End to Boca Raton traffic woes in sight

Years of inching through construction zones and weaving around orange cones should soon be over in Boca Raton.

Expanding the Glades Road entrance/exit ramps to Florida’s Turnpike is scheduled to be done by next summer, and work is about 95 percent complete on the Spanish River Boulevard interchange on Interstate 95, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

“Current contract time runs through November,” said Andi Pacini, project spokeswoman. “However, this [I-95 work] will likely be extended due to holidays, weather days and special event days.”

When done, planners say the two projects should relieve chronic congestion for more than 100,000 daily drivers on Glades Road alone.

An estimated 30,000 access the Turnpike and up to 75,000 travel Glades Road around I-95 between the Town Center Mall and Florida Atlantic University, according to FDOT.

Shaina Yeslow, 38, lives just south of FAU and can’t get out of her Pinelands North neighborhood during the afternoon rush hour.

“I’m land-locked,” she said. “Glades is bumper-to-bumper from FAU up to maybe St. Andrews [Boulevard].”

The new Spanish River Boulevard exit from northbound I-95 and the upgraded Yamato Road exit from southbound I-95 will connect with FAU Boulevard. That will lead traffic directly to the northern entrance of FAU’s campus and reduce I-95 backups on the Glades Road exit ramp to the southern campus entrance.

The ramps connect Spanish River Boulevard with FAU Boulevard and Yamato Road east of I-95 so motorists can travel easily between the three major roadways.

This is what I-95 looked like as the Spanish River Boulevard interchange project began (FDOT, courtesy)

Among the work left to do on the $69 million interchange project:

— Final paving of eight ramps and one extra lane in each direction of I-95 between Glades and Congress Avenue in anticipate of future express lanes.

— Finishing touches on 13 bridges, three of which are built over I-95, and five of which have been widened.

— Installation of signs, lighting, traffic signals, pavement markings, landscaping.

— Completion of sidewalk, curb, gutter and drainage construction along Spanish River Boulevard and Yamato Road.

— Finishing of the underpass along the El Rio Trail.

— Completion of the sound barrier wall north of Yamato Road along the east side of I-95.

The northbound Turnpike exit at Glades Road will be expanded by the summer of 2018, FDOT says (Wayne K. Roustan, Sun Sentinel)

The $8.3 million Turnpike project at Glades Road includes:

— Adding a second right turn lane from westbound Glades Road to the Turnpike entrance.

— Adding another right turn lane from the Turnpike off ramp to westbound Glades Road.

— Widening to two lanes the exit ramp from the northbound Turnpike to Glades Road.

— Installing new traffic signals and lighting, improving drainage, and painting the Turnpike bridge over Glades Road.

West Boca resident Michael Feehan said these projects may not be enough.

“It would seem that planners should be looking at the whole system of roads, rather than just applying Band-Aids to the most serious pressure points,” he said.

Plans for a Turnpike ramp at Palmetto Park Road were scrapped in 2010 after objections from residents west of Boca Raton and a drop in toll revenues after the Great Recession.

There are no new plans for another exit in West Boca, Turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said.

Alfred Mims, 35, of Coconut Creek, spends a lot of time on the road delivering groceries while finishing up his MBA graduate degree at FAU and he’s optimistic all the construction will have the desired effect.

“We always have to deal with the darkness before the light,” he said. “But, I think a lot of the traffic will be alleviated.”

Drivers can dial 511 for updated traffic information or go to FL511.com to check on the status of the Glades Road and Turnpike interchange project. They can also call 1-800-749-7453 or go to Floridasturnpike.com.

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After Losing In Court, Florida Anti-Death-Penalty Prosecutor Charts Way Forward

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala answers questions during a news conference Friday in Orlando, Fla.
John Raoux/AP

A Florida state attorney gained national attention when she announced last March that her office would no longer seek the death penalty, setting up a months-long legal battle with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

That’s a battle State Attorney Aramis Ayala of Orlando has now lost, following a decision Thursday from the Supreme Court of Florida that the governor does have the authority to reassign first-degree-murder cases to a different prosecutor.

