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Infant safe after standoff in Sebring with man who threatened to kill child

SEBRING — A 6-month-old infant is safe after having been pinned between a mattress and box spring, which were wedged against a wall.

Highlands County sheriff’s deputies arrested 23-year-old Christopher Doyle Caauwe on multiple charges Tuesday after an hour-long standoff, during which he reportedly threatened to kill the child.

When deputies found the baby, it had several lumps and bruises and a small cut. It was also apparent that the child was having difficulty breathing and had increased body temperature.

In addition to false imprisonment on a child under age 13 and cruelty towards a child, Caauwe also faces two charges each of false imprisonment on an adult and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when he allegedly prevented the child’s mother and another woman from leaving the apartment on Kent Drive in Sebring, and allegedly held a handgun to their heads, threatening their lives if they told anyone or called police.

At one point, according to arrest reports, he smashed one of their phones to prevent them calling for help. The two women were only able to get help by fleeing to nearby apartments and calling from there, reports said.

Other charges include felony domestic battery, misdemeanor battery and obstruction of justice.

Caauwe is currently being held in lieu of a $36,000 bond at the Highlands County Jail.

Deputies were called to the scene at 6:43 a.m. by a neighbor, who reported an argument over a child, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

When deputies arrived, they found Caauwe standing in front of his second-floor apartment, according to reports.

He refused to comply with deputies and threatened to kill the infant child, who was in the apartment, reports said.

The child’s mother had fled the apartment, reports said. She would later tell deputies she had been repeatedly attacked and beaten by Caauwe throughout the night, even while she was holding the baby.

She had scratches to her face, head, neck, torso, hands, and knees. The other woman had fled earlier to call for help.

The child’s mother told deputies that Caauwe had started drinking more heavily since he watched a friend commit suicide, and when he drinks heavily, he becomes violent.

On Monday night, according to reports, he allegedly pulled out his semi-automatic handgun, put it to the mother’s head and threatened to kill her. He also allegedly placed the same handgun against the other woman’s head and told her if she told anyone about what he had done he would kill her family. Reports said he also told both women that they were not allowed to leave and that he would kill them if they tried.

Later that evening, law enforcement was called to the area for suspected gunfire, which the child’s mother later told deputies was Caauwe punching car windows in the parking lot.

Once law enforcement left, Caauwe accused the mother of calling law enforcement on him, allegedly lunging at her while she was holding the 6-month-old infant, and punched her in the face and head.

Reports said that when she fell to the ground, Caauwe allegedly stomped on her legs, chest and back.

Reports state that Caauwe allegedly picked her up, body slammed her, and placed her in a “leg lock,” as well as choked her with his hands to the point she lost consciousness.

Reports said Caauwe then went to the other woman’s bedroom door, and began to punch a hole in it, then opened it and began to smash fans and light fixtures.

The woman got up and tried to call for help as she left the room, but Caauwe allegedly grabbed her phone, slapped her in the back of her head and then threw the cell phone at the floor, smashing it.

Deputies obtained and executed a search warrant and found ammunition, but not the handgun.

After being given a Miranda warning, Caauwe stated he was not willing to talk and that he wanted a lawyer, reports said.

Growers deal with loss of Caladium Festival

LAKE PLACID – The 30th annual Caladium Festival that was to take place July 23-25 was canceled at the end of May. There is probably no safe way to social distance the 20,000 people that pour into Stuart Park and immediate surrounding areas that weekend.

There were vendors that had to be canceled and entertainers to be informed. Perhaps the group that will be most impacted by the festival are the caladium growers themselves. Each year, growers bring massive quantities of bulbs and plants in a wide variety of colors and leaf shapes to the park where residents and tourists alike pick the perfect foliage.

One grower, Darlene Phypers of Happiness Farms, is going back to her roots, literally and figuratively.

“Our customers have been buying their bulbs from us for for more than 20 years,” Phypers said. “Some of them already had reservations to come.”

That’s why on July 23-25, Phypers will have displays out in the parking lot of Happiness Farms at 704 County Road 621 East in Lake Placid, where it all started. She will also encourage residents and tourists to visit her nearby home to get ideas on how to landscape with caladiums. That’s where the Caladium Festival started with Carolyn Phypers and Dot Bates of Bates Sons & Daughters Caladiums. The festival has grown considerably since those early days. The Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce took over the Caladium Festival in 2007.

