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Judge: No go on Stand Your Ground
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SEBRING — Roosevelt Shavon Smith III’s claim of self-defense in the murder of 7-Day Store owner Dharmik Patel didn’t make it past the judge.

Smith, who is charged with second degree murder in the April 2020 knife attack on the popular store owner, will now stand trial for the crime in the next several months.

In his Stand Your Ground motion, a request to a judge to declare a defendant immune from a homicide prosecution based on self-defense, Smith claimed he feared for his life as Patel, armed with a bat, tried to get Smith to leave his store.

Shortly before Smith stabbed Patel, Patel exited the kitchen and came into the store with the metal bat, swung it half-heartedly at Smith, then retreated back toward the kitchen. A store surveillance video of the event captured Smith following Patel into the kitchen area – an area that is out-of-bounds to customers – and stabbing him more than 20 times.

In her ruling against Smith’s so-called Stand Your Ground motion, Circuit Court Judge Angela Cowden addressed the question of whether Smith actually felt his life was threatened by Patel. Smith, who was armed with a knife when the two confronted each other in front of the store counter, claimed he feared for his life when he attacked Patel.

“When defendant removed his knife from is backpack, he did not appear aware that Mr. Patel was himself arming himself with a baseball bat,” Cowden’s March 13 ruling states. “Smith was in no imminent danger when he armed himself.”

She also ruled that the “defendant placed himself in whatever danger he faced by moving from the exit to the private kitchen area after he and Mr. Patel procured their mutual armaments.”

Prosecutor Richard Castillo played the store surveillance video in court during Smith’s January Stand Your Ground hearing. He also presented witnesses who overheard the exchange between Patel and Smith.

One customer in particular took the stand to testify on what he saw.

According to the witness, the attack began after Smith asked Patel if he could check the balance on his debit card.

As a rule, store owners and cashiers can’t access that information, so Patel told Smith he couldn’t do it. Smith became angry when Patel refused his request.

“(Smith) was saying it was messed up that he couldn’t check his card, he got kind of upset,” said a customer who witnessed the stabbing.

“He kept saying, ‘that’s messed up, you can’t check my card,’” the witness quoted Smith as saying.

Patel ordered Smith from the store, which only angered Smith more, the witness said.

“Smith said, ‘I don’t have to go anywhere,’ he was mad,” the witness told Castillo from the stand. “I really wanted to get out of there, I was about to see what was about to happen. I heard Mr. Roosevelt say he wasn’t going anywhere.” Patel can be seen on the video motioning from behind the glass for Smith to get out of his store.

That’s when the witness, standing behind Smith, heard Smith say, “I’ll burn this mother — down.”

The witness abandoned the idea of buying lottery tickets.

“Once I went outside, I turned around and saw a fight inside,” he said. “I went back inside and they were in a little employee area behind a door. Roosevelt was in front of him; he was stabbing Mr. Patel with something in his hands. It was quick stabs; Mr. Patel was trying to fight him. I ran out.”

Castillo argued that Smith was breaking the law at the time of the confrontation, one mitigating factor in Stand Your Ground. “Mr. Smith was no longer in a place he was allowed to be. Mr. Patel had ordered him from his store,” Castillo told Cowden.

Track announcer answered the call of racing

SEBRING — As a little kid, Mike Waldron would hear the roar and high-pitched whines coming from Sebring International Raceway and yearn to see what was happening.

“We owned Sunny Land Egg Farm in Lorida and I could always hear the cars but couldn’t see them,” Waldron told the Highlands News-Sun. “Then my dad brought home a race poster of the Chaparral split into a nighttime/daytime image. I hung that on my bedroom wall in Lorida.”

Sebring race fans like Waldron know that the Chaparral was engineered, built and raced between 1963 through 1970 – an international racing classic.

As a kid, after his school bus to elementary school picked him up at his farm, the bus would swing by Sebring airport behind the track. There it would stop to pick up the children whose parents worked at the airport.

The back straightaway of the asphalt track is clearly visible from the airport road.

“That’s the first glimpse I had of race cars,” he said. “I saw the cars from the school bus, saw the amazing machinery, the speed, and I have been hooked ever since. I listened to races on the radio and TV, and Mario Andretti was kind of my hero growing up.”

As he got older, he and his family would come to downtown Sebring where he met actor James Garner, who was grand marshall of the parade. His high school buddies then purchased spots on Turn 1, which evolved into a week-long gathering of friends using a 50-plus-foot long motorhome as race headquarters. Then after his marriage, he brought his wife and four children to enjoy the tradition.

That 11-year-old kid who pressed his face against the bus window now looks through the windows of the observation tower overlooking Sebring International Raceway. Waldron, 62, has parlayed his love of racing into becoming the track announcer at one of the most famous races in the world.

