Checkpoints spark concern among Panhandle sheriffs

Florida Coronavirus News

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — Local sheriffs said this week they were concerned after watching individuals enter their respective counties without any notice from the two state checkpoints. 

As the coronavirus lockdown continues, multiple sheriffs said they are often called by residents made nervous by new groups of people arriving in their neighborhoods in vehicles with out of state plates. But they were given no advance warning from the state agencies running the checkpoints. 

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smth said he’s received no word from the checkpoints about any visitors. Yet, Smith has still dealt with plenty of visitors including a Georgia resident who tested positive for COVID-19 and came down with a group of people after his diagnosis. Bay and Walton County officials also confirmed they have gotten no notice about visitors from the state agencies.  

“We have not received any information from the Department of Health regarding those who have disclosed at the two checkpoints in the state that they are visiting Walton County,” said Walton County Sheriff Spokeswoman Corey Dobridnia. “We have been relying on citizen contacts and citizen concerns and deputies have been making contact upon request.”

Walton deputies are still confronting people from out of state. If they are voluntarily complying with Governor Ron DeSantis’ stay at home order then that is usually the end of the situation. 

“We don’t want to bring it to the level of arrest but we will,” Dobridnia said. 

She added that without communication at a state level, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office is asking for citizens to continue to give them information about pandemic violations. 

“We are relying on you to let us know,” she said. 

News 13 took these concerns to Florida’s Department of Health, the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Highway Patrol. The three agencies are working together to run two checkpoints. 

One checkpoint is in Escambia County at the Alabama-Florida line and the other is at I-95 in Nassau County at the Georgia-Florida line. 

Obviously, there are dozens of roads that lead into Florida and two checkpoints would not begin to deal with everyone who crosses into the state. However, when the Florida Sheriff’s Association reached out to see if more could be done, they were rebuffed, officials said.

“The Florida Sheriff’s Association reached out to the Florida Highway Patrol about checkpoints and they said if they need our help they would let us know,” Dobridnia said. 

The Florida Department of Transportation said that as of Wednesday, 4,000 traveler forms have been collected at the checkpoints. The forms ask for detailed information about the travelers including their name, birth date, address, license plate, and driver license number. The form also asks for a description of the trip, length of stay and the Florida address where travelers plan to stay.

It also includes a warning that the individual must sign that notifies them they face criminal prosecution, imprisonment and a fine if they violate self-isolation and self-quarantine while in Florida.

“The department remains laser-focused on implementation of the Executive Orders signed by Governor DeSantis and assisting in the state’s overall response to COVID-19,” said Beth Frady, the communications director for Florida’s Department of Transportation. 

No one, so far, has been stopped from entering the state. 

“These are checkpoints, not road blocks,” Frady said.

The Florida Department of Health added, “Motorists who are traveling from areas with substantial community spread including Louisiana, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, will be required to isolate for a period of 14 days upon entry to Florida or for the duration of their visit, whichever is shorter.”

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