Local News

Sheriff Kicks Off Crisis Intervention Training

Sheriff Kicks Off Crisis Intervention Training

Monday morning, July 7, 2014, Highlands County Sheriff Susan Benton kicked off a two year initiative to train Law Enforcement and Detention Deputies in crisis intervention techniques. Kirk Fasshauer, Director of Crisis Services at the Peace River Center and Deputy Mark Smith of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office will be conducting the training which will include classroom sessions as well as a behind-the-scenes tour of the Peace River Crisis Center in Bartow. Members will also have an opportunity to participate in some hands-on experiences simulating the minds of persons in crisis. During the 40 hours of training, participants will visit mental health partner facilities in Highlands County as well as becoming familiar with the resources available at South Florida State College in Avon Park.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Director of Training, Deputy Nick Kent explained that the Crisis Intervention Training as presented by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office follows what is known as the “Memphis Model” because it was developed in Memphis Tennessee. After a rise in violent encounters that were subsequently learned to have a mental illness component, a study was conducted that revealed the suspects were “acting out” in ways that appeared criminal but were often related to circumstances beyond their control. “The study also showed that when trained personnel were deployed to these scenes, often the suspects could be “talked down” to a degree that kept violent encounters at a minimum,” Deputy Kent said. To date many agencies in Florida are using the “Memphis Model” for training deputies in dealing with subjects with mental issues. It involves two 20 hour segments – one segment explains psychological conditions and terms which will assist deputies in recognizing when a subject may be suffering from these issues. The second 20 hour segment deals with officer-safety issues and is taught by current law enforcement officers. Ideally this training will provide the tools for effective interaction between the criminal justice system and mental health care. However, when arrest is the proper outcome and a subject is detained, deputies will also be educated on how to evaluate the subject for possible alternatives to prosecution such as enrollment in pretrial intervention programs that are already in place at the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office conducts CIT programs each quarter. Thanks to the cooperation between Sheriff Benton and Sheriff Judd, Highlands County will be allowed 5 spots in each of these programs as well as conducting one session per year for Highlands County members where as many as 30 deputies could attend, here in Sebring. Sheriff Benton’s initial goal is to have at least one sergeant and one deputy on each squad in both law enforcement and detention divisions trained during the first two-year phase with the ultimate goal to train all sworn members of both the law enforcement and detention divisions in crisis intervention. Obviously this will be an ongoing initiative due to the number of members who will need this training and the limited opportunity for seats in the program.

Sheriff Benton commented that she is very pleased this training has begun. “Our deputies come into contact with hundreds of people throughout their careers, and many of whom may suffer from some type of mental health issue. Being able to detect this possibility and proceed accordingly will enhance the safety of these people as well as our deputies in these situations,” she said. “We want to keep the public safe but at the same time we want to address the mental health issues to reduce reoccurring encounters. Any additional tools we have at our disposal to deal with these situations can only be helpful.”

FWC catches commercial turtle poachers

FWC catches commercial turtle poachers

Three Lakeland men and an Okeechobee freshwater turtle farmer were caught illegally harvesting, selling and buying wild-caught freshwater turtles as a result of a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigation.

“Turtles are a popular, commercially available food item throughout much of the world and, as a result, overharvest has occurred in many countries,” said the FWC’s Lt. George Wilson, who led the effort. “To prevent overharvest here, the FWC proactively banned commercial harvest of all native wild turtles in 2009,” Wilson said.

Wilson and other FWC investigators throughout Polk and Seminole counties developed the case over a three-and-a-half-month period after the March 21 arrest of My Van Vo (DOB 04/19/83) of 6935 Raymond Ave., Lakeland. Van Vo was caught by FWC officers on Lake Apopka in possession of 87 live softshell turtles weighing in excess of 500 pounds.

Subsequently, FWC investigators learned two other Lakeland men were poaching freshwater turtles on Lake Marion, Lake Haines, Crooked Lake and Lake Walk-In-Water as well as from the St. Johns River. The two men were transporting and selling their illegal catch to Harden and Son’s Turtle Farm in Okeechobee.

The three men were known to be involved in the illegal capture and exchange of a total of 2,100 pounds of live turtles.

“We hope our efforts to protect wild turtle populations help ensure everyone has the opportunity to see freshwater turtles in the wild and harvest them recreationally,” Wilson said.

