SEBRING — A fifth man has been arrested in connection with the 2017 shooting death of Joshua Dean Hickey.
The U.S. Marshal’s Task Force arrested Ortland Clifford Williams, 32, of Augusta, Georgia on Friday on charges of third-degree murder and purchase of cannabis.
Meanwhile, the man accused of actually killing Hickey has been in custody on other charges since the day after the crime.
Highlands County Sheriff’s Office reports that Hickey was shot multiple times on the night of Oct. 30, 2017, during a drug deal in the driveway of a home on Tam O’Shanter Boulevard in Sebring.
Sheriff’s deputies quickly identified Johan Wendon Holder, now 23, as the suspected gunman and tracked him to a home in Hendry County, where he was arrested less than nine hours after the killing on unrelated charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft and a probation violation.
A gun known to have been in Hickey’s possession the night of the murder was found at the Hendry County home, which resulted in an arrest warrant for Hickey’s murder being issued on Nov. 8, 2017.
His arrest and subsequent incarceration allowed sheriff’s detectives to quickly broaden their investigation into the shooting. They soon learned multiple people from several different counties were involved, bringing the case under the jurisdiction of the Office of Statewide Prosecution in Fort Myers.
Over several months, Highlands County deputies, the statewide prosecutor and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), through interviews and evidence — including cell phones and social media — put together details.
On Wednesday, task force members arrested:
- Christopher Laveon Bell, 30, of Avon Park on charges of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and conspiracy to commit robbery with a firearm;
- Mikevious Aljawon Young, 25, of Port St. Lucie on charges of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and conspiracy to commit robbery with a firearm; and
- George Leonard Wood Jr., 32, of Clewiston on charges of accessory after the fact to second-degree murder with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
They learned Williams, allegedly, set up a deal for Holder to buy a large amount of marijuana from Hickey and drove Holder to the scene of the murder.
Williams fled on foot when the gunshots started and Holder reportedly took the car Williams had driven to the scene.
Investigators also learned that Young, allegedly, talked with Holder about a plan to rob Hickey and was in a second car acting as a lookout during the murder.
It was Wood’s home in Clewiston where Holder was taken into custody.
In that house and in a car parked in the backyard, law enforcement found more than 1,000 grams of marijuana and multiple firearms, many of which were stolen.
Bell was also at Wood’s home in Clewiston. He was found in the car in the backyard.
Investigators learned that Bell — who could legally purchase firearms because he was not a convicted felon — had been buying firearms for convicted felons, and Holder allegedly obtained the gun he used to kill Hickey from Bell.
In all, officers found 16 firearms, five of them stolen, and a stolen silencer.
“Because of the collaborative efforts and dogged investigative work of local, state and federal agencies, these dangerous criminals have been arrested and will face justice for their roles in the shooting death of a Florida man,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “I want to thank the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office for working with our Statewide Prosecutors to solve this murder and arrest those responsible for this heinous crime.”
Sheriff Paul Blackman thanks the statewide prosecutor and ATF for their assistance with this case, and the U.S. Marshal’s Task Force for taking suspects into custody.
“I am also proud of the work done by HCSO detectives on this case,” Blackman said, “particularly lead detective Jorge Martinez, for the hundreds of hours spent working to make sure the people involved in the murder of Joshua Hickey did not get away with this brutal crime.”
AVON PARK — Thursday the families of the SunTrust Five honored the lives of Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, Ana Pinon-Williams, Cynthia Watson and Jessica Montague who were killed in the tragic shooting that took place Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. Hundreds of people filled the newly created Reflection Park, built on the site of the bank where the five women tragically lost their lives. For those in attendance, it was about honoring the women and finding a way to move forward.
Mother, wife and friend Jessica Eileen Noreen Montague, a 25-year resident of Highlands County, was passionate about her children and about helping others. For Jermaine Montague, the past year was about honoring his wife and building something that would keep her memory alive. For him, that memory would live on in her 2008 Ford Mustang GT.
Jermaine made it his mission to build Jessica’s Mustang the way that she would have wanted.
“Working on my wife’s car now, gives me sense of accomplishment,” Jermaine told the Highlands News-Sun. “What keeps me motivated is the thought of her right here with me. Telling me what she wants done and how she wants it.”
Jermaine said his wife was very particular in the way she wanted things done.
So, to accomplish everything that needed to be done with the car, he turned to Daffne Cruz, founder and owner of Strictly Royal Racing in Avon Park and personal friend of the Montagues.
“She has helped me plan out and initiate everything we have done so far on the car,” Jermaine said.
Knowing the car meant a lot to both Jessica and Jermaine, Cruz really wanted to showcase Jessica’s car.
“We knew what she wanted, it was a matter of working towards getting everything, installing everything and overcoming the hurdles that come in between,” Cruz said. “Anyone who’s ever had a car project knows it’s one step forward and two steps back. And there is always a parts run when installing.”
Jermaine installed a majority of the car’s performance upgrades himself but turned to Strictly Royal Racing for the aerodynamic pieces and vinyl. Together, they upgraded the suspension.
