Regional News: Winter Storm Deaths: Pensacola Chemist Taints Cases; Fla Meth Lab Burns with Child Inside

Frigid Weather
By  | 

PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) -- The winter storm that struck the Florida Panhandle is being blamed for the deaths of pelicans, sea turtles and other wildlife.
The Pensacola News Journal reports more than 130 cold-stunned endangered and threatened sea turtles were rescued Thursday and Friday. About a dozen more were found dead, including some from the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
A Florida wildlife official says most of the turtles being found are green sea turtles. They will be taken to the Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach to recover and be released sometime next week.
The storm covered much of the western Florida Panhandle with ice and snow. At least two people died in collisions.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- State troopers say nine people died in traffic accidents linked to this week's winter storm in Alabama.
The Department of Public Safety says fatal wrecks happened in six counties: Bullock, Chilton, DeKalb, Elmore, Perry and Tuscaloosa.
Troopers say additional deaths could be added to the storm total once additional wrecks are investigated.
Police say hundreds of wrecks occurred statewide during the storm, which struck Tuesday.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- The state is extending the deadline for car and boat owners to register their vehicles. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources says boat owners will now have until Feb. 10 to renew their vessel registrations. Yesterday was the original deadline, but the agency extended the deadline because of the winter storm.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating 2,600 cases handled by an agency chemist after discovering dozens of instances where prescription pain pills that were seized by police and tested as evidence were swapped with over-the-counter pills.
The department announced the investigation Saturday. Commissioner Gerald Bailey said the Pensacola-based chemist handled cases involving 80 law enforcement agencies from 35 counties since he was hired in 2006.
It's not immediately clear how many cases have been compromised, but Bailey said it potentially means drug charges will have to be dropped and prisoners released if determined the chemist tampered with evidence.
The chemist is on paid leave while a criminal investigation continues. Bailey he said he hopes charges are brought quickly, at which point the chemist will be fired.

MIAMI (AP) -- Snook season is back in Florida's Atlantic coastal and inland waters.
The recreational harvest season reopens Saturday from the Miami-Dade and Monroe county line north, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River. The season runs through May 31.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says anglers can keep one snook per day during the season. The fish can't be less than 28 or more than 32 inches in length. A snook permit is required to keep snook, along with a saltwater fishing license unless exempt from the license requirements. Only hook-and-line gear is allowed.
The FWC says it's illegal to buy or sell snook.
The harvest of snook in all of Florida's Gulf of Mexico state waters will reopen March 1.

ORANGE CITY, Fla. (AP) -- Authorities say a meth lab caught fire while a 9-year-old girl was left home alone.
The Volusia County Sheriff's Office has charged Melissa Berry and Jonathan Coburn with child neglect, manufacturing meth, arson and cultivation of cannabis.
Deputies were called to the home near Orange City Friday at about 3:45 p.m.
A neighbor reported seeing white smoke coming from the garage and said it was getting worse.
When deputies arrived, a girl came out of the house and said she had been inside alone. She was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution but did not sustain any injuries.
A fire marshal detective determined meth lab equipment had caused the fire.
The child was turned over to relatives.

Private flood insurer establishes Conn. beachhead
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A private flood insurer is the first to step into Connecticut's market, offering homeowners along the shoreline battered by Superstorm Sandy an alternative to the high cost of federal insurance.
The Flood Insurance Agency of Gainesville, Fla., is writing flood insurance policies in Connecticut.
CEO Evan Hecht says the market was established in response to federal legislation that eliminated subsidies on federal flood insurance in 2012 to bring insurance rates more in line with the real risk of flooding.
One unintended consequence was that home buyers were alarmed at huge insurance premiums that come with houses they were considering purchasing.
Hecht says policies from his company aren't intended for properties that are a frequent flooding risk. Policies will typically be for older homes with basements.

Fire marshal probing cause of blaze that killed 2
GEORGETOWN, Ga. (AP) -- The state fire marshal's office is investigating a blaze that claimed the lives of two people in southwest Georgia.
Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said the fire happened early Friday in the Quitman County community of Georgetown.
Killed were 51-year-old Johnny Gibbs; and 62-year-old Carletha Peterson.
Hudgens said the cause of the fire does not appear suspicious. He said there have been 22 fire deaths so far this year in Georgia.
Georgetown is just across the Chattahoochee River from Eufaula, Ala.

ATLANTA (AP) -- Atlanta's mayor is defending his use of emergency lanes at the height of this week's icy traffic jam so he could do an interview at The Weather Channel's studios.
Mayor Kasim Reed's communications director Carlos Campos said Saturday that he, Reed and police officers normally assigned to the mayor traveled in two cars equipped with blue lights to reach the station's suburban Atlanta headquarters.
It happened early Tuesday evening, at a time when emergency responders were trying to help the thousands of motorists stranded on the Interstate.
Campos told The Associated Press Saturday that he doesn't believe there was ever a time when they interfered with the emergency response.
The mayor's use of emergency lanes was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The action has sparked anger among some motorists.

ATLANTA (AP) -- A 34-year-old man is accused of using a tow truck to take cars that were abandoned in Atlanta during the winter storm and traffic jam.
Police said Louis Mitchell Jr. was arrested Thursday and charged with auto theft, forgery and other offenses. It's not clear whether he has an attorney.
Atlanta Police Sgt. Greg Lyon told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that a police officer saw an unmarked tow truck pulling a car. The truck fled when the officer tried stopping it. The driver and passenger fled the truck during a chase, sending it crashing.
Investigators say the two truck was stolen this month. It was pulling a Toyota that was stranded on Interstate 85. The investigation led police to three other cars taken from highways.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- A Georgia man who allegedly traveled from New York to New Jersey for what he thought would be a sexual encounter with a child has been indicted by a federal grand jury.
Paul Fishman, the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, says 22-year-old Richard Simone Jr. stands accused of traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and distributing child pornography. He faces up to 50 years in prison if convicted on both counts.
Simone, an Acworth, Ga. resident, was living on Long Island when he allegedly made the trip last September.
Prosecutors say Simone and an undercover special agent chatted online for several weeks about Simone having sex with the agent's fictitious 9-year-old daughter and fictitious minor baby-sitter.
Simone's lawyer could not be reached for comment Saturday.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- With a first name like "Trip," an Alabama senator was bound to prompt jokes by pushing a bill mandating drug testing for legislators. But Daphne Republican Sen. Trip Pittman says he's serious. Pittman is trying to pass a bill requiring drug testing of welfare applicants with drug convictions in the past five years, and he's proposed drug testing for legislators so they can lead by example.