Local News

Charles Murphy News 2/24

News Cast for February 24th:

Chelsey Knutowicz and her horse Oliver enjoyed this year’s Florida Cracker Trail Ride across the state.
The group made camp in Basinger Thursday and will spend Friday night at the Adams Ranch on route 68 east

Michael Saunders received life in prison for several crimes including home invasion robbery, armed burglary with a gun and aggravated battery on a deputy. Deputies got into a high speed chase with Saunders and were forced to shoot the stolen truck in a cattle pasture. Prosecutor Ashley Albright admits Saunders is lucky to still be alive. Saunders still faces another trial for allegedly trying to escape the county jail.

38 year old Michael Spielman is accused of a similar escape Wednesday, allegedly battering a female jail guard as she brought him a meal in his cell and trying to run to the back door.  Other jailers wrestled him down at the booking desk.

The State Attorney filed a notice to seek the death penalty against accused killer Christopher Shows on Tuesday.  He’s charged with first degree murder and other crimes in the shooting death of 25 year old Amanda Suarez on December 7th of last year.

Cracker Trail Riders made it Okeechobee last night at the Bass Ranch and cross the county today headed for Adams Ranch on route 68.

Chelsey Knutowicz of Englewood says she likes to imagine what it was like for the original cattle drives.  Marilyn Whitford of Jacksonville says she wouldn’t miss this for the world.

Prosecutors added an additional charge of aggravated child abuse against Debra Lunt, a local teacher accused of threatening one of her students with a chair last year.

Ott Defoe caught a five bass limit of over 31 pounds to take the lead at the Bassmaster Elite tournament on Lake Okeechobee.

Sports Cast for February 24th:

11 Okeechobee wrestlers compete in the regionals today and Saturday with a dream of making the state tournament. Justin Drawdy won the district title at 220 pounds this year. He says he felt he accomplished a lot. He has trained and practiced with two-time state champion Curtis Tyson of Okeechobee.

Austin Scee won a district title at 1 hundred and 32 pounds. He says it was the highlight of the year

Kallen Pinerio was among three Brahmans who finished second place at regional.  The 1 hundred and 45 pound competitor thinks his legs and power can take him to states.

Evangelical Christian scored six runs in the fifth and sixth innings to defeat Moore Haven in high school baseball, 6-0 Thursday.

Sports this weekend include the previously mentioned wrestling regionals at Jensen Beach.

Okeechobee, and several other Big Lake schools compete in the Pahokee Invitational track meet today at 4.  Moore Haven softball visits Palmetto Ridge at 6.  OHS baseball visits Sebring at 7.  OHS softball hosts Jensne Beach with JV at 5 and varsity at 7.  Moore Haven baseball visits Everglades City at 7 pm.

MADD Applauds New Ignition Interlock Legislation

MADD Applauds New Ignition Interlock Legislation 

Florida Would Join 28 States with Ignition Interlock Law for All Drunk Drivers

TALLAHASSEE (February 24, 2017) — This week, Representative Cord Byrd introduced HB 949 to require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders in Florida, a measure that will prevent first offenders from becoming repeat offenders and save lives in the in Sunshine State.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) applauds Representative Byrd for HB 949, and also Senator David Simmons, who plans to amend SB 918 to also require ignition interlocks for all drunk drivers.

“MADD thanks Representative Byrd and Senator Simmons for their commitment to preventing drunk driving in Florida,” said MADD National President Colleen Sheehey-Church. “We look forward to making Florida the 29th state with this lifesaving law.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 797 people died in drunk driving crashes in Florida in 2015 — 103 more than in 2014. According to NHTSA, Florida had the largest increase in traffic fatalities caused by drunk driving from 2014 to 2015.

Currently, Florida requires ignition interlocks for repeat offenders. MADD’s top legislative priority is to help all 50 states pass strong laws that include ignition interlocks after the first offense.

“We know that ignition interlocks save lives by taking away the dangerous, and all too often deadly, choice to drive while impaired by alcohol. These devices teach sober driving while protecting the public.” Sheehey-Church said. “The safety and rehabilitative benefits have been proven by more than a dozen peer-reviewed studies.”

For more information on ignition interlocks, visit madd.org/interlock.

