News Cast 9/2

News Cast for September 2nd:

Narcotics officers from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department and Okeechobee City Police Department were very busy yesterday and it turned out to be a big success as no less than twenty people were arrested on numerous opioid-related crimes in the county. Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen says local narcotics officers and others from other agencies arrested local dope dealers from every subdivision in the county, which was the result of the narcotics division’s 18 to 24 months of hard work and surveillance and gathering evidence. Stephen says there will likely be more arrests throughout the week and into the weekend. As successful as this mission was, Stephen says it doesn’t solve the real problem; the system needs to be reformed to stop the unending cycle of past and present generations of drug traffickers and users but also future ones.

Stephen says it’s time that the state legislators make the needed changes in the laws to help stop opioid traffic not just in Okeechobee but throughout the state. The arrests made involved sales of crack cocaine, hydromorphone, fentanyl and methamphetamine. Members of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and other groups assisted county authorities in making these arrests.

The city of Okeechobee will soon be getting a new software system for all their departments. During their last meeting, the Okeechobee City Council gave the green light for Texas-based Tyler Technologies, Inc. to implement a new software system for the city’s Building Department, Payroll Department, Human Resources, Code Enforcement and more. Tyler Technologies Senior Account Executive Michael Lesher says Okeechobee’s current software system is outdated and has not been upgraded very much in the 25 years it’s been in place and Tyler Technologies is the leading vendor in this market because they continue to invest in their product sense.

The downside of this new system that Tyler Technologies will install for the city is that it will not go online for a year. While most city officials would consider that a deal-breaker, City Finance Director India Riedel says that never was a concern.

The system will cost the city about $120 thousand dollars and it will start to be installed sometime later this month.

Okeechobee County experienced a slight rise in their numbers of positive COVID-19 cases but once again thankfully no more fatalities, at least for the time being. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases in Okeechobee County is at 1,248 since March, still with 15 fatalities. 1,244 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 94 with the median age of the patients being 38. 129 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.

Also as of yesterday morning, there are 631,040 reported positive cases of the Coronavirus in the state since March and 624,116 of them are FL residents. Florida’s death toll now stands at 11,374 and there have been 38,859 people hospitalized.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested by appointment only for the Coronavirus at the County Health Department between the hours of eight o’clock in the morning and two o’clock in the afternoon. This is an oral swab test. The Florida Community Health Centers have a drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing site every Tuesday and Thursday from eight o’clock 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, otherwise please bring photo identification. Testing is free in both locations.

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

An Okeechobee man escaped with only minor injuries but an Orlando man was not so lucky following a vehicle accident Friday afternoon in Glades County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the Orlando man, who was 36 years old, was driving a sedan and heading northbound on County Road 721 north of State Route 78 in Moore Haven a little after one o’clock at the same time the Okeechobee man, who is 32 years old, was approaching from the opposite direction, driving a farm tractor. For unknown reasons, the man from Orlando crossed the center lines into the southbound traffic, right into the path of the Okeechobee man’s vehicle, causing a head on collision. The Orlando man was pronounced dead by on-scene medics. The Okeechobee man was treated at the scene for his injuries. The accident is now under investigation. Names of the people involved in the accident are not being released to the public due to Marsy’s Law.

On the arrest report:

30 year old Melissa Ann Carter of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on charges of battery and tampering with evidence. Her bond is set at four thousand dollars.

39 year old Joshua Sentell Henry of Okeechobee was arrested for drunk driving and possession of controlled substances without a prescription following a traffic stop and field sobriety test. His bond is set at nine thousand dollars.

50 year old Jeffrey Charles Riffey of Okeechobee was arrested for felony domestic battery by strangulation. His bond is set at five thousand dollars.

39 year old Edgar Ivan Vasquez Velasquez of Okeechobee was arrested by police for driving without a valid driver’s license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a five hundred dollar bond.

35 year old Loren William Johnston of Ocala was arrested on warrants from Manatee County for domestic battery and giving false identification to law enforcement. His bond is set for at least two thousand dollars.

19 year old Maurice E. Butler of Brunswick, GA was arrested for trespassing. He was released after posting a $25 hundred dollar bond.