Coronavirus: :

What You Need to Know

What's Closed:

Updated List of Northeast Florida Closures, Cancellations, and Postponed Events

On Air Now

Listen Now

Weather

cloudy-day
63°
Sunny
H 95° L 69°
  • cloudy-day
    63°
    Current Conditions
    Sunny. H 95° L 69°
  • clear-day
    86°
    Afternoon
    Sunny. H 95° L 69°
  • clear-day
    91°
    Evening
    Sunny. H 95° L 69°
Listen
Pause
Error

The latest top stories

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

The latest traffic report

00:00 | 00:00

Listen
Pause
Error

The latest forecast

00:00 | 00:00

Local
'We all owe it to the El Faro 33 to learn what happened'
Close

'We all owe it to the El Faro 33 to learn what happened'

'We all owe it to the El Faro 33 to learn what happened'
Photo Credit: Stephanie Brown
Crew families places 33 black ribbons at the front of the hearing room on the final day of the public portion of the El Faro sinking Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation

'We all owe it to the El Faro 33 to learn what happened'

33 black ribbons- one for each of the lives lost with the sinking of El Faro.

It’s been sixteen months since the ship went down in Hurricane Joaquin, while transiting from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. All 33 on board are presumed dead, although only one body was located, and none were recovered.

A plaque not sits on the ship’s wreckage on the ocean floor to honor the lives lost, but for many families, the best tribute would be answers and change.

GALLERY: Tributes to El Faro's crew

Friday marked the end of the third and final two-week hearing session of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. 22 witnesses testified during this phase, several of who had given prior testimony, but were called back to add more information and context, especially with the recovery of the ship’s Voyage Data Recorder.

It took three separate missions led by the NTSB to locate and ultimately recover the VDR, or black box. The NTSB invited the MBI and a few select others- including some from El Faro’s owner and operator- to listen and help with their transcription. We’re told the transcript is the longest ever assembled by the NTSB, although the audio itself will not be released. Conversations from the black box were frequently referenced through this final hearing session, raising questions about the safety culture, voyage planning, engine room problems, and the sequence of flooding.

“It’s going to help us really tighten up on some of the facts that we would have had to speculate on, certainly if we hadn’t had it. And it also helped us pursue several leads that we wanted to, since we had the VDR and the transcript in hand, that we could follow on this session,” says MBI Chair Captain Jason Neubauer.

From listening to the VDR himself, Neubauer says his resolve as an investigator was strengthened.

“The crew tried as hard as they could, and there were definitely heroic actions to try to save other members and the ship itself,” he says.

While the NTSB participated in the MBI public hearing sessions in order to avoid duplicating some key parts of the investigation, they’re conducting their own investigation and will issue findings independent from the Board.

FULL COVERAGE: NTSB Factual Reports on the El Faro sinking

Five witnesses who were on the schedule for this hearing session were ultimately removed, because of time constraints. We’re told the Board selected which witnesses to remove based on the information they anticipated getting from that witness, and their ability to get similar information from someone else who may also be able to speak to other topics. For those witnesses, the MBI is now limited to only written documentation, like emails, which they’ve uncovered through their investigation, but Neubauer says he’s confident the witnesses they called have given the information they needed.

The NTSB has conducted separate interviews with a range of witnesses and interested parties, and while transcripts of those interviews have been made public, the MBI will not be using them because the “Parties in Interest” in their investigation weren’t able to be involved in the NTSB questioning.  TOTE Inc, the American Bureau of Shipping, Herbert Engineering, and the widow of El Faro Captain Michael Davidson were all named PII’s to the MBI, meaning the Board believed they would be able to provide valuable information to their work. It also meant those parties were able to question witnesses through the hearing sessions.

FULL COVERAGE: El Faro sinking

Families of the fallen crew are anxiously awaiting the end result of this exhaustive process, hoping that there is real industry change that comes as a result.

One of the crew families wanted to honor the crew through placing a plaque on the wreckage. With the support of many of the other families involved, a plaque was commissioned, and the plaque was able to be dropped on to the wreckage during the voyage to recover the VDR.

“This plaque was placed on this site August 2016 to honor the crew of the El Faro who were lost at sea during Hurricane Joaquin October 1, 2015,” the plaque reads.

The family involved emphasized that the plaque would not have been placed if it had at all compromised the VDR recovery, also stressing that it is to honor the crew, not to mourn or memorialize them.

