Monday, December 10, 2012

Police, family search for deadly hit-and-run driver

ORLANDO Aaron Jones, 28, was killed in a hit-and-run crash on Goldenrod Road on Friday Dec. 7. Family, friends and the Florida Highway Patrol are currently searching for information that leads to an arrest.

Jones was headed south riding
his small motorcycle on Goldenrod Road when he was fatally struck by an unidentified driver headed north on Goldenrod Road in a light colored four-door sedan, as the driver made an abrupt turn into the Jasmine Apartments.

Security camera footage from across the street confirmed that this accident occurred at 1:20 a.m., and according to FHP investigators the impact damaged the right-front side of the sedan.

Instead of helping Jones, the unidentified driver circled around the apartment complex entrance and headed back northbound on Goldenrod Road, according to FHP investigators.

An ambulance arrived on scene around 1:34 a.m., after another vehicle passing later stopped and called for 9-11 for help. Jones was taken to
the hospital where he passed away Friday around 4:30 a.m.

“I've spoken with my brother and his wife Tina and they’re doing as well as can be expected,” said Joni Brown, aunt of Aaron Jones on his fathers side. “It's hard, it's hard on anybody to loose your son. You don't want to bury your children.”

Family members, friends and other supporters were gathered at the crash scene on Sunday and Monday afternoon, holding signs asking for help to find the hit-and-run vehicle and handing out fliers to individuals as they entered the Jasmine Apartments.

There was also a memorial service held on Monday evening at the “Other Bar” where Jones work as a bar manager, were friends and supports shared their condolences and helped raise money for the family through a silent auction and other donations.

Some tips and other information has come in from local residents, but nothing that has lead to any kind of suspect arrest.

“We have looked at eight to 12 vehicles matching the description with front-end damage, but have been unable to confirm if they were the suspect vehicle,” said Sgt. Kim Montes, FHP investigator.

With no direct eyewitnesses, Montes said this case will rely on a solid lead that can tie the suspect with some circumstantial evidence.

Montes described Florida's hit-and-run crashes as an “epidemic,” with 696 hit-and-run reports last month in Central Florida handled by the FHP.

The punishment for a hit-and-run crash resulting in a death would apply to Florida's Justin McWilliams Act, which mandates a first degree felony charge punishable by a $10,000 fine, and up to 30 years in prison.

There is currently a $2,500 reward for anyone with information about this case that leads to a felony arrest, and they are encouraged to call Central Florida Crimeline at 800-423-TIPS.

By James Tutten 

Photo of Aaron Jones, provided by Jones' family.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

President of Valencia reflects on year as 'The Best'

     ORLANDO — Valencia College was honored one year ago on Dec. 12, 2011, as it was awarded the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

     The prize recognized Valencia as the best community college in the nation as stated on the Aspen Institute’s web site for having “outstanding academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time.”

     “It was just a terrific thrill to be able to represent the whole community college world for just a moment, and to speak to policy makers and the public on our work,” said Dr. Sanford Shugart, president of Valencia College.

(Click above to watch video)
(Produced by James Tutten)

     To reach the point of being recognized as “the best” meant a detailed evaluation process developed by the Aspen Institute that measured the nation’s top community colleges based on “student learning, degree and credential attainment, transfer, and career and earnings outcomes,” as stated by the institute’s Aspen Prize overview.

     Shugart humbly explained that he didn’t feel this award meant the college was actually the best in the nation because that is so hard to clearly define, just the inaugural winner and one of the best.

     He went on to say, “it feels like confirmation of a long, steady climb to improve student learning. We’ve had just a tremendous focus for two decades almost on improving what students experience and how they learn and how they progress.”

     The Aspen Prize works to acknowledge the achievements of community colleges with outstanding records of student success propelling them to the national spotlight which allows them to inspire other institutions looking to ratify and improve their own work with post-secondary education.

     When asked if being awarded the Aspen Prize one year ago was his highest professional accomplishment Shugart said “I feel best about our work through our student’s stories. When I hear of a student who succeeded against the odds and gone places and done things no one had ever imagined possible including the student, those are my best moments.”

     After winning the Aspen Prize the college has received more attention from the community and the national educational community and Shugart has be able to travel more to speak on national panels and explain the work of Valencia College.

