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Latest from Stephanie Brown

    Update at 7:19 am Friday: The fire is now 75% contained. Update at 3:21 pm Thursday: Nassau County Emergency Management lifting evacuation orders in the Bryceville area. Update at 1:30pm Thursday:  Florida Forestry officials say the fire is 65% contained and is now 696-acres.  Nassau County Emergency Management says it will spend the afternoon assessing the cost of the property loss.  A preliminary assessment finds two structures were destroyed, six were damaged, and 19 accessory buildings were either destroyed or severely impacted.  Nassau County Emergency Management says the official emergency shelters  set up for evacuees is the Bryceville Baptist Church at 7732 US Hwy 301 and at the First Baptist Church in Callahan. The American Red Cross is cooperating with that shelter. At a briefing early Thursday, officials said 150 people have been affected because of evacuations.    The Florida Highway Patrol says two other shelters have been established- one at Gray Gables Church, 54031 Church Road and one at Callahan First Baptist Church, 45090 Green Avenue. As of 7:15am Thursday the 400-acre fire was 65% contained,  according to the Florida Forest Service.  Shifting winds drove the fire, which the Florida Forest Service for the District says is more than 400 acres around CR 119, CR 121, and Countryside Acres.  The evacuations will remain in effect until the fire is completely contained. The Florida Forest Service Jacksonville says the fire started with someone burning paperback books, and that it is illegal to burn household garbage in Florida.  Our partner Action News Jax reports the landowner will be held responsible. Nassau County Firefighters, the Florida Forest Service, and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue are all working the scene. Facilities have been taking in animals from anyone who had to evacuate. All Paws Boarding at 8356 US Hwy 301 is sheltering dogs and cats. You’re asked to bring a crate and vaccination history if you can. The Walker Quarter Horse Farm at 14452 Normandy Blvd is taking in horses for free, but request owners bring feed, hay, and supplies.
  • Florida’s entire Congressional delegation is reviving the push to get a nuclear carrier to Naval Station Mayport. Both Senators and all 27 Representatives have signed a letter to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley to ask for funding to support the buildout that would be needed to house a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) locally. “While we understand the realities of the fiscal environment, our Navy overleverages risk to our carrier fleet by having only one CVN homeport on the Eastern seaboard,” the letter says. The letter cites a 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review which found Mayport should be CVN-capable. It further contains statements from prior Defense and Navy officials who have also supported the work.  “The Navy conducted a multi-year review process for developing CVN operational, maintenance, and support facilities and carefully weighed the strategic, operational, and environmental consequences before making its decision to bring CVN to Mayport as early as 2019. Despite these review processes, acknowledgment from senior leaders of the need for strategic dispersal, and multiple Government Accountability Office reports, this vital need is still unfulfilled,” the letter says. The authors say that strategic dispersal of CVNs is needed for national security, and that the cost to convert Mayport should not outweigh the risk to the fleet. “We appreciate your attention to this important matter and look forward to working with you to ensure the Department of Defense budget reflects the urgency of finally ensuring there is no longer a single point of failure in our eastern seaboard nuclear carrier homeporting strategy,” the letter says. Getting a carrier has long been a goal for the base, although the funding, training, and infrastructure needs have continually extended the timeline. When Naval Station Mayport was at a historically low level of ships- in large part because of the decommissioning of frigates- the Navy moved in an Amphibious Readiness Group consisting of the USS Iwo Jima, USS New York, and USS Fort McHenry. Mayport is also the East Coast homeport for the Littoral Combat Ships, which will mean a gradual increase in the number of local assets in the coming years. The letter was signed by all of the Florida delegation including: U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bill Nelson (D-FL), as well as U.S. Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Charlie Crist (D-FL), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Neal Dunn (R-FL), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Al Lawson (D-FL), Brian Mast (R-FL), Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Thomas Rooney (R-FL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Dennis Ross (R-FL), John Rutherford (R-FL), Darren Soto (D-FL), Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Ted Yoho (R-FL).