Through the hearing sessions, some of the crew families have paid tribute in other ways. During the second session, one family member brought in a hand-painted anchor that had all 33 names on it, sitting the anchor in the front row. She made them for all of the families.

Others have donned tribute shirts, which include a prayer on the back and the inscription “Lost But Not Forgotten”. One family set up a foundation to help others enduring a tragedy, while another is working to organize and initiate industry change.

Through this final session, photos of some of the fallen crew have sat in the front row of the hearing room. The line of photos included a special dedication to the five members of the Polish riding crew who were on board, as well as a helmet of one of the crew members, which had washed ashore in Ormond Beach.

GALLERY: Crew families pay tribute through third MBI session

On the final day, instead of a row of photos, two and a half rows sat with black ribbons. Another black ribbon wrapped around the edge of the seating section, and front row center sat a bouquet of flowers and a plaque that says “In Loving Memory Of Those Forever In Our Hearts”.

Neubauer says seeing the emotional toll of the sinking is a driver for their work. He also credits the families and public for giving them information that helped branch out their investigation.

“It definitely led us to new witnesses and information that we probably would not have obtained if we hadn’t tried to put the reach out to get that information,” he says.

At the conclusion of the testimony, all of the involved parties were given the opportunity to make a statement. WOKV has transcribed those statements, so you can read them in full below.

After his closing statement, Neubauer called for a 33 second moment of silence to honor the lives lost in the sinking. As the room rose and bowed their heads, the names of the mariners who were on board were projected on to a screen. Once the session concluded, the families gathered in prayer.

VIDEO: El Faro crew families gather in prayer

It’s unclear at this time how long it will take either the MBI or the NTSB to issue their separate findings.

“It’s going to take as long as it takes to get it right,” Neubauer says.

The MBI will issue its report to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, who will ultimately issue the final findings. Neubauer says his chain of command and the Commandant have been closely following their work.

He couldn’t speak to specifics at this point, but says there are clearly multiple factors that contributed to what happened.

“I definitely see recommendations coming as the result of this investigation, the process now is just to identify exactly what we need to do,” he says.

In fact, he says there have already been industry changes. ABS confirms they have been continually working on improvements to the Alternate Compliance Program- the inspection program over El Faro and other commercial vessels. Neubauer says the Coast Guard has also been working on improvements on their end of the program. He also believes others in the maritime industry have been closely watching these proceedings, and continually looking for opportunities for change, even before the final reports are issued.

Closing statements

William Bennett, who represented Theresa Davidson- the wife of El Faro Captain Michael Davidson- read a statement on her behalf.

“I offer my condolences to the families of the crew members on the El Faro, which was lost on Oct 1, 2015. My daughters and I know the pain you feel, as do Michael’s siblings and parents. I want to thank the Coast Guard and the NTSB for their hard work and their dedication in investigating the circumstances surrounding the loss of the El Faro. I also want to thank the ABS, Herbert Engineering, and TOTE for cooperating with the investigation. It gives me comfort that those charged with conducting this investigation will continue to work to identify errors for future improvement in order to strengthen the safety of those who spend their lives at sea. This investigation has uncovered many facts that were unknown before the Board was established. One of the most significant facts we learned was the National Hurricane Center’s forecast of Hurricane Joaquin was one of the worst in history and weather data sent to the vessel was inaccurate. Through the course of this investigation, you learned a little bit about who Michael was as a ship’s Captain. Crew members- both licensed and unlicensed- who sailed with Michael described him as meticulous, concerned for safety, caring for the welfare of his crew, and a true professional. But Michael was much more than a ship’s Captain. He was a son, an older brother, a terrific father of two daughters, and an amazing husband. And if you really want to know who Michael was at his core, you only need  to read the last pages of the VDR. He willingly gave up the opportunity to fight for his own survival because he refused to leave a crew member behind. Some were surprised that Michael made that choice, I was not. Sincerely Theresa Davidson.”

Bennett then added his own statement.

“On a personal note, to the family members for their kind words to me- the dignity and grace that you’ve shown is absolutely heartwarming, and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life. And for Theresa, who is listening on the phone, it’s been an honor to represent your husband here, thank you.”

On behalf of TOTE, who’s companies owned and operated El Faro, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico President Tim Nolan addressed the room.

