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Latest from Sarah Thompson

    The Clay County Sheriff's Office is inviting the community to a fundraiser next month called 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs.' Chris Padgett, the Public Information Officer with CCSO, says the event will essentially be a clay-shoot competition featuring Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and other law enforcement members and the community.  Padgett says proceeds from the event will allow them to send about 30 people from their honor guard and members of their traffic section to Washington D.C., later this year for the police memorial service to honor one of their own.  '...In August 2018, one of our very close friends and deputies, Deputy Ben Zirbel, was tragically killed in a traffic crash on Blanding Boulevard. With that, his name will be getting placed on the law enforcement memorial's wall. And we want to make the sure the members of his direct team and the members of our honor guards go there and partake in that event,' says Padgett.  Padgett says it's important to send a team to be there to represent Zirbel's legacy and represent his wife and his child.  'And that is just so important to us, because they're [Zirbel’s family] going through some extreme hardships and there is one way we can help elevate them and be there as a support element,' says Padgett.  Padgett says the 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs' event will be family-friendly and everyone's invited to either watch or take part.  The event will be held February 25th, from 9 AM- 2 PM, at the Saltwaters Shooting Club located at 900 Big Oak Road in St. Augustine.  To register or help sponsor the event, you can contact Jimmy Stalnaker at (904) 813-9554 or by email at jstalnaker@claysheriff.com. You can also contact Charlie Goldsmith at (904) 838-3350 or by email at cgoldsmith@claysheriff.com.  You can also contact either of them to make a cash donation if you can’t make it out that day, but still want to help.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is announcing two arrests in connection to a fatal shooting on Merrill Road that claimed the life of a 24-year-old man. According to JSO, their investigation has revealed that prior to Tuesday’s shooting, the victim, Quartz Walden, had a verbal altercation with a woman. After that altercation, police say each went their separate ways.  Some time later, police say that woman returned to the area with a man in search of Walden.  Witnesses told police that the man was seen entering the business where Walden was. Several gunshots were then heard.  That man has now been identified by police as Shawntell Bryant, 39. Police say he's been arrested for Walden's murder, as well as possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  JSO says the woman involved in this incident Kyrie Jorris, 32, has also been arrested in connection with being a principle in the murder.
  • Two weeks after a string of crimes stretching from Mayport to East Arlington injured two officers and an 84-year-old man, the suspect arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is facing additional charges. We told you on January 3rd, when JSO announced the suspect, 26-year-old Lawrence Hall III, was arrested for fleeing or attempting to elude law enforcement and attempted murder, following a reported armed robbery, auto theft, and kidnapping.  Now, JSO says their continued investigation is resulting in additional charges against Hall. He now faces the following charges: kidnapping, armed robbery, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, burglary, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.  The sheriff's office isn't ruling out further charges as they say they're continuing to investigate all aspects of the events that occurred, as well as others Hall may have been involved in.  The 84-year-old victim who was kidnapped during this spree died from his injuries, almost a week after the incident.
  • Following what the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is calling a 'targeted' shooting in the Spring Park area and recent reports revealing retaliation was likely a motive in the shooting that led up to the death of 7-year-old Tashawn Gallon, the curtain is being pulled back on City efforts to reduce violent crime. State Attorney Melissa Nelson, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry have now publicly released their Comprehensive Gang Reduction Strategy.  The 32-page memo details initiatives that are being done now to reduce violent crime, while also exploring potential future solutions.  The memo acknowledges that while the overall crime rate is down in Jacksonville, homicides, aggravated assaults, and other violence actually increased in 2017. They believe the increase is caused by a small group of offenders in gangs, that oftentimes call themselves entertainment groups. The memo says these groups are not motivated by money, but instead protecting their reputations.  The memo breaks down the following current and pending initiatives:  A. John Jay Initiative  - This programming essentially involves targeting individuals and small groups known to participate in gangs to receive a dual message of warning and encouragement to make positive changes from law enforcement.  - A 'Gun Bounty' program to pay $1,000 for every tip that leads to the successful seizure of an illegally possessed gun.  B. City-Led Investment in Crime Fighting Technology  - Investing in access to the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network to automatically capture and compare ballistic information  -Creation of a Crime Gun Intelligence Center, which better allows for detectives to connect gun-related crimes  -ShotSpotter  C. State Attorney's Office Initiatives  -Targeted Prosecution Unit  -Development of Arrest Alert System  -Community Prosecution  -Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee  The memo also looked to the future, with a break down of proposed solutions.  