About Mothers Against Drunk Driving
Founded in 1980 by a mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, Mothers Against Drunk Driving® (MADD) is the nation’s largest nonprofit working to end drunk driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes and prevent underage drinking. MADD has helped to save more than 340,000 lives, reduce drunk driving deaths by more than 50 percent and promote designating a non-drinking driver. MADD’s Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving® calls for law enforcement support, ignition interlocks for all offenders and advanced vehicle technology. MADD has provided supportive services to nearly one million drunk and drugged driving victims and survivors at no charge through local victim advocates and the 24-Hour Victim Help Line 1-877-MADD-HELP. Visit www.madd.org or call 1-877-ASK-MADD.



           WASHINGTON – A 49-year-old Florida man was arrested in Miramar, Florida, following the return of a 12-count indictment against him by a grand jury in the Southern District of Florida, the Department of Justice announced today.

Claude Shaw aka Mac and Claude Mac, a U.S. citizen residing in Florida, was charged with two counts of mail fraud and 10-counts of wire fraud in connection with a fraudulent lottery scheme tied to Jamaica.

As alleged in the indictment, victims throughout the United States would receive telephone calls in which they were informed that they had won over a million dollars in a lottery and needed to pay fees in advance to claim their winnings.  According to the indictment, the victims were instructed on how, and to whom, to send their money.  The indictment alleges that the victims were instructed to send their money through wire transfers and the U.S. Postal Service to Shaw and others.

“These charges demonstrate our commitment to combating international lottery fraud, especially efforts to target potentially vulnerable individuals,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad A. Readler of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Financial schemes like these interfere with Americans’ financial security and will not be tolerated.”

The indictment alleges that Shaw discussed plans to receive victims’ money via text messages, and after receiving money from victims, Shaw would send a portion of the victims’ money to accomplices in Jamaica.  As alleged in the indictment, the victims never received any lottery winnings.  Five of the 10 wire fraud counts are based on money Shaw is alleged to have wired from the United States to an individual in Jamaica.  If convicted of mail fraud or wire fraud, Shaw faces a statutory maximum term of 20 years in prison on each count.

“Predators tied to Jamaican lottery fraud often seek to exploit vulnerable individuals in our society,” said Inspector in Charge Antonio Gomez of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Miami, Florida Division. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service appreciates the continued partnership with the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch, bringing to justice those fraudsters who exploit their victims, including elderly individuals, using the U.S. mail.”

This indictment is part of the Department of Justice’s effort working with federal and other law enforcement to combat fraudulent lottery schemes in Jamaica preying on American citizens.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Readler commended the investigative efforts of the Postal Inspection Service. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Arturo DeCastro of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch, visit its website at http://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl

DeFoe Takes Commanding Lead In Bassmaster Elite On Lake Okeechobee

DeFoe Takes Commanding Lead In Bassmaster Elite On Lake Okeechobee

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — Florida’s famous big-bass factory showed off during the first day of the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Lake Okeechobee, as Tennessee native Ott DeFoe caught a huge five-bass limit that weighed 31 pounds, 3 ounces.

DeFoe’s impressive catch put him more than 4 pounds ahead of Stephen Browning of Hot Springs, Ark., who is currently in second place after weighing 26-13.

Anchoring his limit with two giant bass that weighed 8-6 each, the 31-year-old DeFoe knew he had located quality fish during practice on the lake, but he didn’t realize just how good they were.

“I had a lot of bites during practice, but I wasn’t catching very many fish over 2 1/2 to 3 pounds,” DeFoe said. “But, a few of those fish were in one area that seemed to have all the right ingredients to justify a return trip once the tournament began.”

DeFoe caught one of his big bass at his first stop early in the day, but decided to move after only having a few other bites.

“I stayed on that spot until after 9 a.m., and it was after 10 when I caught my next one,” said DeFoe, a six-time qualifier for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. “At that point, the rest of my limit was small, but I was happy to have them because I had the one big fish.”

He managed to upgrade into the early afternoon on one spot that was also consistent for him during practice. DeFoe also said his pattern developed as the day went on, and he’s confident Friday will produce similar results.

“Today was a special day,” he said. “But it’s Okeechobee, 30-pound-plus limits can happen every day on this lake, and if I play my cards right tomorrow I believe I can hang onto the lead.”

While on stage with emcee Dave Mercer, DeFoe compared his twin 8-pound, 6-ounce bass to his twin children.

“When my twins were born, they both weighed several pounds less than those two big bass today,” he said with a laugh.

