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Sheriff's Office has plan to combat rising traffic crashes, fatalities

The sheriff’s office has pinpointed several solutions to bring down the rising number of traffic crashes and fatalities in Citrus County.

They involve everything from stricter enforcement of aggressive drivers and those driving under the influence to educating motorists and partnering with other sheriff’s offices to launch programs concerning pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

This comes on the heels of a new Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) study showing Citrus County has the most traffic fatalities among 15 counties in Florida with similar populations.

The study ranked serious injuries and deaths on local and state roads from 2017-2020. Citrus was in the top 20 percent in all nine categories in the report.


Col. Justin Ferrara, with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office, said traffic fatalities in every state increased last year with few exceptions. Traffic experts, he said, blame the COVID pandemic for the 2021 increase and hoped 2021 would be better.

“However, there was little change and the same explanations were rehashed – blaming high-stress levels and frustration led to aggressive and unsafe driving,” Ferrara said.

Reducing traffic fatalities and crashes does not fall on the shoulders of any single entity, he said. Rather, it must be a unified effort where data, facts and behaviors are intertwined to create solutions, he added.

“Enforcement, education, traffic-calming techniques and common sense are all areas of concentration,” Ferrara said.

Some numbers:

There were 1,680 vehicle crashes between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, on area roads, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FHSMV),

Of those crashes from 2020, 34 of them involved at least one death, and 38 people were killed.

The most recent FHSMV data shows that from Jan. 1, 2021 to Dec. 31, 2021, Citrus County had 1,864 crashes, 35 fatalities and 1,402 injuries. Of those, 22 were bicyclist crashes, involving one fatality; 89 were motorcycle crashes, with 9 fatalities; 43 pedestrian-related crashes with eight fatalities.

In 2021, the sheriff’s office increased traffic stops by 21 percent and issued 43 percent more traffic citations than the year before, targeting specific locations, he said.

Sheriff’s office personnel participated in several traffic safety events targeting various aspects of traffic safety and enforcement. The office also got traffic safety grants, allowing for targeted enforcement directed at aggressive driving and motorcycle safety.

In 2022, we will continue those same efforts while adding increased DUI enforcement initiatives,” he said.

They will also partner with sheriff’s offices across the state to implement programs concerning pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

Studies show 95 percent of traffic crashes are due to a driver’s error, so faulty brakes and defective traffic signals cannot be blamed,” Ferrara said. “Distracted driving, unsafe driving, seatbelt use, speeding, and intoxicated driving are primary causes for fatalities.

“These human behaviors need to be modified and positive reinforcement has proven to modify behaviors with more frequency than negative, so education and support needs to be continual,” he added.

Traffic-calming techniques to slow drivers down and ensure they are not being distracted is another method. Roundabouts, speed bumps, narrowing of roadways are being looked at by city, county, and state authorities.

Vehicles equipped with driver notification systems and timely responses to traffic crashes are also other areas to focus on to reduce fatalities and crashes, Ferraro said.


Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said the agency works diligently to educate motorists regarding safe driving habits and conducts traffic enforcement 24/7/365.”

“Total crash numbers dropped when COVID hit but fatal crashes increased ... The crash numbers have returned and the fatals have remained higher than was the case over the last 10-plus years.”

Postscript: Norm Wagy, news was in his blood

“My memory is that I never wanted to be a fireman or a cop or a pilot as I was growing up in Warren, Ohio. The only thing that piqued my interest was news. As a youngster, I listened to a newscaster named Jack Jurey on WKBN radio in Youngstown. I imagined that, one day, maybe I could do that. Little did I know that Jack Jurey was only 17 when he got that job. Little did I know what an influence he would have on me in future years.” – Norm Wagy, from his blog “NOW and Then”

All Norm Wagy ever wanted to do was be a newsman.

From delivering the Warren Tribune Chronicle as a boy on his bicycle every day after school to interviewing presidents at the White House, count Norm Wagy among the fortunate people who can say they got to live their dream life.

The editor of the Greenbelt Gazette, the Chronicle-owned newspaper of Sugarmill Woods, Norman Otis Wagy died Feb. 23, still planning for the next edition. He was 92.

“In our family, we sit around and tell stories, and our dad had lots of stories to tell,” said Wagy’s son Bill Wagy. “His amazing career started when he went to work for a man named Harold Byland.”