“On Oct 1, 2015, we unfortunately lost the El Faro and her crew. 33 families were directly impacted, the TOTE organization, and the whole maritime industry. I would like to again extend our sincere and heartfelt condolences to each one of the families and their loved ones of the El Faro crew. We will never truly know the pain and loss that you have gone through. I do know how deep it has impacted our organization and the maritime industry. Please know your families will forever be in our memories. Their names are immortalized on the walls at the AMO and the SIU, as well as at their respective academies, and on the monument at the El Faro Memorial Park. They’ll forever be in our heart, and they’ll never be forgotten. Over the past 16 months I’ve gotten to know many of you. We’ve shared some hugs, we’ve shared some laughs, we’ve shared some tears, and we’ve even shared a few meals. One thing I can say- I’m amazed at your strength and your courage. You’ve truly served as an inspiration to me, and I can say to the TOTE organization as well. I would like to thank Captain Neubauer and the US Coast Guard, Mr. Young and the NTSB, and everyone else who’s been involved in the Marine Board of Investigation. I know you’ve invested countless hours in to this process to truly understand what happened and to provide answers to the families, to TOTE, and to the rest of the industry. We all owe it to the El Faro 33 to learn what happened and to share these learnings with the maritime community. We are aware this is one of the largest Marine Boards in relation to the loss of a vessel and a crew, and for that, we truly thank you. Your efforts and commitments are what I would say are miraculous. You located the El Faro, you located its VDR, and you retrieved the VDR. I don’t know if a VDR has ever been retrieved at such depths before. And not only did you retrieve the VDR, but you extracted valuable data from the VDR that confirmed what many of us already knew. We knew that it was a truly brave crew and experienced crew and one that was there to help one another. And they fought for the safety of the vessel until the end. They will forever be true heroes. We look forward to your completed report, and the learnings we can all take from it. The work of this Board will be a lasting tribute to the El Faro 33. And to the families, may God bless you, and you will always be in my heart.”

The American Bureau of Shipping, who surveyed El Faro under the Alternate Compliance Program and served as her class society, was represented by Gerald White.

“Every employee in the company, from the Chairman and CEO, to the surveyors and engineers, remain saddened by the loss of El Faro’s crew. It’s a devastating loss to the families and the entire maritime community. On a personal level, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of the family members here today. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns. In addition, some of you have met or spoken with Lou O’Donnell the Assistant Chief Surveyor; Tom Gruber, the head of the Stability Group; Dan Croninand Suresh Pisini from the Structures Group; as well as the individual surveyors who perform surveys aboard the vessel in Jacksonville and Puerto Rico. I wish to convey that these representatives of ABS are dedicated to making sure that this investigation by the MBI and the NTSB is both accurate and thorough. To the extent that questions have been raised by family members concerning what ABS does and what its role is aboard the El Faro, we sought to address that. I hope that our explanations and the presentation of our witnesses satisfied your questions and concerns, thank you.”

Herbert Engineering Corporation President Spencer Schilling was not present for the final week of the hearing session, but submitted a statement, which was read by the MBI Chair.

“Herbert Engineering appreciates the opportunity to have been of assistance to the MBI hearings. We look forward to continuing our discussions with Dr. Stettler regarding the MSC report. Of course, we remain available to respond to any post hearing requests from the MBI.”

The investigators themselves also had closing statements. First was NTSB Investigator-in-Charge Brian Young.

“On behalf of the entire NTSB, especially the team conducting this investigation, I want to extend our deepest condolences to the families that have lost the brave loved ones in this tragic accident. We would like to thank Captain Neubauer and the Coast Guard for including our agency in these hearings, and for their exceptional cooperation. We appreciate and want to extend our gratitude to the parties to this investigation for their continued support throughout the last 16 months by providing valuable information, hundreds of documents, technical reviews, granting us access to El Yunque, and supporting our investigation while continuing their daily functions at their respective companies and agencies. We want to thank everybody involved in assisting us to locate and recover the VDR, as it has been instrumental in this investigation. At a future date, a separate report of the NTSB findings will be issued, and it will include our official determination for the probable cause of this accident. We will continue to collect evidence, develop findings, conduct analysis, and issue recommendations based on all the facts developed throughout this investigation. In closing, I would like all the family members, especially all those who have been here day after day over the course of these six weeks of hearings, to know how much this accident has personally affected every single one of us on our team, as many of us have spent decades at sea. Seeing you all here every day demonstrates your dedication to your loved ones and to each other and it further empowers us to ensure that we are doing everything to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring in the future. Thank you all.”