Weighing five-bass limits that exceed the 25 or 30 pounds is a rarity in this sport, and Browning agrees with DeFoe that today was indeed special.

“I don’t know if the quality of fish I caught today will still be available tomorrow, but it was sure a lot of fun,” Browning said. “I didn’t have a very good practice, so today I just went fishing and learned a lot. I really want to believe that I can catch another 25 pounds of fish tomorrow, but I won’t know if the pattern will hold until things get started in the morning.”

Many anglers commented on how water temperatures had dropped several degrees in recent days, and while cold fronts typically cause Florida-strain largemouth bass to become sluggish, the cold front that brought significant rain Wednesday afternoon seemed to have invigorated Okeechobee’s bass population.

“I’m going to hunker down and give it my best shot tomorrow — that’s all you can do when you’re learning as you go,” Browning said. “I’m sharing water with several other boats, and the improving weather should improve the bite. I’m doing something a little bit different, and I bet the pattern holds for another couple of days.”

Confidence is a key component to successful tournament angling, and like Browning, Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., who weighed 25-15 for third, was surprised by his Day 1 weight.

“At this point, I just can’t be sure tomorrow will be as productive as today,” Horton said. “I got off to a great start, but the fishing was pretty slow as the day went on. I got the right bites, but not that many of them. To have a shot in a tournament on a lake like Okeechobee, you’ve got to have at least one day in the 25-pound range.”

Like DeFoe and Browning, Horton knows what Lake Okeechobee is capable of. Horton has an impressive history on Okeechobee, including a couple of Top 10s and a win.

“If I’m not going to be catching a lot of fish and hope to have a shot at the title, it’s critical that I’m effective and execute on each opportunity,” he said.

Rounding out the Top 10 were Brett Hite (23-3), Bobby Lane (21-15), Cliff Prince (21-11), Paul Mueller (21-9), Andy Montgomery (20-13), Skylar Hamilton (20-3) and Greg Hackney (20-2).

The frontrunner for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award is Tyler Carriere of Youngsville, La., with a 9-pound, 5-ounce largemouth.

Competition will resume Friday with takeoff at 6:45 a.m. at C. Scott Driver Park, and weigh-in will begin at 3:15 p.m. in the same location.

The event is hosted by the Okeechobee County Tourism.

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Power-Pole, Yamaha, Berkley, Huk, Shell Rotella, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Livingston Lures, T-H Marine, Lowrance, Phoenix Boats, Shimano, Academy Sports + Outdoors

About B.A.S.S.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

Charles Murphy News 2/23

News Cast for February 23rd:

Okeechobee county fire chief Ralph Franklin ordered a burn ban in Okeechobee effective immediately. No campfires will be allowed or fireworks displays. The rising drought index led to a large number of wildfires in January and February.

Lake Okeechobee business interests and farmers appealed to Martin County commissioners this week to stop their support of Senate bill 10 that would fund a 2-billion-dollar reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. Palm Beach Commissioner Priscilla Taylor says it would cause economic hardship in the Glades Glades County sugar farmer Artis Hammock says this reservoir could cause more damage than the 1926 and 1928 hurricanes on Lake Okeechobee.

Congressman Francis Rooney told a house panel yesterday considering the bill that the federal government and the Florida congressional delegation is firmly behind 68 CERP projects that should be pursued before this reservoir.

Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy and members of the school board were in Tallahassee Wednesday before the House subcommittee on education lobbying for support of the 65 million needed to replace Okeechobee High school. Kenworthy said the building is deteriorating and will cost the district a lot of money to repair. He told the committee that the county simply does not have the taxing power to get the money to build a new high school.

Sports Cast for February 23rd:

Mariah Spelts was named MVP for the Lady Brahman bowling team this year. Spelts said as a sophomore she was surprised to get this trophy. Spelts led the girls to a fifth place finish at districts this year. She said she felt she really improved this year

On the sports schedule today

Moore Haven baseball will host Evangelical Christian with junior varsity at 4 pm and varsity to follow

OHS tennis will visit Boynton Beach at 3:30 pm.

OHS JV baseball will host Avon Park at 6 pm.

Florida panther population estimate updated

Florida panther population estimate updated

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) have updated the estimated number of endangered Florida panthers in their breeding range south of the Caloosahatchee River.

