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JSO: Two suspects arrested, third sought in connection to fatal shooting of 7-year-old girl

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office is announcing two arrests and an active warrant for a third individual in connection to the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old girl on the Westside.

WOKV first told you on Saturday, when police announced the death of Heydi Rivas Villanueva. Investigators say she was sitting in a car with her family in a parking lot on 103rd Street, when their car was apparently caught in the crossfire between multiple suspects. 

According to JSO, they’ve uncovered the shooting was actually a robbery, disguised as a gun sale on social media. 

Investigators say the suspects, Trevonte Phoenix and Abrion Price, met an indvidual at IHOP on 103rd Street, where they robbed that individual at gunpoint. JSO says they took the individual’s firearm, money, and a cell phone. As they were fleeing, police say an acquaintance, identified as Stanley Harris III, of the individual who was robbed, was waiting nearby, and began shooting at both Phoenix and Price.  JSO says Phoenix returned fire at Harris, which resulted in Rivas Villanueva being hit in the head by one of the bullets.

Sheriff Mike Williams says they’ve recovered 13 shell casings at the scene, indicating the men exchanged at least 13 shots. Williams says they’re still waiting on test results, but their early investigation has determined the fatal bullet came from the direction of Harris. 

Phoenix and Price are both facing charges of felony murder, with JSO saying that’s based on their participation in this alleged robbery. Harris is being charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, based on his past criminal history.  Police say further charges against Harris are pending at this time.  

The individual who was apparently robbed has not been identified nor charged. 

Phoenix and Harris are both in police custody as of Tuesday afternoon, but Price-- pictured below-- is still the subject on an active search.

Anyone with information about where Price is, is asked to either contact the sheriff’s office or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS. There is a $5,000 reward being offered through Crime Stoppers for information that leads to Price’s arrest.

Rivas Villanueva's family is trying to raise money so they'll be able to have a funeral for her in her native country of Honduras: https://www.gofundme.com/5ycvzyg

Florida law requires 'In God We Trust' to be displayed in all schools

A bill signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott in March now means students will see “In God We Trust” displayed at all schools in the state.

WPTV reported that the law requires the state motto to be shown in a “conspicuous place.”

>> Read more trending news 

According to state statute 1003.44, “Each district school board shall adopt rules to require, in all of the schools of the district and in each building used by the district school board, the display of the state motto, ‘In God We Trust,’ designated under s. 15.0301, in a conspicuous place.”

According to the Florida Department of State, “In God We Trust” was adopted by the state legislature as part of the state seal in 1868. It was officially designated as Florida’s state motto in 2006.

“Paving the way” for progress: In depth on proposed Hart Bridge ramp removal project

Your Downtown Jacksonville drive could look much different in a few years, with the City of Jacksonville hoping that’s a key step in changing the makeup of Downtown overall. 

It was close to two years ago that the idea of taking down the Hart Bridge ramps in Downtown was first put forward by Mayor Lenny Curry. Since then, Jaguars owner Shad Khan and his development team have promoted the concept, as something that’s vital to their redevelopment efforts at the Jacksonville Shipyards and Sports Complex. 

WOKV has now obtained a copy of the City’s BUILD 2018 federal grant application, which gives new insight on exactly why the City sees this move as so valuable. We’ve also obtained a new map of the proposed project, providing insight on the change you can expect for your drive, if the funding lines up. 

Overview 

The City’s grant application puts the project’s total cost at $37,462,500. The Florida Department of Transportation has made $12.5 million available for the City, as a matching grant. Curry is proposing the City borrow its $12.5 million share- a plan that still has to be approved by the City Council. That leaves $12,462,500 in funding that still needs to be secured, and this grant is asking for that from the US Department of Transportation. 

This BUILD grant application comes after the City fell short on a previous bid for $25 million in federal funding. Since that time, they’ve been able to drop the price tag on the overall project, so that the gap is around $12.5 million instead, and still includes a contingency. 

Curry’s Chief of Staff Brian Hughes tells WOKV they expect to find out if they receive this new grant funding by the end of October. While he says they’re “optimistic” that will come through, the project is designed in phases, so that they can continue moving forward regardless. 