  • The Florida Elections Commission has found probable cause to believe Jacksonville Democratic State Representative Kimberly Daniels violated state Election Code through three offenses. FEC staff recommended to the Commission that there was probably cause last March, and the FEC formally heard the case February 28, 2017, and issued its finding. The allegations stem from when Daniels was a candidate seeking re-election to City Council in 2015. The complaints include that Daniels used campaign funds “to defray normal living expenses”, falsely reported or deliberately failed to include information on at least one campaign report, and made or authorized a payment prohibited by Florida statute.  The limited documentation released on the case at this point shows the complaint filed against Daniels stated she used $4,000 in campaign finances to pay for advertising in Shofar Magazine, but the advertisement was for Daniels’ ‘Demon Dictionary’, instead of for a political purpose. An article written by Daniels was also placed in the magazine, but neither spread had a political disclaimer showing that it was political advertisement. The order of probable cause says Daniels can elect to resolve the case with a consent order, request an informal hearing, or request a formal hearing.
  • We could know in less than a month who will take the next shot at redeveloping the Jacksonville Shipyards and Riverfront property. The Downtown Investment Authority Evaluation Committee met briefly Monday to formally begin its review process. Three bids have been submitted to tackle the project, and DIA CEO Aundra Wallace says those proposals have been “under lock and key” until today, so they all start on even footing. “Looks like we’re gunna have some interesting reviews coming up,” Wallace says. WOKV has spoken with developers behind each of the three proposals. Iguana Investments Florida, LLC- backed by Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, has pitched the “Shipyards”, which is mixed use with substantial green space, residential, business, retail. It also features a luxury hotel that would connect to EverBank Field and a pedestrian bridge park, modeled after New York’s High Line. Presidium Group LLC’s “Sea Glass by the Shipyards” involves starting with entertainment venues- like the USS Adams and an aquarium- to boost foot traffic, then following it with residential, hotel, business, and retail. The focal point would be a 1,000 foot Sea Glass Tower, which includes an observation deck. Wess Holdings, LLC envisions a “jobs factory” in its “Jax ONE Innovation District” bid. Backers aim to create a space for innovators to explore, test, and grow their ideas, then get connected with financial backing if the ideas are viable. While the focus of the bid is the sustainable jobs concept, other features like hotels, park space, residential area, and the USS Adams would be included as well- according to market needs. Wallace says, because he hasn’t personally reviewed the bids, he’s not yet sure which aligns best for their overall plan for Downtown, but the development vision is heavily weighted in the review process- for 45 out of 100 points on their scoresheet. Financial offering and capacity is the second factor, weighted for 35 points. Development team qualifications and experience is the final metric, for 20 points. “Making sure that not only there’s the financial capacity to do a deal, but it’s also the technical and management capacity to undertake this particular project, and making sure that the visions are in line with what we’ve set forth in our business and investment plan that the Downtown Investment Authority has approved,” Wallace says. This redevelopment push follows another attempt that started just about two years ago, with that bid specifically for the Shipyards site, while this time around the Met Park area is included as well. There were three proposals submitted two years ago, although only one from Iguana Investments Florida, LLC did all the needed paperwork and scored highly. Negotiations ultimately stalled on that proposal, although two of the key features- an amphitheater and practice field for the Jaguars- were tackled as a separate project funded by the team and the City. Wallace says, while he hasn’t reviewed the details yet, he believes this time around the bids are on more solid footing. “Looking at the body of work that all three entities have done beforehand, the capacity level seems to be there under this particular round of proposals, most certainly,” he says. With that said, he’s “highly anxious” to get the review process started so that they can make a recommendation and ultimately see negotiations begin. “Sooner that we’re able to get to some type of decision and get negotiations and start moving, you know, the better we’re off for Jacksonville,” Wallace says. Wallace, DIA Board Member Ron Moody, and Public Works Director John Pappas for the Evaluation Committee. They’ve agreed to independently score the proposals by April 12th. The Procurement Division will then average out the scores, and the rankings will be presented to the full DIA Board April 19th. Despite being in this spot before, Wallace says he’s not frustrated that the redevelopment hasn’t yet happened. He’s asking for your patience, noting that this is a large and complex property and that there are still environmental issues the City will have to address as part of these redevelopment efforts.
