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End of the Road

For many years, beachgoers and vehicles successfully avoided collision on Amelia Island’s coastal sands, where they are allowed to comingle in designated locales. This spring, the number of beach ‘safety days’ tumbled in alarming succession. Not one but two sunbathers, both women, were seriously injured by vehicles that drove over them, then took off. The first incident occurred in April; the second, fewer than 30 days later, in May.

The driver who struck a 53-year-old visitor from Akron, Ohio at the city of Fernandina Beach’s Sadler Road beach access on May 21 was quickly located and arrested after several people who witnessed the incident reported the vehicle description and license plate to police. The woman, whose name authorities withheld in the initial announcement under a request for privacy, was treated at UF Health Jacksonville for broken ribs and a blood clot in her chest.

The driver who ran over 38-year-old Amanda Gonzalez, of St. Marys, Georgia, on April 24 continues to elude investigators. The hit-and-run unfolded at Peters Point Beachfront Park, on the south end of the island. The beach is in unincorporated Nassau County, where the sheriff’s office handles law enforcement.

The traffic report documents one eyewitness, Kevin O’Connor of Fernandina Beach, who reported seeing a Jeep run over the woman’s legs. But as O’Connor later told Folio Weekly in a June 4 phone interview, he didn’t think she was hurt until emergency responders swarmed the beach two minutes later, running to her aid. According to O’Connor, the Jeep rolled “slowly” over Gonzalez and “slowly [drove] away.” He was surprised that she didn’t scream in pain. “I was 20 feet away but she didn’t react, so I didn’t react,” he explained. “I feel bad I didn’t do anything.” Gonzalez was taken to Baptist Nassau for injuries to both legs. The sheriff has asked anyone with information to contact the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office at 904-225-5174.

Jacksonville attorney John M. Phillips, who represents Gonzalez and—with five cases statewide in recent years—has become a go-to litigator for beach traffic injuries, called on county and city officials to impose a moratorium on beach driving until they can ensure the safety of sunbathers and beachgoers. “I want it to be reasonably safe and monitored, because it’s neither,” he told Folio Weekly in a May 14 interview—one week before the second woman was hit. “In an ideal world, I would like to see cars parked in parking lots and people play on beaches.”

The day after the second hit-and-run, Phillips contacted county and city commissioners again, maintaining they have done “nothing” to enhance safety despite his notice of “a dangerous condition.” His May 22 email read, “You ignored our warning. Another life will be forever changed by the crushing weight of a vehicle on top of a woman’s body. You continue to choose the unsafe approach as the default instead of protecting people (and protected wildlife) while you determine how to proceed. This has to stop.”

To date, vehicles are still rolling on the sand, but there have been changes. On May 7, the Fernandina Beach City Commission eliminated overnight beach parking from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. And on May 24, ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend, police installed an attendant shed at the Sadler Road beach access, allowing park rangers and lifeguards to distribute a new brochure with parking map, tip sheet and beach regulations. The message politely requests beachgoers to “consider” sunbathing and participating in beach activities outside the vehicle parking area. The effort marked the first time that authorities have actively advised visitors about certain regulations: the 5 mph speed limit, a ban on glass containers and alcohol, dog-leashing requirements and restricted areas (15 feet from dunes, five feet from active turtle nests).

Next month, City Commissioner Len Kreger plans to introduce an ordinance to eliminate all beach parking. He understands it will be a controversial proposal. “This is a safety issue,” he told Folio Weekly by phone on June 4. “It’s time.”

In Nassau County, Sheriff Bill Leeper has increased beach patrols for the summer season. School resource officers were assigned to cover the beach at the close of the academic year, and a dedicated Peters Point patrol will monitor the reckless driving that, the sheriff noted evasively in a June 1 email, “some say is occurring.”

According to Leeper, people have been driving on local beaches for more than 50 years and last year, despite “thousands” of county residents and visitors driving on the sand, authorities received 15 calls for reckless driving. “People speed and drive recklessly on our highways, which injure and kill people every year, but there is no outrage to close the roads,” he argued. In the lengthy message, the sheriff assured he was concerned about the hit-and-run victims; still, he was critical of claims that law enforcement is “ignoring” safety conditions, calling them “misinformed.”

