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Massive python caught in Zolfo Springs

ZOLFO SPRINGS — Aaron Brown of Sebring and his mom, Pam, decided to go for a relaxing drive Sunday afternoon to a property the family has in Zolfo Springs. Spending time on the property is nothing new for Brown and his family, however, the sight of a massive python was.

Aaron said he pulled on to the property off Parnell Road when he caught a glimpse of the snake.

“I said, ‘Good Lord, that’s a big snake,’” he recalled. “I backed up and said ‘I knew I wasn’t imagining that.”

Some good-natured ribbing was had between Aaron and his mom. At least we hope it was kidding around.

“Go and grab it by the tail,” Arron said his mother told him. “I said, you get out and get it. At least if it gets you, I can shoot it. If he gets me, you can’t help me. You’ll probably end up shooting me.”

Aaron said he was not afraid but he knew if it got a hold of him, his mom was not going to be able to get it off of him. Aaron called his friend Dewey Sebring but Sebring thought he was exaggerating and the snake could not possibly be as long as his truck. Until, that is, Aaron sent him a picture.

“‘I’m on my way,’” Sebring told Aaron. He had an almost identical conversation with his cousin William “Bobby” Wilkinson but he left a home improvement store and headed to the property with his two kids, Tori and Hunter Wilkinson.

When they got to the property, Aaron couldn’t find the snake. After a bit, they found the snake curled up in a culvert. Ideas were kicked around on getting the snake out. Finally, Wilkinson left and brought back a “frog gig and snatch hook.”

“That’s when the fun started,” Aaron said. “We took the snatch hook and laid it on top of him and pulled his head out and shot it once. We kept pulling him out. He was still alive.”

Wilkinson shot the snake again. Aaron said the first shot just seemed to stun the snake. Once they finally got the snake out, they laid it out and, after making sure it was dead, Aaron and the two kids lined up along side it. The snake was as long as the three of them. They packed the snaked on ice.

When asked if Pam Brown was afraid of her son snake wrangling, he said she (and the others) got a good laugh out of it.

In all, the snake was 16 feet and 4 inches and weighed some 300 pounds. Wilkinson called Dusty “Wildman” Crum, a python hunter from Gaurdians of the Glades, to come take a look at the snake. Crum showed up barefoot on Wilkinson’s doorstep Monday afternoon.

Crum took the snake back to the Everglades to skin and found about 100 eggs in the snake’s belly. Crum sent the eggs off to see if they were “fertile,” according to Aaron. If they were fertile, that meant there are probably other snakes in the area. If not, the snake may have migrated to Zolfo Springs from the Everglades. Another possibility is the snake was a pet that was let loose. The snake was not microchipped.

Aaron said he and Wilkinson wouldn’t mind being part of the Everglades python hunts that take place.

He also said his children and other family members often head out to the property to hunt, fish, camp and relax and they have never seen any snakes that large out there before. Although he was told there was a large python caught in Boca Grande and Fort Meade. He will not let the python chase him off the property.

“It’s not going to slow me down,” Aaron said. “You just have to use more precautions.”

Some people have criticized Aaron. But he feels they did the right thing with the children, and animals that visit the property would have been no match for a snake that size.

LP FHP Auxiliary member works Super Bowl

Super Bowl tickets sold from $5,000 to over $22,000. A number of health care workers were treated with free tickets to the game. And one local 77-year-old man got into the game for free, spending the entire game on the 35-yard line.

He did not need a ticket because he was there to make sure everyone had a safe time before, during and after the game. He was joined by over a thousand security men and women including state troopers, Tampa police, deputy sheriffs and others hired by the NFL.

Montie Dowling, a retired lieutenant in the USA Navy is a member of the Auxiliary Unit of the Florida Highway Patrol. There were five Auxiliary volunteers working the game. They receive the same rigorous training as the actual paid members of the Highway Patrol. It requires 319 hours of training and 111 hours of classroom instruction, plus yearly ongoing training. However, they do not get paid a cent. They do it for the honor of serving. Their work saves thousands of dollars a month for the state.

The Auxiliary members handle parking and traffic control at the state theme parks, visit schools promoting pubic safety, assist with major weather events and manage the crowds at the state college and NFL games. Dowling is one of 15 members of the Northern Unit.

Since 2007, Dowling has worked all University of South Florida games, Buccaneers games, Daytona races, Gasparilla parades, Disney marathons, Animal Kingdom and others. Sunday, he had the thrill of his career working the Super Bowl.

It was a rigorous day for Dowling. He left his home in Lake Placid at 8 a.m. and did not get home until 3 a.m. He literally had to stand on the 35-yard line for nine straight hours and keep his trained eyes open to any problems that could develop. He was not one of the troopers chasing the lone streaker, but his day was full of assuring the safety of the crowd.

Dowling arrived at Raymond James Stadium at 10 a.m. to begin detail. “I had to park off scene, rode a bus to the stadium and walked a mile to our briefing area,” Dowling said.

“It was an experience of my lifetime. 680,000,000 people watched the game on TV and I was was one of the 25,000 to actually be in the stadium. I was there to observe the crowd for smoking, drunkenness and disorderly conduct. City police said inside and outside there were only 18 arrested,” added Dowling. Now and then he was able to sneak in a look at a big play. And for the Bucs, there were lots of them.

“The experience that effected me the most was the fantastic flyover, which included a B-1, a B-2 plus a B-52 bomber.”

The entire production was first class. Each seat had a wristband attached to a cup holder. The fans were asked to put it on for the halftime show. They were electronically set to flash different colors throughout the darkened stadium while the show’s star, ‘The Weeknd,’ sang. They say he actually spent $7 million of his own money to put on the spectacular Super Bowl Show.

