News Cast 12/28

News Cast for Deccember 28th:

You now have four days, just four more days to apply for funding for housing relief in Okeechobee County. Joy Jarriel, the coordinator of Okeechobee County’s State Housing Initiatives Program (SHIP), says you have until the end of the week to apply for the remaining thirty thousand dollars in CARES Act funding to address foreclosure and eviction prevention brought about by a lack of income from under-employment or flat out unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jarriel says income-eligible people can apply for these funds and the amount received is based on individual cases. Besides foreclosure and eviction prevention, the funding is also designed to address re-housing assistance.

Jarriel says applicants must have proper identification from all who live in the home as well as other documents such as tax forms. To apply for the funding, please call the SHIP Coordinator’s office at (863) 763-9312, extension 6 or email Jarriel at Remember, this new funding will be available only through New Year’s Eve. After that, no more funding will be available.

Okeechobee County Commissioners recently got a visit from officials of Tampa-based Agua-Culture, who presented a pilot program to the commissioners designed to remove the invasive algae and sludge in Lake Okeechobee which results from the quick-growing plants that absorb nutrients from the water. These plants are later sprayed with chemical herbicides, causing the plants to fall and sink to the bottom leading to the sludge and algae. Nick Szabo, owner of Agua-Culture, says this project would harvest all the algae and sludge into a liquid that would replace the lost nutrients. It’s done through a combination of an aquatic harvester, reels and pumps. Szabo says several neighboring counties such as Collier, Glades and Highlands are asking that this project be done for them because it’s a problem everywhere.

After the presentation, Okeechobee County Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt a resolution to participate in this project. Szabo says a result of this project is the creation of hay, something apparently badly needed across other states and quite valuable.

On the subject of COVID-19 in Okeechobee County on Christmas Eve, it was once again good news and bad news as the number of positive cases rose once again, this time by ten, that’s the bad news. The good news is the number of fatalities once again remained steady. As of Christmas Eve, courtesy of the FL Department of Health, Okeechobee County has 2,308 recorded positive cases of the Coronavirus since March and fatalities remain at fifty. 2,290 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from infant to one hundred with the median age of the patients being forty. 232 county residents have been hospitalized as that figure rose by one. Those who have tested positive are being cooperative with the county and their health providers and going through routine contact tracing. Along with fever, coughing and shortness of breath, other COVID-19 symptoms to watch out for include chills, muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat and a sudden loss of sense of smell or sense of taste.

As of Christmas Eve, officials from the state health department have reported 1,247,546 positive COVID-19 cases since March and 1,226,530 of those are FL residents. Florida’s death toll now stands at 20,995 with 61,100 people hospitalized since March.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested, by appointment only, for the Coronavirus at the County Health Department between the hours of eight and four every Monday thru Thursday and eight to two on Fridays. This is an oral swab test. The Florida Community Health Centers have a drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing site available every Tuesday and Thursday from eight o’clock in the morning until noon at the former Okeechobee Surgery Center located at 1655 Highway 441 North. No appointment is necessary and you don’t need insurance, but if you have it, please bring your insurance card, or just bring photo identification. Testing is free in both locations.

If you have any questions related to the virus itself, please call the Okeechobee Health Department at (863) 462-5800 or the 24/7 Department of Health hotline at (866) 779-6121. . The local health department offers COVID-19 testing every Monday thru Friday for first responders and for those who have symptoms.

Remember, the key to avoiding the Coronavirus is good personal hygiene. Washing your hands for at least 20-30 seconds with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol in it is recommended. Avoid touching your eyes or face with unwashed hands. Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from someone when greeting them and not shaking any hands. Avoid shopping at peak hours and use delivery services instead.  Avoid places where there are 10 people or more.

If you need further information about the virus and recommendations for preventing it, please log on to the Department of Health at or the Center for Disease Control at

A Fort Pierce man is dead following a vehicle accident last Monday afternoon in St. Lucie County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the man, who was 88 years old, was driving a sedan south on Emerson Avenue in Port St. Lucie shortly before 4:30. At the same time, the driver of a tractor trailer was traveling ahead of the Fort Pierce man’s vehicle. According to FHP officers, as the truck driver was attempting to make a wide right turn onto a private driveway, the Fort Pierce man was not able to slow down in time and his vehicle rear-ended the truck. On-scene medics declared the Fort Pierce man dead from his injuries. The truck driver, a 55 year old Vero Beach man, was not injured in the accident. It’s under investigation. Names of the people involved in the accident are not being released by FHP due to Marsy’s Law.

On the arrest report:

37 year old William Jeffrey Bennett of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of grand theft. His bond is set at $75 hundred dollars.

30 year old Tiffany Michelle Brothers of Okeechobee was arrested for possession of over 14 grams of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Her bond is set at $100,500.00 dollars.

21 year old Keontae Darius Rozier of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on charges of battery by a detainee. He’s being held without bond.

40 year old Brian Lee Rucks of Okeechobee was arrested for obstructing law enforcement without violence. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond. 21 year old Devin Stephan Small of Palatka was arrested on two counts of violating probation for past charges of battery on detention staff. He’s being held without bond