According to the sheriff, there is proof in numbers. He cited a 20 percent drop in beach-related 911 calls between 2017 and 2018 (from 177 to 141), despite the increasing crowds which, he claimed, have caused a 467 percent rise in general investigation calls during the same time period (from 170 to 964). The sheriff recently proposed additional, dedicated patrols at all beaches. County commissioners must decide if they want to spend the money: $1 million for 12-hour coverage and $2 million for 24-hour coverage. The cost includes four deputies and one supervisor for each shift, plus their equipment.

The sheriff has asked the public to be mindful at the beach. He has reminded motorists to drive “carefully, responsibly and obey the rules.” He has advised beachgoers to make sure they are “highly visible” and asked that parents to keep an eye on their children “at all times.”

Meanwhile, some locals are hostile to change. Earlier this year, the county formed a committee to assess beach ordinances and rethink vehicle access at Peters Point and American Beach. The monthly meetings brought out standing-room-only crowds, deeply divided on beach driving. Citizens took to the podium and urged members to ban beach driving in the name of personal safety—or maintain it for the sake of personal freedom. At the committee’s May 30 meeting, one man considered a beach ban an absurd idea, saying it’s like forcing him to have a vasectomy because his neighbor has too many kids.

The remark drew laughs and applause. But not everyone thinks beach driving is a laughing matter. Certainly not Gonzalez, who struggles to walk and to pay mounting medical bills. She wondered if the reaction would have been different, even compassionate, if she had been a child or senior citizen.

Gonzalez has become a target of social media trolls, who viciously accused her of being a “plant” for nefarious forces pushing to ban beach driving. According to this conspiracy theory, the victim staged the accident, fabricated the injuries and filed a false police report to turn public opinion. The messages troubled her so deeply that she withdrew from social media.

“The comments on Facebook were pretty intense,” she told Folio Weekly. “There were so many [negative comments] over such a long period of time that it, for real, started to affect me.” She didn’t know there was a community conflict over beach driving “until the day after I got run over.”

At the beach committee’s May 2 meeting, a woman announced that she was at the beach when Gonzalez reported being struck and did not believe the report was true because she wasn’t screaming. “If somebody had run over my legs,” she declared to loud applause (according to records from the clerk’s office), “I guarantee you, you would’ve heard some words out of me.”

Meanwhile, in his message to county leaders, Phillips said his client was being harassed and he would be “happy to set up a meeting or provide medical records so you can see the damage caused first-hand.”

O’Connor, the witness named in the traffic report, said he asked Gonzalez why she didn’t cry out or call for help. “She told me, ‘I’m a quiet person.’” He also remarked that a deputy had made an off-the-cuff comment at the scene, suggesting that condominium owners in the buildings overlooking the beach would use the hit-and-run to support a ban on beach driving in front of their high-end homes. “I don’t know about that; you can’t drive in front of the buildings anyway because it stops there, south of the Peters Point entrance,” he observed.

In a May 14 interview with Folio Weekly, Gonzalez said she had gone to the beach after work (she is an administrator at one of Fernandina Beach’s pulp mills) to meditate and pray; it’s how she calms her mind. She is married with a 13-year-old son. The family shares a busy household with relatives and their children, ages six and eight. “This was like the one hour that I carved for myself that day,” she explained. “That’s, like, my quiet time out there.”

Folio Weekly listened to Gonzalez’s 911 call. Her voice is surprisingly calm and clear when she tells the dispatcher that she has been hit by a vehicle and needs help. (This corroborates O’Connor’s statement that he watched her sit up and immediately pick up the phone after the Jeep traveled over her legs.) The cell connection drops, and Gonzales does not answer when the dispatcher calls her back. She eventually redials 911 and says she thinks she passed out. She asks if emergency responders can bring a blanket. “I’m freezing,” she says. She also tells the dispatcher—calmly—that she’s having “trouble catching my breath” and difficulty trying to stand. “I don’t think I’m that hurt. I’ve never seen my leg bruised like this. I can’t believe this has happened. Sh*t.”

