494. Mark I. Johnson, former longtime SE Volusia newspaper reporter, known for photo skills, too

Top 500 Newsmakers of Central Florida / Headline Surfer®
Headline Surfer® is counting down its listing of the Top 500 Newsmakers in Central Florida all the way to No. 1.  
Mark I. Johnson, for New Smyrna Beach-area reporter No. 494 among top 500 newsmakers / Headline Surfer®Former reporter/photographer Mark I. Johnson in top 500 newsmakers / Headline Surfer®Headline Surfer® photos /
Mark I. Johnson, a longtime reporter for the former New Smyrna Beach Observer and the Daytona Beach News-Journal until he was among the latest round of employee cuts a year ago this month, is shown here taking pictures of the wearing in of then-Commissioner Jack Grasty in 2009 by County Judge Shirley Green, after winning his second term in the primary. In the back are then-Mayor Adam Barringer and Commissioner Judy Reiker, both beginning their first terms after winning in the general elections that year. Barringer did nor seek re-election this year and Grasty lost in his bid for mayor against former Commissioner Jim Hathaway. Reiker was re-elected without opposition.
 

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -- Mark I. Johnson wasn't flashy, but he was a workhorse newspaper reporter who got the job done covering the news for two print newspapers over three decades.

He also was pretty handy with a camera, often serving in both roles during a career that began in the late 1980s as a reporter for the New Smyrna Beach Observer and then for the Daytona Beach News-Journal until late last year when he became one of the casualties of continuing layoffs at the former metro.

While Johnson wasn't flashy reporter, a journalist of few words, he knew how to work the flash with his camera, often handling photo assignments for the main newspaper while working out of the the News-Journal's Canal Street bureau where he also filed stories for the regional section, the Daily Journal.

In addition to covering the cop shops in New Smyrna Beach, Edgewater and Ok Hill, he also occasionally covered New Smyrna Beach and Edgewater municipal government meetings.

Johnson was hired by the News-Journal in early 1998, after a dozen years with the Observer, which printed a paper Tuesday through Saturday.

Former staffer Christine Preston, who worked in the New Smyrna Beach bureau for a few years before moving over to the main office back in the late 1990s to cover night cops in Daytona, said she recommended Johnson's hiring to then-Assistant Managing Editor Mike Czeczot because they worked the same territory and had become friends. 

"Mark took my place in New Smyrna Beach when I moved to Daytona Beach," Preston told Headline Surfer®. "He was a great photographer, but I never worked with him in that arena as we technically were competition until he got the slot in New Smyrna Beach (in being hired away from the Observer)."

Christine Preston, former reporter for the Daytiona Beach News-Journal / Henry FrederickFormer staffer Christine Preston, who worked in the New Smyrna Beach bureau for a few years before moving over to the main office back in the late 1990s to cover night cops in Daytona, said she recommended Johnson's hiring to then-Assistant Managing Editor Mike Czeczot because they worked the same territotry and had become friends. 

"Mark took my place in New Smyrna Beach when I moved to Daytona Beach," Preston told Headline Surfer®. "He was a great photographer, but I never worked with him in that arena as we technically were competition until he got the slot in New Smyrna Beach (in being hired away from the Observer)."

Preston, who was among the early layoff casualties in 2007, that ultimately resulted in more than 400 job losses at the newspaper -- half the total number of employees -- and the closing of its bureaus in New Smyrna Beach, DeLand, Orange City and Bunnell a year later, added, "Mark did know everyone (working his assignments). But like I said, we worked for separate organizations, even though we covered the same stories."

Preston continued, "But I did think enough of (Johnson) to go to bat for him with Czeczot and (then-Managing Editor) Don Lindley. When the paper was finally sold to Halifax Media for $19 million in 2008, Johnson remained with the newspaper until October 2013, when he was among nearly a dozen staffers cut loose.

Preston said she hadn't spoken to Johnson in a couple of years and didn't know how to get in touch with him. Johnson couldn't be reached for comment for this story, because Headline Surfer® didn't have a cell number for him. Attempts to contact him through mutual acquaintances was unsuccessful.

Pam Lockeby, herself a veteran photographer with the newspaper in Daytona until, she too, was let go in the transition to new owners, described Johnson as a hard-working reporter and a "decent photographer."

Pam Lockeby, herself a veteran photographer with the newspaper in Daytona until, she too, was let go in the transition to new owners, described Johnson as a hard-working reporter and a "decent photographer."

The internet newspaper wo an award from the Florida Press Clun in 2013 for the fatal crash on the S. Causeway Bridge / Headline Surfer®Headline Surfer® graphic /
The snapshot here is the top half of the award-winning story the internet newspaper published on the death of Riccilyn Rigoli in a DUI-related crash after she and her husband were partying on Flagler Avenue during the Cinco de Mayo celebration in 2013 paid for in part with taxpayer-supported CRA dollars. Then-Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark I. Johnson, interviewed the husband, Donald Rigoli, by phone in the ER at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach. His wife of two years was behind the wheel of the pick-up truck when she lost control while speeding and slammed into a concrete barrier at the crest of the west-bound side of the South Causeway Bridge, causing both of them to be ejected as the vehicle rolled several times before landing sideways on top of her and crushing her to death. The 32-year-old woman left behind three young daughters.
 