It’s his voice that attendees hear during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which is Saturday. Waldron informs race fans of upcoming events, interviews drivers and pitt bosses, and reads advertisements from Cadillac, Mobil 1, and other sponsors and advertisers during the race.

This is not the same as calling the first, second, third positions as the drivers move in packs and lines at 150-plus mph; that job goes to International Motor Sports Association Radio Network, which broadcasts every bump, spin, and yellow flag during the race.

Mike has a big job to do, however.

“I am impromptu on a lot of what I talk about,” he said. “I interview drivers and other celebrities who come up into the tower on the third floor of the grandstand. I encourage people to do the Cadillac Drive and Try (a test drive) and try to bring fans closer to what’s going on while they are walking around the track.”

Advertisers spend a lot of money for their products to be mentioned.

“When the track is not hot, I read sponsor scripts for Mobil 1, Advanced Auto Parts, Cadillac, and of course, local businesses who advertise at the track. Sponsors pay a lot of money and they want it done properly and professionally,” he said. “I don’t have a sanitized voice, it’s a southern accent.”

Which makes it perfect for racing.

Waldron came by the unique honor of being the Sebring 12-Hour public announcer honestly.

He has been involved with local sports through his life-long involvement with Sebring Firemen Inc., founded in the 1920s. The group sponsors a 12 Hours of BBQ in March to raise money for local sports.

Waldron has also been close to his high school alma mater’s athletic programs. The association was formed to help raise money for the school’s boys and girls sports programs. Waldron first emceed a Sebring all-star game in the late 1990s; that was followed by 20 years of emceeing Sebring High School’s regular season football games. While emceeing drag races at Sebring five years ago, Waldron mentioned he’d be available to be the track announcer should one be needed.

Not long after that, someone from the track called him.

“Within a week, the regular announcer quit. I’ve been doing it for the past five years,” he said.

Now, days before the 71st Mobil 1 Sebring 12Hour Race is to begin, Waldron is working his regular job selling power generators and units of all sizes. Come the weekend, however, he’ll be where he always is during Race Week: Sebring International Raceway.

“I’m a long-time race fan, since at least 1972 when I was 11 years old,” Waldron said. “I now bring my children up into the tower to watch the race.”

German arms industry seeks clarity on Ukraine weapons orders

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s defense industry says it stands ready to ramp up its output, including the kinds of arms and ammunition needed by Ukraine, but needs clarity about what governments want before investing in further production capacity.

Ukraine became the world’s third largest importer of arms in 2022 after Russia’s invasion triggered a big flow of military aid to Kyiv from the United States and Europe, according to Swedish think tank SIPRI.

Some of those arms were transferred from Western military stocks to Ukraine, while in other cases Kyiv has purchased equipment with its own money or funds provided by allies. But there are concerns particularly over the rate at which Ukraine is using ammunition, straining the capacity of Western defense companies to keep both the Ukrainian military and their own resupplied.

“What’s important for us as an industry is to get predictability,” the head of Germany’s arms manufacturing association said in an interview this week with The Associated Press.

“That means we have to be clearly told which products are needed within which time,” said Hans Christoph Atzpodien, managing director of the Federation of German Security and Defense Industries.

“And we are prepared,” he added. “The industry is much more flexible than it is given credit for.”

The association’s members, which include major arms manufacturers such as Rheinmetall, can further boost production, such as by reactivating mothballed facilities and machines, and hiring more staff, he said.

“Of course we also need a firm basis in the form of orders, so that the investments can be carried out,” said Atzpodien, adding that proposals to bundle purchases at the European rather than the national level could help — provided this doesn’t slow down the procurement process.

Likewise, German arms manufacturers are keen to see European countries harmonize their export rules to avoid being disadvantaged compared with competitors in some neighboring countries, he said.

After initially hesitating to send lethal weapons to Ukraine, Germany has become one of Kyiv’s biggest arms suppliers. The shift has already seen Berlin provide Ukraine with dozens of self-propelled Gepard anti-aircraft guns, Iris-T missile systems, howitzers and millions of rounds of ammunition, but left some Germans deeply uneasy about the possibility of being dragged into a conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

Still, Atzpodien said the final decision on where German-made arms can go should remain a matter for the government.

“As companies we agree that German weapons must never fall into the wrong hands,” he said.

The German government declined to comment Monday on reports that Rheinmetall is in talks with Ukraine about building a tank factory in the country. The company’s Leopard 2 tanks are urgently sought by Ukraine, which was recently promised several dozen from Western stocks, but officials wouldn’t say whether this requires government approval.