Attorney Phillips played the calls for Folio Weekly on a laptop in the conference room of his Ortega office, where Gonzalez also sat with her wife, Isabel Gonzalez. She struggled under a cumbersome brace covering her right leg, above and below the knee. The meeting took place in May, a week before the second hit-and-run. The couple had just come from the doctor, who told them the bone, which emergency room personnel declared intact, was in fact fractured. “The orthopedist already said she will be dealing with this for the rest of her life,” said Isabel. “One of us being out of work affects us financially. We have bills we have to pay.” Gonzalez worries about her job. The doctor ordered her not to drive for at least six weeks, and nightmares interrupt her sleep.

Amanda and Isabel Gonzalez were disturbed that nobody on the beach offered help in the aftermath of a hit-and-run. (Amanda Gonzalez estimates that 40 to 50 people were in the vicinity.) They don’t understand why the driver didn’t stop and why that driver is still at large.

“Just by being a decent human being, shouldn’t you have checked in?” Gonzalez asked rhetorically.

Phillips said he is searching for information on the vehicle.

“If this is innocent, let’s make a claim on your insurance,” he said. “Let’s do this the right way. Let’s not make this a criminal case.”

Amanda Gonzalez concurs. “Oh, yeah, completely, especially if this was an accident,” she added. “I don’t want to see them go to jail or anything if it was an accident.”

Is she seeking an apology?

“That would be nice.”

Legalizing It

This is part two of last week’s interview with Sally Kent Peebles of Vicente Sederberg, a full-service law firm that specializes in cannabis-related issues.


Shelton Hull: What would you consider your legal specialties?

Sally Kent Peebles: I am a cannabis regulatory, corporate and real estate attorney who is licensed to practice in three states: Florida, Colorado and Oregon. I have more than five years of experience in this industry which, compared to many others in the cannabis industry in Florida, makes me a bit of a dinosaur!


Are there other firms dealing with cannabis law in this region?

I know other firms are dipping their toes into the cannabis space and creating separate cannabis practice groups within their firms, but I don’t know any other Florida firm that has a sole focus on cannabis like Vicente Sederberg does. We are 100 percent focused in the cannabis space, and we have unique practice groups in addition to the more traditional ones such as national licensing, market analytics, a hemp and cannabinoid group, and a compliance department that guides clients through issues such as packaging and labeling, security requirements and building requirements.


What do you see as the major cannabis-related issues in Florida this year?

I see the industry as having two main hurdles. First, when I originally moved here, a lot of people asked me when Florida would see the economic boom from the cannabis industry like Colorado experienced. I had to explain that the state of Florida made the unfortunate policy decision to limit licenses at the state level, which created a high barrier to entry and effectively cut out a hopeful small business owner from being able to get a license. Limited licenses means limited patient access, and since there is less competition, the products are more expensive, which forces many patients to stay in the black market where product is cheaper and more accessible. This may get better over time, especially since flower is now permitted.

Second, there is still heavy stigma in the South toward marijuana and marijuana users. This often blocks forward movement on the issue. During this past session, a THC cap was proposed and almost passed which would have capped the THC level in flower at 10 percent and would have made it tougher for a parent to get medicine for their child. This bill threatened to force patients and sick children back into the black market where product is untested and could be covered in pesticides. The fact that the bill even passed the House reflects that there is still a lot of education that needs to happen on this issue.


Do you think full decriminalization will happen on the next ballot?

I see many cities already passing decriminalization laws in Florida. Lowering the penalties for [possessing] small amounts of marijuana is an excellent step to protect our adolescents, who are the ones arrested most for this offense. As for the adult-use push, they will need a lot more funding to be able to get the question on the ballot, and I am not seeing that happening yet. I support the legalization of adult-use marijuana. Already 10 states in the U.S. have voted for adult use. It should be regulated, tested and taxed. The industry could create thousands of new, good-paying jobs and provide new business opportunities.

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Funky Donkey

Today something good happened to me. I was hiking in the countryside with my mom when a sudden movement caught my eye. I turned around to find a most unusual creature grazing in the pasture. With long ears, a long nose and walnut eyes like mine, I found the animal enchanting.

