and a year of reckoning and a year of awakening for retailers,' said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analysis for the NPD Group. NPD Group conducts market research on consumer trends. More shoppers are eschewing retail outlets for the convenience of online shopping, made sweeter with deals from the likes of Amazon, which offers free shipping if you are an Amazon Prime member.  Amazon has seen the benefits of such features. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the company saw a 22 percent increase in revenue over the fourth quarter of 2015. U.S. shoppers spent a record high $91.7 billion online during the 2016 holiday season. While e-commerce is seen as quick and generally easy, a study conducted in 2013 by WD Partners showed that nearly 80 percent of respondents said instant gratification was what got them out of their homes and into the malls.  Here’s a list of 15 retailers that have announced store closings for 2017. American Apparel – all 110 stores closed CVS – closing 70 stores Chico – closing 120 stores Crocs – closing 160 stores Family Christian – closing all of its 240 stores  JCPenney – closing 138 stores Kmart – closing 108 stores Macy's – closing 63 stores Office Depot – closing 100 stores Payless Shoes – closing 400-500 stores Radio Shack – closing 552 stores Sears – closing 42 stores The Limited – closed 250 stores in January The Children’s Place – closing as many as 200 stores H.H. Gregg – closing 88 stores  Several restaurant chains have also announced they will be closing locations in 2017 as well. Forty “underperforming” Carrabba’s, Outback, Bonefish Grill and Flemings restaurants will be closing by the end of the year, according to the company that owns them. In 2016, chains Bob Evans, Logan’s Roadhouse, Old Country Buffet and Ruby Tuesday all announced restaurant closings.
  • A federal investigation into the 2009 disappearance of a New York teenager has led FBI agents to gator-infested woods in South Carolina. According to the Post and Courier, 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel sneaked away from her home in Rochester, New York, to spend spring break in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Drexel was last seen in security footage at a Myrtle Beach hotel on April 25, 2009.  >> Read more trending news In 2012, Drexel’s mother told a TV reporter she had learned her daughter had been “miserable” on the trip and had planned to leave anyway on the day she went missing. After years of minimal progress in the investigation, authorities received a tip from an inmate identified as Taquan Brown, alleging that he learned what happened to Drexel while visiting a so-called “stash house” in McClellanville, according to the Post and Courier.  Brown told investigators in August that Drexel was abducted, gang-raped, shot and thrown into an alligator-infested swamp. Brown also implicated then-16-year-old Timothy Taylor and his father, Shaun Taylor, in the crime, according to authorities. The FBI told the Post and Courier that “several witnesses have told us Miss Drexel’s body was placed in a pit, or gator pit, to have her body disposed of. Eaten by the gators.” The FBI is searching an area in Georgetown County, S.C., using an excavator to search a wooded area in Foxfire Court. Authorities have not provided any information on what they hope to find in the woods. >> Got a question about the news? See our explainers here No charges have been filed against Taylor, who maintains his innocence.  Investigators said Sunday that they are closer to making an arrest in the case, and are offering a $25,000 reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest.  

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