News Cast 7/23

News Cast for July 23rd:

Okeechobee County Commissioners will meet this morning an hour earlier than normal and they will be getting a progress report on the County Jail Expansion and Renovation project and they will also consider a land lease at Industrial Park for NexAir, a company that has been a part of the community since the 1980’s. Commissioners will also establish the millage rate for the 2020 tax year and hear from Emergency Management and the County Health Department on the status of the Coronavirus in the county. The meeting will begin at eight o’clock in the Historic County Courthouse. Seating is limited due to social distancing guidelines. The meeting will be streamed live on the commissioners’ website.

The Okeechobee County School Board will also be meeting tonight for the second time in as many weeks to further discuss the re-opening plan for county schools and they too will be discussing their millage rate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The meeting will be held in the Freshman Campus auditorium beginning at six o’clock and seating will be limited due to social distancing guidelines. The meeting can be viewed on the Zoom application. For information on viewing the meeting through Zoom, please contact the school board office. Questions for the meeting can be submitted before five o’clock today by sending them to

On the subject of re-opening schools in the county, during their last meeting on July 14th, the board passed a measure that will require students to wear masks at school facilities if they choose to return to school that way. The board discussed the issue for four hours before deciding on the motion. Board member Jill Holcomb made the motion and with the apparent help of adding in the condition that the issue will be re-examined after nine weeks as well as teachers’ pleas for the mandatory wearing of the masks, it passed by a three to two vote. Holcomb says she pushed for the motion because of the rising COVID-19 cases in the county and now with two deaths, she feels it’s her responsibility as a school board member to help create the safest environment for students and staff or she wouldn’t be doing her job.

Holcomb says the passing of the motion she pushed for was bittersweet in that she’s glad it passed and she can sleep better at night but bitter over the fact that schools cannot have any open house for students so they can see their friends and teachers and return to some kind of normalcy.

Okeechobee County is ever so close now to surpassing the seven century mark in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases in Okeechobee County is at 694 with two fatalities. 691 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 94 with the median age of the patients being 36. 64 county residents have been hospitalized. 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 yesterday morning, there are 379,619 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state since March and 374,920 of them are FL residents. The state’s death toll now stands at 5,345 with 22,243 people hospitalized.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the Coronavirus at CVS Pharmacy in Okeechobee, the Okeechobee County Health Department, the emergency room at Raulerson Hospital or by contacting Florida Community Health Centers at (863) 763-7481. You must meet certain criteria before you can be tested and you need to make an appointment. If you’re not sure if you fit the criteria to be tested, please call the county health department and they’ll let you know for sure. These testing sites are available on weekends. Wal-Mart is no longer doing their drive-thru testing program.

The Okeechobee County COVID-19 information line remains open from 8am to 5pm now every Tuesday thru Saturday. This number, which also doubles as the phone number of the County Library is 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 County Library phone number/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.

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 Sebring man is dead following a vehicle accident Saturday afternoon in Highlands County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the man, who was 34 years old, was driving a motorcycle west on Mike Kahn Road approaching Paradise Drive in Sebring shortly before five o’clock at the same time a sports utility vehicle (SUV) was approaching from the opposite direction. The SUV driver, a 23 year old Sebring woman, was making a left turn onto Paradise Drive when the motorcycle driver collided head on with the SUV. The impact ejected him from the bike and he ended up on the intersection. On-scene medics declared the man dead from his injuries. The SUV driver received only minor injuries. The accident is under investigation. Names of people involved in the accident are not being released to the public due to Marsy’s Law.

On the arrest report:

42 year old Earlene Hope De La Cruz Ochoa of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for two local capias warrants in connection with two battery charges. Her bond has not been set.

37 year old Russell Osceola Junior of Okeechobee was arrested for making a threat to kill someone in writing. His bond is set at $150 thousand dollars.

24 year old Ashley Nicole Ploof of Okeechobee was arrested for using someone else’s identification without their consent. She was released after posting a five thousand dollar bond.

51 year old Dawn Rene Usher of Okeechobee was arrested for failing to leave property after being told by the owner. Her bond is set at five hundred dollars.

41 year old Brent Anthony Pignataro of Okeechobee was arrested for burglary with assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill and battery. His bond is set at $26 thousand dollars.