There is a lot to cover this Thursday morning so let’s jump right into it 🙂
City Council approves ‘much-needed’ repaving of Downtown Fort Walton Beach parking lot
On January 24, 2022, the Fort Walton Beach City Council unanimously approved the repaving of the public parking lot located at 164 and 166 Miracle Strip Parkway Southeast.
- The parking lot, which sits in between BOTE Boards and the existing Run With It building, is half-owned by the City and half by BLN, LLC.
- The portion of the parking lot owned by BLN, LLC. is leased to the City for the purpose of public parking for the downtown Fort Walton Beach area.
On August 7, 2018, BLN approached the City of Fort Walton Beach with the potential purchase of the City’s half of the parking lot. However, it wasn’t until February 26, 2019 that the City Council approved a new five-year lease with BLN, LLC to lease their portion of the parking lot to be used as public parking for Downtown Fort Walton Beach.
As part of the lease, the City is required to perform improvements relating to paving and stormwater during the initial term of the lease. The first lease term expires on September 30, 2024.
The parking lot is in bad shape and in late April 2022, the City awarded an invitation to bid for parking lot improvements and was planning to move forward with the repairs. However, BLN was unsure at the time what they would do as far as developing the current Run With It building. They weren’t sure if it would be an interior remodel or a teardown of the entire building.
According to representatives at the time, they did not want to repave the parking lot, only to have it torn up during construction. As a result, the City Council authorized the rejection of all bids and approved a lease amendment with BLN for an additional five years, based on the improvements.
In October 2022, representatives from BLN approached city staff about revisiting the parking lot improvements and expressed the desire to rebid the project and complete the improvements. On December 13, 2022, three companies submitted bid packages:
- ECSC, LLC of Panama City, Florida – $327,840.81
- Gulf Coast Utility Contractors, LLC of Panama City, Florida – $767,475
- James David Site Prep & Underground, LLC of Baker, Florida – $508,876
On Tuesday night, the council awarded the bid to ECSC, LLC.
According to the city, funding for this project is included in the 2021-22 Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) Budget in the amount of $200,000. The remaining balance of $127,840.81 will come from the CRA Fund balance.
The company will have 90 days to complete the parking lot improvements once the contract has been finalized, with an expected completion date sometime in April or May.
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Okaloosa County Chief Correctional Officer issues statement following inmate deaths
On Monday, January 23, 2023, WEAR Channel 3 first reported on an inmate death at the Okaloosa County jail over the weekend, marking the fifth inmate death at the facility in the past six months.
In response to the recent string of inmate deaths, Okaloosa’s Chief Correctional Officer, Nolan Weeks, released a statement addressing the issue.
“As the Chief Correctional Officer of the Okaloosa County Department of Corrections, I am deeply saddened by the recent inmate deaths that have occurred within our facility,” said Weeks. “I assure the community that we take these incidents very seriously and follow proper protocol in investigating any and all inmate-related deaths.”
In accordance with proper protocol, Weeks says the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office immediately conducts an independent investigation into the facts surrounding any inmate death. These types of investigations include, but are not limited to, medical issues, narcotics overdoses, suicides, accidental deaths, or any other incident that may cause a death.
“We understand that death investigations can remain in an open status for an extended period of time due to the waiting period for autopsy and toxicology results from the Medical Examiner’s Office,” said Weeks. “It is also important to remember that we are bound by strict HIPPA privacy laws that restrict the dissemination of a person’s medical information. This type of information would be included in any death related to medical issues.”
According to Weeks, the Okaloosa County Department of Corrections is taking appropriate measures to advance internal oversight in medical evaluations. He says the correctional officers and medical staff are highly trained and “truly care about keeping Okaloosa County safe.”
- The facility is also state accredited as an Excelsior Agency, and the medical and mental health department is nationally accredited through the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
In addition to the investigations being conducted, Weeks said the department continues to take and intensify steps to ensure the jail is a safe environment for all inmates and staff. These include regular staff training, implementing new safety protocols, and conducting regular facility and inmate inspections.
“We understand the importance of transparency and quality in these investigations, and we have faith in the abilities of the Sheriff’s investigators to conduct thorough investigations and bring forward accurate findings,” said Weeks. “We extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who have passed away and assure them that we are doing everything in our power to ensure the safety and well-being of all inmates and staff within our facility.”
Eglin AFB to close Highway 85, State Roads 123 & 285 next week
Eglin Air Force Base has announced that the 96th Test Wing will conduct testing on the Eglin range complex on January 31, 2023, requiring the closure of Highway 85 and State Roads 123 and 285.
- Highway 85 and SR 123 will be closed at various points between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
- State Road 285 will close periodically from 10 a.m. through 3 p.m.