Dowling said they were very strict about fans wearing face masks. The crowd was not rowdy at all. As can be expected for a home field advantage, there were more Bucs fans than Chief fans.

The food was pricey, however. Dowling and the other security people received a $20 food allowance. “I had popcorn chicken, fries and a drink. That cost me $22. That was cheap considering the cost of an individual game ticket,” Dowling said. T-shirts sold for $40.

“When I finally got home at 3 a.m., I went right to bed, but got up at 6 a.m. and went to my weekly volunteering at Little Lamb prison ministry,” said Dowling.

Dowling deserved his day at the game. His life of giving and weekly volunteering is living proof that no matter how old you are, you can always contribute to the betterment of mankind. Sometimes you see sad things happen to people as a volunteer and others times, like the Super Bowl, you have a chance to participate in something exciting. What added to the day for Dowling is the Bucs won and he is a big fan.

COVID numbers slightly better
  • Updated

Highlands County had an increase of 35 COVID-19 cases, according to the Florida Department of Health’s Wednesday update. The total number of people infected in the county climbed to 6,811, with 6,745 residents and 66 non-residents having had the virus since the onset.

Of the new cases, eight of them were found in people between 75 and 84, which boosted the median age for the day to 62, the highest seen in the past two weeks. There were also eight cases in the 55 to 64 age group and four of the cases were found in youngsters between the ages of 5 and 14.

Testing dropped slightly from the previous day, with 367 tests processed on county residents, which yielded a positivity rate of 9.54% for the day.

The county did see five additional hospitalizations, bringing the overall total to 546. According to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, there are 41 currently hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. ACHA reports show a total of 14 hospital beds available in the county, which includes two ICU beds.

For the state, total cases climbed slightly, while there were fewer reported deaths. There were 7,537 new cases reported in the state, which consisted of 7,405 resident cases and 132 non-resident cases. There were 214 new cases found in those 4 and younger, while children in the 5 to 14 age group made up 738 cases.

Testing was up a bit from the previous three days, as there were more than 113,000 statewide resident tests processed, which resulted in a positivity rate of 6.59% for new cases. Only once in the last 14 days has the state seen a positivity rate over 10%.

There were 165 new deaths reported, with 160 of those resident deaths. There have now been 28,208 resident deaths and 483 non-resident deaths for a combined total of 28,791.

The Florida Department of Heath states there were 55,531 vaccinations given on Tuesday, although those numbers are subject to change. Of those, 37,973 were second shots in the series. Since Jan. 30, FDOH is reporting more second shots given each day than first shots.

The state is showing a total of 2,110,794 people vaccinated, with 1,287,668 people receiving the first shot and 823,126 having received both shots in the series.

On the national scene, cases continued to remain low, as the COVID Tracking Project’s Tuesday night report showed a total of 92,986 new cases. As expected, the death count climbed considerably from Monday, with 2,795 reported. Hospitalizations remained low at 79,179.

Wednesday’s early numbers weren’t too good, with the California Department of Public Health reporting 518 new deaths even though the number of new cases was down to 8,390. Arizona reported 1,977 new cases but also saw 176 new deaths.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the U.S. has now seen 27.24 million cases and had 469,833 deaths.

Globally, there have been 107.2 million cases and 2.35 million deaths.

Publix, Winn-Dixie vaccines come to Highlands

LAKE PLACID — Publix and Winn-Dixie Pharmacies in Highlands County have joined in the effort to vaccinate seniors. All three Publix stores in the county will participate and will give the first shots on Friday. Winn-Dixie's corporate office confirmed the Sebring store would begin vaccines beginning today. Publix and Winn-Dixie will be following the state guidelines and vaccinating those over 65 years of age first.

The vaccines will be given by appointment only and the appointments are only. Appointment for both companies will only be taken online. Publix appointments are available online at publix.com/covidvaccine. The Winn-Dixie website is winndixie.com/pharmacy/covid-vaccine. Winn-Dixie has a downloadable consent form for convenience. See either company's website for more details.

The Publix online portal opened at 7 a.m. Wednesday but quickly filled.

The portal will open again at 7 a.m. Friday, Feb. 12 for appointments on Monday, Feb. 15 and Tuesday, Feb. 16. The last time listed for the portal to be opened is at 7 a.m. Monday, Feb. 15 for appointments on Wednesday, Feb. 17 and Thursday, Feb. 18. Check the website for the availability of appointment times after Monday, Feb. 15.

The locations of the stores are:

- South Highlands Shopping Center — 586 U.S. 27 N. in Lake Placid.

- Fairmont Plaza — 3610 U.S. 27 N. in Sebring.

- Southgate Shopping Center — 2848 U.S. 27 S., Suite 107 in Sebring.

- Winn-Dixie — 3250 U.S. 27 South in Sebring.

“With the addition of doses provided by the federal government, we are able to offer more Florida residents the opportunity to be vaccinated,” Publix CEO Todd Jones stated. “It is our privilege to serve during this time as we all work together to reduce the impact of the coronavirus in the state of Florida.”

DeSantis announced on Tuesday that the additional 269 Publix stores have joined the vaccine race and with the 324 stores already giving vaccines, Publix will have 593 pharmacies giving the vaccines across the many counties.

“Florida is proud to partner with Walmart and other retailers, including Publix, to expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” DeSantis said. “Through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, we look forward to reaching more Floridians and ensuring that all eligible residents who want a vaccine are able to receive one. We will continue to utilize strategic partnerships and identify innovative ways to get more shots in arms and put Florida’s Seniors First.”