     The college also has several goals for the future to go along with its ever-growing campuses and raising numbers of student enrollment. Valencia is still working on the goal of improving graduation rates for students in need of basic refresher courses and others that require more fundamental help with remediation in English, math and other skills needed to find success in college.

     There is also a continued focus on the college’s advanced degrees and continued refinement in the “DirectConnect” program, which works to guarantee graduating students a place at Valencia’s partner school the University of Central Florida.

     President Shugart’s overall message to the students at Valencia recognized that this award was based on their accomplishments just as much as the administrators, faculty and other staff members that made it possible.

     “I would call on our students to raise their aspirations, be really reticent and don’t take anything less than the best in their own academic work,” said Shugart.

     Based on the criteria of the Aspen Institute, Valencia was not eligible to win the 2012 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence because of winning last year.

By James Tutten

(Photos by James Tutten)

Large banner celebrating Aspen Prize on East Campus.

Banner proclaiming "Best in the nation," on East Campus.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dethklok rages with thundering sonic apocalypse

     ORLANDO — Dethklok takes the over-the-top themes and playing style found in heavy metal music, and raises the bar of outright insanity. This group creates a soundtrack suitable for marching to war, but only if you don’t plan on taking any prisoners.

     The band’s music was originally created by guitarist and frontman Brendon Small and was later used as the inspiration for the Cartoon Network animated television series “Metalocalypse,” co-created by Small and comedy writer Tommy Blacha.

     The show is currently under production for its fifth season and has established a core group of diehard fans that have embraced its dark humor, graphic content and twisted characters reminiscent of the 1981 animated cult classic “Heavy Metal.”

     “I love how incredibly hard their music is, my favorite song has to be ‘Go Into The Water,” said concertgoer Alex Stoehr.

     Small and his fellow band members; Mike Keneally (guitar), Gene Hoglan (drums) and Bryan Beller (bass guitar), started their performance with a strictly businesses attitude. They powered through their songs after a brief introduction accompanied by video segments from the series. This was used to highlight the sounds with their razor sharp rhythms and gut-wrenching growls, manifesting like a thundering sonic apocalypse.

     All the aggressive style and attitude was broken up by elements of macabre humor, which their fans have grown to love. One gets the impression that once you step into the dark world of Dethklok, nothing will shock or scar you.

     “Its just so far out, you just can’t help but love all the madness,” said Christian Roberts, another devote Dethklok fan who has enjoyed the band since their first album was released in 2007.

     The cheers from excited fans within the packed “House of Blues Orlando” venue were deafening. And as the music played a near constant stream of crowd-surfers and mosh-pitters kept security on their toes.

     It wasn’t until nearly the end of the performance that Small took time to address the crowd. Like a heavy metal Seth MacFarlane -- who voices several characters on the animated series Family Guy -- Small spoke to his fans as he alternated between the several characters in the series he co-created.

     One notable element to this show was missing: the band Machine Head, which is on-tour with Dethklok, has been banned from performing at all locations that are within Walt Disney properties as of 2007. As the band states on their web site, Disney Properties objects to the group’s “violent imagery” and “inflammatory lyrics,” while considering their fans  “undesirable.”

     “Apparently they’re no longer allowed to perform here. I don’t know what to tell you, but that sounds like for a ‘House of Blues’ it seems like they did their job and gave that band the blues,” said Small as he addressed the missing act with the audience near the end of his performance.

     Another popular metal band that accompanied Dethklok for this performance was All That Remains, who are currently receiving extended airplay on rock stations around the nation with their song “Hold On.”

     “I was glad to see All That Remains, but who I honestly came for was Dethklok,” said local actress and recording artist Grae Marion. “I’m a big fan of Brendon Small, but mainly I’m a big fan of the actual characters he has created.”

     This show was part of the yearly “Blizzard Of Rock” concert series organized by the Central Florida alternative rock radio station 101.1 WJRR. Other groups that participated in this year’s showcase were Sevendust, Rise Against, In Flames and Sum 41, amongst others.

By James Tutten

(Photos by James Tutten)
Brendon Small, Dethklok's lead songwriter cracks a smile at the start of the show.

Dethklok bassist, Bryan Beller, highlighted by the bands intense video backdrop.

