Saturday, January 30, 2010

Clewiston's Martin Richer By $50,000

Scott Martin Wins $50,000 In FLW Fishing Tournament

OKEECHOBEE, Fl -– Fishing pro Scott Martin of Clewiston caught a five-bass limit weighing 20 pounds, 3 ounces Saturday to win $50,000 in the FLW Series Eastern Division tournament on Lake Okeechobee with a four-day catch of 20 bass weighing 71-9.

The catch gave him the win by a 2-pound, 3-ounce margin over John Cox of Debary, Fla., who caught a total of 20 bass weighing 69-6 and earned $20,000.

"I'm about to cry after this one,'' said Martin, who has won more than $1 million in FLW Outdoors events. ''It's an amazing feeling. I've lived here my whole life and I fished my first FLW tournament here and I've been fairly successful here and been in the top 10 a few times. But to win one and keep it here on the lake is awesome. For the city of Okeechobee and the city of Clewiston and all the communities around the lake … it's unbelievable.''

Martin said he returned to the area he fished all week and again had it to himself. He said he slowed down and picked the area apart and relied on GPS to cover different trails through grass than he fished the previous three days. Martin said he retrieved the baits steadily on the surface in heavily matted areas.

Florida Community Bank Owe You Money?

Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Tells How To Make Claims

LABELLE, FL. -- Following the closure of the 11 Florida Community Bank branches in LaBelle, Immokalee and Lee county, the FDIC offers guidance on how to make claims. The FDIC say if you or your company provided a service or product, leased space, furniture, or equipment to Florida Community Bank prior to Friday, January 29, 2010 and have not been paid, you may be entitled to a claim against the bank.

If you provided a product to or a service for Florida Community Bank prior to the bank's failure for which you have not been paid and you have not received communication, please contact:

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
Receiver: Florida Community Bank
7777 Baymeadows Way West
Jacksonville, FL 32256
Attention: Claims Agent

Share holders may have questions as well and the FDIC says all shares of Florida Community Bank were owned by its holding company, Florida Community Banks, Inc., Immokalee, Florida. The holding company was not included in the closing of the bank or the resulting receivership. The FDIC says If you are a shareholder of Florida Community Banks, Inc., do not contact or file a claim with the Receiver. You may contact Florida Community Banks, Inc. directly for information as follows:

Florida Community Banks, Inc.
1400 North 15th Street
Immolakee, Florida

Friday, January 29, 2010

Florida Community Bank Closed

Hendry County Bank Closed After Years Of Problems - Cost Government  $353 Million

LABELLE, FL. -- Florida Community Bank, Immokalee, Florida, was closed today by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, which appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) as receiver. To protect the depositors, the FDIC entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with Premier American Bank, National Association, Miami, Florida, to assume all of the deposits of Florida Community Bank.

The 11 branches of Florida Community Bank will reopen during normal business hours as branches of Premier American Bank, N.A., but will continue to conduct business under the name Florida Community Bank. Depositors of Florida Community Bank will automatically become depositors of Premier American Bank, N.A.

Deposits will continue to be insured by the FDIC, so there is no need for customers to change their banking relationship to retain their deposit insurance coverage. Customers should continue to use their existing branch until they receive notice from Premier American Bank, N.A. that it has completed systems changes to allow other Premier American Bank, N.A. branches to process their accounts as well.

Friday night and over the weekend, depositors of Florida Community Bank can access their money by writing checks or using ATM or debit cards. Checks drawn on the bank will continue to be processed. Loan customers should continue to make their payments as usual.

As of September 30, 2009, Florida Community Bank had approximately $875.5 million in total assets and $795.5 million in total deposits. Premier American Bank, N.A. will pay the FDIC a premium of 0.4 percent to assume all of the deposits of Florida Community Bank. In addition to assuming all of the deposits of the failed bank, Premier American Bank, N.A. agreed to purchase approximately $499.1 million of the failed bank�s assets. The FDIC will retain the remaining assets for later disposition.

The FDIC and Premier American Bank, N.A. entered into a loss-share transaction on $305.4 million of Florida Community Bank's assets. Premier American Bank, N.A. will share in the losses on the asset pools covered under the loss-share agreement. The loss-share transaction is projected to maximize returns on the assets covered by keeping them in the private sector. The transaction also is expected to minimize disruptions for loan customers. For more information on loss share, please visit:

Customers who have questions about today's transaction can call the FDIC toll-free at 1-800-523-8275. The phone number will be operational Friday evening until 9:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time (EST); on Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., EST; on Sunday from noon to 6:00 p.m., EST; and thereafter from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., EST. Interested parties also can visit the FDIC's Web site at

As part of this transaction, the FDIC will acquire an equity appreciation instrument. This instrument serves as additional consideration for the transaction.

The FDIC estimates that the cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) will be $352.6 million. Premier American Bank, N.A.'s acquisition of all the deposits was the "least costly" resolution for the FDIC's DIF compared to all alternatives. Florida Community Bank is the 11th FDIC-insured institution to fail in the nation this year, and the second in Florida. The last FDIC-insured institution closed in the state was Premier American Bank, Miami, on January 22, 2010.

