Local News

2 teens arrested for torturing a gopher tortoise

2 teens arrested for torturing a gopher tortoise

Officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) arrested two Clay County teenagers Friday morning on charges of torturing a gopher tortoise.

Danielle Susan Dionne, 15, and Jennifer Emoke Greene, 18, have been arrested on charges of felony cruelty to animals, a third-degree felony, and taking, harassing, harming or killing a gopher tortoise, a second-degree misdemeanor.

On July 15, the FWC received a tip about the torture and death of a gopher tortoise. FWC and Clay County Sheriff’s Office investigators immediately followed up on the information.

“We take these issues very seriously,” said Col. Calvin Adams, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “We appreciated the help from the public and our partners in working to protect our valuable natural resources.”

The FWC worked with the State Attorney’s Office of the Fourth Judicial Circuit to decide the appropriate charges related to the crime.

“We will not tolerate this behavior in the Fourth Judicial Circuit. We are committed to fully prosecuting those responsible for the torture and death of this vulnerable and threatened species,” said State Attorney Angela Corey.

If convicted, Greene faces up to five years in prison on the animal cruelty charge. The misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of up to 60 days in jail and/or a $500 fine.

Dionne’s case will be prosecuted in the juvenile system. Due to this fact, there will be no further comment on her case.


FWC using new tactics to monitor harmful algal blooms in Indian River Lagoon

FWC using new tactics to monitor harmful algal blooms in Indian River Lagoon

FWC researchers have begun using new approaches to more quickly detect and track harmful algal blooms in the Indian River Lagoon, which spans 156 miles and makes up 40 percent of Florida’s east coast, supporting commercial and recreational clam and oyster farming.

To provide spatial snapshots of blooms (the big picture of where blooms may be occurring in the lagoon) the FWC established a flow-through monitoring program this year. The flow-through monitoring system analyzes water quality while the research vessel is in motion, traveling throughout the lagoon, as opposed to traditional methods of tracking blooms that require scientists to collect water and examine it back in the lab. The flow-through system pumps water from the surface through instruments that measure salinity, temperature and chlorophyll fluorescence, an indicator of algae. This information is then integrated with GPS coordinates to create maps of surface waters that can show “hot spots” of blooms.

Monthly, between June and August (typical bloom season) the FWC maps surface waters in the Indian River Lagoon system, which includes Mosquito Lagoon and Banana River, to detect blooms and to put routine monitoring data into a spatial context. The equipment produces real-time data, which allow researchers to adaptively sample bloom patches as they are noticed in the field. At select stations, researchers also collect samples to be analyzed for the amount and diversity of algae; this is done in partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District and the University of Florida.

The information will help in the short term to detect blooms and in the longer term to identify the causes of blooms, ultimately leading to better management strategies.

To learn more about the FWC’s harmful algal bloom program, including monitoring in the Indian River Lagoon, visit MyFWC.com/RedTide.


Road Rage Incident Results in Attempted Murder Charge

Road Rage Incident Results in Attempted Murder Charge

SEBRING –

With reference to the incident below, Thomas Gerald Watson, 54 years of age, of 658 Racoon Lane, has been arrested on two counts of attempted first degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a vehicle. He is currently being held in the Highlands County Jail.

At approximately 10:00PM last night Highlands County Sheriff’s Consolidated Dispatch received a call of a hit and run accident. A vehicle driven by Shawn Zeigler of 2613 Hacienda Dr., Lorida was travelling on US 98 and was being pursued by another vehicle driven by Thomas Gerald Watson. When the vehicles were near the Lorida General Store, Zeigler pulled into the parking lot at the store. Watson continued to accelerate toward the vehicle at which time Zeigler and his passenger Carrie Leaphart, also of 2613 Hacienda Dr., fled the vehicle on foot shortly before the vehicle was struck. Watson continued to follow the pair ultimately hitting Zeigler with his vehicle. Watson then fled the scene, and paramedics were called. Zeigler was flown from the scene to a regional medical facility where he remains in serious condition. Leaphart was not hit by the vehicle.

Responding deputies continued to attempt to locate Watson ending up at his home at 658 Racoon Lane, Lorida. The suspect’s vehicle was present at the home however when deputies attempted to make contact with persons inside, no one would come to the door. Further investigation revealed that Watson may be in possession of multiple firearms inside the home. The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactic (SWAT) team and the Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT) responded to the Racoon Lane location and a search warrant was obtained. At that time SWAT members and CNT negotiators made contact with Watson and he exited his home without incident. He was taken into custody with charges pending.