This includes determining how to stop juveniles from being able to get a hold of guns in the first place. One idea being proposed includes expanding the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office so-called 9PM Routine from social media into a full-fledged citywide PSA strategy.  The memo also considers how to prevent children related to gang members from becoming involved themselves. This includes creating year-round sports and extracurricular activities, utilizing mentors and volunteers to provide positive influences.  The development of a strong mentorship program was of the ideas being proposed. The memo acknowledges while there are several mentorship programs already in existence in Jacksonville, it says many of them don't allow at-risk or adjudicated youth from participating. It also says Florida statues and Department of Juvenile Justice's policies also make it extremely difficult for people with past criminal convictions to become mentors. It argues these individuals are likely the people most suited to mentor at-risk youth.  The memo also looks at the need to have an organized campaign to counter the 'anti-snitch' culture. In 2018, the State Attorney's Office and JSO launched a program called Operation Cooperation, which encourages non-violent offenders to work with law enforcement in exchange for substantially reduced criminal sanctions.  In addition, the memo also raised the idea of identifying and prosecuting selected gang members carrying firearms in Jacksonville. The memo says newly enacted state legislation makes this a possibility.  Lastly, the memo looked at working with professional sports organizations, including the Jacksonville Jaguars, for partnerships on youth programs It also raised the idea of enacting a similar policy as the Chicago Bears. The memo says that team currently allows for the exchange of game tickets for firearms.  For a complete look at the 32 page memo, click HERE.
  • Highlighting the district's achievements and looking ahead at the work to be done-- Clay County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis held the annual State of Schools Address Tuesday evening. Davis says his hope is to make the district the number one school district in the state of Florida, beating out St. Johns County schools.  He says they've been making progress on that goal. When he took on the role of superintendent, he says the Clay County school district was ranked 18th in the state. It's now ranked 8th.  Davis also addressed 5 goals the district has been working on:  Goal #1: Developing Quality and Aligned Instructional Practice  -Davis says over the last 12 months, they made it their mission to re-align their curriculum guides to ensure that students have quality tasks in front of them.  Goal #2: Improve Management of District Wide Operations and Facilities  -Davis says they have doubled-down on security, in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting in 2018. He says they have increased school hardening, increased surveillance, added SROs, and established single points of entries for all of their schools. Her further says they've increased their security funding by 220%.  -Davis says they've also increased technology by 160%. In 2015, they had 13,000 devices in the county; they now have over 30,000.  Goal #3: Establish a respectful climate and culture that provides equity and access to all  -Davis says under this goal, they have made mental health awareness a priority and that students have access to needed resources.  Goal #4 Create Effective data system and train staff to leverage information to improve teaching and learning  -Davis says they have developed an early warning mechanism system that better tracks students who have attendance, academic, and behavioral problems to address issues earlier.  Goal #5 Develop and Support great educators, support personnel and leaders  Davis discussed some of the district’s next steps, with the below list just a few of the goals on the table:  -Launch and implement parent academy  -Create better support for parents/caregivers and students at home to assist with learning  - Expand choice offerings  Visual and Performing arts  pre-Cambridge and pre-AICE  Dual language  STEAM  -Highlight teachers and publicly acknowledge hard work  -Launch business partner 'principal for a day' initiative  -Implement Superintendent-Teacher Advisory Council  -Expand Pre-K programs  For a more complete overview of where the district stands on certain goals and the goals for the future, watch the full State of Schools below:
  • Ahead of THE PLAYERS Championship in March, tournament officials have announced a week of events honoring our military members. Prior to tournament week, THE PLAYERS is welcoming all active duty, reserve, retired military, veterans, and military spouses to TPC Sawgrass on March 2nd, from 10 AM to 1 PM, to take part in its 8th annual Military Job Fair. About 50 companies are expected to attend.  Then on March 10th, THE PLAYERS and Birdies for the Brave will partner with Operation Shower to host a private, invite-only, baby shower for 40 military moms-to-be at TPC Sawgrass.  March 12th marks Military Appreciation Day at THE PLAYERS featuring a special performance by country artist Jon Pardi. The Military Appreciation Day ceremony will begin at 5 PM, followed by the concert at 5:30 PM on the Island Green 17th hole. Both events are free to any Tuesday ticket holder. Parking will be free that day and Wednesday.  THE PLAYERS provides all career military, which includes active duty, reserve, military retirees, and dependents, with complimentary admission to the tournament all week. Veterans get discounted admission. To obtain those vouchers, click HERE and then hit 'redeem' in the Military Ticket section.  THE PLAYERS says it's also providing military members and veterans access to the Birdies for the Brave Patriots' Outpost, which is a hospitality tent offering complimentary food, beverages, and activities.  THE PLAYERS Championship runs from March 12th through the 17th this year.
