News Cast 9/4

Recently, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated funding for small businesses in the county and that same CARES Act is now addressing the issue of housing relief. Joy Jarriel, the coordinator of Okeechobee County’s State Housing Initiatives Program (SHIP), says the county received a little over $240 thousand dollars late last month to address the needs of county residents who need help with foreclosure and eviction prevention brought about by a lack of income from under-employment or flat out unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jarriel says income-eligible people can apply for these funds and the amount received is based on individual cases. Besides foreclosure and eviction prevention, the funding is also designed to address re-housing assistance.

Jarriel says applicants must have proper identification from all who live in the home as well as other documents such as tax forms. The funding will be administered until it’s all gone or until December 1st whichever comes first. This program also applies to mortgage issues. To apply for the funding, please call the SHIP Coordinator’s office at (863) 763-9312, extension 6 or email

The month of September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in the United States and the city of Okeechobee is following suit. Last night, Okeechobee City Councilmembers unanimously approved the proclamation at their meeting. Lisa Reimer of New Horizons of the Treasure Coast says this is the time to help those who are suicidal or thinking about suicide and spread the word about preventing suicide. Reimer says the two biggest obstacles of suicidal people not seeking help are accessibility to help and stigma.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of ten and 34 and there were eight reported suicides in Okeechobee County in 2019. There are a reported 123 suicides per day in the United States and one every 12 minutes. For more information on this issue or to contact New Horizons, please log on to

Okeechobee County once again experienced a bit of a rise in their numbers of positive COVID-19 cases but thankfully no change in the number of fatalities. As of yesterday morning, courtesy of the Florida Department of Health, the number of positive cases in Okeechobee County rose to 1,267 since March, and the number of fatalities remains at 19. 1,263 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. 134 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 637,013 reported positive cases of the Coronavirus in the state since March and 629,913 of them are FL residents. Florida’s death toll now stands at 11,650 and there have been 39,428 people hospitalized.

Okeechobee County Commissioners renewed the local state of emergency during their COVID-19 status meeting yesterday for another seven days. It went into effect this morning.

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

A Stuart man is dead following a vehicle accident a week ago Sunday evening in Martin County. Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) officers say the man, who was 65 years old, was driving a sports utility vehicle (SUV) east on SE Cove Road near SE Ault Avenue in Stuart a little before 5:30 when he made an improper lane change and traveled right into the path of an oncoming pickup truck, causing a head on collision. The impact caused the pickup truck to overturn and end up on its roof on the grass shoulder while the SUV ended up between both westbound and eastbound lanes. The Stuart area man was pronounced dead at the scene by medics, while the pickup truck driver, a 25 year old man from Palm Beach Gardens, was taken to an area hospital for treatment of serious injuries. The accident is being investigated. Names of people involved in the accident are not releasable to the public due to Marsy’s Law.

On the arrest report:

49 year old William R. Kyles of Okeechobee was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on two counts of possession of heroin with intent to sell in a specific area. His bond is set at $160 thousand dollars.

32 year old Sherri Lee Stephenson of Okeechobee was arrested for dealing in stolen property, leasing property with intent to defraud, defrauding someone over the age of 65, possession of a firearm, resisting arrest and providing a false name to law enforcement. Her bond is set at $55 hundred dollars.

41 year old Manuel Flores of Okeechobee was arrested for possession of oxycodone without a prescription with intent to sell it within a thousand feet of a church. His bond is set at $40 thousand dollars.

42 year old Latrisha Lee Hunt of Okeechobee was arrested for violating probation on undisclosed past charges and contempt of court. She’s being held without bond.

27 year old Nathan Robert Gopher of Okeechobee was arrested for drunk driving after a traffic stop and field sobriety test. His bond is set at five hundred dollars.

50 year old John Henry Walker Junior of Okeechobee was arrested for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. His bond is set at $70 thousand dollars.

26 year old Thomas Andrew Seals of Okeechobee was arrested by police for driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop. He was released after posting a $750 dollar bond.

28 year old Stephen Garcia of Okeechobee was arrested for driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop and on a local warrant for discharging a firearm in a residential area. His bond is set at $1250.00 dollars.

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