Previous Sunday Morning News stories on Florida Community Bank:

LaBelle Dodge Owner Paying Back Wages

Plattner Auto Dealerships Violated Fair Labor Standards

LABELLE, FL. -- Plattner Automotive Group has agreed to pay $71,129 in back wages to employees following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, which determined that the company violated provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

The Sarasota, Fla.-based company, owned by Douglas Plattner operates 11 automotive dealerships in the state. The 61 employees owed back wages worked at the company's Arcadia Chevrolet, Tarpon Springs Preowned Superstore and Venice Preowned Superstore dealerships between August 2007 and August 2009. Plattner also owns the LaBelle Dodge Chrysler Jeep dealership which was not affected by this particular investigation.

"Employers are obligated to follow minimum wage and overtime rules under the FLSA, and the Wage and Hour Division is working hard to ensure that all employees receive their pay according to federal law," said James Schmidt, the division's district director in Tampa.

The division determined that the employer paid workers the required minimum wage for a set number of hours, which proved to be less than the hours actually worked. In addition, hourly employees worked more than 40 hours in a workweek without receiving any overtime premium.

FLSA requires covered, nonexempt employees to be paid at least the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour for all hours worked. The FLSA also requires that workers be paid time and one-half their regular rates of pay for hours worked over 40 in a single workweek, and employers must maintain accurate time and payroll records.

An overtime exemption does exist for any salesman, partsman or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles or trucks, if the person is employed by a nonmanufacturing establishment primarily engaged in the business of selling such vehicles or implements to ultimate purchasers.

Typically, salespersons in a retail store are not entitled to an overtime premium. However, in order to qualify for the exemption, the following requirements must be met: (1) the employer must be a retail store, with 75% of the annual sales being retail sales; (2) the employee's regular rate of pay must exceed one and one-half times the applicable minimum wage for every hour worked; and (3) more than half of the employee's compensation must be in the form of commissions. If all of these requirements are not met, then the employer does not qualify for the retail sales exemption and an overtime premium must be paid for all hours worked over forty per week.

This investigation was conducted by the Wage and Hour Division's Tampa District Office, 4905 West Laurel St., Suite 300; telephone 813-288-1242. For more information about the FLSA, call the division's toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243). Information is also available on the Internet at

Previous Story - Plattner Dealership Sued By State

13 LaBelle Homes Sold In Last Week

Sales Moving Out Of Port LaBelle?

LABELLE, FL. -- In recent recordings of home sales in the LaBelle area, a good percentage of sales were in the Port LaBelle area, Hendry county's largest subdivision. This last week however, more homes than usual were sold in the surrounding areas of Hendry county and in the city of LaBelle.

In the week of January 19 to January 26 there were 13 homes sold in the LaBelle area for an average price of $120,769.

The real estate sold this week included:

1) $50,000 on Case Rd
2) $550,000 on County Road 78
3) $60,000 on Fort Simmons Ave
4) $110,000 on Grove Cir (Port LaBelle)
5) $67,000 on Keystone Cir
6) $90,000 on Kirby Thompson Rd
7) $60,000 on Montrose Ln
8) $163,000 on Oklahoma Ave
9) $165,000 on Pine St
10) $54,000 on Rainbow Cir (Port LaBelle)
11) $45,000 on Tide Cir (Port LaBelle)
12) $65,000 on Van Ct (Port LaBelle)
13) $91,000 on N Oak St

Thursday, January 28, 2010

LaBelle's Log Cabin Bar-B-Q - 6 Food Safety Issues

Six Critical Food Safety Violations At Log Cabin Restaurant

LABELLE, FL. -- The new owners of LaBelle's Log Cabin Bar-B-Q found the restaurant had six critical food safety violation in it's most recent inspection by a state restaurant inspector. Although the Hendry county eatery met inspection standards and can remain open, the owners were notified of items including soiled gaskets and no employee food training was provided.

The department cites violations of Florida's sanitation and safety laws, which are based on the standards of U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Food Code. In general, critical violations are those that, if not corrected, are more likely to contribute directly to food contamination, illness or environmental damage.

Although the industry-standard term "critical" is used, varying degrees of severity and potential risk to the public require inspectors to assess each situation in determining the appropriate action. In addition, while an establishment may have multiple violations, the inspectors' training and judgment formulate the overall result of the inspection to ensure the public health and safety.

A summary of the violations found during the inspection of the Log Cabin Bar-B-Q are listed below.

02-13-2     Critical. Required consumer advisory for raw/undercooked animal food not provided.
22-17-1    Critical. Observed soiled reach-in cooler gaskets.
32-04-1    Critical. Bathroom not enclosed with tight-fitting, self-closing doors.
32-08-1    Critical. No waste receptacle provided at hand wash lavatory with disposable towels.
32-16-1    Critical. Hand wash sink lacking proper hand drying provisions.
53B-08-1    Critical. No proof of required employee training provided. All public food service establishments must provide the division with proof of employee training upon request, including, but not limited to, at the time of any division inspection of the establishment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hendry-Glades Farmers Hurt Bad By Freeze

SW Florida Vegetable Farmworker Income Down $23.6 Million After Freeze

LABELLE, FL. -- The freeze that decimated thousands of acres of vegetable crops throughout southwest Florida earlier this month also had an enormous effect on farm labor income, costing field workers an estimated $23.6 million-plus, according to Dr. Fritz Roka, an associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Florida (UF)/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee (SWFREC).

