News Cast for May 13th:

Expulsions up due to vapes

The Okeechobee School Board discussed their current drug policies after a rash of student expulsions this year.

Nicotine and vaping products are the main cause for the increase.

School officials said more students are coming forward to let administrators know.

Interim School Superintendent Dylan Tedders said students must get the message, don’t bring these things to campus.

“Communication between students and school officials are improving. We are not going and searching a lot of students that don’t have things. Unfortunately, the message is not out there yet that you need to keep this stuff off campus.”

Students on campus are not putting up with smoking and vaping on campus. They use the Fortifyfl app and report a kid is smoking or a kid has a vape, Tedders said.

The Small Business Development Center at Indian River State College said Okeechobee will continue to grow.

Job growth in our county was 2.7 percent in 2023 and the number of people employed rose from 58.6 percent to 61.2 percent of the workforce.

Katherine Culhane made a presentation to the Okeechobee Chamber of Commerce.

She said their agency helped small business a lot during COVID-19.

“There is so much commitment here to growth. A lender told me she has gotten two 504 commercial real estate loans to review. She told me she sees great potential in Okeechobee as a lender helping people get commercial real estate and expanding businesses.

The top three industries in Okeechobee were services to buildings and dwellings, restaurants and animal production.

The largest employers included the Seminole Tribe of Florida, various governments like the school board, county, and city, HA Raulerson Hospital, Walmart and Next Era Energy.

The Rivers Coalition heard a presentation on a possible 2026 ballot initiative to give Floridians the right to clean and health waters.

Joseph Bonasia with the Florida rights of nature network said courts have often ruled against citizens and the rights of nature.

If passed this would allow the public to sue state officials but they must have evidence of poor water policy.

“If our state agencies are going to allow harm to our waters, they must have a compelling state interest for doing that. Something that is more important than clean and healthy waters mean to the health and public interest of all Floridians.”

He said things like Lake Okeechobee releases could be litigated in court if this is approved by 60 percent of the voters.

“Water releases from Lake Okeechobee give us a cause of action. They harm waters here and waters in SW Florida. That would be a violation of the amendment. We would have the legal standing to take state agencies to court.”

An 89-month prison sentence handed down against Aaron Locklear.

He will also pay some $53,000 in fines and court costs.

He pled no contest to five felony cases that included trafficking methamphetamines and pain pills.

Three times there was controlled purchases of drugs by informants from this suspect involving the Okeechobee Narcotics Task Force.

A traffic stop also netted pills, methamphetamines, cocaine and suspected drug cash from the suspect.

Locklear was also charged with battering an inmate at the county jail while in custody.

Wildfires continued to keep St. Lucie County firemen and the Florida Forest Service busy this weekend.

The Bluefield fire grew to 275 acres but remained contained south of state road 70.

Another wildfire broke out near the St. Lucie County Fairgrounds on Okeechobee at Peacock Street.

The fire district reported no injuries and no damage to structures. They did report that four pieces of heavy machinery were damaged.

The Martin County Sheriff’s Helicopter was deployed to help capture a suspect car burglary in Indiantown.

Deputies report a rash of auto burglaries in the Booker Park community in recent weeks.

The helicopter spotted a suspect late at night moving from several parked cars on SW Magnolia Street.

Mateo Rodriguez, 27, is facing several charges.