Drumer, Gene Hoglan, performing a wild solo near the end of Dethklok's show.

Guitarist, Mike Keneally, shreds during a solo at breakneck speed.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Wiz Khalifa hypes newest album at UCF Arena

     ORLANDO In just over six years of releasing hip hop music the 25-year-old rapper Cameron Jibril Thomaz, who is known best by his stage name Wiz Khalifa, is well on his way to creating a lasting legacy for himself.

     Khalifa brought his unique crazy and cool style to the University of Central Florida for the second time in the last two years with a stop of his “The 2050 Tour” on Friday, Nov. 30.

     A wild hip hop exhibition, themed in the distant future where the world has changed and everyone is encouraged to live life to its fullest. The opening acts along with Khalifa excited the nearly sold-out crowd who celebrated and embraced the concert’s work hard, play hard philosophy.

     This show provided Khalifa with the opportunity to promote his newest studio album “O.N.I.F.C” set to be released on Dec. 4.

     “Don't let nobody kill your dreams and tell you that what you believe in isn’t the right thing,” said Khalifa, on stage before performing “Rise Above” off his new album.

     Khalifa burst onto the scene, supported by his backup band, to begin his chart-topping hit “Black and Yellow” as the start of his performance. This hard-hitting beat with fast-paced lyrics gave an electrifying buzz that carried over through the rest of his set.

     A strong draw to Khalifa's performance style is his carefree coolness, that plays to his overall style while keeping a unique diversity as a hip hop artist. On slower tunes--with audience members holding up the customary lighters--he brings the pace down with an almost slow motion attitude. This is soon followed by a fast-paced hip hop jam, leaving his fans energized and wanting more.

     “This is by far the best show I've ever seen, I love Wiz Khalifa. He's my dream boy,” said audience member Anna Carpanzano.

     The hit single “Work Hard, Play Hard” featured on Khalifa's soon to be released “O.N.I.F.C” album, was performed twice, including the final song of the evening. It’s simple, but strong message shows that everyone that works hard in life deserves to enjoy their down time doing whatever makes them happy.

     “I've been a fan of his for the last four years and everyone I know came to this concert, there was no way I was gonna miss it,” said Derek Hiegel, a freshmen and engineering major at UCF.

     Along with Khalifa was several other hip-hop artists that worked to hype up the audience including Lola Monroe, Chevy Woods, Tuki Carter, Berner and Juicy J.

     Juicy J, a member of the Academy Award-winning group “Three 6 Mafia” treated the audience to samples of some of their well known tracks including “Stay Fly,” “Sippin' on Some Syrup,” and “Poppin' My Collar.” This drew a wild reaction from fans of this group and worked perfectly to set up the final performance of the night by Khalifa.

     Wiz Khalifa is a rising star in hip hop music supported by millions of dedicated fans that love his free living ideals and original style. This concert kept its easy going mantra focused on having fun and delivered just that.

By James Tutten

(Photo by James Tutten)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Third term won by Florida Senator Bill Nelson

ORLANDO — Bill Nelson won his re-election bid on Tuesday, Nov. 6, achieving his third term as a Democratic senator for the state of Florida.

“A public office is a public trust, I will try to honor that public trust,” said Nelson during his victory speech at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Orlando.

Nelson states on his website that his top priorities are bringing investments and jobs to Florida, reducing the federal deficit and cutting federal spending, preserving Social Security and Medicare.

During the election cycle Nelson suffered his fair share of attack against his voting record while in office from his opponent U.S. Rep. Connie Mack.

“You don’t win in America by cheating, changing the rules, lying, disregarding the truth, bullying, and getting special interest money behind your cause,” said Nelson’s wife, Grace Nelson, as she introduced the senator.

Another personal goal of Senator Nelson is maintain a robust space program and support high-paying jobs on the space coast.

Nelson has been a long-time advocate for NASA and looks to enhance America’s role in space exploration. He recently gave encouraging words at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as it officially welcomed the Orion spacecraft, slated to be the symbol for the future of NASA in the post-space shuttle era.

He personally went into space serving as a payload specialist on the last successful mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia in Jan. 12, 1986.

“He has represented Florida amazingly well, I’ve known Senator Nelson for eight years now and I’ve never met a more sincere and honest elected official in my life,” said Scott Randolph the Orange County Democratic Party chairman.