Terri Bates of Bates Sons & Daughteres Caladiums said, “We will have our walk-up caladium bulbs for sale that we always have out in the summer.”

Bates said they will not take a financial hit because of the festival’s cancellation. “We are blessed and had a very good season. All the plants are gone now, but we have enough bulbs for people that would like to buy for their yards,” she said.

Bates Sons & Daughters Caladiums is located at 81 Bates Road in Lake Placid.

Classic Caladiums, located at 1315 State Road 64 West in Avon Park, will expand on its annual open house that is normally held in September, according to head grower Clay Wallace. They will expand the open house to include free tours of the caladium fields in Zolfo Springs. People will learn what happens in processing and the two-acre lifestyle garden. It is called a lifestyle garden because it has a deck, steps, hanging baskets and other ways people can plant with caladiums to fit their lifestyles. A green house to purchase the plants is nearby.

Because of Dr. Bob Hartman’s breeding program, Classic Caladiums has 60 varieties more than the growers in Lake Placid.

The Florida Boys at 271 Holmes Ave. in Lake Placid is another grower involved in the Caladium Festival. Sandy Holmes said they would not have a surplus of caladiums because when the festival rolls around, they simply stop selling caladiums online and use that inventory at the festival. “We will just keep selling online,” she said.

For customers that do not want to pay shipping, the Holmes’ will fill the order and customers can pick it up at the warehouse.

“We are disappointed (with the cancellation),” Holmes said. “The Boys get very involved with the festival.”

Court eyes hepatitis treatment for inmates

TALLAHASSEE — With a potential $28 million price tag looming, a federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments in a long-running dispute about whether Florida is providing proper treatment to prisoners with hepatitis C.

The class-action lawsuit centers on the use of an expensive type of medication known as “direct acting anti-virals” to treat hepatitis C, a contagious liver disease that can be fatal.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker last year ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to provide the treatment to all inmates with the disease, but the agency appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The state does not dispute that direct acting anti-virals should be given to inmates with later stages of hepatitis C. But the corrections department contends that it would not violate prisoners’ constitutional rights if they did not receive the high-cost medication in the early stages.

In a budget passed in March, state lawmakers set aside $28 million in reserves to pay for the treatment if needed.

The state asked the Atlanta-based appeals court to fast-track a decision in the case to make sure the money would be available in time for an April 2021 deadline to carry out Walker’s order.

During a hearing Wednesday of a three-judge panel, Judge Beverly Martin repeatedly pressed Florida Deputy Solicitor General James Percival to explain why the state is limiting treatment to inmates with more advanced stages of the liver disease. People with early stages are classified as “F0” or “F1” patients.

“What is a reason other than cost for not treating an F0 or F1?” Martin asked.

“Our judgment about medical necessity,” Percival, who represents the corrections department, said. “Our position is that you can basically do a cost-benefit analysis, just like a person would do if they were paying for their own treatment outside of prison.”

Walker last year ordered a two-year process to provide direct acting anti-virals to inmates with early stages of the disease. In the April 2019 ruling, the federal judge wrote that even inmates with no or mild liver scarring “have serious medical needs, FDC (the Department of Corrections) is aware of those needs, and FDC’s decision not to treat those inmates — without any medical reason for that decision — constitutes deliberate indifference.”

Dante Trevisani, who represents the plaintiffs, asked the panel Wednesday to uphold Walker’s ruling, saying inmates who don’t get the treatment in the early stages “face a substantial risk of serious harm.”

But Judge Kevin C. Newsom pointed out that previous court decisions have held states aren’t required to provide “medical care that is great or even very good” to prisoners.

“Certainly, in the private world, there are lots and lots of people who can’t get the medical treatment that they need solely because it’s too expensive,” Newsom said. “You are saying that no matter how expensive the treatment, a prisoner is entitled to better medical treatment than they are on the outside.”

The judge asked Trevisani if non-prison patients in the early stages of hepatitis C “have to wrangle” with insurance companies to cover the costs of the expensive medications.