  • UPDATE: The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says Larry Heaton has been found safe. ORIGINAL STORY: The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is asking for the public's help tracking down a missing 84-year-old man they say has dementia.  According to JSO, Larry Heaton was last seen on Cornell Road in the Lakewood-area walking at around 6:00 AM.  He's described as being 5'7'', 150 pounds, and was wearing a blue winter jacket, dark pants, khaki cap, along with beige shoes.  If you've seen him, you're urged to call JSO at (904) 630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org.
  • A fugitive wanted by the US Marshal's Service has been taken into custody, thanks to help from the Clay County Sheriff's Office SWAT team. The sheriff's office says Michael Sorrells was apprehended in the Tanglewood-area Monday.  We're told Sorrells is now being held in the Clay County jail for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, along with the felony warrants from out-of-county. At this time, deputies haven’t released what those felony warrants included.
  • It's some bad news for those of us that suffer from seasonal allergies-- Action News Jax Chief Meteorologist Mike Buresh warns that pine pollen seems to be getting off to an unseasonably early start.  Buresh says the warm winter we've been experiencing is to blame, as we've only had two recorded freezes at the Jacksonville International Airport. He says at this point in winter, we should had anywhere from about 6 to 8 freezes.  'And time is running out on a hard freeze that would really arrest the development of pine pollen over the next couple of weeks. So the anticipation is that we would continue to see increasing pine pollen from south to north across Northeast Florida, including metro Jacksonville within the next couple of weeks . I don't have a freeze in the forecast for at least the next 7 days,' says Buresh.  He says he doesn't normally see the pine pollen start until the first week or two of February.  Buresh warns that oak pollen is next up, which is the one that's very difficult for some allergy sufferers, as it typically begins three to six weeks after the pine pollen.
  • A deputy who has been with the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office for 17 years has been arrested, following an investigation into lewd and lascivious behavior.  The sheriff's office says the allegations against 51-year-old Jeffrey Cook stem from conduct several years ago. Investigators say Cook is accused of inappropriately touching a victim, who was a juvenile at the time, over the course of 6 years.  The sheriff's office says Sheriff David Shoar was notified of the allegations Thursday night, leading up to Cook's arrest on Friday.  “Anyone who has heard me speak on these types of crimes, knows that I value our children, as well as seniors, as our highest priority for protection. I am both angry and saddened by these events, and while this incident involves one individual, it is not reflective of our agency or this honorable profession. As we have in the past, we will continue to police ourselves, and hold our people accountable, to ensure we maintain the highest standards of our profession,' says Shoar speaking about Cook's arrest.  Sheriff Shoar says he terminated Cook’s employment, as he was being arrested. Currently, Cook is charged with one count of lewd and lascivious molestation, as detectives continue to investigate the allegations.  The sheriff's office says there are no indications of any other victims, but they are asking anyone with additional information to contact Detective Sergeant George Harrigan at (904) 209-2443.
  • Sarah Thompson

    Sarah Thompson is the Afternoon Producer and Evening Anchor for WOKV and has been with the team since October 2013. She's a University of Florida graduate and a Jacksonville-native.