"This figure includes labor income losses for seasonal and migrant farmworkers," Roka explains.  "These workers are employed on a day-to-day basis, and if the crop is gone, they have no work."

The estimate of income losses was compiled by Roka in conjunction with Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton, assistant professor of vegetable horticulture at the SWFREC, and Gene McAvoy, director and regional vegetable specialist at the UF/IFAS Hendry County Cooperative Extension Service in LaBelle.  The report indicates that of roughly 52,600 acres of vegetable farm land in the five-county area of Lee, Collier, Hendry, Glades, and Charlotte counties, 16,670 have been lost to the freeze.  Affected crops include bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, squash, bush beans, tomatoes, and sweet corn.

The total value of pre-harvest crop losses to the freeze is estimated to be more than $147 million.  The implications of the freeze to farmworker income are estimated on the basis of lost opportunity to harvest and pack the affected vegetable crops. 

"What we�ve heard is that most of the damaged acreage was at the beginning of the harvest stage," Roka says.  "All of the labor income to grow the crop had already been paid to the workers.  Plus, workers will still be paid for any cleanup work that needs to be done.  So, the $23.6 million-plus figure represents solely what would have been paid to workers to harvest and pack the crops.  That�s a major loss to the workers."

The loss of farmworker income will have a dampening economic impact on local communities in southwest Florida, such as Immokalee and LaBelle, which house a significant portion of the seasonal and migrant farmworker population. The lost income means that workers have less to spend in local businesses.

If the impact of a damaging freeze forces many farmworkers to move out of the area to seek work elsewhere, growers who choose to replant their crops or plan to harvest spring crops in March and April may run the risk of a farmworker shortage at harvest time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

LaBelle Man Crashes In Lee County

Hits Tree And Unoccupied Truck

LABELLE, FL. -- Tony L. Tolar, 45 of LaBelle was seriously injured and flown by helicopter to Lee Memorial Hospital after a crash on State Road 80 near Buckingham Road in Lee County at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

His 2003 Chevy Tahoe was traveling west on SR 80 and for unknown reasons, veered left and crossed the grass median and westbound lanes. Tolar entered the ditch, crashed through a wooden fence and struck an oak tree. Then it entered the parking lot of a fruit & vegetable stand located at 15500 Palm Beach Blvd and collided into a parked vehicle that was unoccupied.

The owner of the food stand was the owner a 2001 Dodge pickup truch that was parked. The truck suffered $20,000 in damages according to the crash report. Tolar was air lifted from the scene by Med Flight and taken to Lee Memorial Hospital.

Citizen's Police Academy II Begins

First Class To Graduate 30 In February

LABELLE, FL. - Hendry Sheriff Steve Whidden will soon begin a second Sheriff's Citizen�s Academy and is accepting applications at this time. 
"The response and involvement with current students has been great," says Lt. Susan Harrelle. "This class will soon be graduating approximately 30 students in February and we are excited about the response that we have received from those involved." 
The Sheriff's Academy is a 14 week program with each session lasting about two hours long.  This instruction provides its participants with the latest trends and procedures in law enforcement as well as the duties and responsibilities of the various departments.  The participants will spend a day at the firing range learning firearm safety and firing weapons as well. 
The Citizen's Academy is great for anyone over the age of 18 and it�s free.  All participants must have a background free of felony and violent misdemeanor convictions.
Sheriff Whidden and his staff are excited about this program and would encourage those interested in attending the next Sheriff's Citizens Academy to stop in and pick up an application, fill it out, and indicate whether you prefer a daytime or nighttime academy. 

Dates for the upcoming academy will be announced at a later time. The department will contact each applicant with additional information. If you have any questions or want to learn more about the Sheriff's Citizens Academy call Lt. Susan Harrelle at 863-674-5604.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hendry-Glades Hiking Group Forming

Like To Hike? - Check Out This Group
LABELLE, FL. -- Here�s your opportunity to explore beautiful landscapes of Florida and meet fellow nature lovers. The formation of a Florida Trails Association inland sub-chapter is in its early stages and wants interested people to join. An orientation meeting is being held Saturday, February 6 in Moore Haven.
The group will meet at 10 a.m. February 6 with FTA members guiding a casual hike on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, a segment of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Meet at the Alvin Ward Memorial Park in Moore Haven. The hike will be about an hour, more or less. Everyone walks or cycles at their own pace and swap stories with people of all ages who like to walk, hike, bicycle, canoe or kayak in the great outdoors.
Following this walk, the group will gather at the Glades County Historical Society�s Westergaard House located at 270 Avenue L in Moore Haven for a brief meeting to begin about 11:30 a.m. FTA members will explain the goals and purposes of FTA.
No lunch is being served but bring a sack lunch of your own, or stop and pick up a lunch from a local restaurant. Ice tea, water and coffee will be available at the Westergaard House.
For more information about this event, contact Margaret England 863-674-0695 or, Patty Register 863-675-0623 or, Susan Etchey 863-946-1626 at or Betty Loomis 863-946-3560 or .