The grant application says the project is expected to be done and open to traffic by mid-November 2021. 

Economic impact 

Khan and his development team have made it clear in recent project proposals that taking down the Hart Expressway ramps is necessary for future development. They recently pitched a $2.5 billion vision for the Sports Complex and Shipyards area, but say removing the ramps is an important step toward achieving that. 

The BUILD grant application explains why. 

The elevated Hart Expressway lanes in Downtown were designed to quickly bring people in and out of the heart of Downtown. When this three-quarter mile stretch was built decades ago, the Shipyards was active. The expressway was designed to get people past that industrialized area, and it was elevated in order to get over gantry cranes used at the site. The express route further served as a quick and easy way people could expand to live in new suburbs, while still working in Downtown. 

While the elevated lanes served their purpose for their time, they now bypass not only the Sports Complex and Shipyards, but the neighborhoods there. Keeping people on the elevated lanes on this route- quickly going in and out of the core, with no way to stop along Bay Street- therefore means vehicle traffic and foot traffic alike are diverted from any businesses that may want to set up along the 85 acres of property that can be developed along the St. Johns River. 

“People are not only going into downtown to work and be entertained but are moving closer to the urban core. This structure has become an impediment to progress in Jacksonville,” the grant application says. 

The City says poorly placed infrastructure like this has obstructed Downtown development in recent years, with this project specifically also serving to separate the Riverfront from the property on the other side of the elevated roadway. 

“The elevated bypass expressway is a remnant of an old planning vision for infrastructure, when highways were designed to provide commuters the ability to avoid urban cores. This planning philosophy resulted in urban areas all over the country being split in half. One side saw upward mobility and the other side was literally walled off from prosperity,” the grant application says. 

The City says, in the area now, the elevated lanes only serve as a barrier. 

“The challenge today for Jacksonville is that the elevated expressway destroyed all possibility of urban renewal and investment on the eastern end of the north bank of the St. Johns River, one of the city’s best natural transportation and amenity assets. The elevated Hart Bridge Expressway creates not only a physical barrier to development, but a practical and psychological barrier as well by forcing traffic to completely bypass the former old shipyards, the Sports and Entertainment Complex, and approximately one-third of the downtown footprint,” the grant application says. 

The belief is that bringing the Hart Bridge traffic down on to Bay Street by the stadium will create more foot traffic, meaning restaurants, shops, and similar businesses would have the customer base needed to survive. 

“The city owned land continues to lack development and thus, any meaningful productivity. This project will reverse this stagnation and quite literally pave the way for a more progressive and vibrant city,” the grant application says. 

Investment in the area 

The City and Khan have partnered in recent years to push redevelopment in this area. 

They partnered to build an amphitheater- Daily’s Place- at the site of TIAA Bank Field, which hosts concerts and other events, in addition to being activated for game day experiences. That deal also included big improvements to the stadium itself, including upgraded Club Level seating. 

Khan was chosen by Jacksonville’s Downtown Investment Authority to redevelop the vacant Shipyards site with hotels, apartments, restaurants, retail, and more. 

GALLERY: Shad Khan’s vision for the Jacksonville Shipyards

Those negotiations were recently granted an extended timeline, which could allow them to continue for a couple of years, although the Jags have said they don’t plan to wait that long to work on their next project, which is the development of Lot J. This is an existing parking lot at the stadium, which the team wants to change in to an entertainment space, while also adding hotel rooms, office space, and a parking garage. 

A potential first phase of the Shipyards development itself could be a Convention Center and hotel. While the DIA solicited bids for building those at the site of the old County Courthouse and City Hall Annex, Khan’s team put forward a competing proposal to instead have those built on the Shipyards property, as the first phase of the redevelopment. The DIA has not yet commented on the proposal. 

GALLERY:Iguana Investments’ plan for a Shipyards Convention Center/Hotel

Between Lot J, the Shipyards, and a greater vision for the Sports Complex, Khan believes the development could be worth some $2.5 billion in all. They will be seeking City partnership along the way, including with this project, saying that it is vital to their vision. 

