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Woman leaves dog in sweltering car to deliver food

HCSO rescued this dog that was left in the car for 8 hours during summertime heat. Photo courtesy of HCSO.

Deputies from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) rescued a dog trapped in a hot car for several hours while the owner drove off with her boyfriend to deliver food for a food delivery company.

HCSO Deputy Public Information Officer (PIO) Michael Terry said that around 10 p.m. On June 25, deputies responded to a report of an endangered animal at Linda Pedersen Park in Spring Hill.

According to the caller, the animal had been left alone inside the vehicle from 2 p.m., when the man went fishing at the park to 10 p.m. when he returned to his vehicle.

Upon arrival, deputies found the dog inside the vehicle whose windows were closed except for a slight opening in the driver’s side window.

“The outdoor temperature during this time reached 95 degrees,” Terry said.

Deputies removed the animal from the vehicle through a previously damaged window that had been covered with plastic sheeting.

While they were at the scene, the dog’s owner, 49-year-old Amy Sitaro, returned to the vehicle and told deputies that she had left the animal in the car around 2 p.m., when she left it to accompany her boyfriend to deliver food from DoorDash and Grubhub to Wesley Chapel. According to Sitaro, neither food delivery service allows dogs to be in a delivery vehicle.

Officers from the HCSO Animal Enforcement Unit took custody of the animal at the scene and completed a fitness petition there.

A warrant for Sitaro’s arrest on an animal cruelty charge is pending, Terry said.

According to the Animal Law Center of the University of Michigan, Florida is one of 14 states that allow anyone to rescue a distressed animal from a vehicle, and that limits the rescuers’ civil or criminal liability if they must forcibly enter the vehicle in order to rescue the animal.

Postponed: Fourth at the Farm Fundraising Concert

By Angie Ambrosio - originally posted to Flickr as Cowboy Troy

UPDATE: Event coordinators state, “Due to circumstances beyond our control, at this time, the Fourth at the Farm event has been postponed. We are working with the artists/agency to reschedule this event but do not have a new date at this time. We apologize for the short notice of this postponement. We will be reaching out via email to those of you who have purchased tickets or sponsored this event within the next 48 hours. Thank you for your patience and understanding. We look forward to future events at the farm in 2022.”


This July 4th, Whitehead Farms, and Operation Heart FELT will present a grand Fourth of July Celebration to benefit children in need. The event will have nationally renowned country music artists, a fireworks show, food and fun for the entire family. The entire community is invited to enjoy the Fourth at the Farm.

Fourth at the Farm will be celebrated at 2:30 pm on July 4th at Whitehead Farms, located at 7136 Cedar Lane in Brooksville. Performing at this gala concert will be Jameson Rodgers, Larry Fleet and Brooks Timmons. Also making a special appearance will be Cowboy Troy, a country rap artist and TV show host.

Part of the proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit Operation Heart FELT (Feeding Empty Little Tummies), a non-profit organization whose mission is to provide nutritious meals to students and their siblings on weekends, holidays, and extended school break periods; sending home backpacks filled with breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Chairman of Operation Heart FELT Kevin Laielli explained, “This will be a country music concert with multiple headliners at Whitehead Farms, and we’ll have food vendors and trucks.”

As guests enjoy spirited country songs and fun, fair-style food, they’ll be supporting a good cause. Currently, Operation Heart FELT is a 100 percent volunteer-driven organization that’s been in operation since 2009. They are currently serving 250-300 children in 12 different schools. “We believe that every child deserves the advantage good nutrition provides to physical, emotional, and intellectual development,” read an organizational mission statement.

Kevin Laielli reports, “Our monthly food bill ranges from $4,000-$5,500 per month. These numbers are down from previous years due in part to Covid, remote learning, etc. We do anticipate adding more children and schools next year, and years to come.”

And when you support Operation Heart FELT, where beneficiaries are identified through the school system, you help the children. “One statistic that we are proud of is that out of every dollar donated, 99.2% goes directly to the purchase of food,” said Laielli. “That is because our warehouse, electric, warehouse shelves, etc., are all donated to us.”

Laielli says that fund-raisers such as Fourth at the Farm do much to support the feeding of needy kids throughout the area. “We’re always trying to think of new and creative fund-raisers for the whole family, and a Fourth of July country concert seems perfect,” said Laielli. “It’s all about funding our effort, so we can continue to feed these kids.”

