Becky Sue is driving down Archer Road and checks her phone for the text message she just received. At the same time, the Honda in front of her breaks for the stoplight they are approaching. Without noticing this, Becky crashes into the back of the Honda before she can even look up from her phone’s screen.

Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent – at 55 mph – of driving the length of an entire football field while blind, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Starting on Oct. 1, texting while driving is illegal in the state of Florida.

The new texting and driving law prohibits texting, emailing, or instant messaging on any handheld device while the vehicle is in motion.

The fine for a first offense is $30 while the fine for a second offense is $60, according to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office website.

Some law enforcement officials, however, feel this is only a small improvement for cracking down on dangerous driving habits.

“This will not have the large impact that everyone is hoping for, being that it is a secondary offense,” said Officer Ben Tobias, spokesman for the Gainesville Police Department. “Some will be disappointed with it, but I feel it is a step in the right direction.”

A secondary offense means that an officer must see you commit another infraction, such as speeding or not wearing a seatbelt, in order to penalize you for texting.

This could change in the future, just as the seatbelt law did, which also began as a secondary offense, said Lt. Todd Kelly, with the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

Drivers will be allowed to text while at red lights or stopped in traffic, in accordance with the “in-motion” aspect of the law. It will also be acceptable for drivers to continue use of hands-free texting methods, or to report criminal activity while driving, according to the sheriff’s office.

The main goal for this law is not to punish people heavily for texting and driving, but instead to change the culture and behavior of drivers today, Kelly said.

“People have become so accustomed to just grabbing their phone and sending a text home ‘real quick’, without realizing the dangers that can pose for themselves and their fellow drivers,” he said.

Along with the Gainesville Police Department, the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office will continue to make efforts to educate drivers and try to prevent more incidents from occurring, Kelly said.

There is not currently a statistic that is kept through the Sheriff’s office regarding the number of infractions involving texting, but this could be something else that will change, as the law now requires these records to be kept.

Florida is only the latest out of 40 other states in the country to ban texting while driving. Kelly said he feels the action was long overdue.

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(L-R) Gentle Carousel Trainer/Owner Jorge Garcia-Bengochea, Billy, an unnamed orphan and Marine Raftopoulou, volunteer coordinator at Gentle Carousel Greece.

HIGH SPRINGS – Travelling from the small town of High Springs to a mountain orphanage in Greece is a journey most horses probably haven’t undertaken.

Members of the local organization Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses have returned from Greece after helping set up Gentle Carousel Greece, a therapy-horse program to focus on special needs children and children living in orphanages. Charity founder Jorge Garcia-Bengochea and members of Gentle Carousel Greece met with nuns running isolated mountain orphanages to explain the therapy program and how much it could help the children in their care.

They were encouraged by how well the program was received and look forward to regular Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horse visits with the children in their remote settings.

Because the orphanages are so isolated, the children get little exposure to the outside world and visitors, Garcia-Bengochea said. Visits with the children help broaden their perspective on life. In addition, miniature horses live quite a long time. The children will grow up with the same horses throughout their childhood in most cases, he said.

In Greece, adoption is not an option for children without parents. They stay in orphanages with other children and the nuns until they are adults. “They are a family unit. The older children help take care of the younger ones like they would in a regular family setting,” he said.

The Greek Olympic Equestrian Team contacted the High Springs group, asking if they could set up a sister program in Greece.

“They were willing to provide stables, full-time trainers, vehicles to transport the horses and sponsorship money for their program if we would consider setting up a program for them,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea.

Greece has a strong equestrian history and honors one of the most famous actual horses of antiquity, Alexander the Great’s horse Bucephalus, on Greek coins and statutes.

“We considered it carefully before agreeing to do it. We knew we couldn’t afford to set up another program anywhere. The cost of transportation for the two of us back-and-forth to Greece and sending our horses to Greece was a major concern,” she said. “However, they were willing to pick up the entire cost of setting up the program and had an extensive amount of public and governmental support. Plus, this would remain our program. We will train the trainers and oversee every step of the program because it is a Gentle Carousel program.”

The couple said they would like to have been able to set up other Gentle Carousel programs in the United States, but the charity is operating on a shoestring as it is. “We just couldn’t afford the cost to set up a program without outside help,” she said. “While we do get donations to our charity, both Jorge and I still work to be able to maintain the program we have now,” she said. “In addition, some of our sponsors have withdrawn their support because we decided to set up a sister program in Greece. They were disappointed we didn’t do it here first, but there was just no way we could do that financially,” she said.

