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Latest from John Engel

    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. 
  • A westside man shoots an intruder who was inside his home.  According to JSO, the man returned Tuesday afternoon to his Woodstock home on Prospect Street to find someone inside.  The homeowner shot the intruder.   JSO says it's not clear what the man was doing inside the home, but police say the suspect and the homeowner do not know each other. Charges are pending against the suspect and Jacksonville police do not believe charges will be brought against the homeowner. According to JSO, the subject at the hospital is a black male, late teens to early 20's. 
  • 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

  • After a Republican push in Congress on a GOP health care overhaul bill melted down last Friday, there are not many opportunities for President Donald Trump to turn things around on Capitol Hill right now, as with little of his agenda in the pipeline, it is possible that the President may have to waits months for a significant legislative achievement to make it through the Congress. Here is where things stand on Capitol Hill for the Trump Administration. 1. Lots of campaign promises, but little ready for action. With the GOP health care bill seemingly now off the agenda in the Congress, where does President Trump go for a much-needed legislative victory? The answer reminds me of what I said about health care and Republicans for the last six years – they have lots of ideas, but there is no GOP consensus on what to do, or how to get it through the House and Senate. That description could apply to a number of big issues, like tax reform, budget cuts, entitlement reform, balancing the budget, building new roads and bridges, and many other issues. For a variety of reasons, there are no bills ready for action on anything major at this point on the Trump Agenda, as Mr. Trump is definitely behind where things stood eight years ago legislatively. Laws signed by Obama, at this point in 2009 · Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act· SCHIP reauthorization· DTV Delay Act· Stimulus bill· Omnibus — Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) March 26, 2017 2. The one bright spot for Trump – Neil Gorsuch. Let’s not ignore the one possible victory in the short term for the President, his choice for U.S. Supreme Court. Neil Gorsuch was untouched in last week’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his final approval is not a slam dunk, as Democrats are threatening to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. Still, it’s not clear that all Democrats will go along with that, and Gorsuch may get approved after an Easter break on Capitol Hill. That would certainly be a big victory for Mr. Trump and Republicans – but it may be about the only major item they will celebrate on any time soon in the halls of Congress. 'Neal Gorsuch. Neal Gorsuch. Neal Gorsuch.' My closing comment on @MeetThePress 30 years from now, God willing, Justice Gorsuch will still b — Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) March 26, 2017 3. Tax reform unlikely to produce a quick victory for Trump. While the President has made clear he wants to move on from the GOP health care debacle to tax reform, that is not an item that will fly through Congress. If you think health care reform is tricky, just wait until you get every corporate lobbyist imaginable in Washington, D.C. involved in a major tax reform effort. The last time the Congress approved a tax reform bill, it took a little over a year to get it through the House and Senate and to the President’s desk – that was the Tax Reform Act of 1986. There is a reason they call the lobby outside of the House Ways and Means Committee, “Gucci Gulch” – it will be packed with very well paid lobbyists of all stripes. Attention members of Gucci Gulch https://t.co/Oy3RQKTxjp — Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) March 24, 2017 4. A U.S.-Mexican border wall is no slam dunk. President Trump has asked the Congress to approve $3.1 billion so his administration can jump start work on a wall along the Mexican border, but that’s no gimme on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump wants some of that money approved as part of budget plan for the rest of the current fiscal year; a temporary budget runs out on April 28. While that is just over a month from now, the Congress will soon be gone on a two week Easter break, and there are some fears a mini-budget showdown next month could even lead to a government shutdown. One thing that may rile up some Republicans is the need to use eminent domain to get the land along the border to build the wall. Trump likes eminent domain – many in the GOP do not. Report: Texans on Mexico border receive letters threatening eminent domain for Trump's wall. https://t.co/g0Aw80wqH7 — Houston Chronicle (@HoustonChron) March 17, 2017 5. What about the Trump Infrastructure plan? Through the campaign, there was a lot of talk by the President about a $1 trillion package for infrastructure spending – not all from the government, but a public-private partnership to deliver construction jobs on news roads, bridges and more. But over two months into his administration, the White House has not yet delivered a plan, and Congress is not ready with any bill as of yet. The odd part of this issue is obvious, as Republicans spent the last eight years resisting much smaller infrastructure plans offered by President Obama, mainly on the grounds of the cost. This is another major issue that’s not ready for a vote in either the House or Senate. Which committees/members