And MBI Chair Captain Jason Neubauer closed the proceedings with his statement.

“Today, the MBI and NTSB investigations are transitioning to the analysis phase. Although there’s always a chance that a short hearing session could be convened if new witnesses are identified as the report is being written, I believe we have gathered the factual evidence necessary to proceed with our analysis. However, the MBI will continue to collect and review any evidence submitted in the future, including submissions to the elfaro@uscg.mil email address. Gathering the evidence over the last 16 months was challenging, due to the wide scope of the investigation. I’d like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank the parties in interest, government agencies, maritime organizations, company representatives, merchant mariners, and individual witnesses who dedicated their time and resources to this monumental endeavor. The collective expertise of those involved in the process has helped to clarify numerous technical and regulatory matters that the maritime industry grapples with on a daily basis. On behalf of the entire Board, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the friends, shipmates, and families of the mariners who were lost at sea during this accident. It has been difficult to watch and listen as the struggle to come to terms with this tragedy continues on a daily basis, especially here in the hearing room it is very visible. But it’s also important for investigators to observe the emotional toll, as it strengthens our resolve, daily. I’ve also been personally inspired by the solidarity and the selfless spirit which has been clearly displayed throughout the MBI process by those impacted by this incident. Your feedback and suggestions have aided the overall investigation, and your commitment to preventing a similar tragedy in the future is noble and appreciated. In closing, I want to emphasize that the members of the MBI are conducting the investigation with a profound sense of duty, to identify the incident’s causes and push for any needed changes to enhance maritime safety. Even though the public side of this investigation is coming to an end, please rest assured that we will work to continue in earnest as a report is drafted and the recommendations are generated. In the interim, I’m confident that conducting the proceedings in a public forum and making them available on the internet, has helped to raise important safety issues that are actively being identified and addressed around the world as we speak today.”