Hendry-Glades Coming Events

Looking for something interesting to do? Here's a list of events you may want to see, in and around Hendry and Glades county and the Lake Okeechobee region:

• Jan. 28-Feb. 7 – American Legion Fair, Okeechobee. 863-763-2950

• Feb. 4 – LaBelle Bike Night. 239-246-3045

• Feb. 5 – The Cooke Book: The Music of Sam Cooke, Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center, Belle Glade, 7:30 pm. 561-993-1160

• Feb. 5-6 – Lake Placid Country Fair, DeVane Park. 863-699-5940

• Feb. 6 – Races at Avon Park Mower Plex. 863-453-3350

• Feb. 6 – Orchid Society Auction, Bert J. Harris Jr. Agri-Civic Center, Sebring. 863-465-2830

• Feb. 6 – City Farm Tour, LaBelle. 863-674-4092

• Feb. 6-7 – Battle of Okeechobee Re-Enactment, Okeechobee. 863-763-2950

• Feb. 6-13 – Hendry County Fair and Livestock Show, Fairgrounds, Clewiston. 863-983-9282

• Feb. 7 – Cane Grinding Festival, Ortona. 863-675-5021

• Feb. 8 – The Soweto Gospel Choir, Dolly Hand Cultural Arts Center, Belle Glade, 7:30 pm. 561-993-1160

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Alcohol Related Crash In Hendry - 2 Dead

Two Passengers Killed, Three Injured In Early Morning Crash

CLEWISTON, FL. --  An early Saturday morning crash involving a 2007 Chevrolet SUV left two passengers dead and left three others injured. The Florida Highway Patrol says the crash was alcohol related and is not sure at this time who the driver was.

23-year old Angelica Maldonado of Clewiston suffered serious injuries, and 23-year old Tarrence Wright of Clewiston, minor injuries along with 27-year old Demetrae Pearson of Clewiston.

35-year old Angie Cypress of Big Cypress Reservation was killed, as was 19-year old Johnny Everette of Clewiston. Both died on the scene. No one in the vehicle were wearing seat belts according to the accident report.

The vehicle was traveling north on Hendry C.R. 835 in the northbound travel lane just north of Hookers Point Road. For unknown reasons, it traveled in a northwesterly direction and exited the paved portion of the roadway, entered the grass shoulder at which time it appeared that the driver attempted to correct it's path.

However, according to the physical evidence, the FHP says the driver over corrected and began to travel in a northeasterly direction. As a result, it crossed over both lanes of C.R. 835, and began to overturn several times until coming to final rest on the east shoulder of C.R. 835 where it came to final rest facing west.

All occupants appeared to have been ejected from the vehicle. The injured occupants were transported to Hendry Regional Medical Center. The crash was investigated by Trooper Travis Parks and Corporal Allen Williams.

Hendry Gets Panther Habitat Land

4000 Acre Conservation Area Created By George Milicevic Heirs

LABELLE, FL. -- The endangered Florida Panther's habitat in southwest Florida received crucial land preservation restoration with the federal approval of the 4,000-acre "Panther Passage Conservation Bank" in rural western Hendry County, west of Lake Okeechobee and south of the Caloosahatchee River.
The 4,000 acres, according to Dr. George Dennis of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are located in the "Panther Dispersal Zone," a corridor that could provide passage for south Florida panther populations to move north of the Caloosahatchee River in time.

Habitat loss, one of the greatest threats to panther survival, has today restricted south Florida's breeding population (estimated to be about 100) to less than five percent of its historic range.
"Securing these vital lands is a major part of our efforts to recover the endangered Florida panther.  This important partnership helps us address one of the goals in our Florida Panther Recovery Plan: To set aside large areas of land in locations where there are high-quality habitats and prey availability," said Paul Souza, Field Supervisor of the USFWS' South Florida Ecological Services Office.
"This particular site is an active cattle ranch and consists of diverse landscapes including wooded areas and wetlands.  Much of it is forested, with lots of good cover­that's very valuable because it's already in good condition for panthers," said Dr. Dennis.
Originally purchased by Yugoslavian immigrant George Milicevic in the 1940s, the 4,000 acres is part of several land holdings in Florida, including property in Lake Wales and LaBelle.  Milicevic's heirs recently decided to honor the elder Milicevic's wishes to preserve the Hendry County land by creating a conservation area, which will be supported through the sale of habitat credits to developers and others who need to compensate for the environmental impacts of a project.
Conservation "banks" are typically used when it makes more sense for a developer to purchase conservation credits than to protect part of the area being developed (for example, when on-site conservation would result in small, isolated sites).
"Conservation banking is one of the few mechanisms we have to protect large parcels of land at no cost to the government.  Now that the agreement is finalized the landowner will still get to use the land and make money on it by selling credits to developers.  It's a win-win…most especially for Florida panthers," said Dr. Dennis.
A properly managed conservation bank, which must be approved by a state or federal wildlife agency, can be a win-win for the landowner, developer, environment and public. The USFWS approved the Panther Passage Conservation Bank in late 2009.
Desmond Duke, whose South Florida-based The Wetlandsbank Group is representing the Panther Passage Conservation Bank, said the project was permitted by a team consisting of Shutts and Bowen LLC, DuBois Real Estate and Wilson Miller.
Duke said Panther Passage has positioned itself to become a preeminent habitat conservation bank in Southwest Florida.  "It's the only pre-approved conservation bank able to provide panther habitat credits for impacts both north and south of the Caloosahatchee River," he said.
According to Duke, the size and location of the conservation bank will provide fundamental benefits to the Florida Panther and will allow the mitigation project to generate a large supply of Panther Habitat Units which will be made available to clients at competitive market rates.
The Panther Passage Conservation Bank is the second approved and certified conservation bank in Florida.  The other is the 1,920-acre Florida Panther Conservation Bank, also in Hendry County.
The Wetlandsbank Group is a pioneer in the ecosystems market and has founded some of the first and most successful examples of environmental mitigation banking efforts in Florida and the United States.

