News Cast 9/22

News Cast for September 22nd:

Last Friday, it was reported that six students from Central Elementary School were forced to transition to online learning at home for the next 14 days because of a positive COVID-19 test from one of the students and now the school was hit with more bad news in the form of more students being sent home for the same thing. Yesterday, Okeechobee County School Superintendent Ken Kenworthy says 43 more students were transitioned to online learning because another student who came to school last week tested positive for the virus and the 43 students were named as those who might have had contact with the infected student through tracing. Kenworthy says despite this news, there has not been any new precautions being taken when it comes to any kind of mitigation strategies at Central Elementary School.

With these new cases, plus the cases last month that forced 56 students from Okeechobee High School (OHS) and South Elementary School to be sent home and transitioned to online learning, there have been 105 Okeechobee County students sent home because of positive COVID-19 cases. Those 56 students from OHS and South Elementary have since physically returned to school.

Another year and another budget and millage rate has been made official. During their meeting last night, the Okeechobee City Council held their second and final public hearing on the proposed $4.34 million dollar budget and 7.6018 millage rate and both were officially and unanimously accepted by the councilmembers for the next fiscal year. City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca says he’s “relieved” that the budget and millage have been completed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. De Oca says it was somewhat difficult this year because of the need to make additional cuts but it was done with most city department heads realizing it was necessary. De Oca says they “cut some fat” out of the budget but also some meat in the form of capital projects.

Mayor Dowling Watford gave special thanks to the city staff, notably De Oca and City Budget Director India Riedel for their efforts in getting this budget finalized. It was over $3.5 million dollars less than last year.

Okeechobee County’s COVID-19 cases as of yesterday morning have increased once again and unfortunately the number of fatalities has also increased. Courtesy of the FL Department of Health, there are 1,464 positive cases of the Coronavirus since March and fatalities have risen by one, making it a total of 23. 1,461 people diagnosed with the virus are local residents and their ages range from zero to 94 with the median age of the patients being 39. 161 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. Overall, as of yesterday morning, there are 685,439 reported positive cases of the Coronavirus in the state since March and 677,362 of them are FL residents. Florida’s death toll stands at 13,317 and there have been 42,543 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 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, 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

A LaBelle man is dead following a vehicle accident early yesterday morning in Lee County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the man, who was 33 years old, was driving a sedan west on Palm Beach Boulevard, approaching the intersection of Pine Avenue in Olga a little after 5:30 at the same time a pickup truck was approaching from the opposite direction. The LaBelle man reportedly failed to maintain control of his vehicle on the wet roads, causing it to go onto the right side shoulder. He overcorrected to the left and the vehicle crossed the center lines and into the eastbound lanes where the rear of his car was hit by the front of the oncoming pickup truck. The impact sent both vehicles to the south grass shoulder of the road. On-scene medics transported the LaBelle man to a nearby medical facility where he was later pronounced dead. The pickup truck driver, a 47 year old man from Ft. Myers, was not injured. It remains under investigation. Names of the people involved in the accident are not releasable to the public due to Marsy’s Law.

On the arrest report:

26 year old Kasandra Lashawn Baker of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for violating probation on past charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She was released after posting a $25 hundred dollar bond.

18 year old Ty’Juan Antonio Lewis of Okeechobee was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill, discharging a firearm from a vehicle, improper exhibition of a firearm, grand theft auto, leaving the scene of an accident, fleeing and eluding law enforcement and obstruction. His bond is set at $67,500.00 dollars.

57 year old Geneva Guyton of Okeechobee was arrested for contempt of court on multiple past charges of battery. She’s being held without bond.

83 year old Gordon Lewis Bruens of Okeechobee was arrested for drunk driving after a traffic stop and field sobriety test. He was released after posting a five thousand dollar bond.

32 year old Sherri Lee Stephenson of Okeechobee was arrested on local capias warrants for charges of gross fraud and introducing contraband into a detention facility. Her bond is set at ten thousand dollars.

34 year old Matthew Allen McGee of Okeechobee was arrested on battery charges. He was released after posting a five thousand dollar bond.

47 year old Edward Presley Barsh Junior of Okeechobee was arrested for burglary and petit theft. His bond is set at ten thousand dollars.

36 year old John Ashford Hair of Okeechobee was arrested for violating a pretrial condition for release on a past domestic violence charge and tampering in a misdemeanor procedure. His bond is set at $70 thousand dollars.