Eglin announced that State Road 285 will close again for testing on February 1-3 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
According to Eglin, the roads will not be closed for more than a 90-minute period and the roads may be closed for several periods within the time frame.
A back-up mission date for testing near Highway 85 and SR 123 is February 1 between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Former Okaloosa School Bus Aide arrested for child abuse of 6-year-old autistic student
On Tuesday, January 24, 2023, 22-year-old John-Paul Martinez of Fort Walton Beach was arrested by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) on charges of child abuse without great bodily harm.
- The arrest comes after an investigation by the OCSO revealed that Martinez, a school bus aide, had used inappropriate force in dealing with a six-year-old autistic student from Silver Sands School.
The investigation began on November 2, 2022, after the child’s grandmother reported suspicious reddish and blue marks on the child’s underarm and eye following a bus ride home on November 1st, according to the OCSO.
Upon reviewing bus footage, investigators discovered that the child, who was secured in a harness for his protection, had begun having a behavioral issue on the bus. Martinez reportedly physically restrained the child by forcefully grabbing his limbs, telling him to bite himself, and pulling on him while he was still secured in his harness.
When the child was interviewed with the assistance of his teacher, he indicated that the bus aide was mean to him, made him cry, and hurt his back.
- Martinez admitted that his actions were excessive and that he had other options he could have taken.
The Okaloosa School District staff was notified of the incident when it occurred, and Martinez was immediately placed on administrative leave pending further action. Superintendent Marcus Chambers released a statement condemning the alleged behavior and emphasizing the district’s commitment to student safety.
“The behavior alleged in this incident is absolutely unacceptable and does not represent the high standards of conduct that our hard-working employees uphold each and every day,” said Chambers. “Student safety will always be my number one priority. In situations where we fail to meet the standards we’ve set, individuals will be held accountable. We greatly appreciate the Sheriff’s Office for their work in this situation and truly value the partnership we have with them.”
Fatal motorcycle crash involves Okaloosa County School Bus in Mary Esther
On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, a fatal traffic accident occurred in Mary Esther involving an Okaloosa County school bus and a motorcycle.
- The crash took place on Highway 98 and Avenue Due Fontainebleau in Mary Esther around 2:30 p.m.
According to Okaloosa School District Public Information Officer, Catherine Card, the school bus was carrying 5 students from Fort Walton Beach High School at the time of the crash.
- The students, along with the bus driver, were checked out by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and parents of the students came to the scene to transport them home.
- None of the students nor the bus driver were seriously injured, according to the OCSD. However, the driver of the motorcycle died.
Details surrounding the crash were not released by Wednesday night and is currently being investigated by the Florida Highway Patrol.
And while the identity of the motorcycle driver has not been made public, we do know the driver was an AFSOC Airman. In a statement on Wednesday night, Colonel Allison Black, commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt, said the following:
- “I know this will have a significant impact to all our teammates and families throughout our community. This type of news is never easy to digest, and never easy to accept. Please lean on each other during this time of grieving and use our resources ….Chaplain, first sergeants, Military OneSource, MFLACs and other helping agencies are here to help us process this tragedy.”
Col. Black went on to ask the community to “please respect the privacy of the member and family by not disclosing their identities as next-of-kin notifications are taking place.”
“Our community stands ready to support all of you,” she added.
The new Chick-fil-A in Destin opens today!
Today, Thursday, January 26, 2023, the Destin community will welcome a brand new Chick-fil-A restaurant. The new location, located at 1021 Highway 98 East, opened its doors at 6am, with hours of operation from 6am-10pm.
- The old location, located at 1063 US-98, closed its doors on Monday at 2pm after serving the community for 27 years.
In November 2021, the Destin City Council unanimously approved the Major Development Order to build the new Chick-fil-A at the vacant Gulfview Plaza site. This new location is located just 3 parcels west of the previous location on Highway 98.
One of the main issues with the previous Chick-Fil-A location was traffic. Cars regularly backed-up onto Highway 98 trying to get into the parking lot or drive-thru, causing traffic issues. This issue, along with traffic at the nearby Whataburger, was something that the Destin City Council had heard from the public for quite some time.
To address these issues, the new Chick-fil-A location features 52 parking spaces and a dedicated drive-thru lane (2 lanes) that wraps around the entire 1.38 acres. The “stacking” of vehicles was the main problem at the previous location.
The new location will allow for the stacking of at least 36 vehicles, not including the ordering point, which should greatly alleviate the traffic issues that the previous location faced.
OK, that’s all I have for you this morning! I hope you have a great Thursday!
p.s. What did you think of this morning’s newsletter? Hit the reply button and let me know!
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