Hendry-Glades - Record High Electric Bills

Electric Bills High Due To Record Low Temps

LABELLE, FL. -- Residents of Hendry and Glades county will be in for a shock this month as they receive their January electric bills.  Record low night-time temperatures of freezing and near-freezing for night after night resulted in heating systems being on for more hours than normal, causing extremely high power usage.

Most electric customers will note power usage of up to three times what it was last year. However, the total bill will be lower than it could have been due to a one time rebate from FPL. The company says, "This appears as a line item called "Fuel credit." It's calculated based on your actual kilowatt-hour usage in your January bill."

FPL send a notice to customers this month in part saying, "While Florida's winter temperatures are back to normal, you may soon feel another effect of the record cold that hit our state earlier this month. If you used your heater, your energy usage may be higher than normal. That's because many homes in Florida have inefficient heating systems that require a lot more energy to operate. In fact, heating can cost two to three times more than cooling."

The letter continues with a hint on saving power for the next cold spell, "So if we get hit with another cold spell, remember to keep an eye on the thermostat. We estimate that for every two degrees you lower it, say from 68 degrees to 66 degrees, you can save approximately 20 percent on heating costs."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

10 Homes Sold In LaBelle At 90s Prices

Prices Reach Back To the 1990s

From December 15, 2009 to January 19 2010, there were 10 homes sold iin the LaBelle area for an average price of $54,200. Half were in the Port LaBelle subdivision, Hendry county's largest subdivision. Prices seems to be reaching the prices of the late1990s for most mid-level homes. The homes sold included:

1) $95,000 on Bee Branch Lakes Dr
2) $60,000 on Fort Adams Ave
3) $50,000 on Fort Keis Ave
4) $84,000 on Pine St
5) $34,000 on Rainbow Cir
6) $45,000 on Rainbow Cir
7) $36,000 on N Edgewater Cir
8) $35,000 on S Davis St
9) $70,000 on S Edgewater Cir
10) $33,000 on W Palomar Cir

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Boil Water Notice For Eastern Hendry County

South Shore Water Issues Boil Water Notice

CLEWISTON, FL. -- A boil water notice has been issued for the South Shore Water service area in Hendry County. All South Shore water users with the exception of the Airglades Airport and Industrial Park are advised to bring drinking water to a rolling boil for at least one minute prior to consumption.

The notice is necessary due to a water main break, says Hendry County Special Projects Director Ron Zimmerly. This notice is effective immediately and will be in effect at least until Friday, January 22, 2010 at 5 pm or until a different notice is issued lifting the boil water action. For further information please call 863-675-5264.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Hendry Sheriff Adds K9 To Staff

Donated K9 Adds Extra Capabilites To Sheriff's Office

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry Sheriff Steve Whidden would like to introduce its newest member of the Sheriff's Office K9, "Lucky". Lucky is an 11 month old Black & Tan/Walker Hound mix that has been trained solely on tracking humans.  Lucky was trained and donated to Sheriff Whidden by LaBelle resident David White.

Photo: Sheriff Whidden, Lucky, and David White

Sheriff Whidden had expressed to Mr. White approximately one year ago, that a tracking specific dog would help save lives by locating missing children, Alzheimer�s patients, victims of crimes and criminals themselves.   Mr. White took this expression from the Sheriff to heart and began to train Lucky on tracking people at an early age. 

Although White has no formal experience in this area, he is very familiar with training dogs in other areas.   Sheriff Whidden stated that he is very impressed with Lucky's abilities, especially for being so young.  Lucky started his formal training with the Sheriff's office last week and has been successful on every training track. Sheriff Whidden said he is very grateful to Mr. White for the time and effort put into training Lucky and is excited to put Lucky to work saving lives in Hendry county.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

47,000 Florida Holiday Drivers Cited

19-Day Enforcement Effort Nets 47,000 Traffic Citations By FHP

LABELLE, FL. -- Col. John Czernis, director of the Florida Highway Patrol, this week announced the preliminary enforcement results from the Patrol�s participation in the nationwide Drunk Driving. Over the Limit. Under Arrest. campaign.  During the holiday 19-day heightened enforcement period, the Patrol beefed up its force by having troopers postpone administrative duties in favor of road patrols and adding reservists and auxiliary troopers to patrol duty.
Troopers issued nearly 47,000 traffic citations and made 537 arrests for Driving Under the Influence of alcohol or drugs.  This is a little over one per hundred citations. They cited a third of them, more than 16,000 drivers, for speeding and nearly 5,000 for failure to buckle up.
"During the campaign, our troopers focused on driving practices that put motorists at higher risk for a crash," said Czernis. "Impaired driving is a dangerous behavior.  These drivers not only put themselves in harm�s way, but they also increase risk for everyone around them.  Motorists should always designate a sober driver if they plan to consume alcohol."
The members of the Florida Highway Patrol would like to remind everyone that it is the law to Move Over when approaching any authorized emergency vehicle or wrecker displaying rotating or flashing lights stopped on the side of a roadway.  Also, remember that *FHP (*347) dialed from you cell phone contacts FHP should you need to report an aggressive driver or require roadside assistance. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Get Vaccinated Says Florida Governor

