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Mom, employees rescue fire victim

LAKE PLACID — They say a mother’s physical strength is an amazing thing when she sees a child in danger. While Ramona Smith may not have lifted a Buick to save her son on Tuesday afternoon, she did pick up her son, Jerome Smith, 21, and get him to safety to save him from a fire.

Jerome Smith was working at the family’s Golf Cart Repair business at 506 Main Ave. According to his sister, Ashley Smith, who was working in the office, Jerome was wiring an amphibious 6-wheel ATV. After wiring the vehicle, there was an explosion that immediately threw Jerome about 6 feet into the air across the bay, Ashley said.

“He was unconscious for about 40 seconds,” Ashley said.

Ashley called 911 while her quick-thinking fiance, Andrew Lewis, and mechanic Cooper Menut and brother James Smith put the flames out with fire extinguishers. Business owner and matriarch lifted her son and put his arm around her and walked Jerome out of the bay and onto a nearby golf cart in the parking lot.

When Ashley Smith spoke to the Highlands News-Sun, at about 1:30 p.m., she said her brother was sedated and burned. He has been admitted to AdventHealth Lake Placid.

“Then the ambulance and fire departments showed up,” Ashley said. “It only took them 2-3 minutes.”

According to a fire official on the scene, the fire was out when they got there. Fire officials ventilated the building. On the scene were Sun n Lakes and Lake Placid fire departments and EMS.

Lake Placid Police Department was on the scene providing support and traffic control.

“You just never know what’s going to happen in a shop. You have to be careful; I call it ‘shop life’,” Ashley said. “The explosion was so loud that it sounded like a bomb going off. That’s the loudest thing I can think of to describe it. It knocked everything off the walls in the office.”

Ashley considers her family members heroes.

At the Summit - APH Cynthia Barrett is Highlands Teacher of the Year

LAKE PLACID — Avon Park High School social studies teacher Cynthia Barrett is Highlands’ Teacher of the Year and Cracker Trail Elementary School paraprofessional Kristine Sebring is the county’s School Related Employee of the Year.

The two honorees were announced at the annual Summit Awards reception and awards ceremony, which was held Monday evening at Lake Placid High School. The event, which also features the school-level honorees, was presented by the Highlands County Education Foundation, Inc.

Foundation President Paul McGehee said, “Tonight we pay tribute to the outstanding teachers and support employees in the Highlands County School District.

“The 36 individuals that we recognize tonight represent over 1,600 teachers and support personnel who absolutely dedicate themselves everyday in educating Highlands County’s 12,000 children.”

Last year’s Teacher of the Year, Dawn Henderson, said it was an honor and a blessing to serve as Teacher of the Year.

“There is no way of knowing just how far your impact will reach as you invest daily in the lives of your students,” she said. “I urge you all to show up each day, and even when you are not feeling like ‘Teacher of the Yearish,’ look forward to the small amounts of encouragement and affirmation to keep you going and remember that each day you choose to do these things you are creating a legacy that will live on in your students and future generations.”

Last year’s Support Employee of the Year Lake Placid High School media paraprofessional, Alesia Cheshire, said, “Education’s benefits are endless. It empowers all of us. Each and every one of us that works at a school to take on new rolls; to build futures and to make our community a better place to life.”

She has been up to the challenge for 26 years, stressing the importance of education to her students.

Kevin Tunning, of LPHS, was recognized as the Principal of the Year and Kimberly Riley, of APHS, was recognized as the Assistant Principal of the Year.

Ag Angels was recognized as the Foundation’s Business Partner with Scott Kirouac accepting the acrylic award from Superintendent Brenda Longshore.

The Highlands County Education Foundation was formed as a direct support organization and is comprised of former administrators, former educators and business partners to assist in recognizing teachers and administrators in K-12 education.

AP Council to make its picks for city manager

AVON PARK — The short list of five candidates for Avon Park city manager will likely grow a bit with the council members weighing in with their top two for the position.

Mayor Garrett Anderson said between now and the next regular City Council meeting, each council member can submit up to two names of applicants to add to the list of five provided the citizens selection committee.

The council members will submit their selections to the interim city manager by the Tuesday (Jan. 21) before the next council meeting, he said. Those selected will be contacted to make sure they are still looking for a job.

At the next regular council meeting (Jan. 27), council will vote on the names that will be considered at a special council meeting, he said. Those finalists will be asked to attend the meeting.

There were 36 applicants, with some of those probably not qualified, Anderson said. There is definitely a good handful of candidates in there that council will try to sort out and vote on who they will ask for interviews, which will probably be a total of five to 10 candidates.

“The idea would be to select the person at that special meeting,” Anderson said.

The five city manager applicants who were picked by the citizen selection committee are:

• Lyndon L. Bonner, who was the county administrator in Marianna through March 2018.

• Michael Brillhart, who is a consultant for Royal Palm Beach and previously was the county administrator in Camden, North Carolina.

• Timothy Day, who was last employment as town manager of Melbourne Beach through August 2017.

• Phyllis Grover, who is the director of planning and community development in Aberdeen, Maryland.

• Jeffrey Orris, who is the executive director of the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency.

The next City Council meeting will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 27 in the Council Chambers, 123 E. Pine St.

Reflection Park dedication Jan. 23

SEBRING — Almost one year ago, a shooting at the SunTrust Bank known as the Midtown branch took the lives of five women in a senseless tragedy on Jan. 23. Countless lives were touched by the deaths of bank employees Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, and Ana Pinon-William and customer Cynthia Watson.

The Reflection Park will be dedicated to the five women, their families and community at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 23 at the former branch location, 1901 U.S. 27. The public is invited to honor the women as Mayor John Shoop will be the master of ceremony. Overflow parking is available at the Residence Inn by Marriott Sebring parking lot.

After the shooting, the branch never reopened. The empty bank became a makeshift shrine. SunTrust razed the building and promised a place of reflection and peace. They created a hard-scaped park with benches and designs that include symbolism with items such as the numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5. The time of the incident was 12:30 and the five women have become known as the “Sebring Five.”

The pentagon in the center stands for the five parts of a whole and the five women.

According to a SunTrust Foundation official, the park will be in place for a few years. Then phase II will be built. That phase will include a mental and behavioral health services for youth and also serve as a space for the community.