Better known nationally and internationally than locally, the Gentle Carousel founders received an overwhelming welcome on their recent trip to Greece. “We went over to train the trainers, talk to the people involved and the nuns at the orphanages to help set up the program,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochea.

During their visit, the Mayor of Rafina, Yiorgos Chritopoulos, expressed support for the organization.

“Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses have long supported the sick, the elderly and those living in difficult situations in the United States,” he said. “It is my honor to now welcome this special charity to Greece where they will be an encouragement to the most vulnerable members of our community and bring a common bond of hope between our two countries.”

George Frangogiannis, two-time national show-jumping champion and a member of Greece’s national team welcomed the couple.

“I am thankful that young children challenged by sickness and the elderly of Greece, who might never have the opportunity to know the love of a horse will now have that experience,” he said.

While the Garcia-Bengocheas are back in Florida, they are Skyping with the Greek trainers as they work with the horses in Greece and are preparing to send six more of their own trained horses over to Greece soon. The couple will go back to Greece to work further with the Greek trainers and get the program started.

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ALACHUA – As many as 250-500 new jobs may become available in Alachua County if the former site for the company Medical Manager is leased by a new company.

The 16-acre property, still owned by Medical Manager’s developer, Mickey Singer, is available for lease, according to Michael Ryals of Bosshardt Realty.

“We hope to attract a business that will bring with it jobs, added revenues and some sort of business synergy to the community,” Ryals said.

[CW1] The 83,738 square-foot, five-building complex is located at 15151 NW 99th Street in Alachua. It is expected to lease at $83,738 per month.

Ryals is trying to attract the right company to this “gem in Alachua County,” as he describes it.

“It would be an ideal location for several different types of businesses. I could easily see it being used again by a technology company, like Medical Manager used it, a school or as a medical campus,” he said.

An improved economy is one reason the property is being put on the market to lease at this time.

“Now that the economy is recovering, it’s time to get active and get the property back into the pipeline,” he said.

The two-story buildings were constructed as Medical Manager grew from the years of 1993 to 2002. The smallest building in the complex was built first at 14,501 square feet. The largest building in the complex was built last at 21,044 square feet. The campus-like setting houses offices, large meeting rooms and features fully-networked computer wiring and a generator backup.

“Everything we built was top of the line,” said property owner Mickey Singer.

“Everyone says it is a gorgeous piece of property,” he said. The same architecture was used for all the buildings. “We wanted to build not only a beautiful work environment, but one that had optimal conditions for our employees.” The layout of the workspaces was carefully designed with employees in mind, Singer said.

“As our employees walked between the buildings, we wanted them to be able to experience the calming effects of the natural environment,” he said. “It is a unique setting for a business.” Everything in the building is modern, including the fiber optics.

Ryals agreed, noting how each building is interconnected by covered walkways through landscaped gardens with break areas and even ponds. Singer still maintains the property and landscaped gardens to the same standards as when Medical Manager occupied the buildings.

“It is truly a campus,” Singer sad.  

Two weeks ago, Ryals brought in a group of business-minded community members to tour the buildings and grounds.

“We went to them for ideas on where we should focus our attention in marketing the property,” he said. Among those who toured the facilities were Alachua Mayor Gib Coerper, Alachua City Manager Traci Caine and Alachua Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari, as well as representatives from Innovation Square, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Gainesville Council for Economic Outreach and the University of Florida.

Ryals said they are looking at real estate representatives on a national level who may have additional contacts in the U.S. and abroad for input. He also plans to research a state database, which is currently in the early stages of development by Enterprise Florida. When the listing is complete, business owners interested in locating in Florida will have a website to access available properties within the state that meet their requirements.

Medical Manager’s software was developed by Singer in 1979. “It hit the market in 1981, when the economy was going strong,” Singer said. Medical Manager went public in 1997. The company was sold in 2009 to Sage Software, one of the largest software companies in Europe.

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 [CW1]The # of sq. ft. & the monthly lease amount ARE correct. It’s $12/sq. ft. divided by 12 months.

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W - Star parkNEWBERRY – Although the sky was cloudy last year on June 5, Alachua Astronomy Club, Inc. still spotted Venus start its eclipse of the sun through telescopes set up behind the Easton Newberry Sports Complex. That could have been the last chance some of them would get to see Venus’ transit in their lifetimes.

For about two years, the club has been meeting at this location behind the baseball fields, a small facility called Newberry Star Park, said Any Howell, club president.

With help from Doug Eng, club secretary and Easton Foundations outreach director, and the Parks and Recreation Department, the club now has eight observation pads to stand their telescopes on and a place to store equipment.