Health Departments Offer Free Vaccinations

TALLAHASSEE – Governor Charlie Crist today encouraged Floridians to get vaccinated for both the seasonal and H1N1 Swine Flu during National Influenza Vaccination Week, taking place January 10 – 16, 2010. Governor Crist and State Surgeon General Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros highlighted the importance of influenza vaccination by launching a statewide campaign, "Spread the Word, Not the Flu."

"I encourage everyone to take this opportunity to get vaccinated for both the seasonal and H1N1 flu," said Surgeon General Ana Viamonte Ros. "Now is the perfect time for Floridians to protect themselves, their families and community from these potentially deadly viruses."

Florida's County Health Departments continue to offer free public flu vaccination clinics, many with extended hours. To learn more about National Influenza Vaccination Week and H1N1 Swine Flu vaccine in your local community, visit the Florida Department of Health's Web site at or call the Florida Flu Information Line at 1-877-352-3581.

Community Policing Comes To Hendry

Grant Money Creates Four New Deputy Positions For Hendry

LABELLE, FL. -- Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden announced today that he has instituted the first Community Oriented Policing Program which follows the national guidelines for addressing crime concerns in local communities.

(photo: Deputy Sheriff Josh Woods, Deputy Sheriff Clifton Green, Sheriff Steve Whidden and Deputy Sheriff Rick Shepherd. Not pictured: Deputy Sheriff Joaquin Mateu)

The award of a U. S. Department of Justice four-year grant this year allowed him to hire four additional deputies, which in turn, allowed him to reassign four experienced deputies to the newly created program referred to as COP�s. The Hendry County Commission agreed to fund the fourth year as a grant stipulation.

The sheriff has identified seven areas of the county which are experiencing crimes unique to their locations. The seven areas have been prioritized according to the severity of the crimes. The COP�s deputies have begun the program by developing community contacts and starting a dialogue with the residents to identify issues and working together to address them. They will develop a working rapport with city and county agencies, such as code enforcement, the health department, county courts and probation, etc. to help the residents eliminate conditions that facilitate criminal behavior.

An emphasis will be placed on Crime Prevention techniques and Neighborhood Crime Watch, with the assistance of Sgt. Barbara Brown, a certified Crime Prevention Practitioner. After school programs and activities, within communities, will be evaluated and enhanced, where practical, to offer the youth alternatives. The four deputies will work a flexible schedule and uniformed, or not, as the activity they are involved in dictates.

During January the COP�s deputies will be hosted by the Collier County Sheriff who has offered to provide them with a shadowing program for two weeks with his COP�s deputies who have been involved with community policing for more than a decade. During this time they will learn what ideas have worked and which ones failed. The Lee County Sheriff has recently made the same offer which will be accepted in the near future. 

Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden stated, "This is an example of my commitment to the citizens of Hendry County to build better relationships with all agencies, both within Hendry County and adjoining counties and government agencies.  It was my promise to you to implement new ideas and programs that would help in making Hendry County a safer place to live and visit."

Volunteer With Florida's Wildlife Commission

Volunteers Welcome - Help Conserve Florida Wildlife

Are you interested in helping conserve Florida�s habitats and fish and wildlife species? Do you want to teach a child to hunt or fish? Do you have an interest in becoming a volunteer law enforcement officer?

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has numerous volunteer opportunities available in these programs and many more.

The FWC has approximately 3,100 volunteers in more than two dozen programs, including Hunter Safety, Ridge Rangers, Project WILD, Chinsegut Nature Center and a variety of scientific research and resource management projects.

FWC volunteers are worth their weight in gold to the agency and to the state. In a 2009 analysis conducted by University of Florida doctoral student Stuart Carlton, the value of the volunteers� service is about $1.9 million per year.

Many volunteers say their motivation is helping the environment. Others say they enjoy supporting the resources they use recreationally. Volunteers enjoy working on improving habitats, surveying wildlife populations and participating in public outreach activities.

Below are just a few of the programs available for interested volunteers. To see the complete list and learn more about FWC volunteer opportunities, go to Some programs may require additional information and/or a background check.

The Chinsegut Nature Center in Brooksville, on the 828-acre Chinsegut Wildlife and Environmental Area, hosts four major events and scores of other natural resource conservation and recreation programs throughout the year.  A 36-hour volunteer training and orientation occurs typically once per year, preparing volunteers for opportunities in wildlife surveys, habitat enhancement, invasive exotic plant removal, conducting environmental education programs and other work.

Lost and abandoned traps left in the water at the end of lobster and stone crab season are a major problem in Florida�s marine environment.  The Derelict, Abandoned and Trap Debris Removal Program is available statewide. Volunteer groups can obtain authorization from the FWC to organize and host a cleanup event on state waters.