“Florida’s Republican governor has taken more than 25 cases away from Ayala, and lawmakers slashed her budget,” WMFE’s Abe Aboraya tells our Newscast unit.

In a news conference Friday, Ayala stated that she respects the decision and is setting up a death penalty review panel in her office to independently evaluate whether to seek the death penalty. She argues that this removes the rationale for reassigning her cases.

“I don’t think at this point there’s any basis to remove cases because I’m following the law,” Ayala told reporters.

The panel will be made up of six prosecuting attorneys along with the attorney assigned to prosecute the specific case. If they unanimously determine that it is appropriate to seek the death penalty, they will make the recommendation to Ayala.

“It is worth noting that I have invested my authority into the review panel and have no intention of usurping that authority which I granted,” Ayala added.

NPR’s Debbie Elliott reported on Ayala’s motivations when the case began:

“Ayala, who took office in January in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, is the first black elected prosecutor in Florida. She says the death penalty is broken and does not achieve justice for victims’ families. She didn’t campaign on capital punishment, but once in office said she had determined through research that pursuing the death penalty ‘is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice.’ ”

The state Supreme Court opinion states that “Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty in any eligible case … does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”

It’s not clear whether Scott will continue to reassign cases. Spokesman John Tupps told The Associated Press that Scott will “continue to review” Ayala’s actions, adding that “the governor must be convinced that the death penalty will be sought as outlined in Florida law, when appropriate.”

Two Florida men, 16-year-old girl arrested for murdering MMA fighter Aaron Rajman

Two men and a 16-year-old girl have been charged with murdering a professional mixed martial arts fighter who was shot during a Florida home invasion in July, police said.

Roberto Ortiz and Jace Swinton, both 18, were arrested Friday along with high school junior Summer Church, for the death of Aaron Rajman, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said.

The three murder suspects, who were indicted by a grand jury on Thursday, face a first-degree murder charge and two counts of armed home invasion robbery with a firearm.

Church, who is 16, will be tried as an adult.

Rajman was shot dead on July 3 after “unknown males” went to his Boca Raton home, the Sun Sentinel reported.

An argument broke out and at least one shot was fired before the suspects drove off, the sheriff’s office said.

They made no mention of a female at the time of Rajman’s death.

Church, who was arrested Friday on her way to school, met the MMA fighter at a convenience store in January, her mother Judith Church told the Palm Beach Post.

Judith Church claimed her daughter, who was dating Swinton at the time, was held at gunpoint by Ortiz and three other men.

https://www.facebook.com/aaron.rajman

An argument broke out at Rajman’s home and at least one shot was fired, the sheriff’s office said

(FACEBOOK)

They forced the 16-year-old to call Rajman and let her out the car before they arrived at the MMA fighter’s home, according to Judith Church, who argued that her daughter’s murder charge was undeserved.

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg issued a statement Friday.

“This was no random act of violence. Mr. Rajman was targeted by these defendants and we intend to seek justice for the victim and his family,” he wrote.

Rajman was a member of the American Top Team gym, and maintained an 8-1 win-loss record as an amateur fighter before he turned professional in 2014 with a 2-2 record.

The 25-year-old was a devout Orthodox Jew who often shared his religious beliefs and taught kids at a Jewish community school.

CHRIS SALAMONE

Boca Raton, Florida – The Local Secrets

At Global Yodel we are obsessed with learning about a place from a local perspective. We sent Andrea Duclos, a South Florida blogger and photographer, to Waterstone Resort & Marina Boca Raton, Curio Collection by Hilton to experience the beautiful resort, shoot some photos and create a Boca Raton Curio Travel Guide. It’s full of unique South Florida tips and local secrets, just for you.

Name? Andrea Duclos, often referred to as “Drea”

Occupation? BloggerVegan Cookbook Author

Place you live? South Florida. I spent a few years living in Miami (South Beach, Coconut Grove and Coral Gables) before heading north to Lake Worth and eventually settling in West Palm Beach.