of Congress are working on or drafting infrastructure legislation? — Sydney (@Sydney843) March 26, 2017 6. Trump budget likely to bring even more Capitol Hill intrigue. If you enjoyed the ebb and flow of the internal Republican troubles over health care, just wait until we get to the budget presented by President Trump. That plan is asking for $54 billion more in defense spending next year, offset by $54 billion in budget cuts from non-defense programs. Just as the GOP was divided into different camps on health care, the same is true on the budget. Some Republican lawmakers are aghast at the lack of effort by the White House to deal with the budget deficit. Others want much more in defense spending. There are many ready to resist various cuts put forward by the White House as well. Some of the specific Trump cuts that would be felt in local communities are already drawing fire, with little push back from the White House. Here’s a perfect example of budget concern coming from a red state: Trump’s budget cuts could affect Topeka, Billard airport operationshttps://t.co/hueNlp384X — CJOnline (@CJOnline) March 26, 2017 7. GOP finger pointing won’t help produce legislative wins. President Trump on Sunday used Twitter to lash out at conservative Republicans in Congress and outside conservative groups that were opposed to the health care reform bill that ran aground last week, as he singled out the Freedom Caucus for criticism. “Mark Meadows betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Democrats to protect Obamacare,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), again going after the head of the House Freedom Caucus. Not only is the country divided politically, but so too is the Republican Party in Congress, and that was very obvious in the last week. If the majority party isn’t united in Washington, that makes life difficult when it comes to legislating. This tweet shows you some Republicans aren’t scared of crossing the President one bit. Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare! — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2017 I take it GOP leadership still hasn't told Trump the PP provision was a 1yr bait and switch? See page 23 of CBO https://t.co/O9cGKQeqzb https://t.co/yKVPG1UvHe — Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) March 26, 2017 8. It’s not just the Freedom Caucus that Trump is mad at. As more stories leak out about the President’s lobbying efforts on health care, it’s becoming apparent that he gave an earful to some Republican moderates as well. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) acknowledged that he had been on the receiving end of one Trump jab, as the President reportedly told Dent that he and other opponents of the health care bill were “destroying America,” as the New York Times reported that Trump told Dent his position would endanger future efforts in Congress at tax reform. One had Trump wondering aloud, “Why am I even talking to you?” when Dent said he would be a “No” vote. 9. Whither the Freedom Caucus? Whether they’ve been called the Freedom Caucus or Tea Party Republicans, those more conservative Republicans elected in the GOP since the 2010 elections have been very straightforward in the amount of change that they want to see in Congress and in the federal government – a lot. But the problem is, they’ve done little more than just be the block of votes that says, “No” – they have not been a group that’s bubbling over with legislative ideas, they have not been on the floor leading the charge on budget cuts and other government reform proposals. This latest battle over health care prompted one Republican to quit the Freedom Caucus on Sunday – Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) made clear that he wants to see legislative achievements in the future. Thx for your leadership @realDonaldTrump @SpeakerRyan Some only want to be the party of 'no' & would've voted against the 10 commandments — Ted Poe (@JudgeTedPoe) March 24, 2017 10. So, where does that leave Trump? Don’t buy into the stories that say everything is collapsing for President Trump. But don’t go whistling by the graveyard either. I wrote five weeks ago that the GOP Congress had nothing really in the legislative pipeline for Trump to sign, other than some bills that repealed individual rules from the Obama Administration. While those certainly fit into what Trump promised during the campaign, most of that is not tip-of-the-tongue kind of stuff for politicians back home. But it’s all that Republicans have right now in terms of action in Congress. Trump seemed to understand that, as he made it part of his pitch to reluctant Republicans on health care. And for now, there seem to be few opportunities for legislative success in the near term for Mr. Trump. Momentum is important in sports. And it is important in politics as well. 'Trump didn't offer any arguments for why they should support the legislation other than to give him his first legislative victory' — DennisM (@newsagg) March 25, 2017
  • One person was killed and 15 injured, at least two critically, when gunfire erupted early Sunday morning at a hip-hop nightclub in Cincinnati,Ohio. Police are searching for multiple shooters, and have not made any arrests, yet. >> Read more trending news The man who was killed at the Cameo Night Club has been identified as 27-year-old Obryan Spikes. Cincinnati Police Chief Eliot Isaac said at approximately 1:30 a.m. the emergency dispatch center began receiving calls that people had been shot at the club. A dispute erupted and several people opened fire inside the club, Isaac said. Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley asked for prayers for those injured or killed. Authorities are asking for the public’s help in identifying the shooters. The FBI and ATF are assisting in the investigation. >> Click here or scroll down for the latest