There are many volunteer opportunities in fisheries programs. The Florida Bass Conservation Center and Richloam State Fish Hatchery in Sumter County is one of the largest freshwater fish hatcheries in the Southeast and is the primary game fish hatchery in Florida. Volunteers can help with daily feeding and tank cleaning, stocking activities throughout the state, collecting nutrition or genetic data, maintenance and kids-fishing events. In addition, the Marine Fisheries Stock Enhancement Program in Port Manatee offers volunteers the opportunity to enhance or rebuild coastal fisheries by assisting with breeding and rearing finfish and mollusks.

Florida�s hunting heritage depends heavily on thousands of volunteer hours each year. Hunter Safety volunteers teach a variety of courses statewide to the public. Courses include basic hunter safety, advanced archery, and Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW).

Kids� Fishing Clinics are one-day educational events designed to create responsible marine resource stewards by teaching children fundamental saltwater fishing skills and educating them on the vulnerability of Florida�s marine ecosystems.

In the Red Tide Offshore Monitoring Volunteer Program on Florida�s Gulf Coast, volunteers collect offshore water samples to monitor for potential red tide blooms and aid researchers in determining red tide levels. In 2008, volunteers collected 479 water samples over 210 days. The Ridge Rangers program partners with numerous conservation agencies and organizations to conserve and protect scrub habitat on the Lake Wales Ridge, a threatened ecosystem that is home to many wildlife and plant species found nowhere else on earth.

Finally, the FWC Reserve Officer Program also relies on volunteers. Become a reserve officer and supplement the full-time officers� patrol activities. Reserve officers also assist with community relations and other events.

Hendry's Kosh Graduates Basic Training

Ariel Kosh Finishes Army Basic Training

LABELLE, FL. -- Army National Guard Pvt. Ariel N. Kosh has graduated from basic combat training at Fort Jackson, Columbia, S.C.

During the nine weeks of training, the soldier studied the Army mission, history, tradition and core values, physical fitness, and received instruction and practice in basic combat skills, military weapons, chemical warfare and bayonet training, drill and ceremony, marching, rifle marksmanship, armed and unarmed combat, map reading, field tactics, military courtesy, military justice system, basic first aid, foot marches, and field training exercises.
Kosh is the daughter of Michael and Rhonda Kosh of Belmont Street in LaBelle, Fla. Kosh graduated in 2009 from LaBelle High School.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Hendry 3-Truck Crash Leaves 1 Dead

Ocala Man Dead On US 27 In Hendry County

CLEWISTON, FL. -- A crash involving three semi-trucks in Hendry county left an Ocala man dead Thursday morning.

The Florida Highway Patrol says a 2001 International semi-tractor was unlawfully stopped in the roadway on US 27 about 2  miles west of Hendry county road 720, occupying the outside northbound lane on US 27. A 1997 Frieghtliner  was also unlawfully stopped
directly in front of the International, both occupying the same lane.

Meanwhile a 1998 Peterbuilt semi was traveling north on US 27 in the outside lane, and was unable to stop or take evasive action. The front of the vehicle collided into the left rear of one illegally parked trucks and then collided into the rear of the other.

The driver, Colin Griffiths 44, of Ocala was pronounced deceased on the scene of the crash.

Eduardo Fraga, 48 of Miami, driving the International was transported to Hendry County Hospital. Isai Perez, 38 of Miami was uninjured.

Fraga was stopped in the roadway so that he could attend to what he believed to be a faulty tire on the rear of his trailer. Perez stopped to assist him. Both were not in the trucks at the time of the crash. Fraga and Perez were charged with unlawfully stopping in the roadway.

Wanted! Hendry-Glades Actors!

No Experience Needed! Actors Wanted In LaBelle!

LABELLE, FL. -- Are you and actor? Want to be a big star?  Actors big, small, young, old, experienced or not the Firehouse Cultural Center in LaBelle wants you to audition for the 17th season of Hendry county's theater group.

Terri Lazar, publicity director, says The Firehouse Cultural Center, 241 North Bridge St., LaBelle is holding open audition from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m., Saturday, January 9th for the remainder of the season's plays. 

Break a Leg by Bob Cramer runs January 22, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31; Charley's Aunt by Brandon Thomas - February 26, 27, 28, March 5, 6, 7 and H. G. Wells' The Time Machine runs April 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11. 

Auditions can be scheduled on other dates and times by appointment. Call 863-675-3066.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Glades Sour Orange Festival In Lakeport

Special Report By Susan Etchey

LAKEPORT, FL. -- The harvest of the rare sour orange is cause for a yearly celebration in a small fishing resort on the north shore of Lake Okeechobee. Sour oranges are prolific in this remote wilderness region, the ancient trees growing wild in cattle pastures and homesteads. The tropical fruit once grew all over the state but due to development was purposely destroyed. Only in pastoral Florida will you find so many of these treasured trees.