The updated population estimate is 120 to 230 adult and subadult Florida panthers, according to a February 2017 report from the agencies collaborating on conservation and recovery efforts. The previous Florida panther population estimate was 100 to 180 adult and subadult panthers in 2014. These population estimates do not include kittens, which are still dependent on their mothers.

The panther population report is available on FloridaPantherNet.org.

The report emphasizes both the importance and difficulty in obtaining accurate panther population estimates, which is similar to estimating other puma populations in western states. Currently, Florida scientists are evaluating several methods to refine their ability to estimate the panther population size, including the use of trail cameras and panther road mortality data. The current numbers, developed jointly by USFWS and FWC scientists, use annual counts of panthers primarily conducted on public lands. Density of panthers on these areas is then multiplied across the larger area that makes up the primary breeding range in south Florida. Although there are some panthers outside of this range in south Florida and in areas north of the Caloosahatchee River, they are primarily dispersing males and do not significantly contribute to the breeding population.

“This latest Florida panther population estimate is good news, an indication that conservation efforts are on track in helping recover this endangered animal,” said Kipp Frohlich, FWC’s Deputy Director for the Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “In the 1970s and 1980s, it was estimated only 20 to 30 panthers remained in Florida.”

Larry Williams, the USFWS’s Florida State Supervisor of Ecological Services, believes the new numbers indicate things are trending in the right direction — due in part to a strong partnership with the state of Florida.

“Continued recovery will require a long-term concerted effort by many partners committed to finding common-sense solutions that balance many different and competing interests, yet are grounded in a shared purpose of conserving the lands that support Florida’s native wildlife and its ranching heritage,” Williams said.

The public is encouraged to report sightings of panthers or their tracks, and in particular photos, to MyFWC.com/PantherSightings to help with panther research and management. Biologists are especially interested in pictures of panthers north of the Caloosahatchee River, which runs from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers.

Floridians also can help panther conservation efforts by purchasing the “Protect a Panther” vehicle tag from local tax collector’s offices.

Charles Murphy News 2/22

News Cast for February 22nd:

Moore Haven could have a new 36-acre RV park in the near future. Glades County Commissioners approved sending a comprehensive plan amendment to the state for review this month. The site on Williams Road could allow up to 3 hundred and 82 RV lots on the Caloosahatchee River. County Planner Inga Williams says there shouldn’t be major impacts from the project.

Williams says RV parks in Glades County are mostly full and another one is needed.  The state review should take less than two months.

3 south Florida men appeared to be casing out the Fort Drum Service plaza while in reality they were being watched by Florida highway patrolmen Monday.

The investigation led to three arrests on felony charges when troopers say they found a credit card skimmer device in the vehicle being driven by the men.  They case conspiracy charges.

A sleeping man who had likely overdosed on cocaine was found sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle at the fort drum service plaza Monday night.   39 year old Juan Rivera of Miami was charged with DUI, grand theft auto, cocaine possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  He was treated at Raulerson hospital and sent to jail.

Florida fish and wildlife says a domestic dog and two raccoons were killed illegally by steel traps in Country Hills Estates.  The licensed trapper apparently used illegal tube type steel traps.  He’s been cited with taking wildlife by a steel trap.

Okeechobee city council relaxed sales of liquor to allow restaurants to sell glasses of hard liquor after 1 pm.  There will be no permit fee for the restaurants.  The city already allowed sale of beer and wine on Sundays after 1 pm. The city also is interested in possibly becoming the owner of the primitive Baptist church property on South West 3rd Avenue. They also reappointed Tommy Clay and Jeff Fadley to represent them on the Okeechobee Utility Authority Board.

Sports Cast for February 22nd:

OHS baseball won their season opener 4-2 at Melbourne last night. Coach Eric Kindell says he was pleased with the team as they banged out eight hits, got solid pitching, and made just one fielding miscue. Trevor Thomas had two hits and two runs batted in and Baron Stuart also had two hits.

Stuart also held the Melbourne bats in check for five innings with nine strikeouts. He says his team was ready to play and perform. Alex Lopez also threw a scoreless inning of relief.

Lady Brahman softball fell to Treasure Coast 4-1.  Haley Underhill pitched a complete game with six strikeouts for Okeechobee.

On the sports schedule today

Moore Haven baseball will host Clewiston with JV at 4 and varsity to follow.