The FWC worked with the State Attorney’s Office in Florida’s 19th Judicial Circuit to charge Canh Van Nguyen (DOB 03/15/66) of 1226 Fairlee St., Lakeland, and Lieng Su Pham, (DOB 02/04/45) of 312 Lanceolate Dr., Winter Haven, with two felonies and four misdemeanors.

The owner of the turtle farm, Franklin Gene Harden (DOB 11/28/58) of 3403 SW 26 Ave., Okeechobee, was charged with three felonies and four misdemeanors. For more information about freshwater turtles, visit MyFWC.com/Wildlife and select “Managed Species” or call your nearest FWC regional office.



Devereux Community Based Care of Okeechobee and the Treasure Coast is looking for a few art-minded volunteers to help us spruce up our two Okeechobee County Visitation Rooms. These are rooms where children in foster care visit and play with their families, and we’d really like to make it a nice place for everyone to meet.

We will supply the paint and supplies needed for the project. Our office is located at 208 NE Seventh Ave., Okeechobee (behind Cowboy’s Restaurant). Our hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

If you are a member of a volunteer, social or church group and can help us during office hours, please contact Angela Jones at angela.jones@devereuxcbc.org.

Governor Rick Scott Appoints Jon Basquin to the Hendry County School Board

Governor Rick Scott Appoints Jon Basquin to the Hendry County School Board

Tallahassee, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott announced the appointment of Jon Basquin as a School Board Member of Hendry County.

Basquin, 42, of Clewiston, is the owner of Basquin Welding. He is appointed to fill a vacancy created by the passing of William “Ray” Clinard for a term beginning July 14, 2014, and ending November 11, 2014.



~Never leave any child unattended in a vehicle~

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is reminding everyone to take additional steps to ensure that no child is left unattended in a vehicle this summer. This year, there have been two reported cases in Florida of children dying of heatstroke after being left in cars.Don’t be distracted when leaving your vehicle and take a second look in the back seat to ensure a child is not left behind.

Getting into a car that has been sitting in the sun on a hot summer day in Florida can be unbearable. The inside of a vehicle can heat up by 20 degrees in just 10 minutes and cracking a window open does little to keep the vehicle cool. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s and heatstroke in a closed vehicle can occur when the temperature is as low as 57 degrees outside. For the safety of your children, never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even for a short period of time.

Florida law makes it a criminal offense to leave a child under the age of 6 unattended in a vehicle.

Tips for preventing heatstroke deaths in vehicles:

  • NEVER leave any child unattended in a vehicle.
  • Put something in the back seat that you will need at your final destination like a purse, briefcase, cell phone or shoe that will remind you to look in the back seat.
  • If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, call 911.
  • After checking to make sure your vehicle is empty, always lock it and teach children not to play in vehicles.
  • Pets are also susceptible to heatstroke if left unattended in a closed vehicle as well.

A study by researchers at San Francisco State University showed that, on average, 38 children die each year as a result of heatstroke after being left in a closed vehicle. Since 1998, 66 child heatstroke deaths have occurred in Florida for this reason, more than any other state.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles provides highway safety and security through excellence in service, education and enforcement. The Department is leading the way to A Safer Florida through the efficient and professional execution of its core mission: the issuance of driver licenses, vehicle tags and titles and operation of the Florida Highway Patrol. To learn more about DHSMV and the services offered, visit www.flhsmv.gov, follow us on Twitter @FLHSMV or find us on Facebook.

Charles Murphy News 7/15

News Cast for July 15th:

City planning consultant Bill Brisson predicts things will pick up in the area of growth and development this year. He said the most marketable site for development is 20 acres plus located on 70E across from the US Post Office.
Three Polk County men and an Okeechobee freshwater turtle farmer are facing charges for the alleged illegal harvest, sale and purchase of wild caught turtles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission worked three and half months in Seminole and Polk County and arrested 31 year old My Van Vo and 48 year old Canh Van Nguyen of Lakeland and 69 year old Lieng Su Pham of Winter Haven. Also charged was 55 year old Franklin Harden of Okeechobee. He was charged with seven crimes including three felonies.
24 year old Alvaro Mendoza of Delray Beach was charged with trafficking over 43 grams of cocaine near Post Family Park in Indiantown for 1650 dollars in a Martin County Sheriffs undercover investigation.
FEMA wants victims of Hurricane Wilma to repay some of the money they paid out. Seems the government overpaid. They seek 1.12 million and can tap social security and income tax refunds. One resident of Pahokee is among those being asked to repay funds.
Law enforcement is urging parents to be aware of children in hot vehicles this summer. Nurse Phyllis Larimore says kids can suffer fatal hyperthermia in just minutes in a hot car. Often it is a change in a parent’s routine that is behind these tragedies. Nearly 4 hundred children in America have died in hot cars in the last decade, 38 last year, including one in Rockledge.