If you love sour oranges, this is the place to be. You can taste and purchase sour orange pies, sour orange BBQ sauce Caribbean style, and sour oranges at Lakeport's Sour Orange Festival on Saturday, January 9 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Prepare yourself for a simple festival in a tree-shaded park. The commercialism and noise of most festivals is absent. It is more akin to an old-fashioned community picnic where half the people in attendance know each other. Long time residents meet up here after not having seen each other for a time; local politicians are out slapping backs; snowbirds living in local RV parks bring their folding chairs to sit in the community park and listen to local bands play from the outdoor stage.

You can wander casually through a few rows of vendors and encounter hard working artisans selling their own special handmade products, or talk to members of civic groups who get a space for free.

In 1992, locals decided to celebrate the origins and unique culinary uses of the sour orange with this one-of-a-kind annual festival as a fundraiser.  The original Sour Orange Cookbook, published by the Lakeport Community Association in 1992, speaks of the traditional uses of sour oranges by the Gladesmen who hunted the wild hogs in the hammocks near Lake Okeechobee.  "There are two traditions that must be observed when roasting wild hog in Lakeport," it states. "First it is considered to be a man's job (and the men definitely hold bragging rights to how well they can cook pork); second, basting of the hog with the juice of the Sour Orange is essential." However, locals have found basting fish and chicken with the juice is very satisfying, too. In fact recipes using lemons can be substituted with sour oranges.

Brought here by the Spanish in their colonial period, sour orange trees have historical roots. Sour oranges were once the original rootstock for the creation of the sweet oranges that created the huge citrus industry in Florida.

Sour oranges are still grown commercially in Spain to make marmalade in Britain, sour orange peels make candies in Puerto Rico and the Mojito of Cuba is a zesty mixture of sour orange juice, garlic and other herbs, according to the cookbook. Liqueurs such as Cointreau, Grand Marnier and Curacao are made with sour oranges.

During the day, fun contests and games for both children and adults take place keeping the restless busy.  The Sour Orange Bake-off and the Sour Orange Pie Eating contest are traditions, as well as a raffle of many intriguing items, including the winning pastries, jellies or specialty foods.

Tourists who happen to see a flyer about the festival or read about it in a local paper, come out of curiosity to taste the sour orange. They also get a taste of the friendly folks of old Florida. Nothing hectic, no crowds, just real laid back and simple entertainment making it a lovely no-headache day.

Lakeport is on the northwest side of Lake Okeechobee on Hwy 78 between Moore Haven and Okeechobee City.  The event is at the community center on Old Lakeport Road. To find the Lakeport Community Association festival follow the signs. There is a small entrance fee of $3 per adult and kids are free. For info, call 863-946-1222.

Susan Etchey writes regular columns at

Monday, January 04, 2010

Hendry Man Shot Dead

Domestic Disturbance Related Shooting Say Investigators

LABELLE, FL. -- A Hendry county man was found shot dead in Pioneer Plantation. On January 4, 2010 at approximately 6:20 p.m., the Hendry County Sheriff's Office received a call telling dispatchers they needed an ambulance, that a man had been shot. 

Deputies, along with medical personnel, arrived at 4850 8th Street in Pioneer Plantation, a small quiet rural community located in central Hendry County between LaBelle and Clewiston, finding 30 year old Shelton Ray Dunlap, Jr. laying on the ground in the front yard.  He was pronounced dead on scene by emergency personnel due to a gunshot wound.

The shooter, along with witnesses and family members were immediately removed by law enforcement personnel and transported to the Sheriff's Office for questioning.  While investigators have determined that the shooting was domestic related, they are not sure of the motive at this time. 

There has been no arrest made yet, and the incident is under investigation, says the Sheriff's Department.

Canoeists Celebrate Year Of The Everglades

12 Paddlers Travel From Okeechobee County To Palm Beach County

OKEECHOBEE, FL. -- The Year of the Everglades kicked off on January 2, 2010, as 12 men and women set off from where the Kissimmee River flows into Lake Okeechobee for a six-day, 78-mile Canoe Expedition which will culminate at Grassy Waters Preserve in West Palm Beach on January 7.

The River of Grass canoe expedition, sponsored by the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation, will draw attention to the invaluable role the Everglades plays in the ecology of Florida. The group will spend its days on the water and its nights camping in Okeechobee county and ending in Palm Beach County.

At trip's end on January 7 at 4 p.m., a flotilla of about 30 vessels will join in for the last leg of the adventure, paddling through the Loxahatchee Slough to the Bingham Nature Pavilion at Grassy Waters Preserve.

Established in 1998, the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation is based on the principles of visionary environmental advocate, Arthur R. Marshall, Jr. (1919-1985). For more than a decade, the Arthur R. Marshall Foundation has championed the restoration and preservation of the greater Everglades ecosystem through science-based outreach programs and hands-on activities to return original plant life and water flow patterns to the historic "River of Grass.''

Expedition leader Chris Schuld, biologist Allen Trefry, Danielle Almeida, Janice Kerber, SFWMD’s Susan Sylvester, Erika Fitzsimmons, Tom Salinsky, Rachel Scarafia, Janet Talbot, Maureen Connolly and Tomas Boiton. In addition, world-renowned author, nature enthusiast and wildlife photographer Dudley Edmondson will film a documentary of the trek.

The Palm Beach County School District will host a daily live broadcast at 8:10 a.m. beginning Tuesday, January 5, through Thursday, January 7.

Visit and log in as GUEST to see the live broadcast.