Featured performer Jameson Rodgers is known for his Platinum-certified, No. 1 debut hit “Some Girls” and his follow-up Top 10 song “Cold Beer Calling My Name.” And he co-wrote multi-Platinum-selling hits for Florida Georgia Line “Talk You Out of It,” Chris Lane’s No. 1 hit “I Don’t Know About You”, as well as “Camouflage Hat,” featured on Jason Aldean’s album 9 and the title track of Luke Bryan’s latest release “Born Here Live Here Die Here.”

Larry Fleet is a Tennessee-based singer/songwriter who has performed with and opened for artists such as the legendary Willie Nelson. He performs a popular Gospel Song Sunday series on social media, and is earning raves for his new single, “Where I Find God.” His recordings are “Stack of Records,” and “Workin’ Hard.”

Special guest star Cowboy Troy is a country hip hop artist known in equal parts for his particular brand of “hick-hop,”’ his host duties on the show Nashville Star, and his Southern fried cooking skills. His latest release is the rhythmic single” BYOB.” Starting with the CD release of “Loco Motive” in 2005, Cowboy Troy is a pioneer in the field of country-influenced hip hop.

Brooksville’s Brooks Timmons is celebrating the release of his debut EP ‘Subconscious,” which features the guitar-driven country tracks “Hard Workin’ Man,” “Messed Up Situation,” “Searching for You,” and more. This professionally produced, deeply heartfelt recording is the followup to Timmons’ debut single, “Stronger Than the Proof.”

Brooks Timmons stated,”I love making music. And I love to play my music for a great cause. My grandma is a volunteer for Operation Heart FELT.”A retired employee with the Hernando County School System, Timmons’ grandmother bore witness to the difficult life situations faced by poverty-stricken students. “Some kids may not realize that some of their classmates are living in cars, homeless with no food,” he said. “We always saw the need for this charity, and my family became close to those who ran the charity.”

Timmons, who likes to base his song lyrics on real-life situations and complexities, too feels that a Fourth of July country concert is the perfect fund-raising event for a family-centered charity. “This means good times for kids and families,” he said. Tickets for Fourth at the Farm are $50 for general admission, $200 for VIP, $100 for Youth VIP. Kids 12 and under are free only for General Admission. Visit https://www.whitehead-farms.com.

Owner of Whitehead Farms Donnie Whitehead shared, “We have a tradition of hosting charity concerts at Whitehead Farms for organizations like The Fraternal Order of Police, Jerome Brown Youth Foundation Football, K9 Partners for Patriots, and for Operation Heart FELT I love what Operation does for kids, they work tirelessly to provide a service that is greatly needed. And this is an opportunity to educate people in the community as we entertain them.” Brooks Timmons agrees, stating, “These volunteers are doing good things for those kids.”

First Hernando Beach Heroes Boat Parade this Fourth of July

Image by Helen Pham from Pixabay.

This Independence Day, those who have given their valiant efforts to keep our country free will be honored and acknowledged as the Hernando Beach Yacht Club (HBYC) sponsors its first ever July 4th Boat parade to support our nation’s Veterans. The Hernando Beach Heroes Parade is a dynamic, multifaceted event set to benefit the Florida Veterans Foundation. This is an organization that was founded in 2008 by the Florida Legislature and supported by individual and corporate donations, grants, fundraisers and direct public support. Their mission is to provide emergency and support services, as well as programs for veterans and their families across the state of Florida. This event’s platinum sponsor is Gulf Coast Fishing Homes Realty.

The Heroes Dinner at the HBYC will be celebrated on July 1, with a cocktail hour at 5:30 pm and dinner at 7 pm. The cost is $25, and the event will include a BBQ dinner buffet featuring chicken breast, pulled pork, baked potato casserole, barbecue beans, cabbage slaw, original barbecue sauce, dinner roll, cake and coffee, and live entertainment by Take Two, featuring Tammie-Sue and Lynn. An online silent auction also will be part of this event and it will run from June 15 – July 5. A display of silent auction merchandise will be presented at the dinner.

And the Heroes Boat Parade will be celebrated on July 4, starting at noon. You can watch the event from a free parade watch party taking place at the Hernando Beach Yacht Club, 4163 Shoal Line Blvd. Preceding this event at 11 am there will be the presentation of a Quilt of Valor to an honored vet. A Quilt of Valor is a handmade quilt that is given to a service member or veteran who has been touched by war. “At Christmas time we host Christmas parades on behalf of Toys for Tots, which are successful,” said Commodore Ralph Kennedy of the Hernando Beach Yacht Club. “For a Fourth of July boat parade, what better way to celebrate than to benefit a charity that benefits those who fight for our freedoms.”