Sports Cast for July 15th:

American Legion Post 64 split four games at a tournament in Polk County this weekend. They defeated Zephyrhills 9-6 and Hernando 4-3 and fell to Spring Hill 10-8 and Florida Baseball Academy, 7-6. The Okeechobee Post is (9-9) on the season. Elijah Finney had two hits and three RBIS in Monday’s loss to Florida Baseball Academy.

Okeechobee Flag football coach Jimmy Mills is not disappointed about a 3-7 record this year. He noted the junior varsity had a strong season and the future looks bright. He said the varsity team also had some adversity this year. Mills said he’d like to see the girls take the sport more seriously. He noted many don’t play football again for another year. He said there are a lot of athletes that can contribute in the ninth grade including Clinesha Williams and Alaya Johnson.

The Dixie Youth softball tournament wrapped up Monday. Franklin County defeated Lake Placid to take the Belles Division while West Pasco shut out Franklin County to win the older girls, the Debs, Division.

Charles Murphy News 7/11

News Cast for July 11th:

Okeechobee commissioners set their tentative millage at the 10 mill cap but are likely to reduce it during budget time.

The current budget couldn’t be funded by 10 mills and another 1.5 million in budget cuts must be made. Commissioners rejected a new taxing unit for law enforcement and didn’t embrace a franchise fee on Florida Power and Light of 5 point 9 percent. The county will study GPS ankle bracelets with St. Lucie County to perhaps release nonviolent jail inmates in an attempt to save money.

State health officials warning about encephalitis and a new mosquito borne virus from the Caribbean and Africa called Chicken Gun Yeah, 18 cases have been reported in Florida.

The President included 85 million to continue the rehab and restoration of the Herbert Hoover dike in his proposed budget. 40 million is included in the state budget for the C-44 reservoir and storm water treatment area near Indiantown. 38 million could be spent by congress for the project. 5 million was included in the state budget for the Kissimmee River restoration.

Three members of the Lorida volunteer fire department were honored by the Highlands County commission. Andrew Swenson and Shawn Graham were honored for 10 years’ service and Bradley Swenson for five years’ service.

Among arrests, 25 year old Moses Serrano of Apopka was charged in Okeechobee with carjacking and grand theft. He allegedly forced a female friend out of her car on North East 48th Avenue last October. The Chevy Tahoe was later found behind Four Seasons with several items stolen from inside.

36 year old Leopoldo Ruiz was charged with three counts of lewd and lascivious battery. He’s accused of impregnating a 14 year old girl after multiple sexual offenses with the child.

A murder suspect captured in Okeechobee, has received 25 years for killing his ex wife in Pine Island. Daniel Protector pled no contest in the death of school teacher Amy Patterson Monday. He was caught sleeping in a vehicle at an Okeechobee motel. He originally reported the woman died in an accident.

Sports Cast for July 11th:

Yearling middle school enjoyed a four day volleyball camp this week for girls ages 6-14. 13 younger girls showed up for the first two days to work on basic skills. Coach Kellyann Campbell said the camp is a great start for some of these girls. The older girl’s camp wraps up today and that includes mostly fine tuning the girls skills and a refresher course in volleyball. 8 volunteers also took part.

Raylee Coleman is in 10th grade and she was impressed with the talent level of the younger kids

Artha Jonassaint said older girls helped her and inspired her to work on her skills when she was starting in the sport. She said volunteering at the camp was well worth her time.

Kellyann Campbell on YMS volleyball camp

Raylee Coleman and Artha Jonassaint on volleyball camp at YMS

33 teams go at it for state titles in softball in Okeechobee this weekend. OCRA and Okeechobee County host the Dixie Youth championships through Sunday at the sports complex, games begin this morning at 9 a.m.

Charles Murphy News 7/10

News Cast for July 10th:

In federal court an alleged pimp and prostitute from Indiantown received prison sentence for an undercover operation where 53 year old Felicita Almestica agreed to prostitute, 35 year old Jackeline Encarnacion for a week in Seattle, Washington. Almestica received one year and Encarnacion 10 months, both also received 2 years’ probation.