But Trevisani said all insurance companies are providing direct acting anti-virals to F0 and F1 patients, and the federal government is covering the costs of the treatment for veterans and Medicaid patients.

“There’s a concession in the record that treatment is medically necessary,” Trevisani, executive director of the Florida Justice Institute, said. “We’re not saying that costs can never be taken into account. They just can’t be taken into account to the exclusion of any medical judgment.”

But Newsom persisted, posing a hypothetical situation in which an inmate is beginning to suffer from hearing loss. One doctor might decide that a cochlear implant is necessary, while another might say hearing aids are sufficient, Newsom said.

The hepatitis C case is different than “a reasonable disagreement between two forms of treatment,” Trevisani said.

“It’s a choice between the only form of treatment that’s available or none at all, where the only reason for not providing that … is financial,” he argued. “The secretary (of the Department of Corrections) hasn’t argued that they can’t afford to provide this treatment. They’re just saying that they don’t want to pay for it.”

According to a monthly status report filed by the Department of Corrections with Walker in May, 8,338 of the state’s roughly 94,000 prisoners were identified as having chronic hepatitis C. But the number of inmates who have the disease could be much higher, as new prisoners enter the system and as officials continue to screen for infections.

The Legislature set aside $28 million in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to address the cost of the drugs involved in the lawsuit, with a caveat that the money could be steered to address the coronavirus pandemic.

“Release of the funds shall be contingent upon an adverse outcome against the state, after the conclusion of all appeals, in the class action lawsuit which required the treatment of inmates testing positive for level F0-F1 (early stage) Hepatitis C as of December 2017, and the submission of a treatment plan for such inmates by the department specifying the funds required to provide treatment which can be initiated or completed prior the end of Fiscal Year 2020-2021,” budget fine print, known as proviso language, said.

The fine print also said the department could request the release of the money “if needed to respond to a pandemic in the prison system.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, which was held by telephone, Trevisani told the three judges that it’s unclear how much the drugs cost the corrections department.

The treatment, which originally cost up to $75,000 when first released in 2013, costs $37,000 for a 12-week regimen, according to court documents filed by the state three years ago.

Since then, the state hasn’t revealed how much is being spent on the direct acting anti-virals, Trevisani said.

“We have a deposition in June of 2018 where we heard the department is getting an aggressive discount on the price, but we don’t actually know the cost,” he said.

Virus deaths surpass 2,800 in Florida

SEBRING — Florida had 1,371 new virus cases Wednesday with a statewide death toll of 2,801, according to the Florida Department of Health. It was the eighth consecutive day to see 1,000 or more new virus cases recorded in the COVID-19 Dashboard.

Statewide, there have been 67,371 COVID-19 cases with 11,345 hospitalizations.

Highlands County had four new cases Wednesday for a total of 153 with 42 having been hospitalized over the course of the pandemic with nine deaths.

The Highlands resident cases include 75 men and 76 women age 0-91 with a median age of 54.

Both Hardee and Okeechobee counties added six more cases with Hardee’s total at 160 and Okeechobee’s total at 149. Glades County had two more cases for a total of 104.

Statewide, there have been 1,280,003 tested for the virus with 5.3% positive.

In Highlands, 5,296 have been tested with 2.9% positive.

In the May 16 update from the Health Department, the statewide positive rate was 7.1% while the Highlands positive rate was 4.6%.

Samaritan’s Touch Care Center in conjunction with LAB24 will offer free COVID-19 testing from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, June 20, at 3015 Herring Ave. in Sebring. Anyone interested in this drive-up testing is asked to call 863-471-1870 in advance and give their name for the event.

Glades County has the highest positive rate in the state with 25.4% of the 410 who were tested being positive.

Only Lafayette County in north Florida had fewer tests with 407, but with a much lower positive rate at 2.9%.

Miami-Dade County continues to lead the state with 20,277 cases, 3,280 hospitalizations and 784 deaths.

New York, among the hotspot states, has the highest number of cases in the nation with 380,156 and 30,500 deaths.

Alaska has the lowest numbers with 572 cases and 11 deaths.

Nationwide, there have been 1,988,491 cases with 112,088 deaths.

Worldwide, there have been 7,676,854 cases with 412,106 deaths.