Kennedy also sees the celebration as the ultimate community event. “We want to get the yacht club more involved in the community,” said Kennedy. “We want to get the community involved. And we all can help a good cause, helping those who fought for our freedom.” Kennedy and his cohorts at the yacht club selected this charity because of its capacity to provide financial aid and other help for veterans in trauma. “Too many veterans fall between the cracks, we need to help,” he said.

Guests at the Heroes event can aid the vets in a variety of ways. People can register their vessel for the boat parade for $50 at https://app.bidbeacon.com//#/auction/HPCYCH/item/67942. People can register to attend the July 1st Heroes Boat Parade Dinner for $25 each, with dinner catered by Dickey’s BBQ at Hernando Beach Yacht Club. This event will feature a social hour at 5:30 pm and then dinner at 7 pm, and entertainment by the Take Two duo. Purchase online one dinner at a time, or contact [email protected] for multiple ticket purchases. People can also bid on a full spectrum of fun and luxury items via an online auction at (https://app.bidbeacon.com//#/auction/HPCYCH/details). “We’re offering gift certificates to local restaurants, a bed and breakfast, flight school, airboat trips, kayak rentals, trips, and more,” said Kennedy. “Our local businesses have so impressed me with their willingness to participate.”

Also a part of the July 4 festivities will be a presentation of a Quilt of Valor to a deserving vet. To be considered a Quilt of Valor, the quilt must be a specific size, have a label complete with the required information, be awarded (it is not a gift) and be recorded. As of early 2022, at least 300,000 Quilts of Valor have been created, including one crafted by Hernando Beach Yacht Club chaplain and certified quilting teacher Stella DeJesus Kelly. “A quilt is something from your heart,” she said. “Something that you design and give to please someone else.”

An avid quilter since the age 6, Kelly is a member of several quilting clubs and also makes clothes and other crafts. The Quilt of Valor, her latest work which took her nearly three months to make, holds special meaning for her. “I made my first Quilt of Valor for my brother, a veteran. Freedom isn’t free. We owe this to those who give so much. And some gave all,” she said.

A Quilt of Valor, in Kelly’s view, is a highly symbolic masterwork. And although she has yet to meet or know the recipient of her latest Quilt of Valor, she is honored to bestow it on a deserving veteran. “This quilt is an equivalent to a Purple Heart that a civilian can give,” she said. “A quilt equals healing.”

Tips from UF/IFAS for your July 4th BBQ

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay.

Whether you’re hosting or attending a barbecue this summer, avoid bringing foodborne illness to the party, says a University of Florida food safety expert.

“You might have a good system for keeping food safe when you’re cooking at home. But when it comes to preparing and eating food outdoors, there are other risks,” said Keith Schneider, a professor of food science and human nutrition in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

To prevent food poisoning at your next barbeque, Schneider answers some common food safety questions.

Is it okay to store raw meat in the same cooler as potato salad?
“The number one likely cause of foodborne illness at a barbeque is contact between raw meats and ready to eat foods, such as a potato salad,” Schneider said. “That’s why it’s important to keep those things separate and prevent cross contamination. Storing raw meat in a separate cooler is one way to do that.”

Speaking of that potato salad, is mayonnaise what makes it go bad?
“Actually, bacteria don’t grow very well in mayonnaise on its own. But when you introduce other things to that mayo, such as potatoes, eggs or macaroni, you’re adding water to the mix, making the mayo less acidic and creating a better environment for bacteria,” Schneider said.

This is why it’s important to keep foods made with mayo cold because the lower temperature prevents the growth of germs, he said.

I dropped a burger bun on the ground, but I picked it up right away. Five second rule, right?
“There is no such thing as the five second rule,” Schneider said. “As soon as food comes in contact with germs, it’s contaminated. At that point, it’s best to use a new bun.”

Is this chicken done?
“When it comes to poultry, you can’t go by color. Instead, use a meat thermometer to confirm that the thickest part of the chicken has reached 165 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s the temperature at which harmful germs are killed,” Schneider said.

Are those communal charcoal grills at parks and beaches safe to use?
“Generally, yes — that’s because those grills will get very hot. If you preheat them, that will kill any germs that were present,” Schneider said. “Still, cleaning them is a good idea, not necessarily for safety, but who wants week-old charred cheese on their freshly cooked burger?”

