BROOKSVILLE — When the economy tanked, plans for a new judicial center for Hernando County stopped cold.
At that point, Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. was leading the charge, pleading with commissioners to find a solution to cramped conditions.
Now, Merritt's son is the county's administrative judge, and he has come forward with a list of current and future needs that would eventually double the number of courtrooms from seven to 14....
BROOKSVILLE — A former Hernando sheriff's sergeant accused of stealing cash from the agency's vice unit was sentenced Thursday to two years of probation.
Joseph Reid, 42, pleaded no contest to grand theft. Hernando Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. withheld a formal finding of guilt.
As part of a plea deal, Reid was ordered to repay $650 to the Sheriff's Office and agreed to give up his law enforcement certification. He must also pay $2,828.10 in investigation costs....
BROOKSVILLE — A 38-year-old Pasco County elementary school teacher was arrested Sunday and charged with aggravated assault after she grabbed a knife and struggled with her husband at their home west of Brooksville, deputies say.
Amy Michelle Weaver, a teacher at Lake Myrtle Elementary School in Land O'Lakes, was booked into the Hernando County Detention Center and released later Sunday after posting $1,000 bail, records show....
03/07/14 Public Safety
BROOKSVILLE — Teri Blake opened a door on the back of her Ford truck one recent morning and kicked her cooing voice into overdrive.
About an hour earlier, the animal services officer had responded to a call in Spring Hill about a dog stuck in a fence. She found a black and white shorthair terrier and a larger terrier with long, wheat-colored fur. Both were roaming free, neither had a collar, and the bigger dog nipped at Blake....
BROOKSVILLE — Tom Eineman came to Brooksville in 1989 and saw a need for attorneys in an area of law that makes many lawyers shudder.
Family law attorneys work with clients during the most trying times of their lives. Divorces, child custody battles and paternity suits are a routine part of the job.
"You are helping people at often one of the most trying emotional times they're ever going to experience," Eineman said....
BROOKSVILLE — Joseph Brannen stared at the pages as his attorney explained the deal that would send the teenager to prison.
One day last summer, Brannen showed up at the East Hernando Branch Library clad in firefighting gear as crews worked to douse a blaze that Brannen would later confess to having ignited. On Friday, the mentally ill 18-year-old wore an orange jail jumpsuit that swallowed his thin frame; he bounced his legs up and down as he awaited his turn in a Hernando County courtroom....
BROOKSVILLE — Sitting at the witness stand, Cliff Kearney turned to the men guilty of his friend's murder and took them back to the night that Michael Pfeifer was killed.
Kearney was staying with Pfeifer at his house on Grand Avenue in Masaryktown when three armed men barged in on the night of Aug. 16, 2011, and demanded drugs and money.
"You left me in a real horror show, you know that?" Kearney told Richard D. Harris Jr., Nicholas J. Trammell and Robert H. Willoughby. "I had to try to stop the bleeding. I had to stay with my boy as he clutched onto life. We told you, 'We had kids. Don't kill us.' You laughed and turned off the lights and counted backwards from five. Remember that?"...
BROOKSVILLE — One year ago, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis announced that he was assigning a detective to work exclusively on one of the Tampa Bay area's most confounding cold cases.
John Ellis would spend at least one year combing through dozens of thick binders of materials and dozens of pieces of evidence collected during the investigation of the murder of Jennifer Odom, a chipper 12-year-old from eastern Pasco County found dead in a Hernando orange grove in February 1993....
BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County sheriff's deputy arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence last month has cleared another big hurdle in his effort to get back to work.
Deputy Joseph Tibor learned Thursday that his suspended driver's license had been reinstated. A state hearing officer ruled there wasn't enough evidence to show that the Florida Highway Patrol corporal who arrested Tibor on Jan. 12 had probable cause to suspect he was driving under the influence....
02/26/14 Public Safety
SPRING HILL — One summer day in 2011, a secretary came to Hernando sheriff's Lt. Tom Garcia with a problem.
A sergeant who worked under Garcia in the vice and narcotics unit owed $2,011.89 to the cash fund used for drug buys and other investigative work, the secretary said. The sergeant wasn't in the office and Garcia couldn't reach him, so he drove home, got $1,500 of his own money, placed the cash in the unit's safe and told the secretary to make the changes to the sergeant's ledger....
BROOKSVILLE — Circuit Judge Stephen E. Toner Jr. peered at the defendant through wire glasses and told him to pay attention.
After nearly four hours of testimony, it was time for Toner to explain why he was about to send the 19-year-old man with schizophrenia to prison for much of his adult life.
As family members and reporters watched from the gallery of Courtroom E, Toner told Jesse Daily that the decision had not been an easy one. The judge said he had considered Daily's age and his mental health diagnosis. He acknowledged that the state prison system offers relatively limited mental health treatment. But he told the gaunt, lanky teen that there had to be a steep consequence for fatally stabbing his mother's boyfriend. ...
02/18/14 Public Safety
HIGH POINT — As Bruce Nance backed into the driveway of the mobile home now known as the cat house, a gray and white straggler watched with yellow eyes from the window.
About 10 minutes later Tuesday morning, Nance emerged holding the cat in a mesh net.
"She eluded me yesterday. She didn't get away today," said Nance, a trapper whose official title with the SPCA of Florida is community cat coordinator. "She's gorgeous, too."...
BROOKSVILLE — Burl Batten insisted on making the potentially perilous trek across Sunshine Grove Road to get his mail each day.
His wife, Janet, was injured on the job years ago, and her mobility has worsened. Mr. Batten, 62, was legally blind, but it was difficult for a casual observer to tell, his wife said.
"He didn't want me crossing that road because I go too slow," she said. "He worked like a young man and got around like a young man."...
02/14/14 Human Interest
SPRING LAKE — Three weeks ago, "Papa Joe" Giarratana stood in the parking lot of his smoldering restaurant and vowed to rebuild.
The shock has worn off since the frigid morning of Jan. 24, when an electrical fire ravaged the landmark business that Giarratana and his wife, Donna, built from the ground up. Their resolve has not.
"After 33 years of legacy, how can we just let it go up in smoke?" said Joe, 63....
02/14/14 Human Interest
SPRING HILL — Dr. Kim Domokos removed her surgical mask and took a deep breath of fresh air.
For two hours Friday, the veterinarian and a team of workers from the Florida SPCA had collected and evaluated more than 40 cats they had removed from a white mobile home on High Point Boulevard. They were told to expect roughly 65 cats but found nearly 80.
"It's like another world in there," Domokos said. "I'm going to have flashbacks in my nightmares."...