At this time the investigation is continuing. Anyone with information on this incident is requested to contact Detective Brian Van Fleet of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Unit at 863-381-2684. Anyone with information who wants to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS(8477), contact us on the internet at www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com or simply scan the QR code at right. Anonymity is guaranteed!


Charles Murphy News 7/28

News Cast for July 28th:

The Okeechobee school board presented a 65.3 million dollar budget plan this month. It would lower the tax millage and the average home with a taxable value of 1 hundred thousand dollars would pay 720 cents less in taxes this year.

Chairman of the School Board Joe Arnold said with only one school having a longer school day, there might be wiggle room for employee raises. City Council voiced displeasure with the demolition of the former CSX train station this summer. City councilman Dowling Watford said there were errors on the permit application and the city staff didn’t even realize the demolition would happen. He said the effort to save the train station went on for years but never got traction.

In the courts, 60 year old Barbara Thorne received one year in jail and four years’ probation for grand theft in Glades County. She was accused of stealing 8 hundred dollars from a 76 year old elderly man’s bank account in 2013.

Artavistus Ware received 17 years in prison on various cocaine and drug related charges in Moore Haven. He was also placed on probation.

Sports Cast for July 28th:

Rachel Bryan and Megan Hargraves won the Most Valuable Player Awards for Yearling volleyball this season.

Both move onto the high school this coming season and figure to be impact players for years to come.

Bryan said she appreciated her career at Yearling. Bryan said the team bond was the reason the team played so well over the years. Bryan said she really will cherish this MVP award. She took a little time off this winter to get ready for her high school career. Her goal is to be a four year starter for the high school. The team only lost three matches during her career.


TrophyCatch launches new, enhanced website for conservation-minded anglers

TrophyCatch launches new, enhanced website for conservation-minded anglers

In preparation for season three of TrophyCatch, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) launched a new and highly improved website to facilitate gathering data on Florida’s famed trophy largemouth bass and to reward anglers for releasing them alive.

TrophyCatch is an incentive-based conservation program designed for anglers who catch-and-release largemouth bass heavier than 8 pounds in Florida. There are three different tiers and two bonus categories offering the opportunity to win prizes:

  • The Lunker Club (8-9.9 pounds) ̶ $100 in gift cards, a short-sleeve T-shirt, certificate and decal.
  • The Trophy Club (10-12.9 pounds) ̶ $150 in gift cards, a short-sleeve T-shirt, certificate and decal.
  • The Hall of Fame Club (greater than 13 pounds) ̶ a $500 fiberglass mount, $200 in gift cards, a duffel bag, hoodie and other apparel, Glen Lau DVD, certificate and decal, worth approximately $1,000.
  • The biggest bass of the season wins a $3,000 championship ring from the American Outdoors Fund, and if it happens to come from a major water body in Osceola County, Experience Kissimmee chips in $10,000 in cash. The current leader is J. Morrell, with a 14-pound, 9-ounce bass caught and released on Lake Kingsley, last March.
  • One lucky registered angler will win a $40,000 Phoenix bass boat, powered by Mercury Marine and equipped with a Power-Pole. Besides getting a chance at the boat just for registering, every verified catch provides 10 extra chances for the drawing, which is conducted at the end of the season. TrophyCatch seasons run from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year.

“Anglers should carefully follow catch-and-release guidelines for these big bass and document the catch through a photograph of the entire bass on a scale with the weight clearly legible,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. The new TrophyCatchFlorida.com website makes it easy to register and review the rules and prizing details. Anglers should remember to take a camera and scale, and perhaps a tape measure to document the catch quickly and safely before releasing it.

People then simply upload catch photos (up to five) or even an MP4 video clip up to 50 MB in size, complete a simple form and submit. Since this is a citizen-science program, properly verified data helps FWC biologists enhance, conserve and promote trophy bass fishing. This will ultimately benefit anglers, fishing-related businesses and local communities. Corporate partners, including Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Rapala and Bass King Clothing, provide the rewards, in return for carefully documenting these catches and live-releasing them in the same water system where they were caught.

This program provides extremely valuable data and encourages live-release of these older, female bass, so they can continue to challenge other anglers and spawn in their home waters.

The program began in October 2012, and the World Fishing Network was gracious and conservation-minded enough to create the first website free-of-charge. TrophyCatch continues to expand, going from a total of 1,941 registrants and 185 verified club winners in season 1 to 7,903 registrants and 798 winners through the first three-quarters of season 2. Similar growth is anticipated for season 3.

“With additional demands on the website and reward processing, and evolution of the Internet, the enhancements that our new partnership with Brandt Information Services brings are sure to be appreciated by TrophyCatch participants,” said KP Clements, the TrophyCatch director. Clements also encourages anglers to subscribe to YouTube.com/TrophyCatchFlorida and to “like” FaceBook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to keep up with developments. The new website integrates these social media resources so that anglers can brag about their catches with their social networks.