Norm Wagy worked for Storer Broadcasting Company as Washington Bureau Chief. He was one of the first to do live satellite reporting for Storer affiliate TV stations around the country.

Wagy, still in high school, had been working at a drugstore in downtown Warren, Ohio.

The store had a lunch counter, and Byland, a photographer for the Tribune, was a frequent customer.

One day he told Wagy that his apprentice was graduating from high school and asked if he would like to replace him.

Wagy jumped at the chance.

He would go to school half a day and spend the other half, the best half, at the newspaper.

“That was back in the days when cameras had film cartridges and you had to get a good shot for the paper,” Bill Wagy said.

Norm Wagy got his start as a newsman in high school, taking photos for a local newspaper in Warren, Ohio.

The story Wagy loved to tell was about the time he had to photograph a wedding at a Greek Orthodox Church – three couples getting married at the same time, 26 people at the church altar, officiated by the only archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America.

His assignment was to get a photo of everyone, including the bishop, then get back to the paper and develop the photo in time to get it in the next day’s paper.

“That was a great education for him,” his son said. “It led to him going to the Youngstown Vindicator, a big paper in Youngstown, Ohio.”

Wagy took a break from his fledgling newspaper career to go to college, Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, where he majored in English.

During college, he and his girlfriend, Jane Hall, got married.

They honeymooned in Washington, D.C.

“He had always wanted to go to Washington,” Mrs. Wagy said. “We had no money; he was driving his mother’s car and he took time off from school for us to go to Washington. He told me, ‘Someday we’re going to live here; I’m going to work in Washington one day.’

“That was his life’s dream, to work in the nation’s capital,” she said.

Serendipity strikes

After the newlyweds returned to Ohio, Wagy got a job at a hardware store. One day as he was ringing up a man’s purchase, he recognized him as the program director of a small, commercial radio station in Alliance, the station he had auditioned for a year earlier, and the same man who had told him, “I’ll keep you in mind.”

The customer, Tony Gates, remembered Wagy and asked him to come to the station and audition again.

Wagy was hired to start Dec. 26, 1950, at 50 cents an hour, spinning records and reading commercials.

After that and after graduating college, Wagy worked at a number of radio stations, writing and airing the early morning newscasts, then going out to City Hall and the police station to gather news items to share on the noon newscast.

Norm Wagy anchoring the news.

As the Wagy family grew, so did the need for a better paying job. That’s when Wagy left radio to return to his first love, newspapers. He was hired as a photographer/reporter for the Youngstown Vindicator.

In 1958, Wagy left the Vindicator to return to radio at WGAR in Cleveland, as the morning newsman at the top morning station in Cleveland.

From there, Wagy went to television, beginning at WJW Channel 8 in Cleveland as editorial director.

WJW was part of the Storer Broadcasting Company.

“He did daily editorials on the news; that’s how he learned to write a news story,” Mrs. Wagy said.

“He did a lot of ‘firsts,’” Bill Wagy said. “He took a fourth-place station to first place ... he put two anchors on together, which had never been done before in Cleveland, and he hired the first female anchor. He knew how to hire people.”

Bill Wagy said people in Cleveland would know the name of the legendary weatherman his dad hired: Dick Goddard.

‘Washington, here I come!’

In 1969, Storer decided to open a news bureau in Washington, D.C., providing live news coverage to its seven stations across the U.S. in Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toledo, Atlanta and San Diego.

Wagy told his boss, “Send me.”

So, he moved his family to Virginia and opened the Washington news bureau as its bureau chief.

“That’s what led him to meeting presidents and congressmen and senators,” Mrs. Wagy said.

His job was to interview politicians and political newsmakers and broadcast the news to the various cities.

“I actually lived in Milwaukee for a year or so, and that’s where one of the stations was ... and so I could see him on TV there when he was in Washington,” daughter Jill Wagy said.

Norm Wagy meeting Annie and John Glenn.

In his career with Storer Broadcasting, Wagy covered 10 national political conventions and five presidential inaugurations, flew with former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn on his plane and had his photo taken with President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, among others.

“When he took his mother and father to the White House, he took his father to the press room and put his dad behind the microphone,” Mrs. Wagy said. “His dad looked around and said, ‘Who would’ve thought a little farm boy from Kansas would be standing where a president of the United States would do press conferences. He was so taken by that.”