Germany’s own arms procurement has come under scrutiny after Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged last year to increase defense spending to NATO’s target of 2% of GDP and create a 100-billion-euro ($107 billion) special fund.

On Tuesday, parliament’s commissioner for the military lamented the slow pace of Germany’s drive to modernize its armed forces. She noted that none of the 100 billion-euro special fund was actually spent last year, though some major orders were placed.

“It is also important to quickly replace equipment that was given to Ukraine” and to speed up maintenance of existing equipment, Eva Hoegl said as she presented her annual report.

“The Bundeswehr has too little of everything, and even less since Feb. 24 (2022),” she said. “We have too few tanks to be able to train sufficiently, to exercise … boats and ships are lacking, aircraft are lacking.”

Along with the cash coming its way because of the war in Ukraine — Germany’s defense minister is also seeking to raise his budget by 10 billion euros a year — the German arms industry is hoping the conflict will mark a turning point in the way military spending is classified in Europe.

Some banks and investors in the European Union won’t do business with the defense sector because of concerns that it is engaged in unsustainable activity that does more harm than good in the long run, much like fossil fuel producers.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine had shown the value of military security, said Atzpodien.

“Our demand is that products we deliver to the German military or other NATO armed forces, for example, are recognized in such a way by the EU that they support sustainability,” he said. “A signal like that would be important so that actors on the financial markets can adjust to it accordingly.”

German arms manufacturers have already come up with a slogan to push their case, he added: “Security is the key to sustainability.”

Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Race fans need to heed the cautions

SEBRING — The crowds go wild when racecars are launched like jets down the world famous Sebring International Raceway. Whether it’s WEC or IMSA cars, wrecks at speeds nearing 200 mph can be tragic.

SIR and AdventHealth take driver and fan safety seriously at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Physicians like Dr. Cary Pigman and others are specially trained to handle anything from sunburns to driver extractions. Pigman is the medical director track side and will be traveling in the 99 car, a Porsche Cayenne. The doctors who travel in the 99 car are known as “99 docs.”

Pigman has been working at the races since 1999, ironically, and has been the medical director for about four years. There are two buildings where AdventHealth staff are working out of. The Midway Care Center, which is located with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, is one. The other is the Infield Care Center in Pit Out.

The Midway Care Center will be seeing fans with minor injuries such as dehydration, “bumps and bruises.”

“We have two missions, if you will. The first is, among the spectators, mild injuries, it’s bumps, bruises, cuts and a little dehydration. That’s what the Midway Care Center will see,” Pigman explained. “ And really, from a healthcare perspective, it’s that very minor stuff. If it’s anything more than that, coordinating with EMS to get them transferred to someplace where they can get more definitive care.”

Pigman said everyone should plan ahead for the event and stay hydrated and keep cool.

The danger level increases for the drivers and workers on the track and therefore the injury level can be more severe.

“The second mission is to provide emergency care for drivers, crew and track staff. And in that circumstance, usually what we see are on the part of the crew, and the staff, some dehydration, some burns, because a lot of things on these vehicles are hot. I mean, minor burns, burns on the hands and arms and trips, falls, and all those kind of usual things that happen when you’re working in a hot environment and things are pretty tense. And then of course, with the drivers is almost entirely a track event or collision impact-related care.”

This year, both WEC and IMSA will have hybrid cars. Pigman said the hybrid cars require special training for driver extraction and additional training.

“We’re very sensitive that in certain circumstances those cars can become charged or their chassis can be powered,” he said. “If you were to inadvertently touch and ground yourself, you could be involved in the current and suffer an electrical injury. It’s all about knowing when the vehicle is safe, when it’s not safe; what you’re supposed to do if it’s not safe, and how do we get an injured driver or crew member, for instance, away from or out of the vehicle safely so that we don’t injure a rescuer. That’s been the focus of training last year, and it’s increased focus this year, because we have more cars in that category.”

While COVID-19 may not be on the forefront of everyone’s mind anymore, the virus is still around. Pigman shared his insights and tips for COVID precautions.

“What’s happened over this last three years now, is that we developed a degree of herd immunity through vaccinations and through people clinically becoming ill,” Pigman said. “I don’t want to say that it’s become background, I don’t want to say that at all, but it’s not as novel. We’re not as vulnerable as we were three years ago. So while it may occur, what we’ve been seeing is, it’s the people who have always been at great risk who remain at great risk.”

Pigman said being around “a group of people is always hazardous” for those who are immunosuppressed because of chemotherapy or other reasons.

“If you’re a person at risk, either because you’re immunosuppressed or you have other illnesses, it’s really contingent on you to make sure your vaccinations are up to date, and perhaps continue to use barrier systems like masks to limit your risk of contracting the illness,” he said.