The FWC encourages all anglers to check out the site, register to be automatically entered in the boat drawing and be prepared to catch-and-release largemouth bass. One never knows when or where a trophy bass will appear, but checking the gallery and catch records at TrophyCatchFlorida.com may enhance one’s opportunities. From Okeechobee, through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to Lake Talquin, trophies are being caught year-round, but trophy bass are also being caught on small local lakes and even golf course ponds. These places are accessible and good bets for opportunities to land a lunker.


Charles Murphy News 7/25

News Cast for July 25th:

The county commission endorsed tax incentives for Florida Power and Light to try and entice the company to build a natural gas power plant near Fort Drum. They also applied for various state tax credits and would like to rezone industrial, 1 thousand acres near the proposed site. Chairman Frank Irby says local support could be critical. Voters will decide in November whether the county should offer industrial tax breaks for up to 10 years. County commissioners approved no increase in fire tax this year, it’ll still cost 90 dollar per residence.

The commission also approved a 417 thousand dollar bid to refurbish the US 98 annex to house Facilities Maintenance.

Among arrests, 53 year old Carlton Comfort was charged with four counts of sexual battery on a child under 12. The alleged molestation took place between 1990 and 1996.IMG_8321

In the courts, 55 year old Edward Hammond received a suspended one year jail term and 18 months’ probation for an earlier marijuana case. Hammond was not convicted of violation of probation. He claimed he uses marijuana for medical purposes to deal with pain issues.

Felony marijuana charges were reduced to misdemeanors against former Okeechobee school bus driver, Sheila Goolsby. The 50 year old was caught in a drug raid on North East 31st Terrace where several ounces of marijuana was seized on May 15th.

28 year old Osmon Orozco pled no contest to sexual activity with a minor and trespassing and received five years’ probation. A parent found him sleeping with her teenage daughter and he fled out the window and later located on route 70 west.

Sports Cast for July 25th:

LaPorshe Morris won the Most Valuable player award for the girls’ flag football team this year. Morris led the team with 14 touchdown receptions. She said she enjoyed getting the award. The flag team finished 3 and 7 this past year but lost only one senior to graduation.

Areana Robshaw won the defensive MVP for Yearling girls’ volleyball this year. She was the team’s Labero and was a leader on the court.

She said her best memory from the season will be a victory over the Brighton Charter School in Okeechobee.

The Dixie boys 14 year old all-star team was eliminated at the State Tournament in Sebring.   Okeechobee lost to West Volusia 10-0 and West Seminole 7-4.


Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park

Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park

Battlefield 7-15-14 002Great news! Funding has been allocated for “starter kit” to open Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park to the public!   In addition, The Okeechobee Battlefield Friends recently met at the Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park with Florida Park Service District Bureau Chief Larry Fooks, Assistant Bureau Chief Robert Yero, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park Manager Evan Hall, Jonathan Dickinson State Park Manager Mark Nelson along with Building Construction Specialist Arvind Chandrasain.

Okeechobee Battlefield Park management has been transferred to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park in District 3, and we welcome Park Manager Evan Hall and staff, and thanks to Mark Nelson and staff of Jonathon Dickinson State Park for their years of support.

The Okeechobee Battlefield Friends are gearing up and planning to have their Kick Off meeting on August 20th, 2014 ,as they begin to coordinate the upcoming 8th Annual Battle of Okeechobee Reenactment which is scheduled for February 28th, March 1st and School Day scheduled for March 2nd, 2015!

The Friends look forward to ongoing partnerships, to goals and visions being realized and to the future opening of The Okeechobee Battlefield Historic State Park!

Pictured left to right: District Bureau Chief Larry Fooks, Assistant Bureau Chief Robert Yero, Building Construction Specialist Arvind Chandrasain, Jonathan Dickinson Park Manager, Mark Nelson, DAR Regent Su Geroge


Canal to Close Temporarily for Maintenance

Canal to Close Temporarily for Maintenance

C-40 canal dredging to help improve flood protection

Okeechobee, FL — Okeechobee Field Station staff at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) will begin a maintenance project next week to restore the C-40 canal to its original dimensions during a four-month dredging project. During the work, public access to the canal from State Road 70 south to the S-75 structure will be closed.

The canal is scheduled to reopen to boat traffic in November.

Work was necessitated from years of silt and sediment reducing the canal’s ability to move storm water runoff. The first phase of the project will restore the conveyance capacity of the canal by removing about 142,000 cubic yards of sediment, enough to fill more than 8,000 dump trucks.

