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Local
Gas prices increase for first time in 10 weeks

Gas prices in Citrus County and the state are up for the first time in 10 weeks.

The average price for regular unleaded increased 7 cents per gallon, reaching $3.61 on Sunday.

This snapped what became a 70-day streak of declines, amounting to a total discount of $1.36 per gallon or a difference of about $20 for a full tank of gas, according to AAA – The Auto Club Group.

“Gas prices are rising in response to a recent oil price hike, due to reports that Saudi Arabia could lower fuel output in an effort to raise prices,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins.

The U.S. price of oil rose a total of 5 percent over the course of the past three weeks.

“This is not a significant oil price hike, so gas prices may not go much higher, but that could change if there are additional gains in the fuel market this week,” Jenkins said. “As we move into peak hurricane season, a major storm could contribute to rising prices, if it threatens refineries along the Texas, Louisiana or Mississippi coast lines.”

According to Gas Buddy, the cheapest station in Florida was priced at $2.97 per gallon Sunday and the most expensive was $4.98.

In Citrus County, prices ranged from $3.49 to $3.67, according to GasBuddy.

To find out what the prices are at specific stations, visit www.gasbuddy.com


Education
Crystal River Navy JROTC cadets take the dive

Twelve young cadets versus a 12 foot deep pool. Their mission? Conquer the water and earn a lifetime SCUBA diver certification.

Early Sunday morning, Aug. 28, at Bicentennial Park Pool, Crystal River High School’s Navy JROTC took the plunge into their first confined-water session for the school’s new SCUBA program. Taught by NAUI dive instructors Don Markham and Steve Thomas, the cadets are learning important water skills to become open-water SCUBA diver certified.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Crystal River High School NJROTC cadets get familiar with their dive gear Sunday morning, Aug. 28, at Bicentennial Park pool in Crystal River. They are closely monitored by certified instructors, including NAUI instructor Don Markham, center.

Amanda Cunningham, mother of 15-year-old cadet Bailey Cunningham, said she thinks it’s a great program for kids.

“It’s something for them to look forward to that’s positive,” she said. “I think JROTC alone is just an awesome program, but I think the Scuba program for kids this age is something fantastic for them to get involved in because not all kids get this kind of opportunity. We’re originally from Ohio, we moved down here in 2019. She (Bailey) would have never had this kind of opportunity up there.”

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Dive instructor Don Markham works with Ruby Washburn, 16, kneeling, and Cheyanne Stewart, 16, Sunday morning, Aug. 28, as Crystal River High School NJROTC cadets learn to master their dive gear. All of the new dive equipment has been donated to the program.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Crystal River High School sophomore Mazen McCarthy listens to his dive instructor as students get familiar with the many pieces of equipment they must understand before entering the water. Students are closely monitored and given expert instruction Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Bicentennial Park pool. Following the successful completion of a number of similar classes, the students will be certified divers.

The program is a collaboration project with CRHS NJROTC Senior Chief Maurice Perine and the Academy of Environmental Science (AES) board member Tom Gotterup and has received approximately $15,000 in donations supporting its creation.

Principal of CRHS Phillip McLeod said, “I think it’s an excellent program. I think it’s nothing but a big positive for the school and for our kids.”

The donations made include a $10,000 private donation made by philanthropists Arnold and Diane Ross to go towards the purchase of the SCUBA equipment. The couple has made many community donations throughout the years, but this program is special for them because they are involved in Tikkun HaYam, which translates to “repair the sea,” the world’s leading Jewish Marine Conservation Movement.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Crystal River High School NJROTC cadets use the buddy system and assist one another as NAUI dive instructor Don Markham, left, assists. Thousands of dollars of dive equipment has been donated to assist students learn to safely dive.

In addition to the Ross’ donation, the program received donations from another private couple through Crystal River Kayak Company and Dive Center for a $2,000 credit to go towards each cadet’s personal gear, like snorkels, fins and booties, and another $2,000 to donate 12 wetsuits for the cadets.

Crystal River Kayak Company and Dive Center has also given the program a discount for the actual certification, which usually costs $600 or more, so each cadet only paid $250 for certification. This type of basic open-water diving certification is good for life and recognized worldwide.

“I’m proud of what we’ve created and what we’ve done,” said Gotterup. “The kids know each other already, but what this program is going to do is build them into a tight-knit group and it’s something they’ll never forget. And that is what’s important. It teaches value, safety, common sense, all of it.”

The program initially started five weeks ago with an in-class instruction portion on the fundamentals, mathematics involved and safety procedures. It concluded with a final exam that the cadets had to pass to be able to move on to the water portion, and all passed with high scores and one cadet got a 100 on it, according to Senior Chief Perine.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Prior to donning their dive gear, the Crystal River High School NJROTC cadets work to pass preliminary swimming tests. Above, the teens work on unassisted floating for 10 minutes.

Now, the cadets have moved onto the confined-water portion where they are learning the required water skills and handling of equipment. They will be doing two more sessions following the first one this past Sunday at Bicentennial Park Pool.

After that, they’ll move on to open-water dives at the Blue Grotto Dive Resort in Williston, which goes down 110 feet. The cadets will be going no deeper than 60 feet, however. This portion is a two-day session with four dives total where they will repeat the skills learned during the confined-water part.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Crystal River High School NJROTC cadets ready their equipment Sunday morning, Aug. 28, as they enter the pool to begin their dive training in the water.

“I’m thankful that the cadets that signed up for this had the courage and commitment to join this program,” said Senior Chief Perine.