Read More

The Latest News Headlines

  • More than 602,000 people worldwide -- including nearly 105,000 people in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. Officials are attempting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. as hospitals brace for unprecedented patient surges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Saturday, March 28, continue below: Japanese PM warms of ‘explosive spread’ of coronavirus threatening urban hubs Update 7:20 a.m. EDT March 28: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a stern warning during a Saturday news conference, urging citizens to prepare for a “long-term battle” as the novel coronavirus threatens an “explosive spread” across the country. The Washington Post, citing Japanese media coverage of the news conference, reported Abe said cases of unknown origin are spiking, especially in the urban hubs of Tokyo and Osaka. “An uncontrollable chain of infection could lead to explosive spread somewhere,” he said. Abe’s comments came one day after Japan recorded its largest single-day spike in new cases of 123, bringing the nationwide total to 1,499 and 49 deaths. Nearly half of those newest cases were detected in Tokyo. New coronavirus cases spike in South Korea following steady decline Update 5:13 a.m. EDT March 28: Following a week of significantly decreased volume, South Korea reported a spike of 146 new coronavirus infections on Saturday. According to the nation’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the new cases bring South Korea’s total infections to 9,478, but Friday’s uptick stood in stark contrast to the fewer than 105 cases reported each day for the past week. On a more positive note, the country’s CDC confirmed only about 4,500 coronavirus patients remain isolated for treatment, while more than 4,800 patients have been deemed recovered and discharged from isolation. Italy’s coronavirus cases surpass those in China Update 5:07 a.m. EDT March 28: The number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Italy has reached 86,498, making it the second nation in as many days to surpass China’s total of 81,946. The United States eclipsed China’s infection total on Thursday – and currently reports slightly under 105,000 confirmed cases – but Italy’s death toll continues to climb as the outbreak ravages Europe.  Health officials confirmed 969 virus-related deaths in Italy on Friday, alone, making it the largest single-day death toll recorded by an country since the pandemic began. To date, the nation has reported a total of 9,134 fatalities, followed by Spain with 5,138 deaths and China with 3,295. U.S. Navy locks down Yokosuka base after sailors test positive for coronavirus Update 3:31 a.m. EDT March 28: The U.S. Navy has ordered a lockdown of its Yokosuka base after recording its second and third cases of novel coronavirus on Friday. The strategic Pacific base houses the Seventh Fleet. In a video posted to Facebook, Yokosuka Capt. Rich Jarrett encouraged residents on base to remain in their quarters “maximum extent possible.” “This is not a time to do lawn maintenance, take the dog for a long walk or go for a run. Time outdoors should be for necessities only and should be conducted as quickly as possible,” Jarrett posted in a Saturday morning update. Ginnie Mae poised to ease mortgage firms’ coronavirus fallout Update 3:18 a.m. EDT March 28: Mortgage firms are bracing for the crunch when borrowers begin falling behind on their payments, and Ginnie Mae sits poised to assist them in weathering the financial fallout of he novel coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal reported. Ginnie Mae, which already guarantees more than $2 trillion of mortgage-backed securities, told the Journal late Friday it will help companies such as Quicken Loans Inc. and Mr. Cooper Group Inc. with their anticipated cashflow interruptions. The agency will leverage a program typically reserved for natural disaster response. Read more here. Duke University develops N95 mask decontamination method to assist coronavirus fight Update 3:03 a.m. EDT March 28: Duke University researchers in North Carolina have developed a method for cleaning used N95 respirator masks, CNN reported. By Friday night, Duke’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory team had already decontaminated hundreds of used N95 respirators without damaging them, so they can be re-worn several times, the network reported. More importantly, the researchers published their decontamination protocol, encouraging other medical centers and research facilities to follow suit. Specifically, the method uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide to kill microbial contaminants, CNN reported. Read more here. Trump issues order allowing Pentagon to reactivate former troops for coronavirus response Update 2:40 a.m. EDT March 28: U.S. President Donald Trump issued an order late Friday allowing the Pentagon to return certain troops to active duty in response to the mounting coronavirus crisis, The Washington Post reported. According to the Post, the order allows for the reactivation of former U.S. troops and members of the National Guard and Reserve to bolster the military’s ongoing efforts to help contain the virus’ spread. “Generally, these members will be persons in Headquarters units and persons with high demand medical capabilities whose call-up would not adversely affect their civilian communities,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said in a statement released early Saturday morning. Read more here. MLB, players strike deal should coronavirus cancel 2020 baseball season Update 2:14 a.m. EDT March 28: Major League Baseball owners and players ratified a deal Friday that sets terms should the novel coronavirus pandemic postpone or even cancel the 2020 season. According to NPR, players will be paid $170 million in advanced salaries over the next two months, and should the season ultimately be canceled, the advances will not have to be paid back. Meanwhile, players will receive “service time” credit for an entire year even if they only play portions of the 2020 season. The season had been slated to open Thursday and run through late October, NPR reported. Delta offering medical volunteers free flights to emerging US coronavirus hotspots Update 1:57 a.m. EDT March 28: Delta Air Lines announced Friday it will fly select medical workers to areas of the country hardest hit by the novel coronavirus for free. By early Saturday morning, the company had confirmed free, round-trip Delta flights will be offered to certain medical volunteers bound for Georgia, Louisiana and Michigan during the month of April. State-by-state breakdown of 101,242 US coronavirus cases, 1,588 deaths Update 12:44 a.m. EDT March 28: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 104,000 across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands early Saturday morning. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are at least 104,661 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 1,706 deaths. U.S. cases now outnumber those in any other nation, including the 86,498 reported in Italy and the 81,946 confirmed in China. Of the confirmed deaths, 519 have occurred in New York, 175 Washington state and 119 in Louisiana.  In terms of diagnosed cases, New York remains the hardest hit with at least 44,635 confirmed cases – more than five times any other state – followed by New Jersey with 8,825 and California with 3,801. Five other states have each confirmed at least 3,000 novel coronavirus cases, including: • Washington: 3,723, including 175 deaths • Michigan: 3,657, including 92 deaths • Massachusetts: 3,240, including 35 deaths • Florida: 3,192, including 45 deaths • Illinois: 3,026, including 34 deaths Meanwhile, Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Georgia each has confirmed at least 2,000 novel coronavirus infections, while Colorado, Texas, Connecticut, Tennessee and Ohio each has confirmed at least 1,000 cases. The figures include 21 people aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship and 49 repatriated citizens. The repatriations include 46 sickened aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship and three others retrieved from the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan, China. CNN’s state-by-state breakdown – including presumptive cases – of at least 101,242 cases detected on U.S. soil is as follows: • Alabama: 638, including 3 deaths • Alaska: 69, including 1 death • Arizona: 665, including 13 deaths • Arkansas: 386, including 3 deaths • California: 3,801, including 78 deaths • Colorado: 1,734, including 31 deaths • Connecticut: 1,291, including 27 deaths • Delaware: 163, including 2 deaths • District of Columbia: 267, including three deaths • Florida: 3,192, including 45 deaths • Georgia: 2,198, including 65 deaths • Guam: 49, including 1 death • Hawaii: 120 • Idaho: 230, including 4 deaths • Illinois: 3,026, including 34 deaths • Indiana: 981, including 24 deaths • Iowa: 235, including 3 deaths • Kansas: 202, including 4 deaths • Kentucky: 302, including 7 deaths • Louisiana: 2,746, including 119 deaths • Maine: 168, including 1 death • Maryland: 774, including 5 deaths • Massachusetts: 3,240, including 35 deaths • Michigan: 3,657, including 92 deaths • Minnesota: 398, including 4 deaths • Mississippi: 579, including 8 deaths • Missouri: 670, including 9 deaths • Montana: 109, including 1 death • Nebraska: 89, including 2 deaths • Nevada: 535, including 10 deaths • New Hampshire: 187, including 2 deaths • New Jersey: 8,825, including 108 deaths • New Mexico: 191, including 1 death • New York: 44,635, including 519 deaths • North Carolina: 763, including 3 deaths • North Dakota: 68, including 1 death • Ohio: 1,137, including 19 deaths • Oklahoma: 322, including 8 deaths • Oregon: 414, including 12 deaths • Pennsylvania: 2,218, including 22 deaths • Puerto Rico: 64, including 2 deaths • Rhode Island: 203 • South Carolina: 539, including 13 deaths • South Dakota: 58, including 1 death • Tennessee: 1,203, including 6 deaths • Texas: 1,731, including 23 deaths • U.S. Virgin Islands: 19 • Utah: 480, including 2 deaths • Vermont: 184, including 10 deaths • Virginia: 604, including 14 deaths • Washington: 3,723, including 175 deaths • West Virginia: 96 • Wisconsin: 842, including 13 deaths • Wyoming: 70
  • Starting Saturday, the federal drive-thru coronavirus testing site at Lot J at TIAA Bank Field will be waiving the fever requirement. Previously, patients who wanted to be tested had to have an on-site temperature of 99.6 degrees or higher. Instead, patients will only need to exhibit respiratory symptoms or be a first responder or healthcare worker who has direct contact with patients.  While a doctor’s order and appointment are not required, you will be evaluated by a medical professional on site. If you don't meet the requirements, you will not be tested.  If you wish to be tested, you need to follow the following rules:  • Bring your own pen  • Bring a photo ID (first responders and healthcare professionals should bring a work ID)  • Refrain from taking any fever-reducing medicine four to six hours before testing  • Remain inside of vehicle at all times  A maximum of four people per car can be tested.  With long lines expected around the stadium, drivers coming from the Westside should use Bay Street, while drivers coming from the Eastside should use Gator Bowl Boulevard. The site is open from 9 AM to 5 PM, 7 days a week.