“Most members are recreational astronomers,” Howell said. “They enjoy looking at the stars and the moon and observing and learning about the heavens.”

The club is dedicated to public outreach and invites everyone who is interested in the moons and stars to attend International Observe the Moon Night on Oct. 12 at the park from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

It holds school outreach events, like the one at Hidden Oak Elementary School that will be on Oct. 10. Members bring their telescopes for the kids to show them the stars and the planets.

The idea is to regularly schedule school and public outreach events to stir up interest and astronomy education for the community, Howell said.

“We want to get Newberry schools more involved as well. If we can use the Star Park as a base to educate kids,” he said, “that would be fantastic.”

The organization, through cooperation with state parks, is planning to host a star showing for visitors at Big Shoals State Park.

The community is welcome to attend the club’s public meetings held usually every second Tuesday of every month at the Florida Museum of Natural History. One exception is the meeting on Oct. 8, which will be at the Santa Fe College’s Kika Silva Pla Planetarium. University of Florida astronomy professor Elizabeth Lada will speak about stellar clusters and our origins. The November meeting’s topic of discussion will be aimed at helping beginners choose a telescope.

The Alachua Astronomy Club, started in 1987 by Dr. Howard Cohen, a retired UF professor, became incorporated in 1997. It has 100 members and celebrated its 25th anniversary last December. Membership dues vary for individuals, ranging from $12 to $100, depending on age and college-enrollment status, among other factors.


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ALACHUA – John “Jack” Parrish, once a member of the Alachua Police Department, is now a name that will exist in the hearts of many Alachua officers as a reminder of what it means to be a leader.

Parrish became the first Chief of Police for the Alachua Police Department in 1976 after he left the Florida Highway Patrol. From there, he changed a community by instilling a moral and professional code that would resonate for the next 37 years, according to friends and family.

Current Chief of Police, Joel DeCoursey, Jr., saw Parrish as a mentor. In DeCoursey’s office, in a chair pulled away from a table, sits Parrish’s picture, acting as a commemorative piece.

DeCoursey recalled Parrish as a gentle giant and a protector for the people who couldn’t protect themselves. His legacy as a protector, he said, will last for years to come.

While DeCoursey never actually worked with Parrish, he had a strong relationship with him. So strong that he was able to consult him when tough situations arose.

“He was a resource for the community,” he said. “If something was going on that I needed to know about, he would inform me. If there was something he could help me with, he would tap into his resources or his knowledge base.”

Parrish’s love for the Alachua community kept him involved even after his retirement, DeCoursey said. Since Parrish’s wife, Patricia Parrish, continued to work at the police department after her husband retired, this meant he would often come around the police building.

“He was one of those sounding boards, he and his wife, they were very supportive,” DeCoursey said.

Even on the days when he didn’t need to tell DeCoursey about something, he still would stop in and check up on the officers, mainly the new ones.

“He would always take a vested interest in who was hired and how the department was going,” he said.

He may have hung up his work boots, but staying away from his old life all together was just too hard, so helping the new guys out became a regular thing for Parrish.

However, as he got older, he spent less time at the department and more time with his wife traveling and fishing.

Parrish died earlier this month at North Florida Regional Hospital after a lengthy illness at the age of 73.

Many young officers didn’t know Parrish well, but the officers that did know him have heavy hearts, DeCoursey said.

The Alachua Police Department has been trying to help Parrish’s family in this difficult time. DeCoursey has been in touch with Patricia Parrish regularly to check on her and see if she needs anything. Some officers have even been taking shifts and personally going to her home to check in.

To remember Parrish, the department will be holding a memorial for him in the future. A time hasn’t been decided yet.

Parrish’s love for his community is the reason that the Alachua Police Department has become so reputable and well-working, DeCoursey said. His work in growing the department and being a morally right leader are only two of the numerous everlasting effects he left on Alachua.

“He loved this community,” he said. “He loved the people in this community.”

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W - safety patrolALACHUA – John Maloney watched from the audience as his stepdaughter, Kaylee Mines, followed in his footsteps and took the pledge.

Kaylee, a fifth-grader at Alachua Elementary, was one of almost 30 students to become a part of the safety patrol in Alachua during a ceremony, which took place at 9 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 20 at Alachua Elementary School. The students were called up in three groups and took the pledge to honor and uphold the responsibility given to them through this title.

The newest wave of safety patrols was sworn in by Joel DeCoursey Jr., chief of police at the Alachua Police Department.

“She has wanted this for over a year now, and it’s really something that makes her mother and I very proud,” Maloney said.