“This $37.5 million project will fund less than one mile of transportation improvements while inducing $2.5 billion in private sector investment into the urban core of Jacksonville,” the grant application says. 

That’s far from the only redevelopment effort in Downtown as well- the Birkman Plaza II was recently sold, the Laura Street Trio is undergoing a large-scale revitalization, The District is moving forward on the Southbank, and many other smaller projects are in motion. The City believes this is a turning point for Downtown, and this project is the key to unlocking the potential. 

Project proposal 

It all leads to the question of what exactly the changes would look like. 

WOKV has obtained the most recent map of the proposed project. This is subject to change, as design efforts continue, but the City says it’s a good representation of what they’re hoping to achieve. 

The ramps from the Hart Bridge to MLK and Liberty Street on the east side of the stadium will remain intact, and traffic will flow on to those ramps to head to the bridge the same as well. The ramps that currently carry traffic to “Downtown”- or Duval and Adams streets- are the ones that would instead now go down to grade at Bay Street. A new signalized four-way intersection would be created at the intersection of Gator Bowl Blvd and Bay Street, where the road now just turns around the stadium. 

“This will reverse the decades-long negative effects of historic federal highway planning that bifurcated the city’s most valuable land,” the grant application says. 

The capacity on Bay Street would be increased, with at least three lanes heading in each direction- instead of a total of five lanes- and some additional turn lanes. The map indicates there will be medians added to the road, although we’re told the plan is to still use reversible lanes, like the ones currently in place, where the direction of the lane can be changed, depending on the traffic flow needed for a certain event or time. 

The portion of the ramps that drop traffic off on Duval and Adams, and pick traffic up off Forsyth and Monroe, will remain standing. Around Georgia Street, which is between the stadium lots and A. Philip Randolph Blvd, drivers heading west on Bay Street would then have a choice to make. They can continue on Bay Street, in which case they will continue on the lanes in a similar manner as they are now, or they can connect back up to the existing ramps, and get dropped off closer to the Downtown core. The ramps pick back up just east of APR, near Intuition.

The City is currently not planning to remove the portion of those ramps at the western end of Bay Street, because there is no immediate push for development there- where we have the Duval County Jail, Maxwell House, and more- so the ramps are not the same obstruction that they are closer to the stadium. Traffic from west of the ramps, heading east, can either pick up at the ramps as they are now- which would carry them to Bay Street instead of the Hart Bridge- or drive down Bay Street directly. 

Safety and other features 

In addition to getting rid of an “eyesore”, this project would also improve safety, according to the grant application. They would use traffic calming measures- like raised medians and curbs- to increase bike and pedestrian usability, among other things. The project map shows several areas of new or upgraded sidewalk and some bike lanes. 

The speed limit in the area would be 35 miles per hour. The City hopes that the reduced speed- compared to the elevated lanes- along with the other proposed improvements, would make the area much safer for walking and riding a bike, in addition to driving. 

WOKV previously told you the Jacksonville Transportation Authority is seeking federal funding, with partners, to build a transportation corridor in Downtown- including Bay Street- which could include driverless shuttles. This BUILD grant applications says taking down the Hart Bridge ramps could serve to create an active corridor for pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles, and ride sharing services. 

Additionally, the grant application says the Hart Bridge Expressway has “reached its useful life”. Life cycles costs are expected to drop with a newer road structure, especially one that’s planned to better meet current and future needs. 

Aside from the roadway infrastructure, the grant application also says the City would install broadband conduits, to allow future providers to better serve low-income neighborhoods in that area. Old lights would be swapped for new LED lights, which are expected to have a longer lifespan and lower maintenance costs. 

There is also consideration given to environmental concerns. The grant application says there are plans for mitigating flooding and maintaining weather resiliency overall. 

Next steps 

The Finance Committee, and then the full City Council, still need to sign on to the Mayor’s funding plan for the City’s $12.5 million contribution to this project. That final vote will take place as part of the overall City budget approval process, which will be completed before the start of the next fiscal year on October 1st. 

The Hart Bridge funding specifically is part of the City’s Capital Improvement Program, which is vetted alongside the overall $1.2 billion City budget proposal. 