  • JSO now confirms that the suspect in a Westside armed bank robbery is the man who was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot after a SWAT standoff. We’ve also learned the suspect was hit by a SWAT detective’s bullet, although the injury is not believed to have been incapacitating. This complex investigation started Friday morning, when JSO was called to a Wells Fargo on San Juan because of an armed bank robbery. We were told a masked suspect showed a gun and made off with money. JSO has now released surveillance from the scene, which shows the mask was a distinctive Batman-style. Investigative leads took JSO to a home on Patrice Court. They contacted a woman in the home- now identified as the suspect’s girlfriend- and she and her four children safely evacuated, while confirming to police that an armed man was in the home. That man has now been identified as 29-year-old Terrence King. We’re told King would occasionally stay in the home, and two of the children are believed to be his. JSO was able to initially contact King, but describe his demeanor as uncooperative. He opened a door and partially stepped out, firing one shot. JSO says King went back in to the home, and when he opened the door again a short time later, a 22-year veteran detective assigned to the SWAT unit fired six shots. JSO Director of Investigations and Homeland Security Ron Lendvay now confirms one of the shots from the detective did hit King in the hip, but the Medical Examiner says the injury would not have been incapacitating. King went back in to the home and refused further contact with negotiators. Lendvay says King did reach out to some family members expressing remorse about a “bad decision” earlier in the day, and telling at least one that he intended to kill himself. When JSO got that information, they decided to breach the home. King was found dead on the floor near the door, with a gunshot to the head. JSO believes the shot was self-inflicted, although final determination by the Medical Examiner’s Office is still pending. Lendvay says they have found the mask and bank money with King. King was also wearing clothes that appear to match those worn during the robbery, and the firearm found with his body matched that description as well- and had been recently fired. Because of that, Lendvay says they’re comfortable naming King as the suspect in the bank robbery.  JSO is still investigating whether King could be responsible for another robbery at the same bank about a month ago. Detective R.L. Johnson- who fired the shots at King- is on administrative leave, per protocol.
  • Duval’s Superintendent is being considered for the top spot in Detroit Schools. As first reported by the Detroit Free Press, Dr. Nikolai Vitti is one of three finalists in the search for a Detroit Public Schools Community Superintendent. WOKV has confirmed Vitti is exploring the opportunity. “Over the years, I have been asked and recruited to consider opportunities in other school districts, charter networks, and in the private sector. I have not considered those opportunities for over four years. Most recently, I was recruited by a search firm to consider returning home to serve the City of Detroit as its superintendent,” says a statement from Vitti. He says Detroit faces challenges as a traditional public education system, and it was not something he could walk away from. “Detroit is, and will always be in my DNA. I feel a sense of responsibility to explore the opportunity to determine if there is a match between the newly elected school board and me,” he says. Vitti says, while that process continues, he remains focused on his current responsibility as Duval Superintendent. “It has been an honor to work in a district and more importantly on a team that has been recognized nationally and statewide for our work with the shift in standards and curriculum selection, innovative school programming, leadership development, community engagement through a strong communication and marketing plan, expansion of the arts, narrowing the achievement gap, supporting overage students, and improving low performing schools,” he says. School Board Member Scott Shine says seeing Vitti leave would be a loss to Duval’s public school system, and he hopes that Vitti opts to stay here. He also expressed support, though, for whatever Vitti’s ultimate decision is. “Dr. Vitti is from Detroit and still has family and many friends in that community. We talked at length about his decision and I know the idea of returning to his home city is a significant factor in his interest in Detroit Schools. I told Dr. Vitti that I support his continued employment with DCPS and welcome him to stay. But, that he has done an exceptional job with our school district and I will support him and recommend him in seeking the Superintendent position in Detroit, if that is the direction he wants to take.,” says a statement from Shine. The President of the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Trey Csar, says Vitti has helped boost this District, and it would be difficult to see him go. “On a personal level, I am happy for Dr. Vitti to potentially have the opportunity to bring that commitment and expertise to his hometown. On a professional level, I know that should he be offered and accept this position I would join city leaders, parents and public education advocates in being terribly sad to see him leave,” the statement says. The Detroit Free Press reports that candidate interviews with the finalists are next, although the timeline is unclear.