The main goal of the program is to maintain order in the school as much as a student can, DeCoursey said. There is a reason these kids were chosen and placing this kind of trust in them is only going to help them to grow, he added.

The young students pledged: “I promise to do my best to report for duty on time, perform my duties faithfully, strive to prevent accidents, always set a good example, obey my teachers and officers of the patrol, report dangerous student practices and strive to earn the respect of fellow students.”

It was really something special for Maloney to experience watching Kaylee become part of the safety patrol, just as he had done when he was in school, he said.

Alachua County has been a part of the program for over 35 years, DeCoursey said. It is a country-wide program as well, he added, and it acts as a reward for fifth-grade students who can meet the standard.

Kelly Maloney, Kaylee’s mother, was proud her daughter has been able to meet that standard and has a desire to help others.

“I know that they only pick the best students to receive this title,” she said, “and it will be great for teaching her how to handle this type of responsibility.”

Christine McCall was another mother on hand at the ceremony where her daughter, Allison McCall, also joined the patrol.  

To be selected, a student has to have good grades, act in a mature manner and do the right thing, McCall said. This will be something that teaches her to behave well when other people look up to her, she said.

Each student is assigned a post, and they ensure that the safety rules of the school are upheld in that area, said Eva Copeland, principal of Alachua Elementary.

One of the posts a student could receive is the car-pickup area. This is the zone where parents can get their children after school. A safety patrol would be responsible for making sure that each student got to his or her car safely at this post, but they would probably not open doors or load students, Copeland said.

DeCoursey has been involved with the program in the city for over 20 years and he has seen it be a tremendous help for some students. It gives them a sense of pride in something. They all had to work for this and seeing that work culminate in this reward really means something, he said.

There is an additional reward for the children. At the end of the year they will be going on a trip to Washington D.C. as a part of the program. About 1,300 students from around the county take the trip every year. It’s basically a bonus for them, DeCoursey said.

Most of them don’t really care that it is Washington D.C., they just enjoy the excitement of going on a trip, he said.

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ALACHUA – Schools will be combating the flu virus for its fifth year in a row this season for all grade levels from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade.

Schools will be giving out free flu vaccines for students with consenting parents. The vaccine will be administered through a nose spray known as FluMist, which has been used each year for the last five years with few issues.

The program deadline has been extended to Sept. 30. Alachua County has extended its deadline because it has not yet met its goal of getting at least 70 percent of students vaccinated.

University of Florida pediatrician, Kathleen Ryan, encouraged vaccinating children for the flu to prevent it from spreading throughout the community.

“The reason we aim for that 70 percent is because there are modeling studies, computer mathematical models that show that if you can immunize 70 percent of children in the community,” she said, “you can protect the entire community from the flu.”

This process is referred to as community immunity or herd immunity. The idea behind it is to protect older and younger citizens from picking up the virus from children that are in school and are exposed to it regularly.

In the five years that the FluMist has been used in Alachua County schools, Ryan said she has seen more and more parents opt to give schools permission to vaccinate their children.

While Ryan said that high school students are the hardest to get vaccinated at school, there are still around 15 to 20 percent of high school students that receive the vaccine through their doctors rather than the school.

Unfortunately, some parents will not be giving their children the FluMist vaccine due to health issues.

One parent said that since her daughter is asthmatic that she can’t receive the vaccine in the FluMist form, but will most likely be taking her to get the actual shot.

Children with active asthma and other respiratory diseases cannot be given the FluMist vaccine, Ryan said, but she advised they go to their pediatricians to get the shot.

“We encourage them to do that because they really should have follow up with their doctor, especially because they have a chronic illness and they need to get the vaccine,” she said.

At Irby Elementary, the FluMist will be given out at its Health Fair Day where students from first grade and up have their height and weight measured and have their vision and hearing tested.

Health Fair Day has been set up so that children will have updated physicals without interrupting too much of class time.

Nurse Melissa Lopez at Irby Elementary said the Health Fair would last until noon and health screenings would take 20 minutes for an entire class. Once health screenings are done, Lopez would then go down the line of children and give them the vaccine.

Lopez also encouraged the vaccine because it can help keep both children and parents healthy and productive. By receiving the vaccine, children will be less likely to get sick and require their parents to stay home from work with them. This can also cause the spread of the virus.

“Last year, we probably had like five students that had the flu viruses,” she said. “In the years past, we’ve always had more. It’s been up in the 30s. By getting as many children vaccinated as possible, the community can drastically reduce the number of cases, she added.

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