WOKV continues to go in depth on the Mayor’s budget and spending plans for the City, to track how your tax dollars may be spent. Stay with us as we continue to gather more information.

$11,000 reward offered for information on fatal shooting of Jacksonville child

There is now an $11,000 reward being offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the fatal shooting of 7-year-old Heydi Rivas-Villanueva on Jacksonville’s Westside. This comes as the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office releases new surveillance footage of two men and several cars believed to be involved.

Heydi was sitting in a car with her dad in a parking lot on 103rd Street Saturday evening, while her mother was in a store. JSO says two men seen in the surveillance footage walked to an adjacent parking lot, about 70 feet away, and got in some kind of argument with at least one person in a dark sedan. It appears that a dark Kia next to that sedan was also involved. It’s unclear how many people were in each of those two cars. 

During the argument, JSO says gunfire erupted between the parties. Sheriff Mike Williams says their preliminary investigation has shown more than a dozen shots were fired, and one of them hit Heydi in the head, while she was sitting in the car. Police say Heydi and her family were not targeted or involved in any way. Instead, she was caught in the crossfire. 

A Good Samaritan took Heydi and her father to the hospital, but the girl died as a result of the gunshot. 

“A terrible evening. A combination of sadness and anger, than I know the entire community is feeling,” says Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. 

The two people caught on surveillance footage fled to a green Nissan Altima, that appears to be an early to mid-2000s model. JSO believes that vehicle has a bullet hole in its windshield. 

As of JSO’s mid-Sunday news conference, Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida says seven tips had been called in. Williams says that information has given them good leads, which they continue to investigate. Later Sunday, JSO released the additional surveillance video, in the hope that someone would recognize those involved. 

“At the end of the day, we have to have partnerships with the community to solve cases like this. We absolutely have to,” Williams says. 

Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida Executive Director Wyllie Hodges is emphasizing that any tip called in to them is completely anonymous. He took it further, to say anyone with information is obligated to come forward with it. 

“If the criminals out there knew that, every time they commit a crime, that our phones are gunna start ringing- I assure you that would be a deterrent to crime,” Hodges says. 

To be eligible for the $11,000 reward, your tip must be called in to Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS. You can also submit information to JSO directly at 904-630-0500, but that does not allow you to be eligible for the reward. 

State Attorney Melissa Nelson says felony murder will be the foundation of charges they bring forward in this case. Florida law allows suspects to be held accountable for a murder committed while they were engaging in a felony crime, even if they did not commit the murder itself.

Florida candidate accused of faking college diploma

A heated political race in Florida is coming down to a question of degrees.

>> Read more trending news 

Melissa Howard, a candidate for the Florida Legislature, has been accused of lying about graduating from college and then producing a fake diploma, the Herald-Tribune of Sarasota reported.

Howard, a businesswoman running against Tommy Gregory in the Aug. 28 Republican primary for state House District 73, on Friday answered accusations from a conservative-based website about her college graduation by distributing photographs of what she claimed was her diploma from Miami University in Ohio. According to the Herald-Tribune, she also posted photographs of what she claimed was her transcript on Facebook, writing that “The truth shall set you free!”

“It only took a night of flying back to my old stomping grounds to catch my opponent in yet another lie!” Howard wrote in her post.

However, the Herald-Tribune cited an email from Miami University general counsel Robin Parker, who said Howard never graduated.

Howard, whose maiden name was Fox when she attended the Ohio university, did not receive a bachelor of science degree in marketing in December 1996 as she claimed, the Herald-Tribune reported, citing Parker’s email.

“We have no such record of a degree,” Parker wrote, noting that the university did not offer a degree in marketing.. 

“Miami University’s degree for Marketing majors then, as it is now, was a Bachelor of Science in Business,” Parker wrote, adding that Howard’s major, according to university records, was retail. “The picture of the diploma that was posted on the HowardforHouse73 Facebook page does not appear to be an accurate Miami University diploma.

The website Florida News Online, which calls itself “The conservative choice for Florida news & politics.” questioned Howard’s academic credentials in a story on Tuesday.