The Florida net ban continues to be fought in the court system. In 1994, 72 percent of Floridians voted to certain commercial fishing nets. Fishing Captain David Lear said protecting the game fishing industry is equal to protection of the Florida economy.

Commercial fishermen argue the net’s mesh size is too small, and allows them to only catch juvenile fish that aren’t marketable.

In the courts, 69 year old Lanford Weatherbsy received consecutive life sentences for capital sexual battery and eight felony crimes. Its alleged Weathersby molested multiple children in Okeechobee, perhaps as many as five. An 11 year old girl came forward to report abuse in May of 2 thousand 12. Sheriff Deputies say Weatherby bought the victims gifts.

Two Martin County deputies received the law enforcement officers of the year award from the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association as they helped to capture a murder suspect who fled to Okeechobee County in February of last year.

Lt. Bill Dowdy and Sgt. Richard Parks were part of a high speed chase that ended on route 710 when the suspects’ vehicle went into a canal. Parks said he appreciated the honor. The suspect Randy Lee Simmons is awaiting trial on a second degree murder charge.

Sports Cast for July 10th:

Daniel Rodriguez won the mid fielder of the year award for the Brahman boys’ soccer team this past year. Rodriguez will be a junior this year. He was praised for his steady play on both offense and defense.

Rodriguez said he enjoyed the season and the award he received. Rodriguez said he felt the team will continue a string of success again next year. The team won 13 matches and tied two other matches this year. Rodriguez said the team had good chemistry and worked hard. He is playing club soccer in the off season.

Join Foster Grandparents Today! Volunteers needed to mentor and tutor at risk children in school for Okeechobee, Martin and St. Lucie Counties.

Join Foster Grandparents Today!
Volunteers needed to mentor and tutor at risk children in school for Okeechobee, Martin and St. Lucie Counties.

As a Foster Grandparent volunteer, you’ll help children in your community develop the academic and life skills that are critical to their development and future successes. Sharing your time and experience can help children learn to read, develop their math skills and prepare younger students for school readiness.

Experience the joy of being a Foster Grandparent by providing one-on-one mentoring at a local Head Start or elementary school. Our program is open to volunteers age 55 and over who can serve an average of 20 hours a week throughout the school year. You don’t need formal experience in mentoring or tutoring as you’ll receive pre-service training. We offer a tax-free hourly stipend, a lunch allowance and reimbursement for transportation to help cover the costs of volunteering. In order to participate in the program you must be low income eligible.

The Area Agency on Aging supports its Foster Grandparent volunteers through paid staff known as volunteer coordinators. Volunteers receive local support from their volunteer coordinator through monthly training, ongoing communication and site visits.

To inquire about joining the Foster Grandparent Program contact Jennifer Vander May, Volunteer Coordinator, at 772-467-0008, ext. 59240. Call today! Orientation Training for the 2014-2015 school year is July 22nd and 23rd.

For more information on the program or Agency visit us online at www.YourADRC.org.




TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Lottery announces that Eddie Yearby Jr., 37, of Port St. Lucie, claimed a $5 million top prize in the 100X THE CASH Scratch-Off game at Florida Lottery headquarters in Tallahassee.

Yearby chose to receive his winnings as a one-time, lump-sum payment of $3,545,093.91. He purchased his winning ticket from Taylor Creek BP, located at 1889 North US Highway 1 in Fort Pierce. The retailer will receive a $10,000 bonus commission for selling the winning Scratch-Off ticket.

Last September, the Florida Lottery launched 5X THE CASH, 10X THE CASH, 20X THE CASH and 50X THE CASH Scratch-Off games to join its most popular multiplier-themed game, 100X THE CASH. The CASH MULTIPLIER family of Scratch-Off games ranges in price from $1 to $25 and offers millions of dollars in instant win prizes. For more information about these games please visit www.flalottery.com.

Scratch-Off games are an important part of the Lottery’s portfolio of games, comprising approximately 64 percent of ticket sales and generating more than $640 million for the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund (EETF) in fiscal year 2013-14.


The Florida Lottery is responsible for contributing more than $26 billion to education and sending more than 650,000 students to college through the Bright Futures Scholarship Program. The Florida Lottery reinvests nearly 98 percent of its revenue back into Florida’s economy through prize payouts, commissions to more than 13,000 Florida retailers and transfers to education. Since 1988, Florida Lottery games have paid more than $37 billion in prizes and made more than 1,300 people millionaires. For more information, please visit www.flalottery.com.

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