  • A shooting in Northwest Jacksonville involves a father and son. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says they were called to the scene on West 2nd Street around 5:35 PM Friday. Both adult men were in front of the home- the son had been shot in the shoulder area. The injury is not life threatening. JSO says the motive is still under investigation at this time. The father is in custody.
  • A train is the apparent cause of a series of small fires along railroad tracks in St. Johns County. St. Johns County Fire and Rescue says one fire- next to the tracks on US 1 North, about a half-mile south of Pine Island Road- is the largest. There are six overall, with the others being smaller and getting under control quickly. We're told no structures are threatened and no injuries have been reported. It appears a passing train may have accidentally shot sparks in to the grass because of an engine problem.
  • JEA and FPL are planning to shut down the St. Johns River Power Park. It’s a move the companies say will provide environmental benefits and cost savings, but one that will also mean 204 people lose their jobs. JEA says they have excess generating capacity, driven in part by a decrease in electricity consumption by JEA customers and nationwide. Closing SJRPP would mean “significant” annual operational cost savings.  “Technology has changed and electricity is able to be produced at a lower cost using natural gas and other methods,” says JEA CEO Paul McElroy. The cost savings will be used for debt reduction and capital projects.  Their carbon footprint would also decrease by an estimated 30% and the amount of nitrogen in the St. Johns River would reduce, according to JEA. McElroy says they started considering this change in 2008 because of changing environmental regulations, and as the years have progressed, the market has shown it’s the best move. “Closing the plant early results in enormous value for FPL customers - saving millions of dollars annually as well as continuing to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions for all of Florida – another major step forward in our affordable, reliable and clean energy strategy,” says a statement from FPL’s President and CEO Eric Silagy. The park is a coal-fired electric generating plant owned 80% by JEA and 20% by FPL. It was constructed in the early 1980s and started commercial production in 1987. Another factor in the decision to close the plant is that the agreement with FPL ends in the next few years. The 204 employees who work at that site have all been given notice they will be laid off effective 1/1/18.  “They have created and operated a world class facility here in Jacksonville, FL and it continues- when it runs and produces it runs at world class standards and rates of production,” McElroy says. JEA says outplacement and training services have been immediately set up on site. The SJRPP employees will be given hiring priority at JEA and will have the opportunity to apply at FPL as well. JEA further says separation benefit packages are being provided. “We’re gunna pull all the stops out to get everyone placed over the next nine to really eighteen months in a real productive and good situation for them in the future,” McElroy says. McElroy says decommissioning will take a few years, including the time needed to dismantle the plant and perform the needed environmental mitigation. That will come with a significant cost, but McElroy says they believe they have that covered. When the decommissioning is done, he says the land reverts to JEA. McElroy says they want to maintain control of the land, noting that there is a wide variety of geography and uses within the site. “We’ll get to that point and evaluate the best use for our community,” he says. The plan right now is to decommission the plant in early 2018. Final approval is still needed from JEA’s Board of Directors and other regulatory agencies.
  • Jacksonville Police have surrounded a home on Patrice Court, after a person inside confronted officers while armed. JSO says they were following up on the investigation in to an armed robbery at a Wells Fargo earlier today. Police won’t say whether the suspect in the robbery is the person in the home. We’re told that suspect confronted JSO while armed when police arrived at the scene, but no shots were fired at that time. Since then, JSO says they have had some contact with the suspect, but so far they have not been able to get him out of the home. There have been no confirmed shots fired through this incident. JSO says they have not confirmed any hostages in the home either. Some homes on Ricker Road between Melvin Road and Sharbeth Drive have been evacuated as police continue the investigation. We’re told the road will remain blocked until the situation is resolved. A Wells Fargo on San Juan was robbed around 10:55 AM by an armed suspect who was wearing a dark colored hoodie and mask. The suspect is described as a slim built man. The teller gave the suspect money, and nobody was hurt in the robbery incident. This is a developing story that will be updated in to the afternoon.