“My dad loved Washington, and he loved showing it to people,” Bill Wagy said. “He was the best tour guide.”

Wagy’s final chapter

In 1988, the Storer Washington bureau closed, and in October 1989, Wagy and Jane moved to Sugarmill Woods in Homosassa where he got involved volunteering for the Sugarmill Woods Civic Association, the Boys & Girls Club and the Friends of the Homosassa Library.

He was also a founding member of Southern Woods Golf Club.

In 2010, he became editor of the Greenbelt Gazette.

“That changed everything for him,” Mrs. Wagy said. “He loved to write. ... He had a career he loved and he worked to the very end.”

All that Norm Wagy did, all his experiences and all the stories he told and those he didn’t have the time or opportunity to tell would fill volumes.

“Probably his only regret is never making a hole in one,” son Bill Wagy said, “and he would’ve liked to have lowered his (golf) handicap; and I think he would’ve liked to have been a musician. But I think he did everything he wanted to do.”

“He gave us a strong work ethic,” daughter Jill Wagy said. “He taught us about deadlines, he had an incredible vocabulary and he told great stories. Most of all, he was a great dad.”

Citrus posts 5.0% jobless rate in January, up 1.1 percentage points

Citrus County’s labor market numbers in January were something of a mixed bag: the labor force expanded but the number of unemployed rose.

The January unemployment rate in Citrus County was 5.0 percent, up 1.1 percentage points over the month and down 2.2 percentage points compared to January 2021, according to a report released Monday by the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

Here’s the breakdown of January’s job numbers, compared with December 2021:

Citrus County’s labor force expanded in January by 578 to 47,549.

The number of employed increased slightly by 48 to 45,181.

The number of unemployed increased by 530 to 2,368.

Compared to January 2021, when the unemployment rate was 7.2 percent, the county’s labor force has grown by 594 with 1,627 more employed and 1,033 fewer unemployed.

Florida’s not seasonally adjusted jobless rate – a measure that matches the way local rates are calculated – was 3.5 percent, a 0.6 percentage point increase over the month and 2.6 percent lower than January 2021.

The January and subsequent February jobs reports reflect annual benchmarking conducted annually by DEO and the US Department of Labor to realign employment estimates as well as revise historical data. Benchmark revisions are a standard part of the estimation process and take place at this time in each state nationwide.


Rusty Skinner, CEO of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion (CLM), said with the annual “recalibration” of data, it’s common to see shifts from numbers posted the previous December, but that “growth in labor force in all three counties and the growth of employment in all but Marion County continue to show the positive momentum of our local economy.”

The drop in the number of employed in Marion County is due to the seasonal drop of employment in the retail sector – a larger factor than in Citrus or Levy counties, Skinner said.

“While unemployment numbers increased in all counties, undoubtedly due to seasonal retail reductions, the number and rate of unemployed has declined from January 2021,” he said. “Despite these temporary blips, our local economy is showing positive overall growth in employment.”


Adrienne Johnston, chief economist at the Department of Economic Opportunity, said the federal-driven revisions showed the state recovered quicker than previously reported, with the state now below the federal unemployment rate for 14 consecutive months.

“We continue to see positive growth across all industries,” Johnston said. “It seems like people are highly encouraged to engage back into the labor force. So, overall, things are very positive. The outlook is looking good for Florida.”

Let's Feed Citrus at Crystal River Mall

Let’s Feed Citrus will be at the Crystal River Mall parking lot on Wednesday, March 16 and 30. The drive-thru-only events begin at 9 a.m. 

Watch the Chronicle for information about future dates and locations.

Lawmakers pass $112.1 billion budget to end session

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers passed a record $112.1 billion budget Monday to end a legislative session dominated by fierce debates about issues such as education, abortion and immigration.

Only three lawmakers voted against the election-year spending plan, which was pumped up by federal stimulus money and higher-than-expected state tax collections. It funnels money to myriad issues, including higher funding for public schools and pay raises for state employees, and is a 10.4 percent increase from a budget approved for the current year.


“This is a good budget,” House Appropriations Chairman Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, said before the House voted 105-3 to approve the budget (HB 5001). “It’s a great budget for Florida and its long-term success. This budget has record funding for many important programs and creates record reserves to position our state to weather future storms.”

