News Cast for September 20th:

Two Okeechobee men, both being charged with first degree murder in separate cases, came face to face with a county court judge this week. 34 year old Kevin Franklin Hughes made an appearance in court Wednesday morning to answer for charges in the death of his wife, 40 year old Jennifer Minette Benson-Hughes, during the early morning hours of April 17th. Prosecutor Ashley Albright says Kevin Hughes pled not guilty to the first degree murder charge at his arraignment and he continues to plead not guilty. Albright says even with Hughes’ next court date, it will be quite a while before this case goes to trial. Kevin Hughes was originally charged with second degree murder of his wife on the front lawn of their home following an argument but the grand jury slapped him with murder one after hearing the evidence. Also seen in court on Wednesday was 36 year old James Wade Hodges, charged with the murder of 43 year old Paul Murphy of Jupiter in May after his bullet-riddled body was found in his car, submerged in Taylor Creek. He has pleaded not guilty and his next court appearance is October 23rd.

Issuing an ordinance to make the community aware of the reality of human trafficking was a topic of discussion at yesterday’s Okeechobee County Commissioners’ meeting and there will be a public hearing on the matter as voted on by commissioners. The issue was first discussed at the August 22nd meeting and an ordinance was prepared to have public awareness signs on human trafficking in certain areas such as massage parlors and strip clubs. After yesterday’s discussion on the matter, County Attorney John Cassels will be doing some follow up work on where else human trafficking public awareness signs should be placed. Commissioner Kelly Owens, who has been quite vocal on the subject, says this is an issue of the utmost importance because while residents might feel comfortable and safe living here and think it’s not happening here, it’s very easy to get too comfortable. Owens hopes this will also spur all businesses to have a human trafficking awareness sign on their premises. The public hearing on the matter will likely be held at the next commissioners’ meeting on October 3rd.

The soon to be built Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Driver’s License Building will be getting a special dedication. County Commissioners granted the request of the Masonic Lodge #237, one of the longest standing fraternities in the world, to make a dedication in honor of the masons on the northeast corner of the building when it is completed. Masonic Lodge member Matt Buxton says he’s excited the commissioners approved this request and the northeast corner is traditionally set as the foundation of every building for this dedication. Buxton says it’s likely going to be a huge event for the community. This is the first building the masons have chosen for this dedication in the last 16 years. The Property Appraiser, Tax Collector and Driver’s License Building is expected to be completed sometime next summer.

For the first time in nearly a month, Okeechobee County firefighters had a structure fire to contend with Wednesday afternoon. Crews were called to the 17 hundred block of NE 3rd Street a little before five o’clock and found the blaze in a storage area. Firefighters got the fire controlled in about ten minutes with no one getting hurt. Investigators say the fire was started by two young boys, ages 5 and 7, who were reportedly playing with matches and they were curious about fire and were looking for a thrill. The boys were released to their parents. Total damage is estimated at about five hundred dollars in both property and contents.

On the arrest report:

38 year old Clinton Roy Sellers of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for possession of a 9mm handgun by a convicted felon following a traffic stop. His bond is set at ten thousand dollars.

29 year old Reggie Dontrea Jones of Okeechobee was arrested for withholding child support. His bond is set at a hundred dollars.

35 year old Tonya Marie Bell of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on past charges of fraud and giving false information to a pawnbroker. She was released after posting a two thousand dollar bond.

21 year old Gilmar Lopez-Moreno of Okeechobee was arrested for driving without a valid license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a $250 dollar bond.

38 year old Sabrina Ann Hunt of Okeechobee was arrested for battery. Her bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.

36 year old Daniel Angel Olvera of Okeechobee was arrested by police for possession of methamphetamine, oxycodone, drug paraphernalia and driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop. His bond is set at six thousand dollars.