News Cast for February 11th:

Okeechobee County firefighters had a structure fire to contend with Thursday afternoon. Crews were called to a home on the 41 hundred block of SE Highway 441 at 12:30 and found it completely covered in flames when they arrived. Crews needed about twenty minutes to get the fire controlled while using about 45 hundred gallons of water to put it out. Investigators were told by the homeowner that the fire started around the time she was taking a shower when she smelled smoke. She went to her bedroom and found it was completely on fire before running outside and calling 911 from a neighbor’s house. The fire completely destroyed the house to the tune of about $35 thousand dollars. No injuries reported. Investigators say the fire was caused by accidental means. Firefighters had to block off an area of 441 to traffic during this incident. It was the second time in a week Okeechobee County firefighters had to fight a structure fire; crews had to battle a blaze that completely destroyed a double wide mobile home on the 16 thousand block of NW 308th Street during the early morning hours of February 5th. That incident remains under investigation by the state fire marshal.

Okeechobee City Councilmembers took the time during their meeting last Tuesday night to recognize one of the city’s veteran police officers. Officer Belen Reyna was recognized by the council for his 15 years of service on the police force and he received a 15 year Longevity Service Award. Like most Okeechobee police officers, Reyna’s favorite part of the job is being able to help people in the city and working with some of the good people in the city. Reyna, a native of Okeechobee, says he felt “pretty good” about being recognized for his longtime service to the city as a police officer and he’s excited over the idea of being a police officer in Okeechobee for another fifteen years.

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A traffic stop became a drug related arrest for an Okeechobee man and woman last Tuesday evening. Sheriff’s deputies stopped a Ford Van, driven by 28 year old Catherine Victoria Bearden, at around the eleven hundred block of Route 70 West just before seven o’clock because she was weaving all over the road. Deputies say Bearden’s head was slumped to the side as she was being told why she was stopped. As the deputy was getting Bearden’s license, he noticed a partially smoked cigar blunt which proved to be cannabis. Bearden was asked to do a sobriety test at the same time a K-9 unit was brought in to search her vehicle. Bearden and her passenger, 26 year old Dwight Lee Sheffield Junior, exited the van. Sheffield had marijuana flakes on his clothes and the van search turned up more marijuana, smoking pipes and some methamphetamine on the pipes and in two bags. Bearden, who was found to be drunk, was arrested and charged for that offense and for possession of methamphetamine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Sheffield was arrested and charged with possession of cannabis and drug paraphernalia. Sheffield’s bond is set at six thousand dollars and Bearden’s bond has not been set.

A Highlands County Court judge recently sentenced a Sebring man on a host of charges in connection with incidents from his business practices. 39 year old Kevin Ray Barber, who owned South Side Auto in Sebring, was sentenced late last month to three years in state prison followed by twelve years’ probation for nearly two hundred charges, filed by his customers, ranging from grand theft, defrauding a financial institution and illegally using a two way communication device to facilitate a felony beginning in March of last year. Highlands County Sheriff’s Spokesperson Scott Dressel says the meaning behind the sentence handed down by the judge was to teach Barber a lesson. Dressel says Barber was already on probation for grand theft and operating a business without a license in Lake Placid called Kevin’s 4-Wheel the previous year. Barber owes nearly $150 thousand dollars to 22 of his now former customers.

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On the arrest report:

42 year old Daniel Gerardo Cardenas-Cota of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for driving without a valid license after a traffic stop. His bond is set at a thousand dollars.

18 year old Charles Bennett of Okeechobee, an inmate at the county jail, was arrested for criminal mischief and battery on a sheriff’s deputy. His bond has not been set.

23 year old Tyler Jordan Snyder of Okeechobee was arrested for drunk driving and having an expired license tag after a traffic stop. His bond is set at $750 dollars.

37 year old Armando Augustin Rodriguez of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on past drug charges. He’s being held without bond.

39 year old Jeremiah Faughn Rhoden of Okeechobee was arrested for petit theft. He was released after posting a $250 dollar bond.

28 year old Dustin Allen Lee Lundy of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on past charges of trespassing and not paying court fees. He’s being held without bond.

32 year old Joseph Techalin of Okeechobee was arrested for driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

30 year old Crystal Marie Martinez of Okeechobee was arrested for driving without a valid license after a traffic stop. Her bond is set at five hundred dollars.