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  • After yet another day which featured no hints of progress in ending a funding fight that has to a partial government shutdown taking paychecks away from over 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday evening that he would make a ‘major announcement’ on Saturday about his push to get money to build a wall along the Mexican border, which has led to an ongoing standoff with Democrats in Congress. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” the President wrote on Twitter, giving no details about what he might announce. With no indications that Democrats in Congress are ready to give in on their opposition to a border wall, some Republicans have continued to urge the President to declare a ‘national emergency’ under existing laws, and move money around in the military’s budget to build a wall. I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019 “He ought to go ahead and declare an emergency, and it would be over,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “I don’t know why he is reluctant to do that.” Inhofe – who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thursday that he would not oppose the President dipping into military construction funds to build the wall, though other Republicans have publicly opposed the idea. Democrats on Friday also pressed the Department of Homeland Security on another front – using eminent domain to take land away from landowners, in order to build the way – focusing on a case involving the Catholic Church in Texas, which owns land that the Trump Administration wants. “The federal government must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to the Homeland Security Secretary. To @SecNielsen: The Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall. We ask you to respond to these questions by January 31: pic.twitter.com/MXcfoQib9E — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2019 The President has asked for $5.7 billion in border security money for both fencing and a wall; Democrats in Congress have offered $1.6 billion – the original requests of the Trump Administration and Republicans – but Democrats want none of that to go to the wall.
  • Florida schools are seeing a critical shortage of certified science, English and math teachers. A new report by the Florida Department of Education says those subjects are among areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach those courses. “We have a shortage because people aren’t entering the teaching profession like they used to because there’s no security in teaching,” Renna Lee Paiva said. Paiva is president of the Clay County Education Association. She said those who have been in the education field for years are extremely concerned about the teacher shortage. In Duval County, a district spokesperson said there are 146 total vacancies at schools, with 21 open positions in math and four in science. In St. Johns County, the district had 28 unfilled positions as of Jan. 7, including four in math and science. Clay County Schools says it has 14 vacancies overall, with five in math and science. “We start to see fewer freshman coming in and saying, ‘I want to be an elementary teacher or I want to be a biology teacher,’” Paul Parkison, chair of the University of North Florida’s childhood education program, said. He told Action News Jax that the university starts recruitment early, educating incoming freshman about teaching opportunities. “We didn’t used to have to have those conversations, we’d have freshman coming in that were already excited about being teachers,” he said. “We actually initiated a couple programs that are targeted toward particularly the secondary, our UNF graduates who didn’t consider teacher as their primary major. Maybe they’re a history major or a biology major.” Local education experts, including Jacksonville Public Education Fund President Rachel Tutwiler Fortune, said the focus needs to be on higher pay. “There are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities,” she said in a statement. “Our pay scales, our benefits is all in jeopardy and it’s up to the legislators to fix it so we can give quality education to our kids -- which is our primary goal,” Paiva said. Full statement from JPEF: “The teacher shortage is a problem in Duval County as well as across our state and the nation, and there are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities. The Duval County School Board recently discussed one of these promising solutions -- creating a program to help public high students work toward a degree in education, in order to increase the number of aspiring teachers. This would be a win for Duval County students now and in the future, and we applaud Duval County Public Schools for exploring how we could adopt this innovative model -- known as 'grow your own teacher' -- in Jacksonville.”
  • You've been hearing the buzz about autonomous vehicles for a while, now lawmakers in Florida are discussing the possibility of making the futuristic form of transportation a reality. A state representative from Duval County has filed legislation to allow the development and deployment of those autonomous vehicles.  State Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) says as an engineer by trade, he understands the benefits autonomous vehicles would bring with them. He says if Florida were to ban those types of vehicles, it would stunt the state's potential for growth.  'Those engineers aren't going to move here. Those planners aren't going to move here. Those are high paying jobs,' Fischer says.  He says he can imagine Jacksonville as a place where football fans will be able to hop on driverless vehicles to take them to Jaguars games at TIAA Bank Field. He says the Skyway, linking one side of the St. Johns River to the other in downtown, is a prime example of something that could be updated if his bill goes through.  'We have a public transportation component that's already looking to go that way,' he says. 'My legislation would help enable them to move in that direction.'  Fischer says autonomous vehicles would also be a major help to the blind community. Both AARP Florida and the Florida Council of the Blind have offered their support for the legislation, saying their members will have more mobility opportunities if the bill goes through.  “For blind people, people living with disabilities and some senior citizens, self-driving cars will mean greater independence,” President of the Florida Council of the Blind Sheila Young says in a statement.  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is sponsoring the companion measure in the Florida Senate. Fischer says he thinks the legislation should make it to the governor's desk within a couple months.