  • Stephanie Brown

    Assistant News Director

    Stephanie Brown is the WOKV Assistant Director of News and Afternoon Reporter. She guides the direction of WOKV’s news content, frequently contributes to social and digital platforms, and is a leading voice on-air. Stephanie has been with the team full-time since May 2012, which is when she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in telecommunication and political science. When she’s not enterprising story ideas or digging in to an investigation, she’s likely cooking or enjoying downtime with her dog.

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  • 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.
  • A couple has been indicted on accusations that they murdered their deaf teenage son and then burned down their house to cover up the crime, the Associated Press reported. >> Read more trending news  According to the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office in New York, Ernest F. Franklin II, 35, and his wife, Heather Franklin, 33, of Guilford, New York, were charged with second-degree murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence. The two were indicted Friday on charges of second-degree murder in the death of their adopted son, 16-year-old Jeffrey Franklin, People magazine reported. Following an investigation of a fire on March 1 at the family’s 1,300-square-foot home, the couple was arrested. Investigators believe they set fire to their home to cover up the killing of their son. An autopsy determined he died prior to the fire, according to the sheriff’s office. Local law authorities have not said how or when the boy was killed. The Franklins got married in 2011 and adopted Jeffrey six or seven years ago, the sheriff’s office said. According to People magazine, Ernest is an Iraq War veteran. Heather wrote in posts on her Facebook page that she is pregnant. The Franklins are being held without bail. They entered a plea of not guilty. “People are asking themselves, ‘How could this happen?'” Chenango County Sheriff Ernest Cutting Jr. told People magazine. “Certainly for the public here, it’s a mix of anger and frustration and disappointment.” Just days before Heather Franklin was arrested, she posted an update on her Facebook page about how much she missed her son, who she called JR. She also informed friends and family that she and her husband had added their “needs” and “wants” to the CheckedTwice.com Family Gift Registry because they lost everything in the fire. A GoFundMe page was also established, but it has been taken down. The Associated Press reported that police who responded to a 911 call about 1:15 a.m. on March 1 found the Franklin’s house, located about an hour away from Syracuse, engulfed in flames. Jeffrey was inside and unable to escape the fire, according to the sheriff’s office. Authorities initially said the cause of the fire appeared to be a wood stove, the residence’s main heating source. “People are wondering how anybody could do something so brutal to a developmentally disabled and handicapped 16-year-old boy,” Cutting told People. “There are a lot of people who would have taken him. There are organizations that would have taken care of him. Why resort to that? … It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy.”
  • North Carolina police said they have found the bodies of two missing children Saturday morning in Hoke County. >> Read more trending news  Fayetteville police had been searching for 2-year-old Serenity and 4-day-old Genesis Freeman overnight Friday. They were in their father's custody when they disappeared and he reportedly refused to tell police where the children were. Tillman Freeman, 30, was first charged with two counts of child abuse and child neglect.  When their bodies were found in a wooded area off of Highway 211, two counts of first-degree murder were added to those charges. The children's mother was in the hospital at the time the children went missing for an unrelated reason.
  • A residential neighborhood on the westside, near Timquana Park and Timuquana Country Club was the scene of a police and Hazmat investigation Saturday morning.  Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officers responded to Timuquana Rd. because a vehicle was left parked in front of a house with a sign that read, “Danger, stay back hazmat needed”. JSO says there was a strong chemical smell around the car.  JFRD Hazmat was called to the neighborhood and advised citizens to shelter inside their homes.  No evacuation was ordered. One person was found dead inside the car.  JSO Homicide Detectives are now investigating.  

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