Healthy Start Speaks to Kiwanis Club (AUDIO INCLUDED)

Healthy Start Speaks to Kiwanis Club (AUDIO INCLUDED)

Caption: From left to right, Kiwanis member Kelly Owens with Healthy Start Contract Manager Andrea Medellin

Andrea Medellin from Healthy Start Coalition spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Okeechobee discussing the services her organization provides to Okeechobee County.

The intent of the Healthy Start Coalition is to establish a system which guarantees that all women have access to prenatal care and that all infants have access to prenatal care and that all infants have access to all services that promote normal growth and development.

Services provided to participants include Direct Services to clients: education on parenting, childbirth, breastfeeding, car seat safety, nutrition and smoking cessation.


Animal Control to become part of HCSO in March

Animal Control to become part of HCSO in March

SEBRING — By a 5-0 vote Tuesday (Feb. 21) morning, the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners approved the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office’s proposal to take over operation of Animal Control.

Animal Control will fall under the HCSO umbrella on March 29 and from that point forward will be known as Animal Services. The current Animal Control employees will become civilian members of the HCSO, with an HCSO lieutenant — who has yet to be named — serving as their immediate supervisor. Animal Control has been without a director since the retirement of Darryl Scott in May of 2016.

Following a discussion among the commissioners about the cost of the proposal, Commissioner Ron Handley said, “The positives far outweigh the negatives. Long-term, it’s certainly going to benefit the county.” Handley then made the motion to approve the request.

“Animal Services will be a natural fit for the Sheriff’s Office,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “Many of their cases come through our Consolidated Dispatch Center, and our deputies and detectives are the ones who do follow-up when criminal charges stem from an animal abuse or neglect case. This will also give the Animal Control staff enhanced technology and support systems so they can be more efficient, and the use of inmate work details will help keep down the cost of maintaining and improving the facility. We also will focus on increasing community partnerships with the Humane Society and other animal advocates.

“The addition of Animal Services to our agency is part of the 100-day plan I developed after being elected, and I thank the commissioners for embracing our vision.”

Animal Services division will be part of the HCSO’s Specialized Services Division, which includes the agricultural and K-9 units.

“I look forward to working with the current Animal Control staff for a smooth transition. I think the combination of our two agencies is going to be a benefit for Highlands County’s citizens and its animals,” Hood said. “The addition of the Animal Control staff to the HCSO will make for a more streamlined process when investigating cases of animal abuse and neglect as well as violations of county ordinances. We will also use the Sheriff’s Office social media to help spread the word on animals that are available for adoption as well as livestock that will be auctioned, which will hopefully equate to more animals finding homes.”

Photo: Capt. Darin Hood and Business Administrator Rob Reed speak to the county commission Tuesday.

Charles Murphy News 2/21

News Cast for February 21st:

Raulerson hospital received a higher grade in an annual evaluation of hospitals while hospital grades around the state sunk. The Leapfrog hospital safety grade service looks at policies, patient outcomes and safety measures. Spokesperson Erica Mobley says just because a hospital is rural doesn’t mean they can’t be good hospitals. Most Treasure Coast hospitals were rated average this year. Leapfrog said hospital safety breakdowns are the nation’s third leading cause of death, killing more than 2 hundred thousand patients per year.

In the courts…22 year old Kharyl Martin of Clewiston pled no contest to charges of aggravated battery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting of 32 year old Clarence Hunter of Moore Haven on South San Pedro Street.  Hunter was shot in the chest and arm but survived the injuries.  Martin received 10 months in the county jail and six years’ probation.

County Extension director Lauren Butler gave a speech to the Kiwanis Club of Okeechobee about the history of the Extension and what they do for the community. She says they help in research for agriculture to solve problems, and also help to get the word out about agriculture to the public.

Sports Cast for February 21st:

Lamar Williams won the Iron Man Award for the OHS football team this year. He followed up a thousand yard rushing season with nearly 8 hundred yards this past year and 9 touchdowns. He said he really enjoyed the award

Williams will attend a summer camp in Tampa this year and will have a person trainer with the goal of adding weight and muscle so he can attract the interest of college recruits. He says he’s not afraid of the work he’ll have to put in.

Bart Brunson was the all-around cowboy at the PRCA rodeo in Brighton this weekend.  He competed in tie down roping and team roping.

Over 70 thousand dollars in prize money was handed out.

On the sports schedule today.  OHS baseball visits Melbourne with first pitch at 6:30.  OHS softball will host Treasure Coast at 6 pm.

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