News Cast 7/24

News Cast for July 24th:

Friday, July 24th News (AM) 1st Version

Right now is the time to start thinking about the pending start of school, and schoolchildren will need not only supplies but a bag to carry them in. With that, Round Room, LLC, the nation’s largest Verizon Authorized Wireless retailer, announced this week that all TC and Wireless Zone stores will be donating 140 thousand supply-filled backpacks to schoolchildren in need of them as part of the annual School Rocks Backpack giveaway. Okeechobee’s Wireless Zone will be one of the participants in this event when it takes place on Sunday. Jeff Zarrella, the owner of Okeechobee Wireless Zone says this is a way to give back to the community and actually he and his store got started participating in this program five years ago before his store was taken over by Round Room, LLC. Zarrella stresses however that this is not an opportunity for Okeechobee Wireless Zone to be looking for new customers.

  Okeechobee Wireless Zone will be donating 150 backpacks as part of this event. Backpacks will be given to those in need and it’s on a first come, first serve basis. Zarrella says this has been a great project as both he and his family get involved. It will be held at the Okeechobee Wireless Zone on the 21 hundred block of Parrott Avenue, beginning at one o’clock.

Over the last week and a half, the Okeechobee County Commissioners have been in session listening to budget presentations from county department heads and that has led into yesterday’s regular meeting where they established their tentative millage rate for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. The commissioners chose to set their millage rate at eight mills for this fiscal year even though the budget is balanced at 7.8 mills. One mill is equal to about a dollar in taxes for every one thousand dollars of taxable property. Commissioner Kelly Owens says that two tenths of a mill amounts to about a half million dollar “cushion” but she doesn’t believe it will be necessary for the county to go to eight mills because she says of the budget presented to the commissioners. Owens says the budgeted reserves amount to about $40 million dollars and that will help if the need for emergencies arise.

Owens says the millage rate could very well go down by the time they decide the final millage rate and it’s always best to set it high because the county can bring it down if possible but they cannot raise it higher. Commissioners did agree to raise the fire assessment residential rate to just over $113 dollars per year. Emergency medical services also went up to just over $106 dollars a year.

Okeechobee County has not only surpassed the seven hundred mark in the number of positive COVID-19 cases, they’re not that far from the eight hundred mark. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases in Okeechobee County is at 770 with two fatalities. 767 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 389,868 reported cases of people who have tested positive for the Coronavirus in the state since March and 385,091 of them are FL residents. The state’s death toll now stands at 5,518 with 22,644 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.

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 LaBelle man is facing charges in the death of another LaBelle man in connection with an accident that occurred early yesterday morning in Lee County, an accident which also injured four other people. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say 33 year old Tomas Cruz-Gomez was driving a sports utility vehicle (SUV) southbound on I-75 near the 126 mile marker in Fort Myers at around 6:30 when for unknown reasons he veered off the road to the right, causing the SUV to overturn several times and end up on the grass shoulder. FHP officers say Cruz-Gomez’s front seat passenger, a 35 year old man, was killed instantly. The four other passengers, all men ages 29 thru 40, and all from LaBelle, received serious to minor injuries and were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Cruz-Gomez meanwhile was treated for minor injuries at a local hospital and then taken into custody by Lee County Sheriff’s deputies on charges of driving without a driver’s license causing death. The accident is under investigation. The names of the others involved in the accident are being withheld due to Marsy’s Law. The accident closed down two southbound lanes of I-75 for nearly five hours. Officials say Cruz-Gomez was also being held on a Hendry County warrant for violating probation on past charges of driving under the influence of alcohol. He’s currently being held in Lee County Jail without bond. He’ll be arraigned on August 24th.

On the arrest report:

42 year old John Patrick Nutter of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for grand theft and passing counterfeit bills. His bond is set at ten thousand dollars.

37 year old Russell Osceola Junior of Okeechobee was arrested for contempt of court and trespassing. His bond is set at six thousand dollars.

26 year old Morgan Scott Tibbett of Okeechobee was arrested for robbery by sudden snatching, petit theft and battery. His bond is set at $35 hundred dollars.

43 year old Randy Torres of Okeechobee was arrested by police for battery by strangulation during a domestic dispute. His bond is set at $25 hundred dollars.