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The death of a 48-year-old Palatka man serving life in prison for two separate murders is under investigation at Wakulla Correctional Institution in Crawfordville. Jerry Keene Jr. was found dead Sept. 26, but no further details are being released by the department. Active investigations are underway by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Department of Corrections Office of Inspector General. Keene was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Thomas Lombardo, whom he killed during an argument in January 2016. Lombardo’s body was found in a shallow grave in the Ocala National Forest in March of 2016. Keene was arrested shortly after that and was in the Putnam County jail on the murder charge when he killed his cellmate Austin Steybe, beating him so severely he died. Steybe, 20, was awaiting trial for the murder of his grandmother whose body had been found behind her house in a shallow grave in south Putnam County.
Three coronavirus-related area deaths have been reported by the Florida Department of Health; two in Flagler County and one in Putnam County. Death of a 74-year-old man in Putnam put the death total at 40. In addition five new cases with three transfers out of county were reported. Deaths of a 77-year-old woman and a 73-year-old man in Flagler were reported bringing the death total there to 27. In addition seven new cases were reported Wednesday making the total 1,751. In St. Johns County 32 new cases were reported putting total number of cases at 5,391.
The old St. Johns dog track and poker room near the St. Johns-Duval county line is being eyed for a mixed use development. Jacksonville-based Gatlin Development is seeking to put in up to 975 multi-family units and has submitted an application to rezone 103 acres southwest of U.S. 1 North and Race Track Road from commercial intensive and open rural zoning to a planned unit development including commercial and office space. About a third of the acreage is wetlands. Gatlin has a contract to purchase from Bayard Raceways Inc. of Jacksonville. The racetrack and poker room closed in 2012.
Palm Coast government in Flagler County is starting a utility-payment assistance program to help households hard hit by coronavirus. The city has about $300,000 in federal CARES act money and the program will run through the Community Development Grant program. Renters and homeowners are eligible, and the city estimates up to 360 households should be eligible.
In Putnam County the Board of County Commissioners is using CARES money to provide grants to help both nonprofits and small business. They have extended the deadline to Dec. 4 and the grants are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Both grant programs have upped maximum available to $10,000. The county is at work on a third program that will provide individual assistance up to $2,000. Rent or mortgage payments and utility payments will be eligible. That program is still being developed.
Fall is definitely in the air and that means seasonal outdoor attractions are opening. Elkton Corn Maze opens this Saturday at the Sykes Farms on State Road 207 near Elkton in St. Johns County. Next weekend Farm Dayz opens on Coral Farms Road in Florahome in Putnam County.
Today is the sneak preview and boutique for the Fire Sale at St. James United Methodist Church at 400 Reid St. in Palatka. Admission is $2 beginning at 5:30 p.m. for the chance to buy early. On Friday the sale is free from 7 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the fellowship hall and outdoors and on Saturday hours are 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. An auction designed to clear out the building begins at 1 p.m. Barbecue ribs are available beginning Friday. The sale pays the church’s fire fee charged by the city and helps with youth programs.
Friday and Saturday it’s the seventh annual Quilts By the River at Miss D’s Quilt Shop at 305 St. Johns Ave. in Palatka. The annual event includes demonstrations and a judged quilt show.
That nor’easter in St. Johns County almost two weeks ago turned up a treasure of sorts – a tail section from a World War II-era plane, the F4F Wildcat. The plane part is about eight feet long and five feet in diameter and washed up on South Ponte Vedra Beach.
This is Marcia Lane, your roving reporter.