  • Joseph Maldonado-Passage seems made for reality TV. The one-time Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate and former wildlife park owner, known to fans by the moniker “Joe Exotic,” is a self-described “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet.” A tiger breeder, he had his own YouTube channel, JoeExoticTV, on which he used to post footage of his wild exploits. His reality today is much different. Maldonado-Passage, 57, is currently serving a 22-year federal prison sentence for two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act. According to federal prison records, Maldonado-Passage is currently housed at the Federal Medical Center Fort Worth. Maldonado-Passage’s crimes are on full display in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” a seven-episode limited series on Netflix that chronicles how Maldonado-Passage went from freedom in the wild to behind bars in a federal prison in Texas. The streaming service describes the series as “a jaw-dropping true tale of con artists, polygamy, rivalry and revenge.” Netflix’s description of the documentary’s star is similar: A “mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country western singer who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo.” Watch Netflix’s trailer for “Tiger King” below. “Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, conmen and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats, and the status and attention their dangerous menageries garner,” the description states. “But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, stoking a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe’s arrest for a murder-for-hire plot, and reveals a twisted tale where the only thing more dangerous than a big cat is its owner.” Maldonado-Passage is in prison for hiring someone to kill Baskin. The charges of falsifying records and violating the Endangered Species Act stem from his slaughtering of five tigers at his refuge. Watch a “Joe Exotic Sizzle Reel” from Maldonado-Passage’s YouTube channel below. It may contain some graphic language. ‘Tiger King’s’ reception in the age of coronavirus The documentary series has had remarkable success as Netflix viewers try to temporarily forget about the terrifying global coronavirus pandemic that, as of Friday afternoon, had sickened well over half a million people worldwide and killed more than 26,000. Memes abound on social media, and everyone from celebrities like Kim Kardashian West to, well, average Joes, have weighed in on the craziness. Actor and musician Jared Leto hosted an online “Tiger King” watch party -- and dressed as “Joe Exotic” for the occasion. Below are some of the other memes: The Netflix documentary is not the first time the “Joe Exotic” case has garnered national attention. Baskin was the main subject of a podcast by Wondery for its series, “Over My Dead Body.” More Hollywood fodder about Maldonado-Passage and Baskin is on the way. Vanity Fair reported that comedian and actress Kate McKinnon has signed up to star in and executive produce a limited series based on that podcast. McKinnon is slated to portray Baskin. Maldonado-Passage’s role has not yet been cast, though Vanity Fair’s article said this: “Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are thumb-wrestling to see whose agent gets to reach out about playing Joe Exotic, while David Spade is crafting a really, really long text to McKinnon about their shared SNL ties.” Actor Dax Shepard also has thrown his hat into the ring. “If I don’t get cast as Joe Exotic in the eventual biopic, Hollywood is broken,” Shepard tweeted. Edward Norton replied: “Um, step aside, pal. You’re way too young and buff and you know it.” Netflix U.S. also replied to Shepard’s tweet. “I’m liking what I’m hearing,” the tweet said. Buzzfeed News reported that the series’ creators are hinting at a possible second season. “Tiger King” director Eric Goode told the Los Angeles Times that Maldonado-Passage is happy with the finished documentary and is “over the moon” about being a household name. “Joe has called me quite a few times over the last few days and weeks. One, he is absolutely ecstatic about the series and the idea of being famous,” Goode told the Times. “He’s absolutely thrilled. I think he is trying to be an advocate for -- no surprise -- criminal justice reform. He is in a cage, and of course, he’s going to say that he now recognizes what he did to these animals.” Goode indicated he didn’t necessarily believe the former wildlife owner is regretful. “I take it with a big grain of salt when he says he is now apologetic for keeping animals,” the director said. Not everyone is thrilled by the series, particularly Baskin, who used her rescue’s website to refute the lies she alleges are included in the documentary. One of the more salacious bombshells: a suggestion that Baskin had a hand in the disappearance of her husband, Don Lewis, more than two decades ago. “When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago, they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive,” Baskin says in her rebuttal. “There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the docuseries not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers,” she writes. “As part of that (goal), it has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago.” According to People magazine, Don Lewis, 59, vanished in August 1997 and was never seen again. His car was found abandoned at an airport and, according to The Charley Project, the keys were on the floorboard. The Florida Crime Information Center still has Jack Donald Lewis, who vanished Aug. 8, 1997, listed as a missing person out of Hillsborough County. At the time of his disappearance, authorities said he may have traveled to Costa Rica. Lewis’ oldest child, Donna Pettis, told People in 1998 that his family believed Baskin was involved in his disappearance. Baskin feeding his body to big cats would be “a perfect scenario to dispose of someone,” Pettis told the magazine. “We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.” Baskin refutes the “absurd claims” about her husband and writes that Lewis was showing signs of mental deterioration for a couple of years before he vanished. She said he had begun hoarding vehicles and other equipment on the 40 acres where the sanctuary sits. “He deteriorated into dumpster diving and even got stuck in a dumpster and called me crying because he did not know where he was,” she writes. “Back then Alzheimer’s was not a commonly used word.” Click here to read all of Baskin’s statement refuting the claims made in the documentary. “The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims,” she