“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t deal with this,” Howard told the Herald-Tribune on Friday.

Howard told the website that the story was “a lie,” and Florida News Online retracted the story and apologized after Howard distributed the photo of her holding a framed diploma, the Herald-Tribune reported. However, the site reposted its story after Parker told them Howard did not graduate, Florida News Online reported.

Howard could not be reached for comment Saturday, the Herald-Tribune reported.

Her campaign consultant, Anthony Pedicini, said in a text message to the newspaper that Howard’s husband, Ian Howard, had a “cardiac event” Friday and is in the hospital.

“Melissa is focused on her family — not fake news this morning,” Pedicini wrote Saturday.

Gregory said in a text to the Herald-Tribune that “voters deserve nothing less than truth and integrity from their elected officials.”

“Unfortunately, it seems that Melissa Howard has failed that test,” he said in his text.

Florida state Senate candidate calls police on reporter after forum 

A Florida state senator running for reelection called police Thursday afternoon on a reporter she claimed was making threats against her, The Miami Herald reported. 

>> Read more trending news

Sen. Daphne Campbell, a Democrat running in District 38 in South Florida, called police at 1:24 p.m. after an appearance at a North Miami Beach restaurant, the newspaper reported.

A North Miami Beach officer who responded to the call and declined to give his name said Campbell called about threats made by a woman in a floral dress -- the attire of Miami Herald reporter Sarah Blaskey, the Herald reported.

No arrests were made.

Dennis Stubbolo, president of the Social Citizens of South Florida that hosted the event, said the incident was surprising.

“I did not see anything go wrong. I was there,” he told the Herald. “I don’t know where that came from.”

Campbell made the call after a question-and-answer session. When Blaskey asked for an interview, Campbell refused and told the reporter to email her questions, the Herald reported.

When Blaskey continued to listen to Campbell’s conversations with voters, the senator walked to another table and called police, the newspaper reported.

Campbell’s attorney, James Jean-Francois, said he was unaware of the incident and could not comment. Campbell has accused the newspaper of racism and bias in favor of her Democratic primary opponent, Jason Pizzo, the Herald reported.

“You guys keep on harassing her all the time and she’s tired of you guys,” said a man who answered Campbell’s cellphone and declined to give his name, the newspaper reported.

Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch said that “Asking a public official questions in a public place is perfectly appropriate.”

Earlier this year, Campbell called Miami Shores Police because Rise News reporter Rich Robinson was filming her in public, The Miami New Times reported. Miami Shores Police found that Robinson had done nothing wrong.

Law enforcement warns Jacksonville area parents about dangerous, trendy app game

Law enforcement is warning parents about a new challenge that can turn deadly.

The so-called game is called the Momo and it is gaining popularity on WhatsApp by targeting teens.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office sent out a post on social media warning parents about the so-called game that is targeting kids.

“I don’t like that at all,” father Austin Barbour said.

The most popular app where it is used is WhatsApp.

“They send that picture and then they threaten you with personal information, private pictures and they try to convince you to kill yourself,” Justin Ocharan said.

The challenge asks people to add a contact and as the process continues Momo tries to blackmail them into doing things they wouldn’t normally do.

“I think it’s a game of confidence. They seem like they know something and lead someone to believe they know more,” technology expert, Gray Mabry said.

Mabry said parents should be checking to see who their kids are talking to.

“Anytime there is communication on a device from someone you don’t know it’s concerning,” Mabry said.

Action News Jax reporter Danielle Avitable went around and showed parents and their kids the image behind Momo and asked if they had heard of it.

“He’s 11 years old and he just got the phone a couple months ago for school, so I’ll definitely talk to him,” Barbour said.A WhatsApp spokesperson sent Fox News this statement:

“WhatsApp cares deeply about the safety of our users. It’s easy to block any phone number and we encourage users to report problematic messages to us so we can take action.”

Police in Argentina are looking into whether this so-called game is connected to a 12-year-old’s suicide.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said there haven’t been any local incidents, but people are talking about the game online.