Like any animal that wasn’t raised on a farm, I had stumbled upon an unknown entity: a donkey or, in Spanish, burro. I’m a sucker for a good animal story, so I stopped to chat a while and learn more about this unfamiliar animal.

I learned a lot—that these small but mighty pets are intelligent, loyal and affectionate companions.



Davi on Davey

Davi: Tell me about yourself and where you are now.

Davey: I was terrified of people before I came to Empowerment Ranch, a nonprofit agency that’s dedicated to bringing animals, nature and people of all ages and backgrounds together.


Are you “stubborn as a mule”?

Irrefutably! I do what I want when I want. But I’m still a good boy!


What food would you eat every day if you could?

Oatmeal cookies!


Some say donkeys are really good decision-makers. True?

We do make decisions, though they usually get us into more trouble than we bargain for.


Tell us why you believe a donkey is a good companion?

We are silly, playful and sweet, and will follow you once we know who you are.


Who is your best friend?

A mini-horse named Tuffon. We romp and play all day!


Do you have any weird habits?

I pick up my hay bin and carry it around to show it’s empty, like my belly!


What’s a fact about donkeys that would surprise most people?

Beneath our passive, low-key façade is a bright, joyful animal that loves to stop to smell the flowers and look around. We have excellent memories and tremendous physical strength.


In a sentence, sum up your life.

Oh, so very happy, loved and safe.


Tell me what being rescued was like.

It was terrifying. Humans chased me around in a watery field, wrapped ropes around my neck, and put me on a metal box. I was scared and didn’t understand they were trying to help. The first rescue couldn’t handle my naughtiness, so I was relocated to Empowerment Ranch.


What personality trait gets you in the most trouble?

Sometimes I try to kick the farrier who trims my feet. He’s a good man, but I can’t help myself.


What’s the best thing about being included in a family?

I’m never alone.


What makes it your perfect day?

Lots of hay, ear scratches—and no farrier.


This spirited neddy, overflowing with adorable spunk, is at home on a ranch near Callahan. Though the rescue donkey loves to roll in the dirt and kick toward the sky like a puppy, Davey prefers to be pampered with love and ear rubs. He could forgo the farrier; I don’t blame him—I dread nail trims, too.

There's the Rub

Have y’all noticed yet? Summer is here! Welcome to living a convection oven’s life! If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a nicely seasoned, properly tied roast in the middle of preparation, just step outside! Of course, we enjoy the outdoors more than the soon-to-be-my-dinner-roast enjoys its convection oven time. Now that it’s summer, we’re outdoors more, sweating more, running more, swimming more, sun-tanning (sun-burning?) more. Get outside, revel in the Florida temps! (It’s the humidity.)

And nothing else smells like summer more than a cookout! The smoky meat-sizzling aroma wafts up and down the block, making those of us you didn’t invite to your party even more hungry! For me, the year-round griller, sometimes a nice indoorsy braise hits the spot. Why? ’Cause sometimes I get a little tired of batting bugs and sweating over hot charcoal.

So what should you cook in the heat of summer? Many experts offer cold food options for hot days—watermelon salads, cooled-off pasta dishes, simple sandwiches … but where’s the fun in that? That brings us to brisket. When most folks think of brisket, it comes in two common forms: the unbelievably succulent, tender, smoky, boldly spiced Texas-style, or the more old-style, European version of the Jewish deli classic, corned beef. The foodies among you probably also grind it for burgers like every trendy restaurant that makes its own beef grinds to stand out from the other burger joints.

My favorite way to prepare brisket? Braise it with bourbon. The brisket is the breast of the cow, which means that it tends to be fatty. You can control that—trim off the fat if you want a leaner result. Otherwise, leave the fat on to get some extra-good flavor. Then braise it with bourbon.

And the best part of brisket with bourbon? First, follow the instructions in my recipe here. Then stick it in the oven and do whatever you want for three-and-a-half hours, then come back and ta-da! Ready to eat! That makes brisket-time the best summertime food of all—you can cook dinner at the same time you’re lounging poolside, building a sandcastle at the beach, going for a hot sweaty run, taking out the boat or doing any of the activities that make living in the 904 feel like we’re in a hot, sweaty version of paradise.




