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SHS teacher charged with having sex with student
  • Updated

SEBRING — A Sebring High School teacher formally educated to protect the interests of those she works with was arrested Friday. She has been charged with having sex with a 15-year-old student.

Ariel Madden Reed, 30, was a critical thinking teacher at the high school. She has been charged with 10 counts of sexual battery upon a victim ages 12-18 by a teacher who has custodial authority of that student.

Her husband, Jonathan Patrick Reed, 37, has also been arrested for interference with the execution of a search warrant.

Ariel Reed was placed on administrative leave by the School Board of Highlands County on Feb. 10, the day the Special Victims Unit began investigating the case.

Highlands County sheriff’s officials said the investigation began when a School Resource Deputy learned the victim had nude images of Reed on his phone. When questioned by detectives, the victim described multiple sexual encounters between himself and Reed. The victim said they had sex at Reed’s home, in her car and in her school classroom between November of 2020, the first time they had sexual contact, and earlier this month.

Officials said prior to November 2020, Reed and the student had a teacher-student relationship.

Reed was hired by the School Board of Highlands County in 2015 as a front clerk at Woodlawn Elementary School. In 2016, she worked in the School Board’s main office.

She went to the classroom in May 2019 as a teacher at Avon Park Middle School and later in the year transferred to Sebring High School.

“I want to commend the staff at Sebring High School for taking immediate action and quickly notifying the school resource deputy, as well as the Special Victims Unit for working quickly to develop this case. We take any allegations involving children very seriously and are continuing to investigate,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said.

“We are committed to providing a safe learning environment in all Highlands County schools, so we are shocked and saddened by these allegations. School administration and district officials are fully cooperating with the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office as they investigate this matter,” Deputy Superintendent Andrew Lethbridge said. “No further comments will be made as this is an ongoing investigation.”

According to the HCSO, Patrick Reed’s only involvement was trying to keep sheriff’s deputies from entering the couple’s home on Friday.

The investigation will continue, but officials say there is not expected to be any other victims.

The Reeds have both been booked into the Highlands County Jail.

Fish die on Lake Lotela after spraying

SEBRING — Residents on Lake Lotela this week saw a large number of shad dead on the shoreline shortly after seeing an airboat spraying aquatic vegetation.

They called Highlands County Government and later the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and have now reportedly talked with representatives from agriculture and environmental agencies, but are still not sure what happened.

The Highlands News-Sun has not yet heard back from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection or the Environmental Protection Agency about any possible investigation into the matter. Residents said members of those agencies came to the lake to examine the situation.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials have said the die off was likely a naturally-occurring event. Public information officials with their Lakeland office said they first received the report of the Lake Lotela fish kill on Monday, and have been working with local partners to review any available photos from the lake.

At this point, it appears that the affected fish were shad, a species particularly susceptible to cold, FWC officials said. Based on the available information, FWC officials believe recent cold temperatures were the cause of the die-off.

Still, FWC officials said they would continue to work with their partners to get more information.

Chris Gillian, tug captain in the Port of Tampa, lives on the lake with his wife and grew up on Lake Jackson.

“Shad [dying] is a precursor to something,” Gillian said, calling the tiny fish “the Almighty’s way of giving us humans a barometer.”

He said he heard from Geoffrey Lokuta, biological administrator I with the FWC’s Invasive Plant Management Section, about the FWC spraying invasive plant species. Lokuta told the Highlands News-Sun that the FWC cooperates with Highlands County Invasive Plant Control to treat water lettuce, water hyacinth, and burhead sedge on Lake Lotela under the state cooperative aquatic plant management funded program.

The goal, Lokuta said, is to keep invasive plant populations as low as feasible via lake-wide spraying sweeps to kill off that vegetation. Historically, he said, crews have been on Lake Lotela anywhere from one to three days each year for the last eight years applying a tank mix of 2,4-D and Diquat.

Lokuta said 2,4-D has no restrictions on swimming, fishing, livestock watering or domestic purposes. Diquat also has no restrictions on swimming, fishing or domestic animals drinking the water. However, it recommends keeping livestock from drinking from a treated water body for at least one day, or at least establishing a setback from the spots where vegetation was sprayed.

Gillian said he didn’t understand the need to spray right now when the plants in question would likely die off in the next two months from future cold snaps. He had also heard possible explanations that heavy rains may have caused runoff from nearby agricultural land, but he said Lotela was the only lake apparently having problems.

The Highlands News-Sun spoke with John Barben of Barben Citrus, a member of the Lake Lotela Homeowners Association who had handled aquatic vegetation spraying for the residents in the past. However, he said his crews had not been on the lake since last summer, and had no comment on what may be happening at this time.

As far as he knew, this fish kill was natural.

The Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, along with the FWC’s Invasive Plant Management Section at plants-archive.ifas.ufl.edu states that when a large amount of the vegetation dies at once, the decay depletes oxygen. For that reason, they only treat small areas at a time.

Fish kill due to oxygen depletion can also happen from several days of overcast skies, especially during hot weather, because aquatic plants add oxygen to the water only when they have sufficient sunlight for photosynthesis. They consume oxygen all the time, however, and overcast skies for several days can deplete oxygen as plants use more then they produce.

Cold weather kills, IFAS states, can also happen when water or air temperatures fall below a critical level for a particular species, like shad.

Residents who spoke with the Highlands News-Sun but did not want their names mentioned, said they also saw dead turtles. They noted that the sandy-ridge bottom lake, known for recreation, usually has clear water, but the water isn’t clear right now.

County COVID numbers look better

Highlands County had one of its best COVID-19 days in the past few weeks, showing 29 new cases out of more than 600 processed tests, according to the Florida Department of Health’s Friday report. The positivity rate for the day of 4.81% is the lowest the county has seen in the past two weeks.

There were no new deaths or hospitalizations, keeping the death total at 282 and the number hospitalized at 547. There are 37 currently hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19, according to the Florida Agency for Heath Care Administration.

Of the county’s 29 new cases, five of them were in the 5 to 14 age group, which brings the total to 443 for those 14 and younger to have come down with the virus.

Highlands County has now seen 6,875 cases of COVID-19, with 66 non-residents and 6,809 residents. The number of non-residents with the virus was reduced one from the previous day’s report.

The news wasn’t quite as good for the state, which saw 190 new deaths and passed the 29,000 marker. There were 183 new resident deaths, which brings the total to 28,565. There were also an additional seven new resident deaths for a total of 496.

There were 7,616 new cases, which raises the total to 1,814,422. The case breakdown is 1,781,450 residents and 32,972 non-residents.

The state’s positivity rate for new cases was 6.22% for the day, which is consistent with numbers seen the last eight days.

The CDC shows Florida with 347 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, by far the most in the nation. California is next with 159.

The state is reporting 59,524 vaccines given on Thursday, which brings the total to 2,225,304 people vaccinated. There have been 1,262,300 people to have received the first shot, while 963,004 have received both shots.

The numbers across the United States crept up slightly, with the COVID Tracking Project’s Thursday night report showing 103,024 new cases. It’s the first time in five days there were more than 100,000 cases.

Testing was the highest it’s been since Feb. 5, so a slight increase in case numbers isn’t totally unexpected.

There were 3,885 new deaths reported, although 650 of those were from a data dump from Ohio, as the state made some adjustments to account for underreported deaths.

Hospitalizations were at 74,225.

Friday’s early numbers weren’t pretty, as the California Department of Public Health reported 10,059 new cases and 546 new deaths, while Arizona showed 2,426 new cases, but 172 new deaths.

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering showed the U.S. with 27.46 million cases and 479,458 deaths.

Globally, there have been 108 million cases and 2,377,268 deaths.

Wawa breaks ground in Highlands

LAKE PLACID — The long awaited Wawas are finally breaking ground in Lake Placid at the northwest corner of Dal Hall Boulevard and U.S. 27 and in Sebring at the northeast corner of Highlands Avenue and U.S. 27. Both stores are set to open in the fall of 2021, according to Wawa officials.

The groundbreaking ceremonies, complete with shovels, hard hats and local dignitaries, will take place in Lake Placid from 9-9:30 a.m. and again at the Highlands Avenue property from 10:30-11 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24.

President and CEO of the Greater Chamber of Commerce Tenille Drury-Smith will be in attendance and Executive Director Jennifer Bush will represent the Town of Murals.

Wawa joined the chambers of commerce in January. Wawa officials did not have information on groundbreaking at the north Sebring location on the northeast corner of Valerie Boulevard and U.S. 27 as of Friday morning.

“We are so looking forward to Wawa opening in Lake Placid and working with them in the community,” Bush said.

It won’t be too long before patrons can get their hands on their famous frozen coffees and teas or feast on subs and made-to-order items.

“Everything that I have heard about Wawa is good,” Lake Placid Mayor John Holbrook said. “I have heard they are very community minded. This is another indication that Lake Placid is growing. We want to make sure our businesses have as much support as possible.”

Highlands County is not currently listed in the “coming soon” tab of the corporation’s website. The closest “opening soon” store to the south of the county is #5385 in Okeechobee at State Road 70 and N.W. 2{sup}nd{/sup} Ave. It is scheduled to open “Summer 2021.” The closest open store to the north of the county is #5277 at 23623 U.S. 27 in Lake Wales.

Wawa is headquartered in Wawa, Pennsylvania. “Wawa” is also a Native American word for a Canadian goose, according to Wawa website. That is the reason for its name and its mascot, Wally Goose.