The session was originally scheduled to end Friday, but a delay in finalizing the budget forced lawmakers to extend until Monday. The session adjourned at 1:03 p.m., after votes on the budget and a series of related bills.

Citrus County projects

All the projects on Citrus County’s legislative “want” list got greenlighted in the state budget.

The were:

The King’s Bay Restoration Project: $10 million.

The Homosassa River Restoration Project: $10 million.

The Academy of Environmental Sciences Septic-to-Sewer project: $250,000.

The Citrus High School Canes Construction Academy: $162,200.

Crystal River King’s Bay Riverwalk got $1 million. Advocates wanted $3 million.

Crystal River Airport runway extension and environmental assessment: $7.1 million.

Crystal River Turkey Oak bypass: $20.7 million.

Habitat for Humanity at Citrus Springs: $2.5 million.

Fort Island Trail multi-use path: $9.25 million.

West Inverness City Trail and State Withlacoochee Trail Connector: $2.25 million.

In addition:

The budget allocated $2.25 million to the Citrus County School District for workforce education programs.

Citrus received $320,923 for nursing education.

Gov. Ron DeSantis joined lawmakers during a “sine die” gathering on the Capitol’s fourth floor that included a traditional hanky drop marking the end of the session.

DeSantis touted Florida as the “best law and order state in the entire country,” pointing to issues such as bonuses that will go to first responders and incentives to try to attract more law-enforcement officers from other states.

He also alluded to some highly controversial issues, such as a bill that includes preventing instruction in early school grades about sexual orientation and gender identity – a measure that critics labeled the “don’t say gay” bill.

The News Service of Florida file photo 


“As the parent of three kids that are age 5 and under, thank you for letting me and my wife be able to send our kids to kindergarten without them being sexualized,” said DeSantis, whose comments at the ceremony were briefly interrupted by a protester who rained fake $100 bills on the gathering of lawmakers and onlookers.

While almost all Democrats voted for the budget, they blasted Republicans for focusing during the session on issues designed to appeal to the Republican base. Among other things, lawmakers passed measures to prevent abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, increase immigration enforcement and create a new state office to investigate alleged election irregularities.


“This was a pure and simple culture war that we saw here,” House Minority Leader Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach said. “So much emphasis being placed on things that really have little to no impact on people’s everyday lives. And, really, what we’re looking at is (an) erasure of certain communities. A demonizing and an otherizing of other communities. And, really, I’d have to say it’s been the most partisan and culturally driven session that I’ve ever been a part of, and that is not a good thing.”

Democrats said the GOP-dominated Legislature did not address issues such as the troubled property-insurance system, as homeowners face soaring premiums and lose policies.

“People are concerned about workforce housing and the insurance crisis,” Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, said. “They have to make decisions about whether (to put) dinner on the table, paying for gas or getting to work on time, but we’re up here fighting culture wars.”

But Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said lawmakers got a lot done amid the controversies.

“I think when everyone settles down, looks at what we got accomplished, those things will still be a discussion. But the overall product delivered in session was a very accomplished session,” said Stargel, who sponsored the abortion limit along with being the Senate’s chief budget writer. “We got a ton done. A lot of the rhetoric took a lot of priority. But I think after that’s all settled, it will have been a great year.”

The Senate voted 33-0 to pass the budget, while the House backed it in a 105-3 vote. The dissenters were Rep. Michael Grieco, D-Miami Beach, Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, and Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills.

DeSantis has line-item veto power, with the budget slated to take effect July 1.

The budget includes a nearly $385 increase in per-student funding in the Florida Education Finance Program, the main formula for distributing money to public schools. Also, it includes increased money to continue an effort to boost minimum teacher salaries to $47,500.

Other areas of the budget include a 5.38 percent across-the-board pay hike for state workers, money to provide a $15 minimum wage for workers at nursing homes and other Medicaid providers and $650 million to build a new prison.

Meanwhile, a tax package, valued at $658 million, includes suspending state gas taxes for one month in October. Also, it includes a series of sales-tax “holidays,” such as for back-to-school shoppers and for people buying supplies in advance of hurricane season.

Sen. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, said when people look back at the session, they will see substantial tax cuts, increased parental choice and improvements to the environment, which are popular issues with his constituents.

“We spent more on clean water projects this session than we ever have,” Rodrigues said. “The number one issue in my district, by the way, is water quality. I can go back and show them great work we’ve done.”