Do I need to use different tongs or spatulas for cooked and uncooked meat?
“This is another common mistake: using the same tongs or spatula for raw and cooked meat. This just contaminates cooked meat with germs that were on the uncooked meat,” Schneider said. “However, washing those tools after they contact raw meat might not be practical when you’re cooking outdoors. Instead, just bring two sets to your barbeque — one for raw meat, one for cooked.”

Is hand sanitizer just as good as washing your hands?
“Using hand sanitizer or washing your hands with soap and water will reduce the risk of contaminating food,” Schneider said. “If you don’t have access to soap and water when you’re cooking outdoors, hand sanitizer is a good choice.”

How long can I leave the leftovers out?
“The general recommendation is to refrigerate leftovers within two hours. However, if it’s a hot day and food is left out outside, that window shrinks to about an hour,” Schneider said.

HCSO probes shooting at local bar

shooting investigation

A verbal argument may have led to the shooting of two men in the parking lot of a bar in Spring Hill.

Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Public Relations Manager Denise Moloney said that around 1:30 a.m. on June 28, emergency operators received several calls reporting that numerous gunshots had been fired in the parking lot of the Sunset Lounge, 5431 Spring Hill Drive in Spring Hill, and that at least one person had been shot.

At the scene, responding deputies found two men in the bar’s parking lot who had sustained gunshot wounds.

Witnesses told the deputies that after the incident, the alleged shooter drove away from the scene.

“Detectives do not believe the shooting was a random act of violence as several witnesses stated the victims and suspect were engaged in conversation before the incident occurred.,”Moloney said.

While deputies work to identify the shooter, the general probe into the incident goes on.

Hernando Sun All-County softball team 2022

By Indyedge/AdobeStock

It was another stellar season of prep softball throughout Hernando County, as the Hernando Leopards were the last county team left standing. Making it to the state championship game before falling 7-4 to Clearwater Calvary Christian. From the start of the season, back in February, all the way to the Class 4A state finals, there were plenty of individual performances that should be recognized. I have compiled a list of the top softball players from this past season with the Hernando Sun’s All-Hernando Softball Team.

OF – Leeanna Freeman, Junior, Springstead: The junior outfielder was one of the best players on the Eagles. Freeman batted .430 with 34 hits, 34 runs batted in and 10 doubles.

P – Ava Braswell, Sophomore, Hernando: She went 15-4 with a 1.52 ERA, with 107 strikeouts and 25 earned runs through 20 appearances. Braswell pitched 115.1 innings and only walked 27 batters of the 462 she faced.

C – Harper Bunn, Senior, Nature Coast: Bunn played primarily at catcher and she hit .512 with 13 runs batted in and 44 hits.

INF – Jadyn Wright, Senior, Hernando: The sensational senior batted .458, had 38 hits, drove in 22 runs and scored 27 runs.

INF – Solaris Genberg, Senior, Hernando: Genberg provided solid fielding for the Leopards at second base but also was another big bat in the lineup. Genberg batted .485, drove in 22 runs and had 47 hits.

INF – Taylor Laviano, Sophomore, Weeki Wachee: She hit .490, scored 18 runs and had 25 hits while playing solid in the infield for the Hornets.

INF – Izzy LaRoche, Junior, Nature Coast Technical: LaRoche played all over the field, as she hit .494 with 23 runs batted in and five homers.

OF – Tiarra Edwards, Junior, Hernando: Edwards scored 34 runs, 30 hits and 25 RBIs to go along with a .441 batting average.

OF – Hannah Taylor, Junior, Hernando: Taylor was a key cog in the Leopards’ consecutive run to the state championship against Calvary Christian. The junior batted .484, scored 26, runs, had 45 hits, drove in 51 runs and hit six home runs.

OF – Leeanna Freeman, Junior, Springstead: The junior outfielder was one of the best players on the Eagles. Freeman batted .430 with 34 hits, 34 runs batted in and 10 doubles.

UTILITY – Savannah Ellis, Junior, Hernando: Ellis did it on the mound and at the plate for the Leopards. For Hernando, Ellis went 10-2 with a 2.33 earned run average and at the plate batted .348 with 28 RBIs and 11 doubles.

Paid work hours now count for Bright Futures Scholarship Program

Gov. DeSantis signs House Bill 461 in Tampa.
Gov. DeSantis signs House Bill 461 in Tampa. Photo courtesy of the Governor's Press Office.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 461 to expand eligibility requirements for the Bright Futures Scholarship Program to benefit kids that cannot fulfill volunteer hours because of having to earn an income.