How long have you lived in South Florida? I’ve happily lived in South Florida for about 10 years now. It’s such a great and easy place to travel in and out of.

Can you sum up Boca Raton? Boca is a good mix between high-end living and people striving to live a more healthy and organic life. There’s a little bit of everything depending on where you look. Want to spend your day shopping at chic boutiques? You can. Want a completely organic meal, a ginger shot and to visit a bird sanctuary? You can do that, too.

 

What is the best thing about Boca Raton? It just depends what you’re in search of. The beaches and nature preserves, or the shopping and spas. You will be very happy either way, but the parks are definitely something to check out!

What is a perfect day in South Florida? My perfect South Florida day would consist of starting at the green market for some organic fruit and a smoothie, then head to a park for a few hours and finally cooling off at the beach or pool. Then, I would hop in the shower and head to The Farmers Table for a wonderful dinner outdoors.

What are the people like in South Florida? South Florida can be pretty laid back. Sandals and shorts are not a surprising thing to see at dinner. We have a lot more culture in South Florida compared to the rest of the state. Cuban food, salsa dancing and Caribbean tones everywhere. I find that people tend to be a bit more health-conscious, too; maybe it’s because the beach is right there and we’re all hoping to look and feel good while enjoying the ocean.

If Boca Raton was a character who would it be? The penguin in The Three Caballeros, who is always searching for warmth and paradise.

If a friend was visiting Boca Raton for the day and you weren’t available to take them around what would you suggest they do? I would suggest my friend starts the morning at Waterstone Resort & Marina Boca Raton, Curio Collection by Hilton, in PJ’s eating breakfast delivered in bed. After breakfast I would suggest a quick walk over to the beach— just take the sidewalk east, cross the road and the prettiest and — thankfully — not overly crowded beach awaits!

After the beach, take a quick dip in the beautiful Waterstone pool to cool off, and enjoy a delicious lunch from Waterstone Rum Bar and Grill on a pool deck table!

After lunch, I would suggest then heading out to enjoy something else that Boca has to offer. Maybe an acai bowl at Raw Juice, and then a stroll through Gumbo Limbo Nature Center or Spanish River Park.

Next, I would suggest a trip to Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens! Afterward, head to Mizner Park for some shopping and a dinner— outdoors, of course!

City Rejects Proposal to Ban Religious Displays During Holiday Season

The 10-foot, 300-pound satanic pentagram in Sanborn Square last year won the right to remain. Following a Boca Raton City Council meeting on Aug. 22, the city found the banning of religious displays unconstitutional and the ordinance was killed.

Initially the Boca Raton City Council proposed to discontinue a policy that allowed religious displays at Sanborn Square Park each December following the backlash and criticism the pentagram display received last year.

Preston Smith, the Boca Raton Middle School teacher who put up the display, was firmly against the proposal.

“It’s ironic that the quickest way to shut down the public forum is to have a different opinion,” he said. “It is astonishing hypocrisy on the city’s part.”

The first amendment protects Smith’s freedom of speech to express what he believes, but the large pentagram which displayed the words, “May the Children Hail Satan” stirred controversy around the country.

At the council meeting, City Attorney Diana Grub Fresier reiterated the display had not broken any laws.

“Once we allow the private installation as we had historically, then we must allow all private installations,” she said. “We cannot under the constitution and have not made distinctions based on content, such as making one permitted and another is not. We have never discouraged anyone from using Sanborn Square as a freedom of expression zone.”

Historically this is true when looking at the Sanborn Square holiday tradition. In 1990, the city had installed a Christmas tree in Sanborn Square, but one of the Jewish groups wanted to put up a menorah. Following a lawsuit, a settlement was reached. The city decided to allowed private installations, which has remained a custom to this day.

Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie believes the pentagram is a rare incident, but one that should be addressed.

“After all the attention last year’s display received,” she said. “In my opinion, it was extremely offensive and it offended many of our residents. We could have several of those unless we close this we cannot control the content of those displays.”

