CRESTVIEW — The Crestview News Bulletin staff chose these as the top stories we reported on in 2016. Share your thoughts on the list, and any changes you would recommend, at www.crestviewbulletin.com.  

1. COUNCIL: YES TO ALCOHOL

Following several months’ debate, the City Council voted 3-2 to allow open alcohol containers during certain Main Street events.

The decision was met with backlash from some Crestview and Baker pastors, as well as some residents who wished to see downtown be a family-first area.

“Grape juice left by itself turns to vinegar,” Pastor Joel McGraw, of Crestview Independent Baptist Church, said. “Man must corrupt wine to make it what it is. It will corrupt society as well.”

“Guns don’t affect your judgment, but alcohol does. Selling alcohol is all about getting the almighty dollar,” Jim Vail, pastor of First Baptist Church of Baker, said.

“Keep the alcohol behind closed doors on Main Street,” Crestview resident Willard Wilson said.

Some city officials said the alcohol vote would make the area more attractive to investors; other residents and stakeholders said the vote would boost downtown activity.

“My wife and I decided to reinvest in downtown Crestview,” said Bill Toannon, who co-owns Casbah Coffee House. “I prefer to see revitalization downtown. Putting big-box stores on either end of Crestview will not help small businesses downtown.”

“We are looking to bring some events to downtown where alcohol is served,” Paul Lowrey, president of the Main Street Association said. “Responsible business owners, responsible use, and responsible consumption. We are not looking to do this during family-oriented events like the Crestview Christmas Parade.”

 

2. TRIPLE HOMICIDE STUNS HUB CITY

A 22-year-old Crestview man, Jacob Langston, is expected to come to trial early in 2017 in connection with the fatal shootings of his mother, stepfather and another man.

State Attorney Bill Eddins and Crestview Police Chief Tony Taylor said at a Jan. 25 press conference that Langston planned to kill Elbert L. Merrick III, 22, who was dating his ex-girlfriend, and Shanna McGrath, Langston’s 42-year-old mother, and Kevin McGrath, his 47-yearold stepfather.

Langston was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of animal cruelty after allegedly killing family members and shooting two dogs at the 179 Peoria Blvd. home.

A search of Langston’s Chevrolet Impala uncovered a “gray canvas insulated bag containing a smaller, purple canvas bag,” a warrant document said. Inside was a hacksaw, large knife, tools, a box of gloves and several large kitchen trash bags.

Eddins credited the Crestview Police Department, his own office, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Medical Examiner’s Office with quick and efficient work to bring about the arrest.

While one dog died of its injuries, a Weimeramer named Jasmine survived despite being shot three times. She was adopted by a Destin couple, who were happy to provide her with the intensive veterinary care she required. Two Yorkies, who were uninjured, were adopted by a friend of one of the victims.

 

3. HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL TEAMS EXCEL

The Baker School football team’s trip to Orlando for the state playoffs ended in defeat. However, while the Gators lost the game, their sportsmanship and drive shined.

After 13-straight wins the Baker Gators and their faithful fans were used to winning and, more important, overcoming adversity. Their path to get to the Florida High School Athletic Association state championship game showcased their ability to fight the odds and prove experts wrong by making plays and shifting momentum.

Their game in Orlando was a different situation. The Gators were playing a Pahokee team that hit harder and ran faster than any opponent they had faced.

In Pahokee’s win, Baker held their own in a way the scoreboard didn’t show.

The Pahokee Blue Devils hit the knees of senior fullback Nick Adams, which took him out of the game. One of those knees bent in the opposite direction. Yes, Nick was done, but he said the pain was worth it.

The Baker Gators committed several turnovers. Their defense, however, went back on the field and didn’t allow Pahokee to capitalize as much as they should have. They did their job. For the seniors, it was for one last time.

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Crestview High School’s football team broke a three-game losing streak to remain undefeated against Niceville High. The win secured a district championship for the Bulldogs and gave them home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Rusty Moorer piled up 300 yards and three touchdowns, Crestview’s defense racked up five sacks and the Bulldogs held on to a 27-7 third-quarter lead to earn the right to welcome District 4-6A runner-up Middleburg.

For whatever reason, whether it was Crestview’s recent years of mediocrity or the shadow cast by rival Niceville’s perennial success, the Bulldogs have largely escaped the hype and drawn in the naysayers.

This year, they had a response for rival Niceville (8-1), for the state and for the home fans, who rushed the field, as “We are the Champions” blasted over the loudspeakers following a 27-21 District 3-6A championship win over the Eagles.