  • Two Florida fifth-graders are accused of plotting to kill an 11-year-old classmate and escape in a golf cart last month. The plot unraveled Dec. 14 at Roberts Elementary School in Tallahassee, where the alleged victim and the accused students, ages 10 and 11, all attend school. A 32-page police report obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat details the plot, which resulted in both students’ suspension and civil citations for conspiracy to commit battery and bringing weapons on school grounds.  The students are also being recommended for expulsion, the Democrat reported.  “This obviously is a very serious matter,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement. “There is zero tolerance in our school system for violence or threats of violence. The individuals who participate in these types of behavior will suffer severe consequences, as (will) these two young boys.” The school’s principal, Kim McFarland, told investigators that the boys “planned and put into effect” a plot to kill their classmate, the Democrat reported.  >> Read more trending news According to the timeline laid out in the police report, one of the accused boys threatened the victim Dec. 10, telling him they would kill him. A few days later, a female classmate told the victim a secret and then went to the two suspected plotters and claimed the victim was spreading rumors about her.  The plotters again threatened the boy, saying they would “take care of him and kill him,” the Democrat reported.  Another student later told police investigators the boys drew a map of where on campus they would take the victim -- an area without security cameras, the newspaper reported. They ultimately changed their mind and planned to take the boy to the school’s garden instead, the police report said.  The day of the planned attack, one of the boys brought a backpack to school with what investigators believe was a murder kit: a wrench, adjustable clamp pliers, a multitool with a 3-inch blade on it and baseball batting gloves. According to police, the student showed the tools to classmates and one of the pair told them “snitches get stitches.” They also told at least one classmate they had the gloves so they would not leave fingerprints, the Democrat reported. They planned to use some of the tools to bust through a gate and flee on a golf cart.  During an after-school program on campus, the boys approached the alleged victim and asked if he wanted to go to the “secret hideout in the garden,” the police report said. He told investigators he refused because other students had told him the boys wanted to hurt him.  The alleged victim went to a teacher supervising the after-school program and told what the boys had planned, the newspaper reported. The boys were taken to the principal, who searched the backpack and found the tools, including the knife. The boys denied wanting to kill the victim, but admitted they planned to beat him up, the Democrat reported.  After the incident, McFarland sent parents an email, which was obtained by WCTV in Tallahassee. “Last Friday there was an incident, with alleged intent to harm a fellow student, that occurred in the afterschool program with a group of 5th grade students who had been developing a plan over a series of days,” McFarland said. “Some of you have reached out with concerns and questions. At this time, I cannot share details, but I can assure that your children are safe and the situation is being handled.” McFarland wrote that she met with the school’s fifth graders to discuss the importance of “see something, say something.”   “Many fifth grade students knew of the potential incident but did not tell teachers or their parents,” the principal said. “We discussed the importance of alerting adults when there is any concern for safety for themselves or their fellow students. Please discuss this with your children. It is imperative they learn this valuable skill now.”
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office is inviting the community to a fundraiser next month called 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs.' Chris Padgett, the Public Information Officer with CCSO, says the event will essentially be a clay-shoot competition featuring Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and other law enforcement members and the community.  Padgett says proceeds from the event will allow them to send about 30 people from their honor guard and members of their traffic section to Washington D.C., later this year for the police memorial service to honor one of their own.  '...In August 2018, one of our very close friends and deputies, Deputy Ben Zirbel, was tragically killed in a traffic crash on Blanding Boulevard. With that, his name will be getting placed on the law enforcement memorial's wall. And we want to make the sure the members of his direct team and the members of our honor guards go there and partake in that event,' says Padgett.  Padgett says it's important to send a team to be there to represent Zirbel's legacy and represent his wife and his child.  'And that is just so important to us, because they're [Zirbel’s family] going through some extreme hardships and there is one way we can help elevate them and be there as a support element,' says Padgett.  Padgett says the 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs' event will be family-friendly and everyone's invited to either watch or take part.  The event will be held February 25th, from 9 AM- 2 PM, at the Saltwaters Shooting Club located at 900 Big Oak Road in St. Augustine.  To register or help sponsor the event, you can contact Jimmy Stalnaker at (904) 813-9554 or by email at jstalnaker@claysheriff.com. You can also contact Charlie Goldsmith at (904) 838-3350 or by email at cgoldsmith@claysheriff.com.  You can also contact either of them to make a cash donation if you can’t make it out that day, but still want to help.

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