The Voice of the Gem City

News February 1, 2022

This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.

Florida Highway Patrol worked a series of wrecks in Putnam and St. Johns County today including a fatality. FHP was called out to the fatality at 1:38 a.m. at County Road 309 and Fort Gates Ferry Road in South Putnam. At 6:34 a.m. they responded to a vehicle crash with a roadblock at U.S. 17 and West River Road in Putnam. At 6:49 a.m. FHP responded to a vehicle crash at State Road 207 and the Interstate 95 southbound entrance in St. Johns County.

Fire departments from throughout Putnam County responded to a fire at  a landmark structure on the river in Welaka Monday morning. The historic wooden two-story structure burned quickly but firefighters were able to save the house next door. The fire is under investigation. Mayor Jamie Watts who posted video of the fully engulfed structure praised volunteer fire chief Scott Turnbull and the Welaka Volunteer Fire Department for saving the house that was part of the property. He thanked departments from Palatka, Crescent City, Pomona Park, Georgetown and Satsuma for “responding to such a serious disaster in our Town! We might not be the biggest county in Florida but we have the biggest heart.” Volusia and St. Johns counties also responded. The old wooden building at the corner of Front Street and Elm was being used as an art studio by current owners. Just up from the town’s boat launch, the building had been the shop of master boat builder and restorer Rand Speas. His widow sold it in 2016 to Michael Anthony Kielas and Estella J. Fransbergen. Market value on the property is $375,480, according to Putnam Property Appraiser records.

The pilot and co-pilot of a plane attempting to land next to Interstate 95 in Flagler County Monday afternoon escaped without serious injuries, according to the Flagler officials. An investigation is under way into the crash of the blue-and-white single-engine plane. The pilot reported losing power and attempting an emergency landing onto the northbound lanes of I-95 when a wing of the plane struck a tractor-trailer and the plane headed into the tree line. The airplane flipped but pilot and co-pilot were able to get out of the aircraft on their own. Florida Highway Patrol said the pilot left from the New Smyrna Beach area and was headed to Flagler Executive Airport. The crash backed up traffic  in the northbound lane near the State Road 100 exit.

Florida Forest Service was called out to a five-acre wildfire on train tracks in the Bostwick area in Putnam County Monday. FFS Waccasassa reported welding equipment was the cause of the fire at 496 Tocoi Road. “Crews are working on plowing containment lines and are reporting they have been successful in slowing down the process,” FFS tweeted.

A St. Augustine Beach commissioner submitted his resignation to the city Monday after a DUI incident involving his wife. Ernesto Torres reportedly insulted a Beach officer and attempted to get the police chief to stop the arrest of his wife, Nicole Torres, for DUI. Torres, 52, was in the vehicle with his wife during the traffic stop at A1A Beach Boulevard and 11th St. In a press release from the City of St. Augustine Beach, officials said Torres said he was resigning “to spend more time with his family.” Torres was elected in 2020 to a four-year term. According to the city, the commission will address the process of filling the vacant seat at their Feb. 7 meeting.

River City Players offers their latest production — the comedy Skin Deep — beginning Wednesday at the Scarlett-Hill Theatre at the Larimer Arts Center in Palatka. This includes the Champagne Opening Night reception with curtain going up at 7 p.m. The play also runs Thursday-Sunday this week and Thursday through Sunday of next. Tickets are available online  at or 386-337-8852. Curtain goes up at 7

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