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Latest from Jacob Pickering

    If driving in heavy traffic on the East Beltway through Jacksonville’s Southside is part of your daily commute, you can expect some relief in the near future. The I-295 Express Lanes Project will see increased construction activities within the next several weeks ahead of opening a third general-use lane on the East Beltway southbound. Construction activities will include multiple traffic shifts, lane striping and overnight detours. The first traffic shift related to lane striping is expected to take place overnight on I-295 southbound this Sunday, October 20. Signs and message boards will inform drivers of these traffic pattern changes.  “Our goal at FDOT is to improve the transportation experience for everyone on the roadway, and we’re confident the additional lane will help reduce congestion. We’re glad to see the improvement is expected to take place before the holiday shopping season as we work to support the continued growth in Northeast Florida,” said District 2 Secretary Greg Evans.  The $160 million project was awarded to the Archer-Western Contractors design-build team. The Express Lanes project is expected to be completed in its entirety in the fall of 2020
  • This morning drivers were stuck in extensive delays trying to leave Orange Park using the I-295 West Beltway SB.  Reports first came in around 7am of crash in the left lane before the hump of the bridge.  Florida Highway Patrol troopers said 27-year-old Rashelle Kirsch died. She had lost control of her SUV for unknown reasons.  Soon after, emergency personnel arrived and blocked off the two inside lanes of the Buckman Bridge. The crash caused extensive delays to stretch back for miles, and drivers were delayed for over an hour during the morning rush.  All lanes were reopened to traffic around 10:00 a.m.  No other vehicles were were involved in the crash.  
  • Construction is expected to begin on January 16th to widen and improve a section of Blanding Blvd (SR-21) in front of Middleburg High School. The work area stretches between Allie Murray Rd and Long Bay Rd.  Project improvements include widening the road from four lanes to six with full reconstruction, adding four-foot wide bike lanes in both directions, adding six-foot wide sidewalks in both directions, replacing traffic signals, replacing street lights, and construction of a new drainage system. The FDOT is asking you to use caution in the area, as there will be orange construction barrels and other traffic control measures on the road. Portable changing message signs will be in place to alert drivers of any possible lane closures ahead of time. The project is expected be completed by Spring of 2021, weather permitting.
  • Emergency road work will cause a closure of McCormick Road eastbound this week. Construction crews will be out repairing roadway damage that occurred when a Verizon contractor struck a JEA water main last Friday, Nov 30th. Eastbound McCormick Road will be detoured southbound onto Monument Road, to southbound St. Johns Bluff, to eastbound Atlantic Boulevard, to northbound Kernan Boulevard. These detours will take place from 8:30 a.m. Thursday, December 6 through  6 a.m. Monday, December 10. J.B. Coxwell Contracting Inc., the company selected by the FDOT to make the emergency repairs, has stated that they will work 24-hours continuously until the repairs are complete, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting. Below is a map of the scheduled detour provided by the FDOT.
  • The I-295 East Beltway Northbound will be detoured between Philips Highway and State Road 9B nightly from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday, October 29th through Thursday, November 1st. All drivers will be re-routed from the East Beltway North onto Philips Highway, north on Southside Blvd up to Baymeadows Rd eastbound back to the East Beltway. The I-295 East Beltway Southbound will not be affected by any detours or closures. Construction crews will be out overnight transporting and placing 200-foot bridge beams with 18-foot wide carrier dollies as a part of the next phase of the express lanes project. The Florida Department of Transportation project is expected to be completed in summer 2019, weather permitting.
  • A Bud Light tractor trailer set fire on I-95 southbound this morning around 9:30am at the Philips Highway/Avenues Mall exit. The driver initially blocked just one lane when the fire set and he pulled over to the right. Less than ten minutes later, JFRD arrived on scene and blocked off three right lanes to quickly put the fire out. One right lane re-opened at 10:10am. JFRD then tweeted a jocular message and photo from the scene. The precious cargo was saved by the quick work of JFRD crews. All lanes of I-95 south were re-opened at 11:15am.