Ironically, one of Johnson's earlier stories in the year that centered on a brief phone interview with the surviving spouse of a fatal drunken-driving related crash on the South Causeway Bridge during the pre-dawn hours of May 6, and referenced in a Headline Surfer® investigative report, helped the internet newspaper garner an award in the Florida Press contest in October 2013, just before Johnson was let go.

Pat Rice, editor of the News-Journal, did not return email inquiries to the timing of Johnson being let go. Johnson's health had declined in recent years due to Parkinson's Disease.

Johnson scored a telephone interview with Donald Rigoli in the emergency room at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach when he was told by an ER nurse that the husband wasn't as seriously hurt as originally believed.

This was a couple hours after after he was airlifted from the accident scene where his wife, Riccilyn Rigoli, lay dead under the pick-up truck she was driving. The 32-year-old woman left behind three young daughters.

She was driving erratically and at a high rate of speed before striking the concrete median, which forced the vehicle to roll several times, ejecting the two of them in the process. They weren't wearing their seat belts.

Donald Rigoli took Johnson's call, telling him his wife of two years was behind the wheel when she lost control of the truck. Rigoli said they were headed home to their Brimfield Court home after an evening at the Cinco de Mayo party on Flagler Avenue in New Smyrna Beach.

Headline Surfer® was the first media outlet to report on the fatal crash on scene, and the first to file a story, but continuously updated it, including the reference Rigoli made to Johnson that he and his wife had been partying on Flagler.

The award-winning Headline Surfer® story story was packed with extensive research on the extent of monies spent on the night partying-scene while other areas of the CRA district, notably the historic "Westside" neighborhood, predominantly African-American, continued to languish. CRA funding is intended to fight blight with an emphasis on bricks and mortar -- not bars and marketing for the bar scene on Flagler Avenue.

The breaking news story contained the political and financial insight and a host of videos showing the city had become too complacent about the party-like atmosphere on Flagler as shown in numerous Headline Surfer® stories going back to 2009.

Donald Rigoli's admission to then-Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark I. Johnson was a key bit of information in re-enforcing the internet newspaper's continued focus on taxpayer monies being used to subsidize alcohol-fueled street parties as well as for rehabbing of bars that led to widespread public drinking during events like the Cinco de Mayo, New Year's Eve and Mardi Gras celebrations. 

Donald Rigoli's admission to then-Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark I. Johnson was a key bit of information in re-enforcing the internet newspaper's continued focus on taxpayer monies being used to subsidize alcohol-fueled street parties as well as for rehabbing of bars that led to widespread public drinking during events like the Cinco de Mayo, New Year's Eve and Mardi Gras celebrations. 

As much as $2 million in Community Redevelopment Agency funding had been spent up to that point since 2009, when then-Mayor Adam Barringer was elected and shortly after City Manager Pamela Brangaccio was hired.

Barringer, who did not seek re-election in November, even convinced his elected colleagues to spend $65,000 on aesthetics for Trader's Pub on Flagler, owned by his boyhood friend, Dave Fernandez, well known to New Smyrna Beach cops and the courts.

It would be months before New Smyrna Bech cops finished their investigation into Rigoli's fatal crash, with the autopsy revealing she had been driving under the influence of alcohol -- more than 2 1/2 time the threshold for intoxication -- and she had a trace of cocaine in her system.

The NSBPD traffic homicide confirmed what Rigoli had told Johnson -- that the couple had been drinking at one of the bars on Flagler that evening during the height of the Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Here is a link to Headline Surfer's award-winning story, headlined, BREAKING NEWS: NSB cops: Woman killed, man airlifted after both ejected in rollover on S. Causeway Bridge.

It was one of nine award-winning stories for the internet newspaper in the 2013 Florida Press competition. Since 2011, Headline Surfer® has won awards for 21 stories, six blogs and top internet news site with integrated social media.

Did You Know?

Mark I. Johnson snapped this shot on the beach in New Smyrna / Headline Surfer®Former newspaper reporter Mark I. Johnson snapped this photo of a uni-cyclist on the hard sands of New Smyrna Beach the day after Thanksgiving, which he sent to Orlando Cable TV station Central Florida News 13, which subsequently posted it on its website weather page.

 

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Internet story on Mark I. Johnson of New Smyrna Beach trends in Google search engines / Headline Surfer®The Headline Surfer® profile on former Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter Mark I. Johnson was trending within minutes in the Google search engine as shown with this screen shot. 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com since 2008. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed close to a hundred award-winning byline stories nearly evenly split in print and digital platforms. Frederick earned his Master of Arts in New Media Journalism with academic honors from Full Sail University in Winter Park in February 2019. He was a metro reporter with the Daytona Beach News-Journal for nearly a decade and then served as a city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette in Taunton, Mass, while maintaining a residence in Central Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Frederick was a metro reporter for the Rockland Journal-News in West Nyack, NY, for seven years. Headline Surfer was named the Sunshine State's top internet news site by the Florida Press Club in 2018.