  • Alex Jones on Friday apologized to the owner of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria for spreading the fake story last year that linked the restaurant to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and human trafficking. Jones, as the Austin, Texas-based host of Infowars.com, has a long history of pushing wild and false conspiracy theories, such as claiming that the U.S. government perpetrated the 9/11 attacks or the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, was a hoax. But in a rare backtracking mea culpa, Jones apologized for his role in promoting the baseless “Pizzagate” story that went viral among right-wing bloggers and media sites during the 2016 presidential campaign. >> Watch the clip here The gist of the fake story accused Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign chairman, John Podesta, of running a child sex abuse ring through the Comet Ping Pong restaurant owned by James Alefantis. Podesta’s comments about the pizzeria — made in Democratic Party emails exposed by WikiLeaks — became fodder for fake news web portals as well as popular user-generated content sites like Reddit and 4chan. Jones, in a statement he read aloud for his online audience, tried to put some distance between himself and the fake story and blamed “scores of media outlets,” “third-party accounts of alleged activities” and “accounts of (Infowars) reporters who are no longer with us” for the “incorrect narrative” he discussed several times on his program. >> Read more trending news “In our commentary about what had become known as Pizzagate, I made comments about Mr. Alefantis that in hindsight I regret, and for which I apologize to him,” Jones said. In language that was clearly sculpted by a legal mind hoping to avoid possible litigation, Jones added: “To my knowledge today, neither Mr. Alefantis nor his restaurant Comet Ping Pong, were involved in any human trafficking as was part of the theories about Pizzagate.” For many people, the Pizzagate conspiracy theory became part of the mainstream political discussion only in December, after 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch of North Carolina reportedly brought a gun into a Comet Ping Pong packed with customers, and pointed it at an employee in hopes of finding proof of “Pizzagate.” Welch surrendered to police when he found no evidence that children were being harbored there, D.C. police said at the time. He pleaded guilty to weapons and assault charges Friday, CNN reported.
  • For the second time in less than 24 hours, police have swarmed the Las Vegas Strip after at least one person was killed in a shooting near the Cosmopolitan hotel and casino. >> Related: Burglary at Bellagio Hotel and Casino prompts lockdown on Vegas strip Police said Saturday afternoon that the situation was not an active shooter situation.  The suspect peacefully surrendered around 6 p.m., according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. >> Read more trending news Around 11:30 a.m. Las Vegas police reported that they were investigating a shooting that occurred on South Las Vegas Boulevard. Authorities believed an individual who was on a bus that was traveling on the strip is responsible for the shooting. Police closed portions of the strip, and set up a staging area and a barricade. Guests at the Cosmopolitan resort were evacuated. Shortly after 11 a.m., KSNV reported that at least one victim of a shooting had been transported to University Medical Center trauma in unknown condition. At 1 p.m. Saturday, authorities reported a second victim had been killed. According to USA Today, police evacuated the nearby Cosmopolitan hotel and casino shortly after 1 p.m. “The shooting incident happened on the bus,” said Larry Hadfield, a spokesman with Las Vegas Metro police. “We had one single shooting incident with two victims. Both were transported to the trauma center and one is deceased.” Hadfield said police were negotiating with the suspect Saturday afternoon in an effort to take him into custody, USA Today reported. This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 
  • Las Vegas police are investigating a burglary at a retail store in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino after an incident that occurred overnight Friday, The Associated Press reported.  >> Read more trending news Police said Saturday they believe at least three people entered the store. It was not immediately clear what items were stolen. The store was closed at the time of the burglary.  Authorities said the suspects broke into a high-end jewelry and watch store, where they may have used sledgehammers to break into the shop's jewelry cases. A witness said she saw an armed burglar wearing a pig mask near a Rolex store. Authorities said they are reviewing surveillance tape, where they saw multiple suspects wearing “character masks,” ABC News reported. According to ABC News, the Bellagio was on lockdown for approximately a half-hour after the incident. Police initially thought at least one of the theives may have fired gunshots during the burglary, but later said they believed the sound of the sledgehammers breaking the jewelry cases may have been confused for gunshots. Guests fled the hotel and casino in the midst of the incident. No one was injured.  Police have taken one suspect into custody.  Portions of the Bellagio were closed Saturday as police continue to investigate.

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