writes. “They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.” Another character in the series who has disputed his portrayal is Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who runs the Myrtle Beach Safari in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Antle’s safari was recently raided by police, according to The Washington Post. The Myrtle Beach Sun News reported that a former employee of Antle’s accuses him on the series of running his business like a cult. Antle responded to the negative portrayal on Instagram. “It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants,” Antle alleges. “‘Tiger King’ is the bizarre story of Joe and Carole and their feud. These characters are not representative of experts in the wildlife sector or world-class facilities like ours here in Myrtle Beach. “Myrtle Beach Safari has been recognized by the state of South Carolina as one of the preeminent wildlife facilities in the United States. We’ve also received international accolades for the critical role we provide with our qualified, captive breeding programs and our global conservation efforts of threatened and endangered species.” Crimes behind the docuseries Federal authorities and court records give a detailed look into the crimes that sent Maldonado-Passage, of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, to prison. Maldonado-Passage, who also goes by the name Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, had an ongoing dispute with Baskin stemming from her criticism of his wildlife center’s care, exhibition and breeding practices for big cats like lions and tigers. Baskin is the founder of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary based out of Tampa, Florida. “Until 2011, the dispute was carried on primarily through traditional and social media,” a November 2018 indictment in the case reads. That year, Baskin filed a civil lawsuit against Maldonado-Passage. The Tampa Bay Times reported that, in retaliation for Baskin’s outreach efforts to stop people from booking his traveling petting zoo, Maldonado-Passage had renamed the attraction “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.” The trademark infringement suit in February 2013 resulted in a judgment against Maldonado-Passage, requiring him to pay Baskin more than $1 million. She and her sanctuary have never received any of the money. By January 2012, Maldonado-Passage’s criticism of Baskin turned to threats of violence, including threats on Facebook and YouTube. According to an interview Baskin did with the Times, the threats included a video Maldonado-Passage made of himself shooting a blow-up doll dressed to look like her. He also produced an image of Baskin hanging in effigy, the newspaper reported. In early November 2017, Maldonado-Passage began trying to hire a hit man to travel to Florida and kill Baskin, the indictment says. On Nov. 6, the supposed hit man traveled from Oklahoma to Dallas to get fake identification for use when traveling to Florida. Later that month, Maldonado-Passage mailed the man’s cellphone to Nevada to conceal the proposed gunman’s involvement in the plot. That same day, Nov. 25, Maldonado-Passage gave the man $3,000 he had received in the sale of a big cat to the man as payment for Baskin’s murder, the indictment says. Thousands more would be paid once the job was complete. That plot never materialized. The Times reported last year that the would-be killer ran off with the money and never made it to Florida. Jurors at Maldonado-Passage’s trial also heard that, beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a second witness to kill Baskin or to help him find someone who would. The person he went to that time went to authorities and arranged a December 2017 meeting with a supposed hit man. The hit man was an undercover FBI agent. “The jury heard a recording of his meeting with the agent to discuss details of the planned murder,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.
  • Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order earlier this week that requires anyone flying to Florida from New York, Connecticut and New Jersey to self-isolate for 14 days. Now, the Nassau County Board of Commissioners has finalized an order that requires anyone driving from N.Y., N.J. and C.T. to self-isolate for 14 days and let the health department and hotels know before they arrive.  Action News Jax was at the Florida Welcome Center in Nassau County just south of the Fla.-Ga. and found several license plates from N.Y. and N.J.  “I think it’s a good idea,” said Trina Hebert, who recently helped her brother escape the COVID-19 outbreak in N.Y. “It’s the only way we’re going to end this. It’s the only way it’s going to stop.”  The restrictions will apply retroactively to people who arrived in Nassau from Monday, March 23 through today.
  • The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is doing everything possible to make sure customers are not at risk amid the coronavirus outbreak. The latest precaution is being implemented today. JTA has started blocking off seats on buses to ensure social distancing. “We know that this is a little inconvenient at times, but we’re doing this with the goal of keeping everyone as safe as possible,” says JTA spokesman David Cawton. Cawton says they’ll block off up to 18 seats on JTA buses that have the highest number of riders. The seats that are blocked have special signage to promote the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help people slow down the spread of the virus. “This will reduce the capacity on board a bus and increase social distancing,” Cawton says. The modified bus schedule JTA put in place March 17 will continue until further notice. Cawton says JTA has also decided to delay the opening of the Jacksonville Regional Transportation Center at LaVilla. It was supposed to open Monday, but the Rosa Parks Transit Station will be the hub for JTA buses for now. “Once we get a better control on this whole pandemic, then will be an opportunity to welcome everyone into that facility,” Cawton says.

The Latest News Videos