This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.
Traffic picked up in Putnam County this morning as school buses and parents took students to the first day of classes. For the first time in years, Putnam is strictly enforcing the two-mile rule meaning no bus service for students who live within two miles of their school. That’s because Putnam is about 30 bus drivers short this year, according to School Superintendent Rick Surrency. Surrency is asking parents to do their part and urging drivers to be extra careful as students wait for buses or walk to school.
A bus driver shortage is going on is going on in districts around the state including Putnam and St. Johns counties. In St. Johns they have 250 full-time drivers but could use 15 to 20 more. Also sought are about five to 10 bus attendants. St. Johns is offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus after 60 days of solo driving and those with a CDL Class B with passenger and school bus endorsements could get a $3,000 bonus after 75 days.
A second individual has been arrested in the South Putnam County shooting July 13 of three brothers that left one dead. Angelica Toscano, 19, was arrested in Beaufort, S.C., and is being returned to Putnam County where bond is set at $250,000 on her charge of accessory after the fact in the murder of Mark Arbelo Jr. of Crescent City. Toscano was with suspect Francisco Arroyo, 27, when he was arrested July 14 in Missouri for the murder of Arbelo. No warrant had been issued for her and she returned to Florida. Further investigation, however, led to the accessory charge but by then Toscano was in South Carolina where she was arrested Thursday.
Putnam County teachers, students and parents are adjusting to the closing or repurposing of five schools this year. Jenkins Middle, E.H. Miller, C.L. Overturf Jr. Sixth Grade Center and Mellon Elementary in Palatka, Miller Middle in Crescent City and C.H. Price Middle in Interlachen all have been closed or repurposed. Mellon is becoming a center for pre-K in Palatka and E.H. Miller special needs students are being moved to the school also. Middle schools are being merged with high schools.
St. Johns County schools opened Monday with 155 cases of coronavirus reported. Of those, 95 were students and 60 employees testing positive. Bartram Trail High School had the most with 17 student cases plus seven others requiring quarantine, according to school officials. Superintendent Tim Forson while not mandating masks has strongly recommended masks when social distancing isn’t possible. That’s the same message Putnam County’s Rick Surrency has sent out.
A rabies alert is in effect in the St. Augustine area, according to the Florida Department of Health in St. Johns County. A confirmed case of rabies in a raccoon led to the alert which applies to ZIP code 32084. That’s in the area of Helen and Spring streets and extends to Francis Street, Theodore Street, Florida Avenue and Pearl Street. Domestic animals need to be vaccinated and wildlife contact avoided. Rabies attacks the nervous system and can be fatal to warm-blooded animals and humans.
Threats made online through social media led to the arrest of a 13-year-old girl Saturday by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office. The suspect allegedly made multiple threats to a victim threatening to fight the victim and saying she was going to “put a bullet between your eyes.” The victim stated the teen was both making multiple threats on social media and through a text message from a fake phone number. Pictures of guns were sent as well making the victim’s parents concerned for their daughter’s safety. The gun belonged to the suspect’s father, according to the Sheriff’s Office. The suspect was charged with sending written threats to conduct acts of terrorism and taken to the jail where she was released to the Department of Juvenile Justice. Sheriff Rick Staly noting many teens are learning online and using social media urged parents to monitor activity.