Paid work experience is now an allowed substitute for the volunteer service hours requirement.

“Florida students should not lose the opportunity to receive a Bright Futures Scholarship because they have to work to help their families make ends meet,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “After school jobs teach our students valuable life lessons, much like community service hours do. I am glad to sign this bill and will continue to make sure higher education remains affordable in Florida.”

“When our administration took office, we vowed to invest and prioritize our state’s education and continue to open the doors to success for students of all backgrounds,” said Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez. “Signing House Bill 461 is yet another testament of our administration’s continued commitment to putting students and families first. Florida is not only the free state, but it is also the education state.”

“Bright Futures has provided a pathway to success for nearly one million students,” said Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr. “With today’s changes to Bright Futures eligibility requirements, no student will be forced to choose between supporting their family and meeting the volunteer hours necessary to earn a scholarship. I’m proud to join Governor DeSantis today as we expand access to postsecondary education for all students.”

“I am so grateful for the Governor’s support for HB 461,” said Senator Travis Hutson. “Children across Florida should have every opportunity to graduate and go to college and this bill expands those opportunities. Some kids do not have the luxury to volunteer and instead need to provide for their families. This bill allows them to help their parents while still pursuing their dreams for a higher education.”

“This important legislation ensures Florida’s youth have access to quality higher education at an affordable cost,” said Representative Lauren Melo. “By improving the existing opportunities available, this bill secures Florida’s greatest legacy, its children, and ensures they are set up on the path to their brightest future regardless of economic background. I want to thank Governor DeSantis for his unwavering support of Florida’s students.”

The bill modifies the eligibility requirements for the Bright Futures Scholarship Program to include an option for students to use paid work hours to qualify for the scholarship. Paid work hours must meet the requirements for volunteer hours and there must be documentation of the hours.

The Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program, primarily funded by the Florida Lottery, was established in 1997 to assist students with tuition costs when pursuing a postsecondary degree.

During the 2021-2022 school year, over 120,000 Florida students received Bright Futures Scholarships.

New law aims to protect religious institutions during emergencies

via Pixabay.com

Religious services in Florida may not be suspended during emergencies under a new measure signed into law in June.

According to SB 254 no emergency order may directly or indirectly prohibit a religious institution from conducting regular religious services or activities so long as other in-person events or business operations are allowed to take place.

The new law states, “An emergency order authorized by this part may not directly or indirectly prohibit a religious institution from conducting regular religious services or activities.

However, a general provision in an emergency order which applies uniformly to all entities in the affected jurisdiction may be applied to a religious institution if the provision is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

The measure was introduced in response to some situations in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic during which many churches were either forced to close or reduce the occurrence of regular services or activities.

The new law becomes effective in July.

DeSantis nixes business protection bill

Governor DeSantis

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a measure that would allow private sector businesses to sue local governments that pass laws detrimental to them.

SB 620, the Local Business Protection Act, would have allowed private, for-profit businesses to seek and receive damages from county or municipal governments that enacted or amended certain ordinances or charter provisions that would reduce profits beyond the designated threshold.

According to DeSantis’ veto letter, the bill which was introduced in response to measures adopted by some local governments during the COVID-19 carries unforeseen consequences.

“Incredibly, this bill exempts compensating businesses due to ’emergency’ orders of local governments,” the letter read. “However the broad and ambiguous language of the bill will lead to both unintended and unforeseen consequences and costly litigation.”

Had DeSantis not vetoed the measure, it would have gone into effect as soon as he signed it.

HCSO drone helps find lost hiker

One of the drones employed by the sheriff’s office.

A drone from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Drone Unit helped locate a hiker who had become lost in the Weeki Wachee Preserve.

HCSO Deputy Public Information Office (PIO) Michael Terry said that around 10:30 a.m. on June 24, the dispatcher received a 911 emergency call from a 36-year-old man who said that he had become disoriented before becoming lost in the woods without food or water. According to the caller, he had been in the woods since 6:30 a.m.

In response, Deputy W. Harsanyi of the HSCO’s Drone Unit arrived in the area where the lost hiker was believed to be and launched a drone to search the area.

After the caller advised the 911 operator that he could hear the drone nearby, Harsanyi activated the drone’s speakers and began making announcements.

After the hiker confirmed that he could hear those announcements, deputies on the ground located the man about 2,200 feet into the woods and led him out of the Preserve.

The hiker refused medical treatment at the scene, Terry said.