Among those who share Haynie’s displeasure were Boca Raton residents Laurie Colbert and Therese Brady, who are both in favor of the proposal.

“I’ve been here for 30 years and all of the sudden we have this satanic display from last year that seems to be squashing our ability to show the true meaning of Christmas,” said Colbert describing her personal view of the display. “The true meaning of Christmas is the birth of Christ, whatever religion you are.”

The display last year was so offensive to some that a few took matters into their own hands to destroy it. The pentagram display was vandalized repeatedly and even ran over by a truck. Both incidences occurring during the several weeks it stood, as Smith continued to rebuild it.

“Perform your duty of encouraging public safety, even if many city officials may disagree,” Joe Masserie of Highland Beach told the council. “Issue the permits and secure the permits. This is a policing issue. It’s the responsibility of the public authority.”

As for the individuals who vandalized the pentagram on different occasions, they were never caught.

“The backlash of the display really should have made the city take more precautions like installing flood lights or cameras,” said Smith.

“There should be cameras in the park to see what goes on,” said Charles Fix, who also had a similar solution to Smith’s idea. “Forget changing the ordinance. Just install cameras.”

The decision to install such a controversial display was Smith’s initiative to “force change” and he mentioned that he will continue to do so this December.

“It’s a battle that will continue for many, many years,” he said.

The park, which recognizes a “freedom of speech” zone, will still allow holiday installations provided they not be permanent in nature and be removed after that event.

Trio of teens charged with killing Boca MMA fighter held without bail

Summer Church, 16, will be held in Palm Beach County jail without bail on first-degree murder charges in the fatal shooting of a mixed martial arts fighter west of Boca Raton, a judge said Saturday September 2, 2017 in West Palm Beach. (Meghan McCarthy/ The Palm Beach Post)

Three teens will be held in Palm Beach County jail without bail on first-degree murder charges in the fatal shooting of a mixed martial arts fighter west of Boca Raton, a judge decided Saturday.

It was an emotional blow to the teens’ family, who told reporters after the hearing that they are innocent in the death of MMA fighter Aaron Rajman, 25, killed in his suburban Boca Raton home.

Summer Church, 16, and Roberto Ortiz and Jace Swinton, both 18, are also charged with two counts each of home invasion with a firearm or other deadly weapon.

All three defendants were indicted by a grand jury Thursday. Church will face charges as an adult. She was arrested Friday morning on her way to school at Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton, where she is an 11th-grader.

Judge Ted Booras noted that a first-degree murder charge is a capital offense, meaning it’s punishable by the death penalty in Florida. That penalty could apply only to Ortiz and Swinton. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional for anyone who committed the crime under age 18.

“She’s innocent,” Judith Church, Summer’s mother, said after the hearing.

Church also objected to her daughter being tried as an adult. “She should have been with the juveniles because she is a juvenile.”

Jace Swinton’s mother, who declined to share her name, also proclaimed her son’s innocence.

“He’s a very humble, sweet kid,” she said. She offered her condolences to the family of Rajman, who was killed while several men invaded his home late July 3, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

A fight broke out and Rajman was shot before the men fled.

Summer Church and Swinton were friends of Rajman, Judith Church told reporters.

Summer Church of Boca Raton was not at the scene when Rajman was shot, but police paint her as the “mastermind” of the operation, Judith Church said.

The 16-year-old cooperated with detectives, who first contacted her the day after shooting, her mother said.

“We helped them in every way we could,” Judith Church said.

The families declined to share further details of the case. Judith Church did, however, say the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s investigation was incomplete.

“It’s a shame for them to let her go to jail knowing for a fact she wasn’t there (when the shooting happened),” Judith Church said.

Summer Church met Rajman in January at a convenience store in Boca Raton, her mother has said. Swinton, who was then dating Summer, also met Rajman and had been to his house.

Swinton attended Boynton Beach High School, according to his Facebook page.

It isn’t clear how the pair knew Ortiz, the only one of the three with a previous arrest record in Palm Beach County, according to court documents.