  • The Hart Bridge Expressway (SR-228) will soon be undergoing construction rehabilitation activity beginning Monday, April 23rd. Nighttime detours will be necessary during portions of the project to ensure the safety of construction crews and the traveling public, says the FDOT. The first period of detours are planned to take place for a total of two weeks, from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. overnight. Starting on Tuesday, April 24 through Friday, May 4. During that time, the stretch of the road between Beach Blvd and University Blvd will be closed in both directions. Westbound Beach Blvd (U.S. 90) drivers attempting to access the Hart Bridge Expressway will be re-directed to University Blvd Northbound to access the Hart Bridge Expressway ramp. Drivers heading south on the Hart Bridge Expressway, leaving downtown and seeking to access Beach Blvd Eastbound, will be detoured onto the University Blvd Southbound exit to access Beach Blvd. The FDOT will have message boards and signs to direct traffic through the detours. The rehabilitation project consists mainly of bridge improvements including minor repair of expansion joints, drainage improvements, the coating of steel beams and replacement of bearing pads which assist in the distribution of weight and movement on the bridge. The $1.1 million project was awarded to Olympus Painting Contractors and is expected to be completed in the Spring of 2019.
  • This morning was quite a mess for Westside drivers on I-10 Eastbound. The reason? Construction for FDOT’s Your10&95 project closed off the right lane of the Fuller Warren Bridge Southbound between Park St and San Marco, as well as the exit ramp to San Marco. The project was originally planned to span the hours of 8pm-6am overnight, but crews took longer than expected and ended up having those lanes blocked all the way into rush hour. FDOT says crews started construction late, and they had to complete their task before they could leave. All lanes of I-95 SB were eventually reopened at 8:30am. We are working with FDOT to see if any action is taken to prevent this type of traffic pressure point from happening again tomorrow. FDOT says they plan to have the right lane blocked again Wednesday night into Thursday morning from 8-5:30.  This construction is part of the FDOT’s initiative to create a wider bridge with new travel lanes and even a shared bike path on the bridge. Today, the construction crews were pouring concrete and laying foundation below the bridge.  You can read more details about this project and what the FDOT has in store at: Your10and95.com
  • The Florida Department of Transportation District 2 announced that all construction work on Jacksonville’s Mathews Bridge is now complete after multiple required bridge closures since the New Year. Work on the Mathews Bridge began in January of 2018. The contractor Orlando R&B, LLC was awarded the $494,885 project. The work that was completed consisted mainly of deck rehabilitation.  “This project was completed ahead of schedule and underscores the commitment FDOT has to the community: to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars,” said FDOT District Two Secretary Greg Evans.  “We understand bridge maintenance and rehabilitation projects, like this, can be frustrating,” Evans continued. “Construction is a temporary inconvenience to a more permanent transportation solution. Projects like this remind us that we demand a lot from our infrastructure and we are constantly striving to meet the needs of the traveling public.” The Mathews Bridge was opened in 1953. The bridge is 7,736 feet long and spans 146 feet above the St. Johns River. Approximately 72,500 vehicles travel the bridge daily. 
  • Jacob Pickering

    Traffic Anchor

    Jacob Pickering has been with WOKV since 2017. A Jacksonville native, he is the lead Traffic Anchor on Jacksonville’s Morning News. Outside of the WOKV studio, you can find Jacob performing in local theatre productions, recording assorted podcasts or relaxing by the riverside.

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The Latest News Headlines

  • Police in Jacksonville Beach are investigating after more than a dozen cars were broken into over the course of a few days. It started last weekend along 5th Street South where several of those burglaries took place.  Police reports said there were 14 burglaries that happened Saturday through Monday.  Joseph Rennie said he’s hoping this weekend they don’t see a repeat.  “All in all, this is a pretty safe neighborhood. But occasionally, you have things like this happen and come up, but it’s definitely a little bit unnerving,” Rennie said.  Police said someone was going around smashing out windows of vehicles and looking for valuables inside. Wallets, credit and debit cards were taken.  Some people had nothing taken, but were left with a broken window. It happened to 6 cars on 5th Street, 4 cars on 12th, and several others on the surrounding blocks.  Rennie, like many others who live in the area, said he’s thankful he wasn’t a victim, but was surprised it happened to so many people in the area.  “There is a sense of just making sure you’re being smart about it, not leaving stuff of value in your car, kind of anywhere. But yeah, its really unfortunate to see that that’s happened, especially around the holiday season,” Rennie said.  As always, police are urging people not to leave valuables in their cars.