West Nile Virus found in test samples in Duval County

The Duval County Health Department is warning you to protect yourself against mosquitoes, after several sentinel chicken flocks tested positive for West Nile Virus.

Sentinel chickens are flocks in various areas of the City, which have their blood checked for mosquito-borne diseases. Health officials say these new test results mean the risk of transmission of West Nile to humans is now increased in Duval County. To protect yourself, the Health Department wants you to “Drain and Cover”. 

Drain any standing water from around your home to prevent mosquitoes from multiplying. This could include garbage cans, pool covers, or even small toys. You should discard old tires, pots, or anything that may be around your yard, which could collect water. You should also maintain swimming pools in good condition, tarp boats and vehicles from rain, and keep bird baths and pet water bowls clean. 

You’re also encouraged to cover your skin with clothing or repellant to protect yourself from bites. Mosquito repellent should contain DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or IR3535. Be cautious, with some repellants not suitable for children- on infants, you should use mosquito netting. 

Health officials also encourage you to cover doors and windows with screens, so that mosquitoes can’t get in to your home. 

The Duval County Health Department says they, along with Jacksonville’s Mosquito Control Division, continue surveillance and prevention efforts.

The CDC says most people infected with West Nile do not show symptoms. About 1 in 5 people will develop and fever or other symptoms, and about 1 in 150 people will develop a serious illness, which could include central nervous system effects like encephalitis and meningitis. There is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment, but the CDC says over-the-counter  pain relievers can be used for the minor symptoms.

This comes a few weeks after sentinel chickens tested positive for West Nile in Keystone Heights in Clay County. Testing since then has not found any further positive samples.

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North Georgia town readies for return of Korean War veteran’s remains

Cpl. Terrell J. Fuller went missing in Korea in 1951. Two years later, the U.S. Army presumed him dead. 

On Thursday, his remains come home and on Saturday, what would have been his 88th birthday, he’ll be buried in his native Tocca.

“It’s closure to the family,” said his great-niece, Amy Hix. “It’s just a wonderful homecoming to have him come home and be buried on American soil.”

Fuller’s remains arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport at 7:15 a.m. Thursday and there will be a private honor-guard ceremony in a hangar. After that, the procession will travel north via Interstates 85 and 985, then Hwy. 123 into town, taking Broad, Doyle and Pond streets on the way to Acree-Davis Funeral Home. 

Hix’ son, Will Grafton, currently serving in the U.S. Army and stationed at Fort Stewart, will escort his great, great-uncle’s remains.

>> Read more trending news 

“Pretty much the entire town of Toccoa will line the streets and welcome him home,” Hix said.

The procession is expected to arrive in the north Georgia town between 9 and 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Area Scout troops, veterans groups and other organizations are expected to assemble in downtown Toccoa and along the 985 overpasses along the procession route.

The public visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. at the funeral home, and the Saturday burial service will be private.

Rev. Jerrell Beatty will officiate on Saturday.

“It’s just an honor,” he said. “I appreciate anyone who serves this great country we live in. Freedom is not free. Somebody had to pay the price, and one of those were Cpl. Fuller.”

We’re working to find out more about Fuller, who was about 20 when he entered the service. The Atlanta Constitution’s war coverage at the time noted him a few times.

“Pfc. Fuller is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Fuller,” an article from Sept. 30, 1953 reads. “His mother said last night he was captured in February 1951 and that she was notified in March of that year that he was officially missing in action. Pfc. Fuller attended school in Toccoa. His father is a farmer. Besides the parents, there are a brother, Cosby, and two sisters, Ruby and Myrtle Lou Fuller. The soldier entered the service in August 1951. He is 23 years old and unmarried.”

Hix said there are no living relatives in Toccoa, and isn’t sure who might have known him. Fuller was her mother’s uncle, but she never knew him and remembers his name being mentioned rarely, and in hushed tones, when she was growing up. 

Fuller’s remains were recovered years ago, but only recently identified with DNA testing.

“It’s amazing. When I got the phone call from my mother stating all of this I was just like, what?” Hix said. “For 67 years of no answers and then all of a sudden his remains are in Hawaii.”

And soon, they’ll be home.

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