News Cast 9/9

News Cast for September 9th:

As with the start of every new school year in Okeechobee County, the budget for this fiscal year was discussed and it has been approved. Last night, the Okeechobee County School Board held a public meeting to decide on accepting their budget of $88.4 million dollars and they unanimously accepted it with no comment from the public. County School Superintendent Ken Kenworthy says it’s been a difficult budget year not just in Okeechobee but across the state, with the lack of tourism revenue due to COVID-19 and revenues generated mostly by sales tax and that will play a part in next year’s budget being a problem.

Despite that, Kenworthy says Okeechobee has a decent fund balance to work with thanks to fewer expenses from last spring’s COVID-19 pandemic-induced shutdown and ad valorem taxes increasing during the year and the unexpected windfall this year from the opening of the Florida Power and Light (FPL) power plant in the north end of the county. This year’s budget of $88.4 million dollars was almost eleven million dollars higher than last year. The millage rate of 5.92 mills was also unanimously approved by the school board.

Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department officials are asking the public’s help regarding a pair of stolen RV’s. Sheriff’s investigators say the first one is a 2017 Heartland Prowler Lynx, model 30LX, with a 33 foot travel trailer and bumper pull. It has a FL tag of CJH3378. The other is a 2011 LaCrosse, model 318 BHS Luxury Lite with a 35.5 foot travel trailer and bumper pull. It has a FL tag of IVDY25. Both trailers were believed to be stolen sometime between August 25th and September 2nd from the 62 hundred block of Highway 710. If you have any information on these two stolen RV’s, please contact the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Department as soon as possible. If you’d like to remain anonymous, you can call the Treasure Coast Crime Stoppers at 1-800-273-8477.

Once again there was a rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases for Okeechobee County to report but fortunately the number of fatalities remains unchanged 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 1,288 since March, and the number of fatalities is holding steady at an even twenty. 1,284 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. 140 county residents have been hospitalized. Remember, Tiffany Collins of the County Health Department says those who have tested positive are being cooperative with the county and their health providers and going through routine contact tracing. Collins says the health department will continue to focus on contact tracing investigations of those that are hospitalized with the virus and they will be doing what she calls “texting monitoring”.

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 in Hendry County, they have crossed the two thousand mark in the number of positive COVID-19 cases as there are now 2,003 reported positive cases since March and like Okeechobee, the number of deaths has not changed as they are still at 39 fatalities. 2,001 people are local residents. The ages of those affected range from zero to 101 with the median age of the patients being 37. A total of 177 Hendry County residents have been hospitalized. Overall, there are 650,092 reported positive cases of the Coronavirus in the state since March and 642,775 of them are FL residents. Florida’s death toll now stands at 11,915 and there have been 40,195 people hospitalized.

Okeechobee County residents can be tested for the Coronavirus by appointment only 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 floridahealth.gov or the Center for Disease Control at cdc.gov.

One man is dead and several others seriously injured following an accident involving three vehicles Saturday night in St. Lucie County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say an unidentified man was driving a sedan east on SE Walton Road near SE Rainier Road in Port St. Lucie at around 11 o’clock when for unknown reasons, he drove over the center line and collided with an oncoming sport utility vehicle (SUV) and a pickup truck. FHP officers say the driver of the sedan was pronounced dead at the scene by medics and his three passengers, one of them a 24 year old Okeechobee man, were seriously injured. The driver of the SUV, a 33 year old Ft. Pierce man was seriously injured and the pickup truck driver, a 29 year old Port St. Lucie man, also received serious injuries. All were taken to area hospitals for treatment. Names of the people involved in the accident are not being released to the public due to Marsy’s Law. It remains under investigation.

On the arrest report:

36 year old John Ashford Hair of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies for committing domestic battery by strangulation. His bond is set at five thousand dollars.

26 year old Victoria Katherine Jones of Okeechobee was arrested on battery and criminal mischief charges. She was released after posting a $15 hundred dollar bond.

42 year old Charles Chester Booker, Junior of Okeechobee was arrested for battery and possession of oxycodone without a prescription. His bond is set at $2750.00 dollars.

56 year old Gregory James Spencer of Okeechobee was arrested for resisting arrest. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

32 year old Shane Michael Mester of Okeechobee was arrested for trespassing. His bond is set at $250 dollars.

34 year old Desiree Nicole Paulus of Okeechobee was arrested by police on burglary charges. Her bond is set at twenty thousand dollars.

43 year old April Renee Selph of Okeechobee was arrested for simple assault and battery during a domestic dispute. She was released after posting a $25 hundred dollar bond.

28 year old Nicole LaTaye Futch of Okeechobee was arrested on a local warrant for violating probation on past charges of marijuana possession. She’s being held without bond.

31 year old Mario Noe Juarez Pablo of Indiantown was arrested for drunk driving following a traffic stop and field sobriety test. He was released after posting a $750.00 dollar bond.