  • Florida, along with 29 other states, has been accepted for membership into the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), according to Governor Ron DeSantis' office. ERIC is a multi-state partnership that uses a data-matching tool to help enhance election security and make voter rolls more accurate.  The governor's office says through ERIC, member states can share information from voter registration systems, motor vehicle databases, social security death records, and US Post Office records, to help identify voters who have moved, passed away, or changed their name.  Additionally, the governor's office says ERIC will help boost voter registration as it will provide member states better information on how to contact potentially eligible, but unregistered voters.  Governor DeSantis says he has set aside an estimated $1.3 million in his 2020-2021 recommend budget to conduct outreach to these unregistered voters with a direct mailer prior to the 2020 general election.  But the governor's office says Florida's full participation in ERIC will be contingent on the state legislature signing off on his budget. Being a member of ERIC requires annual dues of around $75,000.
  • In response to a smash-and-grab burglary at a Fernandina Beach gun store where thieves stole 57 guns in 60 seconds, The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced a reward of up to $5,000 for tips leading to the arrest of suspects or recovery of stolen guns. The burglary happened Sunday, Dec. 8 at TNT Firearms and Accessories off State Road 200 in Nassau County.  Security footage shows 3 suspects smash through a glass door before breaking glass display cases and ransacking the store of 57 rifles and handguns.  The ATF is offering a reward of up to $2,500, which will be matched by the NSSF for a total of up to $5,000.  The ATF and NSSF are working together in a national campaign to fund rewards in cases involving guns being stolen from federally licensed dealers.
  • A Virginia mother is wanted on abduction charges after authorities say she took her four children on vacation six months ago and never brought them home. The woman alleges she is saving the children from sex trafficking by their father and grandfather. Along with four misdemeanor abduction charges, Melody Bannister, 34, of Stafford, is charged with felony violation of a court order and filing a false police report, a news release from the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office said. A warrant was issued for her arrest Aug. 23, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Her children are identified as Genevieve Bannister, 13; Janelle Bannister, 12; Vivienne Bannister, 11; and Peter Bannister, 7. Genevieve is described as 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 110 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes, according to the NCMEC. Janelle is described as 5 feet, 1 inch tall and 115 pounds. Like her older sister, she has brown hair and hazel eyes. Vivienne is listed as 4 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 95 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes. Peter is described as 4 feet, 1 inch tall and 90 pounds. He also brown hair and blue eyes. Bannister is described as 5 feet, 2 inches tall and 110 pounds. Like her two youngest children, she has brown hair and blue eyes. The children and their mother were last known to be traveling in a blue-green 2002 Honda Odyssey with Virginia license plate number VBH7123, Stafford County Sheriff’s Office Detective James Wright said during a segment about the case on “Live PD” on A&E. Finding Bannister and the children has become more urgent after “recent developments in the investigation have led investigators to believe the children may now be in danger,” the Sheriff’s Office’s statement said. Wright, who is lead investigator on the case, said on “Live PD” that authorities believe the missing family might be in danger due to the “clandestine nature” of the religious organization they belong to. “We’re concerned about the welfare because they are unable to take care of themselves. They don’t have any means to take care of them. Melody doesn’t have means to take care of them,” Wright told host Tom Morris Jr. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Amanda Vicinanzo said investigators believe Bannister has had help along the way from members of a religious group of which she is purportedly a member, according to the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg. The newspaper reported that the family’s pets, a white Great Pyrenees dog and white ragdoll cat, were left at one of the stops Bannister has made since leaving Virginia. “After months on the road, we had to say goodbye to our beloved pets: Our giant, bounding bundle of puppy-faced joy and our fluffy cat, whose soothing whirr often assuaged our soreness of heart,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “It is a comfort to know they are in good, loving hands, since they can no longer be in ours.” “Live PD” pointed out that Bannister has written about her religion previously, describing it as a “cult.” According to a blog she began in 2016 called Lady Adelaide’s Realm, Bannister grew up in a Quiverfull household. Followers of the Quiverfull movement believe that the men with the most children will earn the most favor from God. They shun all forms of contraception, believing that it is only God who “opens and closes the womb,” follower Kelly Swanson told NPR in 2009. The movement advocates stringent gender roles, and women are not allowed to question their husbands’ authority. They cannot work outside the home, wear pants or cut their hair. According to some of Bannister’s friends -- and a second blog the missing woman appears to have written since going on the run with her children -- the danger toward the children lies not with their mother, but in their father’s home. Bannister’s blog devoted to the allegations is subtitled “American Outlaws: The Plight of Child Sex Trafficking Victims Living Underground.” Her most recent blog post on Lady Adelaide’s Realm, dated June 28, names six men, including her father-in-law, as her children’s alleged abusers. The men are not being named because they have not been charged with a crime. ‘Will justice triumph over lawlessness this Christmas?’ A Change.org petition begging for help from Virginia and Alabama officials claims that the children’s father “conspired with (Bannister’s) father-in-law to perpetuate some of the most horrifying sexual and physical abuse imaginable upon her children.” “When local law enforcement failed to protect these children, ordering them back to live with their abuser, Melody chose to live on the wrong side of the law. What else could a truly desperate mother do?” the petition reads. Bannister has accused her husband of “deliver(ing) the children up for torture to the barn of his father.” She has accused her father-in-law of not only sexually abusing the children, but of offering them up for abuse by his friends. “The children have spoken of being given strange substances in the barn that made the world swim before their eyes and caused the taunting faces of their abusers to converge together in a dizzying blur,” Bannister wrote. She wrote on the blog that her only crimes were “believing (her) children when they disclosed a lifetime of ongoing abuse” and “reporting (it) to the Stafford, Virginia, police.” Stafford County officials said that an investigation into the allegations brought to them by Bannister in June found no evidence of abuse against the children. “A joint investigation with Stafford County law enforcement and Child Protective Services determined the allegations were unfounded,” according to the statement from the Sheriff’s Office. “Shortly after the conclusion of the investigation, Bannister left Virginia with the children on a planned vacation and never returned.” Bannister wrote on her blog that she and the children left town for a vacation June 14, the day after she reported the abuse, in part out of fear of reprisal from the accused. She said she called the Sheriff’s Office detective, Wright, a few days later to check up on the investigation. “We spoke briefly once, when he told me that he had interviewed my husband and would soon interview my father-in-law,” Bannister wrote. “After that, he stopped answering my phone calls.” She wrote that Wright and a CPS caseworker chalked the sex abuse claims up to children’s “vivid imaginations.” She described fleeing Virginia with the “rancid hot breath of child predators” on her back. “We left home with barely a week’s worth of summer clothes and are practically penniless, living off the kindness of friends who, one by one, have taken us under their wings,” Bannister wrote. She said her husband drained their joint bank account and cancelled her credit cards when she did not bring the children back to Virginia. Read Bannister’s entire, five-part blog here. Warning: It includes graphic details of alleged child sex abuse. Stafford County’s Juvenile, Domestic and Relations Court granted sole custody of the children to their father the following month, Stafford County authorities said. Their father, identified in court records as William Joseph Bannister, filed for divorce last month. “(Melody) Bannister refused to return the children and subsequently petitioned the courts in Alabama requesting custody be issued to her there,” a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said. “The courts in Alabama heard the case and also ordered Bannister to return her children to their father back in Virginia. “Bannister absconded from the state of Alabama with her four children and has not been seen since.” Bannister and the children were last seen Aug. 20 in Moulton, a small city in northwest Alabama. “We set up residence in Alabama and made it our new home, where we obtained a protective order against the man formerly known as Daddy,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “This was swiftly snatched away when the judge deferred to the Virginia ruling, which ordered me to return the children to him.” Bannister wrote that a family court hearing was held in Virginia without her presence Aug. 19, with a judge ruling in her husband’s favor. She claimed she was never served with a summons for the hearing. She and the children vanished from Alabama the next day. US marshals issue alert Aside from Alabama, potential sightings of the family have been reported in Wisconsin, Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Texas. The U.S. Marshals Service and the NCMEC have been involved in the case over the past few months, the Sheriff’s Office said. The Marshals Service issued an alert this week seeking help from the public in finding Bannister and the missing children. A friend of Bannister, Julie Lampkins, shared a story on Facebook about the missing family, saying it was “with a heavy heart” that she shared the link about the mother’s alleged abduction of her children. “We all have questions, but no answers,” Lampkins wrote. “Help the authorities find her and her (four) kids.” Meanwhile, Bannister is appealing for help on the state and federal levels, according to the Change.org petition. It quoted additional portions of Bannister’s blog. “The mental health and credibility of my children and me have been assessed and verified by two of the most prestigious forensic psychiatrists in the country: Dr. Michael Stone and Dr. Carole Lieberman,” Bannister wrote on her blog. “Naturally, the abusers did not take kindly to