Regional News: Dothan Alcohol Vote; Animal Cruelty Charge in Graceville; Fla Murder, Abuse Convictions

Esther Williams, who died last year, starred in more than a dozen movies where she swam and skied in elaborate musical productions. One of those sets has been restored in Cypress Gardens, Florida, and will reopen his month.
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DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) -- An upcoming vote on allowing alcohol at outdoor events in downtown Dothan is expected to be close.
The Dothan Eagle reports that two city commissioners say they plan to vote in favor of the ordinance on Tuesday, and a third commissioner pledged his support for the ordinance.
However, three other commissioners said Friday they plan to vote against it.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz has publicly expressed support for the ordinance, which could add another vote in favor of it.
The Dothan newspaper reports that if no one changes their mind at the last minute, the issue appears headed for approval by a 4-3 vote on Tuesday.
An Alabama law passed in 2012 allows cities to create entertainment districts where alcohol can be consumed outdoors.

GRACEVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Three Holmes County residents are charged with animal cruelty for allegedly neglecting a herd of 90 dairy cattle.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced the arrests Friday, which followed a routine food safety inspection of Wild Rose Dairy. The dairy is located in Graceville, which is 60 miles north of Panama City near the Alabama-Florida state line.
Department inspectors detected unsanitary conditions at the dairy and issued a stop sale order. A department veterinarian confirmed that the poor condition of the cattle was due to neglect. Cattle able to travel were transferred to another local dairy.
Arrest warrants were issued for the people responsible for managing the dairy. All three were charged with animal cruelty, a third degree felony, and unlawful disposal of animal carcasses.

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- The Carnival celebration is in full swing along Alabama's coast this weekend. Nine different parades were scheduled today in Mobile and Baldwin counties. This coming Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and thousands of people in coastal cities are turning out for the final parades and get-togethers before the end of the season.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- A 24-year-old man has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for the 2012 home-invasion robbery and beating death of an elderly Gainesville homeowner.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty in the case, but jurors recommended a life sentence. Judge Mark Moseley agreed to the recommended sentence for Austin Mark Jones on Friday.
Jones' cousin had worked as a caretaker for the victim who was disabled. Prosecutors said Jones and his cousin plotted the home invasion and robbery.

INVERNESS, Fla. (AP) -- A judge in central Florida has sentenced a mother to 17 years in prison for starving and abusing her 17-month-old daughter.
The Citrus County Chronicle ( ) reports that the child weighed just 14 pounds when authorities found the girl at the mother's home.
Circuit Court Judge Richard "Ric" Howard said during Friday's sentencing hearing that he sentenced the mother to 17 years because her daughter was 17 months old when investigators found her last year. Howard said he also sentenced the woman to 14 years of probation to represent the child's weight when she was found. Howard said he wanted the mother to live with the memory of those numbers during her time in prison.

KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) -- A Colorado man, competing in his late father's honor, is the winner in the men's division of the 52nd annual Conch (kahnk) Shell Blowing Contest in Key West, Fla.
Michael Cox of Pueblo triumphed by blowing a long, melodic two-toned blast on the fluted, pink-lined shell his father used to win almost 30 years ago. The 38-year-old followed it with an excerpt from George Gershwin 1935 classic "Summertime" played on a smaller shell.
The contest, nicknamed the "Conch Honk," attracted entrants ranging from age 3 to 77. The group winner was the Boca Chica Conchestra, composed of more than two dozen people who performed a wacky takeoff on the Village People's "YMCA."
Entrants were judged on the quality, duration, loudness and novelty of the sounds they made.
Conch shells have been used as signaling devices in the Florida Keys for at least 200 years and the shell is a symbol of the island chain. Native-born islanders are called Conchs, and the Keys are nicknamed the Conch Republic.

MIAMI (AP) -- Venezuelans in South Florida are continuing to demonstrate against the violence in their home country.
Events and protests are scheduled for both Saturday and Sunday around Miami.
On Saturday, young Venezuelans will join other young adults from Latin America in Coconut Grove at 2 p.m. to express their solidarity with the students in Venezuela.
And on Sunday, Venezuelans are expecting to hold another rally in Miami.
Seventeen people have died in what began as a student protest earlier in February and has grown to include the mostly middle class opposition in Venezuela. The protesters are upset with economic shortages and the heavy-handed response of the government to the demonstrations.
The largest concentration of Venezuelans in the U.S. resides in South Florida.

Florida last in National Guard-civilian ratio
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Despite ever-present threats from hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, Florida ranks last in the ratio of Army National Guard troops to civilian residents.
Numbers provided to The Florida Times-Union by the Florida Army National Guard show there 10.3 guardsmen per every 100,000 civilians in the state.
The newspaper reported Saturday that Florida Army National Guard leaders are worried about the low numbers. The state's adjutant general says his forces are already stretched thin and that budget cuts could make the situation worse.

Legoland Florida to reopen 2 botanical gardens
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) -- Legoland Florida says it will reopen two areas of the Cypress Gardens botanical section that have been closed to the public since the park opened in 2011.
The Lakeland Ledger reports that the Polk County-based theme park announced Friday that one of the restored features is the Florida Pool, a peninsula-shaped reservoir built as a set for the 1953 Esther Williams movie "Easy To Love." The pool had suffered from years of deterioration before Legoland Florida acquired the property in 2010.
The other section that will be made open to the public is The Oriental Gardens.
The 30-acre botanical area is under consideration for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Atlanta streetcar system will likely be delayed
ATLANTA (AP) -- The start of a new Atlanta streetcar system appears to be delayed, and emails obtained by a newspaper show it will likely cost significantly more to operate than first thought.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a key question -- who will manage day-to-day operations -- remains unresolved.
Emails obtained by the newspaper show that officials are still trying to decide who will operate and maintain the 2.7-mile system.
When federal funding was announced in 2010, the projected annual cost to operate it was around $1.7 million.
But estimates released by the city Friday show operating costs likely would be more than double under two of three scenarios being considered.
Atlanta's deputy chief operating officer Tom Weyandt said the projected startup this spring would likely be pushed back to sometime this summer.