 

4. A CITY WITH MORE AMENITIES

After years of planning and setbacks, funding and a location were secured for a Crestview dog park. The Crestview Bark Park is in development following a $62,000 private donation and local business owner April Meier’s research.

Meier said there was an overwhelming demand to see the city open its first park for canines. However, she said, the city’s budget had little room to make construction happen. In addition, city officials were unsure where such a park would be located.

A dog park would have to be far enough from residential areas due to potential noise, but still convenient for residents to use, Meier said. The area within Twin Hills Park fit the requirements.

Meier researched 10 cities of comparable size to Crestview that have dog parks. She used these towns as a model to brainstorm means of funding. Once a park is built, it still requires maintenance and upkeep, which carries a cost. Before facing these costs, she first had to find initial funds to build the park.

In June, the Main Street Crestview Association, of which Meier is a board member, was approved by the Community Redevelopment Agency to build the park. In August, Meier began fundraising.

The project raised about $3,000 before a massive donation on Dec. 21. Jim Huff, on behalf of Ted Simmons, gave a $62,000 check to the Main Street Crestview Association for development of the park.

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Central Baptist Church in Crestview soon will have a Crossroads Medical and Dental Clinic satellite office. The church owns an empty building at 951 S. Ferdon Blvd. that will facilitate the Valparaiso-based clinic’s cause to provide free health care.

“This was the vision of Paul Mixon, pastor of Central Baptist Church, who wanted a medical outreach in the community,” Penny Bailey said. “He has worked tirelessly with the city of Crestview for the past six months to get Crossroads Clinic to Crestview.”

Crossroads, a non-profit organization, provides free medical care for those who have no medical insurance and meet Florida criteria for receiving this service. It began 12 years ago and, in that time, reportedly has provided millions of dollars of medical, dental and pharmaceutical care for its patients. 

“My wife and I are thrilled about the opening of the Crestview Crossroads location,” said Dr. Bailey, the medical clinic’s primary physician. “We have been serving our country for a combined 54 years and have the desire to serve our community. North Okaloosa County and Walton County are underserved as far as medical care is concerned.”

“We want to provide medical care to those who need it.”

 

5. LAUREL HILL IS HERE TO STAY

After several years of debate, Laurel Hill City Council voted 3-2 to terminate discussions on dissolving the town. A vote in August closed the matter.

Council Chairman Larry Hendren and Councilwoman Debra Adams cast the dissenting votes; both said they believed residents should vote on the matter.

Councilman Travis Dewrell, who motioned to end discussion, said no one approached the council to support dissolution, but he had heard from many residents who want the city to remain incorporated.

Councilman Scott Moneypenny said of the city’s 516 residents, just one spoke to him in favor of dissolution.

However, resident Joel Weekly said there were many residents who favored dissolution but hadn’t made their preference known.

“The silent majority should be represented,” he said. “They pay taxes, too.”

“If the silent majority was not silent, then I’d be in favor of taking the money and continuing this discussion,” Dewrell said.

Hendren said when the discussion began several years ago, he then favored dissolution, but “since then I’ve seen growth.”

 

6. CLOSER TO CLOSURE

Crestview residents may find closure in the 2006 cold case of Melissa Howard’s murder. After nearly nine years with no arrest, the case was re-examined in 2015 using updated investigative technologies.

Now, David Russell Holbrook Jr., faces murder charges in connection with the single mother’s death.

Jennifer Knudson, Melissa’s best friend, knew the suspect as Russell.

“He hung out with all of us. We would hang out and do fish fries,” Knudson said.

Brian and Melissa Howard, Knudson and her husband and Holbrook and his wife Darlene were friends until all their marriages dissolved, Knudson said.

“It was a very tangled web,” she said. “It was like everybody split up and certain people were siding with the other.”

Knudson remembered talking on the phone with Melissa Howard one day a couple of weeks before she was killed when someone knocked on Howard’s door.

“I asked her who it was, and she said ‘Russell,’” Knudson said.

The out-of-the-blue visit, Knudson said, left her and Melissa feeling uncomfortable.

Knudson said she was not shocked to learn Holbrook had been tied to the case.

His arrest on a charge of first-degree murder came after an Okaloosa County grand jury handed down an indictment.

 

7. A YEARLONG PARTY FOR THE HUB CITY

Crestview celebrated its centennial with numerous events. Among the many happenings — which included Fourth of July fireworks and the “Ghosts of Crestview,” a living history featuring View from the Stage performers — was groundbreaking on a multimillion-dollar courthouse.

Mayor David Cadle set the scene during the main celebration in his opening remarks, which called back to April 11, 1916, when the city was officially established.

