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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 16, 2010 7 years ago

50 years ago this week

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Call for improved DWI apprehension, gas company blames explosion on City

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It may have been a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1960. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.

• At the George Washington Hotel, National Safety Council District Director James Civils delivered his annual survey to the members of the Jacksonville-Duval County Safety Council, and it wasn’t a glowing report.

He said authorities needed to better enforce the law against driving while intoxicated.

Civils said a “national yardstick by which the local situation was measured” showed there should have been nearly 3,200 arrests for DWI in Jacksonville in 1959. But he said “there were only 806.”

Police Chief Luther Reynolds said there was a personnel shortage because of both budgetary limitations on the force’s strength and lack of attractive salaries.

A new class of police officers was being organized, Reynolds said. “But we need 35 good men qualified to do the work and we’re afraid we’ll wind up with a class of only 25 men.”

While criticizing DWI enforcement, Civils commended Municipal Judge John Santora for his record of 90 percent convictions on all traffic offenses and 71 percent for DWI cases.

Civils recommended that a committee of municipal department heads be directed to meet four times a year to consider means of improving the traffic situation.

“In every city which has a progressive, effective program of accident prevention, there is such a committee, but not here,” he said.

Civils also suggested hiring 75 more police officers in the next 12 months, increasing traffic law enforcement, providing written rules for traffic court procedures and institution of a traffic safety education program for the public.

• The Auchter Co. was putting the finishing touches on the new 16-story City Hall at Bay and Newnan streets. The move-in for City employees was scheduled for the week of Oct. 1.

S.L. Hodge, superintendent of the project for the contractor, said the outside work was virtually complete. On the inside, wall panels were being installed on the 14th floor and the air conditioning system was being balanced.

The Auchter Co. was awarded the project on a bid of $5,209,700, which included demolition of old buildings on the site.

• At its meeting Monday, the City Commission was warned that leaks from the mains of the Jacksonville Gas Co. in the Downtown area posed a threat to the lives of citizens, as well as property.

The warning came from Utilities Commissioner J. Dillon Kennedy and Electric Department Manager R.B. Cowan as they reported on an explosion that occurred the week before on State Street between Laura and Hogan streets.

Cowan said the failure of an electric cable at that time would have been minor except that underground duct line manholes from Laura to Orange streets and Laura to Hogan streets were filled with an explosive gas mixture due to leaks from the gas company’s lines.

Cowan said the explosion was “quite severe” and completely demolished one manhole and sidewalk concrete curbing cover. He also said several ornamental street lights were damaged.

On Cowan’s recommendation, the city attorney was instructed to confer with the gas company concerning a reimbursement to the City for the damage.

Cowan also suggested that the company be asked to “promptly repair” the gas leaks into the underground ducts. Otherwise, he said, further explosions could be expected, leading to property damage and possibly to loss of life or serious injury.

“These people have got gas leaks all over the place and we’re taking every precaution possible,” said Kennedy. “It could start a big fire and cause disruption of the electric system.”

Kennedy also said a shoe was found at the scene of the blast, but a search failed to turn up its owner.

The next day, W. Harold Duguid, executive vice president and general manager of the gas company, branded the charges as “completely unfounded.”

He said that any gas present could have been sewer gas, marsh gas, or “it could have been an electrical explosion, which has happened in Jacksonville on numerous occasions.”

In any case, Duguid said, the failure of an electric cable set off the explosion. He also said it appeared that Kennedy was “seeking an excuse for a defective electric installation.”

• The commission also took action aimed at eventually providing a site for an art museum in Riverside Park.

A request for the City to donate the land came from the Jacksonville Art Museum Inc., which proposed to build the museum with funds collected in the community, pay the operating costs and turn over the property to the City.

After hearing the proposal, the commissioners appointed a committee to confer with museum officials on a suitable site and report back to the commission with a recommendation. Commissioner Dallas Thomas proposed that after the committee presented its report, the public be “given full notice” so that any opponents of the plan could be heard.

• Trustees of the DeEtte Holden Cummer Museum Foundation elected U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson as a member of its board.