such a development and are seeking to have the reports stricken from the record. ‘Eliminate all threats’ seems to be their motto. Hence our position of living underground.” Followers on her blog wrote this week that they believed her and her children. “Many people believe you and are praying and sharing the news and asking God to vindicate and protect. Praying that true justice will be served,” Carrie Brownell wrote. A friend, identified as Lana, told Bannister she was praying for her, as well as sharing her story and contacting a list of law enforcement officers listed on the blog on Bannister’s behalf. Another friend named Rachael offered similar well wishes. “Oh Melody…my heart is so broken for you and your sweet kids,” the woman wrote. “I will be keeping you in my prayers and doing what I can. Locally.” A third friend named Petra Carden wrote that Bannister and her children have a place in her home “any time, day or night, no questions asked” if Bannister has to return to Virginia. Others who read her story offered her help in other locations throughout the country, including Alabama, where she and the children were last seen. Many people who believe Bannister’s allegations of abuse urged caution in reporting the family’s whereabouts. “If the news articles released regarding Melody Bannister’s children being in danger is all people know, they will report them when they see them and put them back in danger,” one woman wrote on Twitter. A cult? Bannister’s Facebook profile lists her as manager of a website called Recovering Daughters. The description of the site on its corresponding Facebook page states it is about “healing from Vision Forum, authoritarianism and the Quiverfull Movement.” The Recovering Daughters website is no longer available because the domain has recently expired. Vision Forum was a Texas-based ministry that promoted a patriarchal lifestyle, in which the husband rules the family, and home-schooling its children. The ministry was shut down by its board in 2013 after leader Doug Phillips admitted to an extramarital affair, the Huffington Post reported. Phillips has been a friend of and influence on Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, whose TLC show “19 Kids and Counting” focused on their beliefs against birth control and that large families are a gift from God, the news site said. The Duggars, who lost their show after their eldest son, Josh Duggar, was publicly accused of sexually molesting multiple young girls, including some of his sisters, have also been associated with the Quiverfull movement, though the Huffington Post reported in 2015 that the couple does not formally consider themselves members of the movement. The Quiverfull movement gets its name from a Bible passage: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” Hännah Ettinger, a young woman raised in the movement who had left that world behind, told Cosmopolitan in 2015 that her first big break from the religion came when her father told her she “didn’t have the spiritual discernment” to choose her own boyfriend, a man she met at her Christian college. “Later, I got utterly fed up with the churches I’d grown up in because I kept finding out that they’d protected child abusers, rapists, and men who’d beaten their wives, all in the name of redemption stories, ‘biblical’ male headship and complementarian theology,” Ettinger told the magazine. Vyckie Garrison, another former Quiverfull member, told Vice in 2016 that, with no central leader, the movement isn’t a cult, per se. It’s more of a mindset “in which each family becomes a cult unto itself with Daddy enshrined as the supreme patriarch,” Vice reported. Garrison founded a website called No Longer Quivering, which is designed to help other women in her situation escape the movement. In April 2015, the American Atheists Convention named her its 2014 Atheist of the Year. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Bannister and her children is asked to call the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office at 540-658-4400, the U.S. Marshals Service at 877-WANTED2 or the NCMEC at 800-THE-LOST.
  • Money is helping put local veterans in Northeast Florida back to work. Hundreds of people filled the inside of a warehouse at a former Navy base to celebrate a milestone.  It was 20 years ago when the U.S. Navy handed over ownership of Cecil Field Naval Air Station to the city of Jacksonville and the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.  The air station is now being operated by Boeing Global Services.  Friday, Boeing made a $55,000 check presentation to Veterans Florida to help put local veterans back to work.  Samuel Leeca is a Navy veteran and was one of the first people hired by Boeing back in 1999.  “We first only had one aircraft. Then they started filtering in. It was rough at first, but then we started to get it rolling,” said Samuel Leeca.  “When I see the Blue Angels, I don’t even bother anymore because I was sharing with someone that all 6 of them, I’ve physically touched them. I’ve physically put the cell in and taken it out,” Leeca explained.  Boeing Cecil Field site leader Warren Helm says the site is one of the most successful closed bases in the country.  “We have a great mix about 70% veterans on this site. It’s a great mix between people who have been here since day one,” Helm said.  Leeca says after working here for over 20 years, he heads a team of mostly young people who disassemble and repair aircraft.  “I just look at it as, not so much someone has to do it, but someone always did it. We live in a world now where it is so dangerous, I said, ‘I can’t leave them, I have to keep going to help the newer guys keep the jets flying,’” said Leeca.

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