Around the Region - April 1, 2009

Published: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 at 9:11 a.m.

Police Beat

2 teens arrested in carjacking case

Starke police arrested two teenagers accused of trying to carjack a couple leaving a local bank early Tuesday.

Javaris Kates, 18, and a 17-year-old, both of Starke, were accused of carjacking, police reported. The 17-year-old also was accused of carrying a concealed weapon and had a warrant pending for his arrest for a probation violation.

The couple contacted police and said that two men tried to rob them as they were leaving a bank ATM at about 1:22 a.m.

According to police, one man had a gun, and one man demanded the two get out of the car.

Instead, the couple told police they drove off, and went to a gas station at State Road 100 and SR 200, where the two contacted authorities.

Officers were searching the area when they spotted four people walking into a convenience store. Two matched the description provided by the victims, police said.

Police said they detained the four, and the victims identified Kates and the 17-year-old as suspects in the incident.

One of the other people detained also was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and tampering with evidence, police reported.

- Lise Fisher

Haleigh's mom in minor car crash

The mother of missing 5-year-old Haleigh Cummings was involved in a minor vehicle accident in Putnam County on Monday afternoon, according to Palatka police.

Crystal Sheffield was driving a pickup when she ran into the back of a car on State Road 20, according to police. The accident occurred just before 1 p.m. Both vehicles had been headed west and were in a turning lane.

A child was in the vehicle with Sheffield and was properly secured inside, according to police. No injuries were reported in either vehicle, although Sheffield and the child went to an area hospital to be examined after the crash.

Sheffield told police she had a seizure prior to the accident, the police department reported.

Sheffield is the mother of Haleigh Cummings, a Satsuma girl who was last seen at her father's home on Feb. 9. The child vanished from the residence and has not been located. No suspects have been named in the case, which investigators consider a possible abduction.

- Lise Fisher


March of Dimes set to meet goal

An estimated 6,000 walkers participated in last weekend's March for Babies, Gainesville's big annual spring fundraiser for the March of Dimes.

Following the 8.5-mile walk, which every year is one of the nation's largest for the March of Dimes, the North Central Florida Division is poised to once again reach its $900,000 goal for the year, said Betsy Trent, executive director of the local division.

Fundraising teams from Publix, Walmart, UF & Shands and Chain Reaction are all in contention to be the No. 1 team in North Central Florida this year, said Trent. Top teams will be announced after the spring campaign concludes.

Meantime, Alexa's Family Team raised more than $16,000 through Alexa's Wing Bowl, an annual wing-eating competition at Gator's Dockside. Team Eliana and Danielle raised more than $12,000 through personal online fundraising.

Now the fundraising continues. Publix stores across the state are just kicking off their annual cutout campaign. Kmart and Sonny's Bar-BQ will continue to sell cutouts as well.

Gainesville elementary schools are also still fundraising in April and May for the March of Dimes through WalkMania, a shorter, kid-friendly version of the March for Babies at each school.

- Staff report

County burn ban lifted due to rain

With rain dousing Alachua County over the weekend and more rain in the forecast, a burn ban has been lifted in the county.

But state officials caution that the fire danger for the state, including several counties in North Florida, isn't over.

"Rainfall varied widely throughout the state over the weekend, leaving areas in the Panhandle flooded while the central and southern peninsula still have high wildfire risk," said Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson in a statement. "More than 13 inches of rain fell in the far western Panhandle counties, while central and south Florida received little rain."

While the Florida Division of Forestry sent road crews to help rebuild and reopen flooded roads in the northwestern part of the state, firefighters were in Volusia and Hernando counties to help with wildfire suppression efforts, DOF reported Tuesday.

A drought index reading for Alachua County was between 300 and 399 compared to other nearby counties, including Columbia, Marion, Putnam and Union counties. Those counties had readings ranging from 550 to 699, according to DOF.

The index varies from 0, which means there is no moisture deficit, to 800. A reading higher than 540 is considered severe drought.

- Lise Fisher

University of Florida

Reporters wrap up lecture series

A University of Florida lecture series on the presidency concludes tonight with an event featuring two national political reporters.

Al Eisele, editor-at-large of The Hill, and Bill Adair, Washington bureau chief of the St. Petersburg Times and editor of, will discuss media and the new administration.

UF spokesman Steve Orlando will moderate the event, which begins at 7 p.m. in Pugh Hall.

- Nathan Crabbe

Director of honors program named

The University of Florida has named a new director of its honors program.

Kevin Knudson will take over as director of UF's program starting June 30. He is a member of Mississippi State University's mathematics and statistics faculty.

He has served as acting director of Mississippi State's honors college since 2008. Prior to that, he served as associate director of the college.

- Nathan Crabbe


Unlicensed dentist accused of assault

KISSIMMEE -- Authorities say a Sarasota man performing dental work without a license sexually assaulted at least one of his patients.

Deputies arrested 46-year-old Luis Figueroa Vasquez on Sunday. The investigation began last week after a woman reported that Vasquez came to her Osceola County home to perform dental work. The woman told detectives Vasquez injected her with what she thought was anesthesia and then, several minutes later, began touching her inappropriately.

Deputies questioned Vasquez and searched his vehicle, where they found dental equipment. Vasquez is not licensed in Florida. The sheriff's office is trying to determine if there are additional victims.

- The Associated Press

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