Sheriff raises concerns about juvenile facility

Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel Stephen has made many phone calls to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice over the recent performance of the Everglades Youth Facility.

Stephen said they have calls for service on a regular basis for staff being battered, inmates being battered, and event riots.

“Over the time with me complaining with the secretary of DJJ. We only have one facility but I’m still calling on a monthly basis to the secretary complaining about the operations.”

Stephen said his deputies are often called to take control of the facility when juveniles inside fight, destroy property, and attack staff. He said that leaves the county with little coverage in other areas if all the deputies have to respond to this facility.

The facility made the news in January when 19-year-old Justice Reynolds escaped the facility after being transported to New Horizons and Lawnwood Regional Medical Center in Fort Pierce.

The county used to have six juvenile facilities but now has just this one.

The Education Foundation of Okeechobee provided $34,000 in classroom mini grants this year. They also provided $4,500 in school supplies.

Next year PNC bank has committed $35,000 for school needs.

Alaina Barron with the Foundation said they have been working with Okeechobee High school students to help them get the federal aid they need to attend college.

She noted the number of Okeechobee residents with college degrees has increased from 18 percent in 2019 to nearly 26 percent in 2023.

They also administered a $500,000 grant that hired instructors and created the new fire staff and public safety program with the county and Okeechobee High School.

Barron said the high school kids really have responded well to this new program.

“The sheriffs office sends me photos all the time. They have gone to competitions. The kids absolutely love it. And many have identified as the career they want. It emphasized our new goal of catalyst for change. We are really making changes in students lives.”

A truck crash claims a life near Palmdale late Sunday.

The Florida Highway Patrol said a truck tractor driven by a 65- year-old Immokalee man was north bound and didn’t see another truck driven by a 51-year-old Miami man slowing down for traffic near Shady Acres Lane.

The front of the truck slammed into the trailer of the second truck.

The driver died at the scene.

Glades County Commissioner Tony Whidden wants the county to put on this year’s ballot a fire tax referendum.

Whidden said he thinks the voters need to decide this issue once and for all.

“Let’s get it on the ballot and be done with it. Let the county (residents) have their say instead of going back to this thing every few years and have five decide the best position for the county. It would be a great opportunity to have the county as a whole speak on where they are at on it.”

Other issues on his radar include the county coming up with regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries and redoing the district boundaries for commission seats. He’d like them to be single-member district. This would mean voters inside the district would be the only ones voting for their commissioner, not the current system of county wide vote.

He said he’s concerned the north east corner of the county will have too much say in county matters once Lakefront Estates is developed.