• 1 Tbsp. Colman’s Mustard Powder

• 2 Tbsp. black pepper

• 1 tsp. ground ginger

• 2 tsp. ground cumin

• 1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes

• 2 Tbsp. brown sugar

• 1 Tbsp. ground coriander

• 1 Tbsp. Spanish paprika

• 1 Tbsp. garlic powder

• 1-1/2 Tbsp. coarse sea salt



1. Trim brisket section of all excess fat.

2. Mix all ingredients.

3. Rub brisket with olive oil.

4. Sprinkle generous amount of rub all over the brisket and massage in any extra rub.

5. Let it sit overnight.

6. Braise it the next day!

The Big One

"I always wanted to challenge death,” declares Woody Brown at the start of Heavy Water, a documentary that premiered at this year’s Newport Beach Film Festival. The aged surfer’s face is weathered from exposure to the elements and creased with experience. He’s been surfing since before Pearl Harbor. “I loved to get just as close to death as I could possibly get, and yet dodge it. That was my thrill in life.”

Brown was one of the first “big-wave” surfers. He and a handful of fellow daredevils pioneered the sport in Hawaii in the ’40s. But South African director Michael Oblowitz’s new documentary isn’t about Brown—who died in 2008—but rather contemporary big-wave surfer Nathan Fletcher, grandson of Brown’s surfing buddy, Walter Hoffman. Fletcher was born into the business. His father, Herbie Fletcher, was a 1960s-era surf star. His older brother, Christian, brought the punk-rock theatrics of skate culture into the surfing world in the 1980s. Nathan’s contribution: He would become big-wave surfing’s first rock star.

Born in San Clemente, California, and raised between SoCal and Oahu’s North Shore, the third-gen surfer pushed the sport to its limit. He took his brother’s love of skateboarding, particularly the aerial feats, and applied it to surfing. There was also an element of luck. He caught his first big waves by chance during a 1998 competition in Tahiti. Then he went out searching. For years. He developed new board shapes and pioneered insertion methods. The first and most primitive: launching from rocks. It was fun, but wasn’t very effective: “[I] realized, ‘No, you can’t really just jump off something that’s high and land on a wave. You need to be going the same, you know, direction and have the same momentum as the wave.’”

Jet-ski towing could get surfers closer to the action, but was too conventional. Fletcher dreamed of a helicopter drop. More on that later.

First, Fletcher found his white whale again, on Aug. 28, 2011, when photographer Brian Bielmann captured an immortal image of the big-wave surfer riding a 37-foot monster. The shot made the cover of Surfer Magazine, with the headline, “The heaviest wave ever ridden.”

Fletcher was already surfing royalty; that wave made him legend. But he didn’t do it solely for the adrenaline rush. He had a reputation to cultivate—and a corporate sponsorship to maintain.

Indeed, without intending it, Oblowitz lets slip just how much of the pro surfing world revolves around brand-baiting hype. If a surfer hangs ten and no one’s there to see it, do the cash registers make a sound? The production itself is something of a publicity stunt. The first—more interesting—half of Heavy Water documents the history of big-wave surfing and Nathan Fletcher’s personal trajectory, through archival footage and original interviews. Then Oblowitz follows Fletcher in real time as he attempts his helicopter launch in Hawaii.

This so-called “Acid Drop” was teased in trailers as the climax, the money shot of Heavy Water. The reveal is more like The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults. Visually it’s not nearly as iconic as Fletcher’s 2011 exploit, nor is it as interesting as the reels of archival footage shown early in the film. It is more professionally staged and probably worth more from an advertising standpoint. That’s why the scenes are there. An early, pre-Acid Drop version of Heavy Water was screened at Newport Beach in 2016 and used to solicit sponsors for the event. In interviews, Oblowitz presents the arrangement as a quid pro quo. Fletcher gave him the access he needed to tell the story of big-wave surfing; in return, Oblowitz helped Fletcher get corporate backing for his helicopter stunt. In the pro surfing world, it takes a lot of hustling to land the big one.