Around the Region

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.


Sheriff's Office says man set two fires

Putnam County sheriff's deputies arrested a Hawthorne man Wednesday for setting two small fires near his home.

Joshua Blake Phillips, 20, was being held at the Putnam County jail on two counts of intentionally burning land, according to the Sheriff's Office.

Firefighters from the Florida Division of Forestry and the Interlachen and West Putnam volunteer fire departments were called to battle two brush fires at about 4 a.m. near Neal Road and State Road 21 and near Neal Road and Clearwater Court, deputies reported. Soon after, officers received an anonymous tip that Phillips had started the blazes.

Investigators interviewed Phillips' mother, who told them her son had been seeing a psychologist and had been diagnosed as a pyromaniac, according to the Sheriff's Office.

The fires, which started in piles of leaves and straw, each burned about a half-acre.

- Lise Fisher

Man accused of impersonating officer

A former Putnam County Sheriff's Office employee has been accused of impersonating an officer, the agency reported Thursday.

Officers arrested Bermore "Bernie" Malave, 36, of Interlachen on Wednesday. Earlier in the week, the Sheriff's Office had received information that the ex-jail employee had told codes enforcement officers he was working undercover for the department, Maj. Keith Riddick said.

Malave had asked codes enforcement officers for the 911 address of a home allegedly owned by a drug dealer, deputies reported. During conversations, he said he was employed by the Sheriff's Office and used the identification number issued when he had been working for the department's corrections division.

Malave graduated from the agency's citizen law enforcement academy and worked as a volunteer public service assistant starting in October, the Sheriff's Office reported. He was hired as a civilian employee with the corrections division on Jan. 3 but resigned on Jan. 18.

- Lise Fisher

Truck driver killed in Columbia County

A truck driver was killed Thursday afternoon after his truck drove down an embankment and overturned, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

James Edward Garner Jr., 39, of Madison, was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which occurred around 12:30 p.m. on County Road 240 in the area of the SW Puritan Place south of Lake City in Columbia County, FHP reported.

Garner was traveling east along CR 240 when, for unknown reasons, he veered off the right side of the roadway and down an embankment. His three-axle well-drilling truck then rolled over, crushing the roof and causing fatal injuries to Garner, troopers reported.

- Alice Wallace

Interlachen man was rider in fatal crash

An Interlachen man killed in a Clay County crash earlier this month and originally identified by troopers as the vehicle's driver was actually a passenger, the Florida Highway Patrol reported Thursday.

Michael D. Bennett, 24, died on May 25 when a pickup in which he was riding struck the back of a truck stopped at a railroad crossing, troopers said. Investigators now believe another man injured in the accident and initially listed as a passenger, Randall C. Sweat Jr., 23, of Interlachen, was the pickup's driver.

The information first provided by troopers had been based on initial reports, said FHP spokesman Lt. Bill Leeper. At that time when troopers first arrived at the crash site, all of the pickup's occupants, including two other men riding in the vehicle, had been removed from the scene. Based on subsequent information, Leeper said officers now say Sweat was driving at the time of the crash. An investigation into the crash is ongoing.

- Lise Fisher

Police: Naked man struck by car, unhurt

A man, seen running naked in and out of traffic on W. University Avenue, was struck by a car but not injured early Thursday, Gainesville Police reported. The man had been seen in the 1700 block of W. University Avenue when he was hit shortly before 8:30 a.m., said Lt. Will Halvosa.

Police were not able to immediately identify the man, who was taken for psychiatric evaluation, he said.

- Lise Fisher


State keeps watch on Bradford, Gilchrist fires

The Florida Division of Forestry continued to monitor fires in Bradford and Gilchrist counties, which were fanned by winds earlier in the week.

A brush fire started Tuesday in a field where tree trimmings had been dumped in northeastern Gilchrist County off County Road 232 between CR 337 and the Alachua and Gilchrist county line. The fire threatened two homes. Officials also advised other nearby residents to be prepared to leave in case the fire spread.

Original reports, shown on a map in The Sun, had placed the fire farther north and closer to County Road 340.

Flames broke out of containment lines Wednesday on the Dairy Road fire in Bradford County in the area of State Road 100, north of County Road 18. The blaze originally had started earlier in the month and consumed about 15,000 acres. Crews were putting out hot spots Thursday and watching both fires, said Ludie Ehlers with the Florida Division of Forestry.

- Lise Fisher

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