The multi-year effort will ultimately remove more than 760,000 cubic yards of material from the C-40 canal between State Road 70 and the S-72 structure, just north of Lake Okeechobee.

Questions regarding the project may be directed to Gary Ritter at (863) 462-5260, ext. 3017, or by email at gritter@sfwmd.gov.


Centennial Committee is on its way.

Centennial Committee is on its way.

Okeechobee, Florida, 7/14/2014 — The City of Okeechobee Centennial Committee met with great enthusiasm on Monday, July 14 at City Hall. Our school liaison, Member Enfinger, met with the Superintendent of Schools regarding plans to incorporate and involve the schools as much as possible in this coming year’s activities. Mr. Kenworthy was very happy to have us include the schools and looks forward to working with the committee. He did remind Member Enfinger to keep the school calendar in mind when scheduling these activities for the students to participate. Congratulations to Member Enfinger who has also taken on the task of being the committee’s cultural liaison.

Member Cable opened the discussion for the historic time-line stating there was a plethora of information for our small city. There was extensive discussion, with many ideas presented on ways to use the time-line as we begin planning for our Centennial year.

Member Domer talked briefly about the development of the Centennial Celebration facebook page. The page already has close to 1000 likes. The quick response to the Centennial Celebration page shows that our community is looking forward to this great year of celebration and is looking for ways to get involved.

The Celebration Committee is sending out a ‘Call to Artist’ for logo submissions that will encompass Okeechobee’s past and future. These submissions will become the property of the City of Okeechobee and will be reviewed by the Centennial Committee for final approval and acceptance. The approved logo will be the centerpiece for our celebratory year and will be a part of Okeechobee History. Be creative and have fun! Submissions must be completed and received by the City of Okeechobee Clerk’s office by 4:30 PM on Tuesday August 19th.

The Centennial Committee welcomes community input and participation. Input is welcomed at the meetings that are currently scheduled to run on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, until further notice; these meetings will be recorded in the Public Notice section of the newspaper. Community participation would also be welcomed in working with committee members to plan, coordinate and run events, contests and/or programs associated with this remarkable milestone in our city’s history. Community involvement will be of the utmost importance in ensuring that all the diversity and rich history of Okeechobee are represented. Be a part of Okeechobee’s history and future; celebrate with the City of Okeechobee’s Centennial Committee.

For more information visit our facebook page: www.facebook.com/OkeechobeeCentennial, the city web site www.cityofokeechobee.com, Twitter ‘Celebrate Okeechobee’ @Okeechobee100 or contact the Office of the Clerk at 863-763-3372 ext. 215 or mjahner@cityofokeechobee.com.


Charles Murphy News 7/24

News Cast for July 24th:

The Okeechobee school board voted 3-2 to not fire Seminole Paraprofessional Elaine Murphy for pulling the hair of a 6 year old ESE student Tuesday. They did approve a suspension without pay from April until the end of the school year. It is likely Murphy will be reassigned to another position.

Two eye witnesses claimed she pulled the child’s hair near the bus stop in mid-January. Murphy admitted the hair was pulled but that the hair had gotten caught in her jewelry and it was all an accident. No criminal charges were filed. DCF advised Murphy not be a caregiver of children. Her Attorney Mark Wilensky says his client was pleased with the decision.

School Board member Gay Carlton, one of two dissenting votes, said she worried about the message this will send to parents and that safety of students should be the board’s top priority.

Glades County Commissioners approved a 4.2 million dollar bid with Wright Construction to take over the Emergency Operations Project. They received a 5 million dollar grant from the state for the building. Contractor Jeff Edmonds says they constructed the health department in Moore Haven and hope to have similar success with this project.

In the courts, 10 criminal charges were dropped against 28 year old Jeremy Cain which included kidnapping of a child under 13 and false imprisonment. He allegedly had hit in a nearby apartment forcing his way into the residence with four children inside to avoid detection by police.

Martin county prosecutors closed out a case where four young men were implicated in an arson fire, the shooting of 8 alligators and a burglary in western Martin County. 22 year old Dalton Sloan entered a plea to two charges of criminal mischief and received 96 days in jail and fines.

Sports Cast for July 24th:

Kevin Coleman was named the Most Improved Player for Okeechobee Brahman baseball this past year.

Not only did he provide a cleanup hitter production on offense late in the year, he also played a solid defensive first base and became a solid pitcher. Coleman said the award really shows how hard he worked. Coleman capped off his season with 4 shutout innings of relief against Pembroke Pines in the regional semifinals in Okeechobee.

He went through some arm issues earlier in the year and even impressed him with how well he threw. Coleman said he’s excited about the future as he will be penciled in as a key member of the starting rotation next year. He finished the year with a .329 batting average.


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