By James Tutten

(Published: Nov. 7 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 4. 

(Photos by James Tutten)

Jerry Demings re-elected as Orange County Sheriff

ORLANDO — To further his 30 years of service in public safety, Jerry L. Demings won his re-election to Orange County Sheriff.

Demings came out onto the stage at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Orlando to accept his victory with a group of supporters and his wife, Val Demings, at his side.

“Crime is down more than 20 percent in Orange County and we can do more,” Demings told supporters Tuesday evening

Demings was first elected as Orange County Sheriff in 2008 and has been an Orlando resident his
entire life.

Like most candidates in this latest political cycle his rival, John Tegg, scrutinized him heavily on his records.

Part of these negative acquisitions involved an ongoing investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement over alleged reclassifying crimes to artificially lower criminal statistics.

“I think he’s done a great job as sheriff,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

“He’s served the city of Orlando as police chief earlier in his career and during his tenure, crime has gone down,” Dyer said.  

Demings has pledged to continue his work overseeing his department and handling all the additional duties required of him by Orange County.

He also stated several times during his acceptance speech that he plans to return $5.3 million dollars to taxpayers working with local officials.

“What he has done for the past four years fighting crime, he will continue to do, keep drugs off the streets and keep our families and children safe,” said local businessman, Tino Patel.

By James Tutten

(Published: Nov. 7 issue of Valencia Voice on page 5.)

(Photos by James Tutten)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Final move of Atlantis marks end, new beginning


     MERRITT ISLAND Shuttle workers, current and former astronauts, NASA officials and thousands of public visitors gathered at Kennedy Space Center to view the last move of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on Friday as it traveled to its $100 million resting place.

     “We’re in the business of creating the future, and we’re in the business of taking science fiction and turning it into science fact,” said Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, at the signing ceremony event on Friday, Nov. 2.

     Atlantis moved from the Vehicle Assembly Building at the crack of dawn to begin its final mission. Atop the 76-wheel Orbiter Transportation System vehicle, the shuttle was moved to several locations at NASA's KSC as part of this send-off ceremony.

     As it left the VAB for the last time it was followed by a group of shuttle workers behind a signed banner that read “We Made History Atlantis.”

     The shuttle stopped at the signing ceremony in front of the KSC headquarters building led by members of the Titusville High School marching band. This marked the official retirement and transfer of title for Atlantis from NASA to the Kennedy Space Center visitors complex.

     “Although it's the end of Atlantis flying in space, it's not the end,” said NASA KSC Director, Robert Cabana. “It's not the end for KSC, we're charging into the future.”

     KSC has been the site for every manned space mission since the first Apollo missions in the 1960s. Though it is currently in a transitional phase due to the space shuttle’s retirement, manned missions are set to continue form KSC in the future.

     Atlantis was moved to Space Florida's Exploration Park after the transfer ceremony to give those in attendance one last up-close look at the shuttle from all sides.

     At this event were life-sized vehicle models of NASA and private industry projects set to be the future of space exploration in the post-shuttle era, including SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft and the Orion spacecraft developed by Lockheed Martin.

     This event had a bittersweet undertone for those personally involved with the 30-year-long space shuttle program. More than 30 astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, led the way as the shuttle neared its exhibit location.

     Astronaut, Rex Walheim logged over 36 days in space as he flew on three missions for Atlantis.

     “It's a great adventure to fly in space and [kids are] the right age to come fly on the next wave of vehicles, beit commercial crew vehicles to the International Space Station or the Orion vehicle to the Moon, an asteroid and to Mars,” said Walheim.

     Atlantis’s 90,000-square-foot, $100 million exhibit is scheduled to open in July 2013. It will be suspended in the air, tilted at a 43 degree angle, with its payload bay doors opened and large robotic arm extended.

     Visitors will be able to look into the payload bay from a raised walkway and get a glimpse of what the shuttle looked like in orbit. They will also be able to walk underneath and view the tiles that worked to protect the shuttle upon re-entry to Earth.

     More information on this and other exhibits located at NASA's Kennedy Space Center can be found at

By James Tutten

(Published: Nov. 7, 2012 issue of "Valencia Voice" on page 8.)

(Photos by James Tutten)


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