Ortiz — who attended Quantum High School, an alternative school in Boynton Beach, as recently as spring — was arrested on an armed robbery charge in January.

Ortiz and an unidentified man, who was armed with a semi-automatic handgun, robbed and beat a 17-year-old, the police report states. The charges were dropped after the victim refused to cooperate, according to the state attorney’s office.

Rajman, an Orthodox Jew, made his Mixed Martial Arts debut in April 2014 and had a 2-2 record as a professional. He was born in New York and moved with his family to Florida as a pre-schooler. A family friend said his parents later divorced, and for the past few years, he shared a home west of Boca Raton with his mother, his mother’s aunt and his younger brother.

Rajman family members attended the bond hearing but declined to comment.

Years of inching through construction zones and weaving around orange cones should soon be over in Boca Raton.

Expanding the Glades Road entrance/exit ramps to Florida’s Turnpike is scheduled to be done by next summer, and work is about 95 percent complete on the Spanish River Boulevard interchange on Interstate 95, according to the Florida Department of Transportation.

“Current contract time runs through November,” said Andi Pacini, project spokeswoman. “However, this [I-95 work] will likely be extended due to holidays, weather days and special event days.”

When done, planners say the two projects should relieve chronic congestion for more than 100,000 daily drivers on Glades Road alone.

An estimated 30,000 access the Turnpike and up to 75,000 travel Glades Road around I-95 between the Town Center Mall and Florida Atlantic University, according to FDOT.

Shaina Yeslow, 38, lives just south of FAU and can’t get out of her Pinelands North neighborhood during the afternoon rush hour.

“I’m land-locked,” she said. “Glades is bumper-to-bumper from FAU up to maybe St. Andrews [Boulevard].”

The new Spanish River Boulevard exit from northbound I-95 and the upgraded Yamato Road exit from southbound I-95 will connect with FAU Boulevard. That will lead traffic directly to the northern entrance of FAU’s campus and reduce I-95 backups on the Glades Road exit ramp to the southern campus entrance.

 

CHRIS SALAMONE

The ramps connect Spanish River Boulevard with FAU Boulevard and Yamato Road east of I-95 so motorists can travel easily between the three major roadways.

Among the work left to do on the $69 million interchange project:

— Final paving of eight ramps and one extra lane in each direction of I-95 between Glades and Congress Avenue in anticipate of future express lanes.

— Finishing touches on 13 bridges, three of which are built over I-95, and five of which have been widened.

— Installation of signs, lighting, traffic signals, pavement markings, landscaping.

— Completion of sidewalk, curb, gutter and drainage construction along Spanish River Boulevard and Yamato Road.

— Finishing of the underpass along the El Rio Trail.

— Completion of the sound barrier wall north of Yamato Road along the east side of I-95.

The $8.3 million Turnpike project at Glades Road includes:

— Adding a second right turn lane from westbound Glades Road to the Turnpike entrance.

— Adding another right turn lane from the Turnpike off ramp to westbound Glades Road.

— Widening to two lanes the exit ramp from the northbound Turnpike to Glades Road.

— Installing new traffic signals and lighting, improving drainage, and painting the Turnpike bridge over Glades Road.

West Boca resident Michael Feehan said these projects may not be enough.

“It would seem that planners should be looking at the whole system of roads, rather than just applying Band-Aids to the most serious pressure points,” he said.

Plans for a Turnpike ramp at Palmetto Park Road were scrapped in 2010 after objections from residents west of Boca Raton and a drop in toll revenues after the Great Recession.

There are no new plans for another exit in West Boca, Turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said.

Alfred Mims, 35, of Coconut Creek, spends a lot of time on the road delivering groceries while finishing up his MBA graduate degree at FAU and he’s optimistic all the construction will have the desired effect.

“We always have to deal with the darkness before the light,” he said. “But, I think a lot of the traffic will be alleviated.”

Drivers can dial 511 for updated traffic information or go to FL511.com to check on the status of the Glades Road and Turnpike interchange project. They can also call 1-800-749-7453 or go to Floridasturnpike.com.