Once they have earned the certification, the cadets can use the equipment from the program, which is owned by CRHS NJROTC, to do their own diving activities.

“I think this program is going to really grow,” said Gotterup. “I’d like to see this program in the other two high schools.”

To qualify for the program, the students have to be in good standing with the school, have excellent grades, be a member of NJROTC Naval Science at CRHS, be a sophomore or higher, and submit a one page essay about why they want to join SCUBA. It is a completely voluntary program and one that Senior Chief Perine believes in whole-heartedly.

“When I was a child, I had teenage parents. I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and I always had this inner voice telling me one day I’ll be an adult and these challenges won’t last forever,” said Senior Chief Perine. “I have a picture when I was eight years old out in a public water sprinkler with my arms open. It was nothing like the ocean, but I always had a vision of living and being somewhere near the water. My dream has come true today.”

Special to the Chronicle 

Students from the Crystal River High School NJROTC stand for a photograph Sunday afternoon, Aug. 28, following the first in-the-water instruction in their quest to become certified divers.

For Tom Gotterup, this program has been years in the making with his desire to bring this program to AES coming up years ago. It was only when Senior Chief Perine gave a presentation at Gotterup’s Rotary Club, King’s Bay Rotary, that Gotterup finally saw an avenue to pursue its creation through CRHS’s NJROTC.

With so much community support financially, the two are hopeful for the program’s later expansion to other schools in the district. Once the final dives at Blue Grotto on Sept. 25 have been completed, the cadets will receive their open-water certification and be able to dive freely on their own.


Local
MPO meeting to focus on traffic safety

Citrus County had 18 traffic fatalities from Jan. 1 to Aug. 8 this year, down from 34 from the same time period in 2021.

Peter Hsu, safety administrator for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), will present the latest traffic data gathered from its Project Zero report during Thursday’s meeting of the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO).

Project Zero is an FDOT initiative to reduce traffic fatalities.

Also according to new FDOT statistics:

Of the fatalities, 50 percent occurred on state roads and 50 percent on local roads.

Citrus County’s number of incapacitating injuries during the period were down from 140 to 74.

The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office issued 688 speeding citations and 327 warnings over the seven-month span.

The Sheriff’s Office also gave out 33 citations and 48 warnings for for seat belt infractions

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board will discuss FDOT’s strategic intermodal system 2050 long-range transportation plan. These are projects designed by the state to move traffic.

The Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will meet at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Brooksville City Hall council chambers, 201 Howell Ave.


Crime_and_courts
Citrus County women to spend over 20 years in prison for unrelated drug offenses

A pair of Citrus County women will spend more than 20 years in state prison for their unrelated narcotics charges.

Patricia Ann Clair and Brandy Lynn Spittlehouse saw their separate felony cases resolve Monday, Aug. 29, under Citrus County Circuit Court Judge Richard Howard.

Howard sentenced Clair to 22 years in prison as a habitual felony offender after a jury found the Homosassa 52-year-old guilty July 22 of selling 3.5 grams of methamphetamine to a confidential informant in November, during a Citrus County Sheriff’s Office operation.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Clair

Prosecutors with the State Attorney’s Office had offered Clair a plea offer to serve probation, which she rejected.

Citing Clair’s three prior felony convictions for theft and drug possession in 2008, 2018 and 2019, Assistant State Attorney Nicholas Caporicci asked Howard on Monday to order a 15-year prison sentence.

Clair was facing up to 30 years in prison after Howard designated her a habitual felony offender, doubling Clair’s maximum punishment.

Clair’s lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Ed Spaight, argued for the judge to order his client’s lowest-permissible prison term because of the non-violent nature of Clair’s criminal history.

“I don’t know what to say, I really don’t,” Clair told Howard after the judge asked if she wanted to speak before sentencing. “I don’t deserve 15 years. Yes, I have priors, but they’re nothing violent.”

“You made the choices, you were the one who decided,” Howard said. “It didn’t go well for you.”

After Clair’s sentencing, Spittlehouse agreed to accept the offer from prosecutors to serve a 25-year minimum-mandatory sentence in prison by pleading no contest to her three drug cases.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Spittlehouse

Spittlehouse’s day-for-day sentence stems from the Inverness 45-year-old’s charge of trafficking in 49.5 grams of fentanyl – an offense punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Sheriff’s office deputies found the fentanyl, 62.5 grams of THC gummies, around 95 assorted pills and three syringes of fentanyl during a May 2021 traffic stop of a vehicle Spittlehouse occupied alone.

Spittlehouse was charged with trafficking in more than 28 grams of fentanyl, possessing alprazolam with intent to sell, possessing less than 20 grams of cannabis, possessing paraphernalia, and seven counts of possessing a controlled substance with intent to sell.

Spittlehouse was scheduled to stand trial in that case on Monday.

Assistant State Attorney Patricia Diaz told Howard on Monday she agreed to not prosecute four of Spittlehouse’s charges of intending to sell a controlled substance.

While she was out on bond on the aforementioned case, Spittlehouse was arrested during a Jan. 20 raid of an Inverness home, where sheriff’s office authorities found her with 0.2 grams of fentanyl, 21 buprenorphine pills and drug paraphernalia.

A few days later, Citrus County jail staff discovered Spittlehouse with baggies containing 3 grams of meth and 0.9 grams of fentanyl.

“It’s your fault, correct,” Howard asked Spittlehouse on Monday before he ratified her sentence. “You have nobody to blame but yourself.”

“Yes, sir,” Spittlehouse replied.


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