News Cast 1/29

News Cast for January 29th:

***TRAFFIC UPDATE***

Highway 710 is open in both directions;

15B/SE 126 Blvd. is closed from Hwy. 710 to Hwy. 441 SE

Southbound traffic on Hwy. 441 is being re-routed to 15A to Hwy. 710

Northbound traffic on Hwy. 441 is being turned around and re-routed thru Port Mayaca

As the US Army Corps of Engineers works to finalize plans for the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Southern Reservoir, they now want to hear from the public. Corps’ officials say right now, the plan calls for reducing Lake Okeechobee releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by redirecting much of it to the south through the Everglades. The purpose of the project is to improve quantity, quality, timing and distribution of water flows to the Northern Estuaries, Water Conservation Area 3, Everglades National Park, and Florida Bay while increasing water supply for municipal, industrial and agricultural users. The plan would change the authorized Central Everglades Planning Project to achieve these benefits by reducing Lake Okeechobee water management releases to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries by redirecting approximately 370 thousand acre-feet of water on an average annual basis south through the Greater Everglades.  You have until February 24th to share your opinion on this issue. You can send comments via email to EAAReservoir@usace.army.mil or by mail.

An Okeechobee man, facing first degree premeditated murder charges in the death of his wife last spring, surprisingly won’t be back in court until next spring. 34 year old Kevin Franklin Hughes was in court recently to answer for charges of premeditated murder one in the death of his wife, 40 year old Jennifer Minette Benson-Hughes, during the early morning hours of April 17th, but his attorney, Alex Nelson, has asked the court for a continuance until next April to take depositions of witnesses in the case. Okeechobee County Lead Prosecutor Ashley Albright says while this may sound unusual, it’s actually pretty common. Sheriff’s deputies arrested Kevin Hughes after receiving a 911 call from him and finding Jennifer Hughes’ body lying in the front yard of their home following an on-site investigation. He was originally charged with second degree murder before the grand jury heard the evidence in the case last June and charged him with premeditated murder one. Kevin Hughes is facing a mandatory life prison sentence if he’s convicted. Nelson declined to comment.

During last week’s relatively short meeting, the Okeechobee County Commissioners took the time to recognize the contributions and achievements of some longtime county employees. Commissioners recognized employees who have at least five years of service to the community. One of them was Shannon Gagliardi, who has been a firefighter and EMT with the County Fire Department for the past 15 years and currently works as a driver and engineer for the department. Gagliardi, a Ft. Lauderdale native, moved with her family to Indiantown and later to Okeechobee in 1995. She became interested in working as a firefighter because of her stepfather who worked in the same profession in Martin County. She says the best part of her job is helping people, not to mention working with her fellow firefighters not just on duty but off-duty as well. Other county employees recognized include Shop Foreman and Head Mechanic Shane McDuffie, Library Specialist Kellie Bailey, Captain of Community Risk Reduction Ryan Hathaway and Building Maintenance Technician Dominick Calderone.

Okeechobee County Firefighters had to deal with a vegetation fire during the early morning hours of last Wednesday. Crews were called to a home on the 39 hundred block of NW 20th Avenue a little after 6:30 and arrived to find some grass and brush burning, roughly the size of a tenth of an acre. Firefighters say it was mostly heavy fuels burning and it was beginning to threaten some homes nearby. Officials from Florida Power and Light (FPL) were called in to shut off power to the area so firefighters could work on getting the fire controlled, which they did in about an hour and a half. No one was hurt and no structures damaged. It’s under investigation.

Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) investigators are still looking for the person or people responsible for the death of an Immokalee man following an accident on the morning of January 3rd in Hendry County. FHP officers say 79 year old Eduardo Castillo was riding his bicycle west across the north and southbound lanes of State Road 29 near F Road in LaBelle at around eight o’clock when an unknown, southbound vehicle was traveling west on 29 at the same time. Investigators say the vehicle proceeded directly into the path of Castillo and collided with him at the entrance of the six thousand block of Route 29. The impact sent Castillo onto the hood of the unknown vehicle and he fell onto the road. The driver of the vehicle kept going. Castillo was pronounced dead on Friday after three weeks of treatment. If you have any information on the driver or the vehicle involved in this accident, please contact FHP as soon as possible.

On the arrest report:

21 year old Chastity Lorraine Harmon of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for driving on a suspended license. She was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

28 year old Lemiah Rydel McIntosh of Okeechobee was arrested for domestic battery and criminal mischief. She was released after posting a one thousand dollar bond.

35 year old Brandon Jerrod Williams of Okeechobee was arrested on a warrant from Orange County for failing to report as a sex offender. He’s being held without bond.

37 year old William Clayton Bass of Okeechobee was arrested for cruelty to animals. He was released after posting a $750 dollar bond.

28 year old Margarita Alicia Garcia of Okeechobee was arrested for domestic battery and criminal mischief. She was released after posting a one thousand dollar bond.

46 year old Sergio Contreras of Okeechobee was arrested for driving without a valid license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

21 year old Walker Adam Diehl of Okeechobee was arrested for violating a commission rule from Florida Fish and Wildlife. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

58 year old Deward Harden of Okeechobee was arrested for on charges of an abandoned vessel. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

40 year old Melvin Leon Brown of Okeechobee was arrested by police on charges of assault and intimidation. He was released after posting a $750 dollar bond.

54 year old Connie Sue Cox of Okeechobee was arrested for driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop. She was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.