“Imagine, if you will, just 100 years (ago), when a small village began to grow up around arrival of the railroad,” Cadle said. “The people who settled here were industrious and hard-working folks, and soon they were building homes and churches.”

“And on Main Street a hotel sprang up, and a bank, and along with them were several drinking establishments, where the purported favorite beverage was whiskey. Those establishments had many patrons, and even their second floors of their buildings were quite busy.”

The passing of years brought innovation — “As time went by, the dirt roads slowly were being replaced by pavement, and the city continued to grow,” Cadle said — and the 7th Special Forces’ relocation from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Eglin Air Force Base in Northwest Florida brought an influx of new residents.

Now, the Hub City is Okaloosa’s largest city, and “the undisputed county seat of Okaloosa County,” Cadle said.

 

8. ‘PRAGMATIC, INEXPENSIVE’ TRAFFIC SOLUTIONS

Traffic congestion is a hot topic in Crestview. The idea of widening certain main roads has been discussed, but the timeframe for such a project — if it were to happen at all — is several decades at best.

However, a Florida Department of Transportation study provided the town with some solution to alleviate its traffic headaches.

“It doesn’t make anything bigger,” Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles said. “It says, ‘What do we have and can we use it more efficiently?’”

Such solutions are similar to extending the turn lane from southbound State Road 85 to John King Road in 2013, which alleviated some backups into the left lane.

Unlike major road construction projects, which can take decades, the project’s recommendations will begin almost immediately, FDOT public information specialist Donna Green said.

“It’s a cool study,” Boyles said. “Many of the solutions are very pragmatic and inexpensive. If you stack them all together it can make a significant impact.”

“The study provides improved traffic flow between Walmart and the Shoal River Bridge,” Boyles said. “It focuses on small expense improvements.”

Green said the Antioch and Live Oak Church Roads intersection would be the first to receive attention.

“The design for John King and Southcrest will be done sometime around fiscal-year 2018,” she said, closely followed by right-of-way acquisition and actual construction by 2020 or 2021.

 

9. CRESTVIEW TOPS IN DUI FATALITIES?

An online ranking of DUI-related traffic incidents placed Crestview as one of the worst cities in the state. The information concerned residents, but local law enforcement used its own data to dispute the claim.

“Our consumer affairs experts ran the numbers, and Crestview is ranked 10th worst in Florida for highest DUI-related deaths,” Kay Evans of ConsumerAffairs.com stated in an email.

“Crestview is 63rd safest out of 72 communities,” Evans said, though the report lists statistics for 150 cities.

The Lake Tahoe, Nevada-based consumer news site claims Crestview ranks worse than cities such as Sarasota, Miami and Cocoa Beach in traffic fatalities.

According to Consumer Affairs’ statistics, Crestview had five traffic fatalities in 2014, the last year for which data was available, Evans said.

However, the website inflates or deflates communities’ populations to 100,000 residents, “to even the playing field for all sizes of communities,” Evans stated. “That way, we can rank larger cities next to smaller cities and know that the rank is correct.”

Under that methodology, the site actually lists 21.5 DUI-related traffic fatalities in Crestview in 2014.

Whatever method the site uses to organize its data, it’s wrong, local authorities said.

 “That is ridiculous,” Crestview Police Department spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Schneider said. “I’ve been here 16 years and there are the only two (DUI fatalities) I remember.”

Schneider said to be certain, he and Investigations Division Cmdr. Jamie Grant checked Crestview Police records as far back as 2005.

10. CRESTVIEW PD GETS ‘THE BRASS RING’

Scandal and controversy marred the Crestview Police Department before Police Chief Tony Taylor joined in 2012. However, Taylor set goals to make CPD more transparent and accountable under his watch.

Among his most significant contributions was leading the agency to finally earn the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation’s seal of approval.

In 1993, a Florida statute directed the Florida Sheriffs’ Association and the Florida Police Chiefs’ Association to create a voluntary law enforcement accreditation program. The Commission for Law Enforcement Accreditation Inc. was formed.

An agency must follow more than 260 standards to earn accreditation, a recurring process that the CPD must apply for every three years.

Cmdr. Andrew Schneider, the department’s accreditation manager, said plenty of paperwork was involved during this first effort.

“We submitted over 1,170 pages of documentation for the accreditation process,” he said. A recent three-day on-site inspection included verifying what was submitted and interviewing officers.

“This is not just something that is given out,” Taylor said during a news conference. “There has been a lot of hard work by the Crestview Police Department. The accreditation is the brass ring for law enforcement agencies and it professionalizes our department.”