“Littlefield Sound and Design played a huge part in the custom audio upgrades,” Cruz said. “He (Littlefield) was able to get a few local businesses, along with his own, to donate towards building a custom colorful enclosure in the trunk that is also a memorial for Jess.”
Ben’s Paint Supply, Central Florida Glass & Mirror, D&N Cabinetry Inc. and Carol’s Upholstery all contributed, with Littlefield, in the construction of the trunk enclosure.
“I am forever grateful,” Jermaine said.
Jermaine said the kids love the car as well. They get excited to see it on display at shows and were able to witness all the hard work that went into putting it together.
“The kids asked where the car was every day, especially Paris, our daughter,” Jermaine said. “Her words were, ‘Where’s my mommy’s car?’”
Jessica was the mother of three children and step-mother to seven. Together, she and Jermaine had one child.
A fellow Mustang enthusiast, Cruz knew it was essential to continue Jessica’s legacy by completing the Mustang the way Jessica intended. Everyone on her Strictly Royal Racing team is proud of Jermaine and Jessica’s build.
“The car means everything,” Cruz said. “The day of the funeral last year, when I saw Jermaine driving Jess’ car down to Grace Bible, I couldn’t help but feel like she was with us. I felt a wave of peace if you will. Knowing she was with us. Every time we ride together and he pulls up next to me, or is in front of me, I smile. I know she’s with us. I know she’s proud.”
Jessica loved her car and anyone who knew her also knew how she felt about the car.
“It was her baby,” Jermaine said.
Getting the car finished was the goal for everyone involved, seeing it through to be ready to lead the Memorial Cruise Thursday night around Lake Jackson.
“The car means everything to me,” Jermaine said. “Just looking at the car gives me a sense of peace. I look at the car and I see her, I see her face, I see her smiling. I would like to one day pass this car down to our daughter Paris Montague.”
A second Memorial Cruise in Jessica’s honor is scheduled for Sunday morning, leaving Avon Park and going to Cars & Coffee Palm Beach in Boynton Beach, Florida. For details on this cruise, check out Strictly Royal Racing on Facebook.
SEBRING — Craig Herrick won the election Friday for the vacant landowner seat on the Sun ‘N Lake Board of Supervisors.
Herrick is filling the last two years of the term vacated by Dan Stegall. He joins Mike Gilpin, who was reelected for another four years to his landowner seat on Friday without opposition.
The board now consists of Gilpin, Herrick and the three popularly-elected supervisors: Joe Branson, Raymond Brooks and Neal Hotelling.
In-person turnout was slim Friday morning, although there were 60 ballots cast either that morning or in early voting, according to Sun ‘N Lake District Manager Tanya Cannady.
Final votes were taken during the special improvement district’s annual landowner meeting, 9 a.m. Friday at the Community Center on Edgewater Drive.
The landowner meeting started at 9 a.m. then recessed at approximately 9:30 a.m. given the low turnout. Cannady told officers at the landowners’ meeting that she had told everyone in the district of the election, via “e-Blast” emails and the monthly district newsletter.
David Schumacher, attorney contracted to represent the special improvement district, said that unless someone voted early, they had to be present at the start of the landowner meeting to vote in the election that day.
The landowners reconvened at 10:30 a.m., for five minutes, to state they would reopen the meeting at noon to open the ballot box and hopefully have a final tally by 1 p.m.
It actually took until 2 p.m.
Cannady told the Highlands News-Sun that accountants from Wicks, Brown & Williams were helping tally the votes. Each ballot, because the vote was based on land ownership, carried a notation at the bottom of how many votes that ballot was worth, Cannady said.
She explained that the district, based on the 2018 assessment figures, has 9,200 properties that were assessed at a total of $4.42 million.
Out of those, Cannady said that for 4,518 properties a total of $3.14 million in assessments had been paid in full, which then qualifies those owners to vote.
As with most elections, not all of them voted in this election.
Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg, who attended the event in an advisory capacity but did not run nor certify the ballots, told the Highlands News-Sun the election totals for the four candidates: Mark Camp, Craig Herrick, Javita McKinney and Ward Miller.
Herrick got 342,847 votes, followed relatively closely by Camp, a former supervisor, who got 223,337 votes.
Camp was originally appointed to the board in 2016 to fill a seat vacated by the late supervisor Richard Miller, but later resigned from the board on Nov. 7, 2018, while serving as board president.
By an interesting coincidence, Cannady said the last landowner election was in 2009, when Dick Miller won his seat. Voting went into the night, then, and the landowners had to reconvene their meeting at 8 p.m. to tally the votes.
The other two candidates were distant third and fourth place: McKinney had 3,520 votes while Ward Miller had 2,870.
This election might mark the last time members of the Sun ‘N Lake board get elected as landowner seats. The board is pursuing options to amend the district charter and have all elections by popular vote.
Schumacher told supervisors at their Dec. 27 meeting that he had met with County Attorney Joy Carmichael, and he believes the district can transition completely to popularly-elected seats with minimum effort.