News Cast 6/13

News Cast for June 13th:

A proposed lease between Okeechobee County and the South Florida Water Management District at the former Okeechobee school for boys has fallen through. 

The county commission wants the land back outright without any strings attached. 

County Administrator Deborah Manzo said the proposed lease gave nothing to the county but obligations and expenses. 

“The initial agreement did not allow us to use the property in any way, it was just to maintain it and it was into perpetuity.” 

The county will lobby the state cabinet to try and get the land back from the state. 

They’d like to use it for economic development purposes. 

The water management district wants to use 430 acres of the property for water storage. 

Commissioner Chairman Terry Burroughs said the other option is allowing a private party or developer to purchase the property and develop it. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission identified senior investigator Kyle Patterson as the victim in last weeks fatal crash in St. Lucie County. 

The 35 year old was survived by a wife and two young children.  He had worked for the agency for 15 years. 

In 2010 he received an award for saving a life.  He was also honored for his role in a sea turtle eggs trafficking case in 2020. 

He was also active with Future Farmers of America and the St. Lucie County Farm Bureau. 

The state will be sued by an inmate wrongfully convicted of murder, exonerated 32 years later. 

Thomas James was the wrong Thomas James sent to prison for a Miami Dade homicide. 

He spent the last year in prison at Okeechobee Correctional Institution. 

James said the financial compensation won’t pay him back for the years he lost. 

“I lost family, I lost friends, I was unable to pay my last respects to so many people that I held dear.  They went to their graves with me sitting in prison for 32 years for a crime that I didn’t commit.” 

James said he thought the first-degree murder charge was a mistake and a court mix up. 

“I just assumed they got my file mixed up with somebody else going to court on the same day, but that was not the case.” 

James said he is not angry and not bitter and still wants to pursue his dreams which at one point was to own a car wash business. 

His attorney Natalie Figgers said this is the lesson learned from this case.   

She said just because someone is in prison, doesn’t always mean they are guilty. 

She said early in the process she figured out he was innocent. 

“Everything he told me I was able to corroborate it with evidence.  At that point in the first week, I told myself, oh my God, he is actually innocent.  I was trying to get a way to present this before the right person so he would have the opportunity to be vindicated.” 

Highlands County is in the market for a new county administrator. 

Randy Vosburg resigned after four years of service. 

He returns to his native Virginia to be county manager in Stafford County. 

Commissioner Scott Kirouac said they need to act quickly to get the position filled. 

They expect to name a temporary county administrator on June 21.