The foundation’s trustees had the responsibility of administering the trust created by the late Ninah M.H. Cummer under which the Cummer Gallery of Art, being constructed at the time, would be provided for the people of Jacksonville.

• A modern technique in criminal investigation was added to the Jacksonville Police Department in the form of a new mobile crime laboratory. It would be manned by Francis Boree, the department’s “scientific detection expert.”

Lt. J.O. Crews, head of the department’s intelligence division, said the vehicle would see extensive use, particularly at the scene of major crimes where quick analysis of evidence was expected to aid in effecting quick captures.

The converted Volkswagen van was equipped with photographic, fingerprint and ballistic equipment, floodlights, portable two-way radios, a fluoroscope, microscope and recording equipment.

• Residents who had found it difficult to sleep during the recent hot, humid weather got a respite Friday morning when the temperature dropped out of the 70s for the first time since June 19. The National Weather Service recorded a low temperature of 68 degrees overnight.

• The Jacksonville Expressway Authority filed an application with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for approval of preliminary plans to build a bridge across the St. Johns River in the vicinity of 20th Street.

The proposed span would have its westerly approach as an extension of the 29th Street leg of the Expressway and would cross the river to a point near Jacksonville University.

The preliminary engineering studies for the project were being made by Reynolds, Smith and Hills, consulting engineers for the authority.

• The driver of an empty ambulance, who police said was “running interference” for a second ambulance carrying a patient, was stopped and given a speeding ticket.

Duval County Motorcycle Patrolman Harold Wesley said two Jacksonville Ambulance Service vehicles answered the same call to a heart attack victim on Anderson Road. After the patient had been placed in one ambulance, the other, driven by Jimmy Norton, drove off with siren and lights going and the second ambulance behind it. The second ambulance also had lights and siren working, said Wesley.

George Morgan, owner of the ambulance service, said the first ambulance on the scene used a tank of oxygen on the patient and then called the second ambulance and the Fire Department for an additional tank. He also contended the ambulance driver ticketed was escorting the second ambulance due to a faulty siren.

Wesley said before he stopped Norton a mile away from the scene of the call, he had reached a speed of about 50 in a 35 mile per hour zone.

• A 13-foot alligator was shot and killed by 60-year-old dental technician Joseph Adams near a dock behind his home at 14318 Mandarin Road.

H.K. Stalls, a Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission officer and a neighbor of Adams, said he believed it was between 75 and 100 years old. He also said it was the largest reptile reported in the area for several years.

Adams said the alligator had been seen along the St. Johns River in the area for about a month. “Several dogs are missing,” he added.

The animal was skinned by another neighbor, Barry Sales, who was a pre-medicine student at Boston College. Assisting at the skinning were two student nurses, Jule Mahagen and Geraldine Griffin, both of Boston. They were visiting Sales and his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Louis Sales.

When asked what he was going to do with the skin, Sales said, “I’m going to take it to college with me and show those Yankees a few things.”

• It was announced that the fine for overtime parking in Jacksonville Beach would be raised to $1 and the delinquency assessment from $1 to $5 effective Sept. 1.

City Manager Wilson Wingate said the increased fine would put the resort more in line with what was charged by other cities. Offenders who failed to pay the fine within 10 days would be charged $5.

The parking meters had recently been put on seven-day, year-round operation. The revenue would be used to finance construction of off-street parking lots.

• Entries were closed in a contest to select a name for Northeast Florida.

Frank Taylor, chair of the contest committee for the North Florida Council of Chambers of Commerce, said awards would be made Sept. 8 at the council’s next meeting. The awards included a $50 U.S. Savings Bond for first prize and a $25 bond for second prize.

Taylor said the object of the contest was to select a short, descriptive name for the area suitable for use in tourist, industry and retirement promotion. He also said entries should be “descriptive of the geographical, historical, industrial, agricultural, retirement and vacation attributes of the region.

A committee of advertising, radio, television and newspaper executives would study the suggestions and determine the winners.

The counties in the council were Duval, Nassau, St. Johns, Clay, Putnam, Baker, Union, Bradford, Alachua, Levy, Gilchrest, Columbia, Suwanee and Hamilton.

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