News Cast 3/26

News Cast for March 26th:

This past Tuesday, officials from the 19th Judicial Circuit of Florida, serving Okeechobee and three other counties, announced that State Attorney Bruce Colton would not seek re-election next fall and will be retiring next January after nearly 35 years at the helm. Colton pondered this decision over the last few months and after talks with his chief assistant, decided this was the time. Colton, who’s worked for the State Attorney’s office for nearly 50 years, says he owes his longevity to the fact that he was in the right place at the right time, he’s grateful and he was blessed with excellent people working around him and under him that were skilled and dedicated.

  Colton, a Delaware native, moved to Florida in 1969 and attended law school at the University of Florida. He became the Assistant State Attorney in 1974 after two years as a public defender. He became State Attorney in 1985. Colton says he’s most proud of the specialized divisions that were created during his tenure that seek to investigate and prosecute different types of crimes, establishing a victim’s services division, deferred prosecution and sexual assault and victim assistance programs. Once retired, he’ll likely look at doing some volunteer work in Indian River County where he lives.

Okeechobee County Commissioners will have their regular meeting this morning and they will also have a briefing on the status of the Coronavirus in the county. As part of that briefing, commissioners will decide on a resolution to extend the local state of emergency which was enacted last week. As part of the regular agenda, commissioners will be looking to award a bid to an outside company for cleaning obstructions at the Okeechobee County Airport. The meeting will be held in the Historic County Courthouse beginning at nine o’clock and it’ll be streamed live on the commissioners’ website.

Please be advised that the meeting will have screening at the door and the County will be following the Department of Health and Governor’s protocol as it relates to social distancing and enforcing the limit on the number of people in the room.

Governor Ron DeSantis announced yesterday that he is issuing an Executive Order to require anyone that travels to Florida from New York to self-isolate for 14 days or for the duration of the individual’s presence in Florida, whichever is shorter. Violating this order is a second-degree misdemeanor and it’s punishable by imprisonment for up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500.

As of now, there are still no reported positive cases of the Coronavirus in Okeechobee County. The closest areas to Okeechobee that have cases of people who’ve tested positive are in Palm Beach, Martin, Highlands and Osceola Counties. Martin County has four cases, Highlands County now has five cases, Osceola has risen to 39 cases and Palm Beach has also risen to 141 cases. There are 1977 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state with 1867 of those being FL residents and the death toll is now at 23. Okeechobee is in a local state of emergency (LSE) as of last week and county officials have declared a Level 2 activation which is added personnel at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). All gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and other places where large gatherings can happen remain closed. School campuses remain closed until April 15th with online classes starting earlier this week. Restaurants are doing take-out orders and delivery only, with the exception of Brahma Bull Restaurant, Parrott Island Grill and Golden Corral which are closed at this time and not taking any orders. All bars, pubs and nightclubs also are also closed until further notice.

Raulerson Hospital remains on lockdown and they are not allowing any visitors to patients at this time.

As of yesterday, the Okeechobee County Administrator, administration offices and the election offices are closed to the general public until further notice. You can still reach those offices by calling (863) 763-6441 for the administrator’s office and (863) 763-4014 for the elections office. You can also reach these offices by email, fax or by US Mail. Please log on to www.co.okeechobee.fl.us and www.voteokeechobee.com respectively for more information on these two offices.

Other county closings announced include the tax collector’s office and that includes the drive-thru and lobbies. You can still reach them by phone for assistance at (863) 763-3421. Community Development Department is operating under normal business hours but lobby is not open. Planning and zoning is still available by phone during business hours. Contractor licensing may be submitted by US Mail or dropbox.

County department meetings such as licensing board, planning board and board of adjustments are cancelled until at least April 30th.

The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line is open from 8am to 5pm every Monday thru Saturday. This hotline will be manned by live personnel and callers can ask about county updates on the Coronavirus and what is being done. The hotline will not address questions about the virus itself or medical questions. The hotline related to county updates on the Coronavirus is (863) 763-3536. 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.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the virus at the County Health Department or at the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital. You cannot get tested for the virus at Lab Corp or Quest Diagnostics. Test results normally take three to seven days before they are released.

Drive thru testing centers are now open in Fort Pierce on the 15 hundred block of Delaware Avenue, Clewiston on the three hundred block of South W.C. Owen Avenue and Indiantown on the 15 thousand block of SW Warfield Blvd. A drive thru testing center will open in Okeechobee County on Monday.

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 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 floridahealth.gov or the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov.

A Lake Placid woman is dead after a vehicle accident Sunday afternoon in Highlands County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say 45 year old Rebecca Lee Barrett was driving a Mitsubishi Montero SUV southbound on Highway 27 near Lake Josephine Drive in Sebring shortly after 5:30 within the outside lane. For unknown reasons, Barrett drove off the road and onto the grass shoulder. She overcorrected, causing the SUV to rotate and enter the median paved turnaround portion of US 27 and overturned several times, causing her to be ejected from the vehicle. Medics declared Barrett dead at the scene. It remains under investigation.

On the arrest report:

57 year old Brian Anthony Guzowski of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for grand theft auto. His bond is set at a thousand dollars.

29 year old Ashley Brook Laliberte of Okeechobee was arrested for possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. Her bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.

40 year old Brandy Lee Yorke of Okeechobee was arrested for contempt of court during her hearing on past charges of trespassing and driving on a suspended license. She’s being held without bond.

25 year old Vonkeva Cleo Wells of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on undisclosed past charges. She’s being held without bond.

33 year old Kristie Lynn Brown of Okeechobee was arrested by police for possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, tampering with evidence, resisting an officer and driving on a suspended license without a prescription after a traffic stop. Her bond is set at $9750 dollars.

26 year old Johnathan Randall Jenkins of Okeechobee was arrested for loitering on someone’s property and resisting an officer. He was released after posting a $1250 dollar bond.