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Scooters popular; some stolen, but some recovered

SEBRING — The popular Bird Scooter has given people shopping in Sebring’s downtown area a quicker way to visit shops, using the electric-motor two-wheeled vehicles to get them around faster than their feet can take them.

“They are a really small compact scooter, think of a little child’s Razor scooter, but motorized and a little bit more substantial wheels and things like that,” Fleet Manager Dan Andrews of Legacy Bicycles said.

There have been some, however, who haven’t used them properly. Andrews said a handful of the scooters have “walked off.”

About seven users took vehicles out of Community Redevelopment Agency District and never returned them.

“They’re no good outside downtown,” Andrews said.

That hasn’t stopped some people from trying to make the public transit option a personal one, he said, even though the scooters start beeping loudly once outside the CRA district, and will shut down, a failsafe feature of the computer module that runs and charges them.

So far, two were recovered, from Lorida and Avon Park, Andrews said. Another was recovered by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office after Dan Feathers, who assists Andrews in managing the fleet, tracked a missing one to an address off State Road 60, west of Lake Wales.

Officials with the Polk County Sheriff said they found the black Bird Scooter and talked with a 50-year-old man at the address, who said he’d bought it off an unknown man at a convenience store for $50. He had taken apart the electric module on the handle bars, Polk Sheriff’s officials said. Deputies there recovered the scooter and informed the Sebring Police Department, which had the original theft report.

The remaining three scooters ended up on the bottom of Lake Jackson, no longer usable.

Any permanently disabled scooter is a $1,200 loss, Andrews said. It’s something Bird Scooter’s insurance company will cover, it’s still a loss to the 75-vehicle fleet that serves downtown Sebring.

There also have been problems with a few users using the scooters to do back-tire burnouts on sidewalks and streets, Andrews said, but for the most part, everyone using them is being courteous, conscientious and legal.

The Sebring City Council unanimously approved a proposal in early February to have a fleet of electric rental scooters in the CRA district and posted a few locations on Lakeview Drive. Bird Scooters has rental programs in Tampa and South Florida and in big cities all over the United States, and is now pushing to get into smaller communities.

In the long run, it’s hoped the scooters may help solve some perceived parking issues and offer a mass transit option within the district.

Andrews, assisted by Dan Feathers, who helps him manage the fleet, collects scooters each night and stages them on the streets each morning. Feathers provided the Highlands News-Sun with a map of the geo-fence that limits where the scooters can go [See graphic]. Andrews can also set the hours of use.

Each scooter — basically a motorized skateboard with bigger tires, handlebars and a battery-pack for a 20-mile ride, rents by the minute and can go up to 15 mph. PocketLint.com published step-by-step instructions in January 2020 on renting the popular transports. First, the user downloads a mobile app and receives a unique QR code (matrix barcode) to scan into the scooter to start the rental period. You also have to create a login and enter a method of payment.

PocketLint.com states a map in the app will show you any nearby e-scooters. When you find one, tap its button to unlock it, and use your phone — via the app — to snap a photo of the scooter’s QR code. You might also have to scan your driver’s license for the first rental.

Stand on it, kick off three times, then push the throttle button to start it up, PocketLint.com said. Squeeze with your right hand to accelerate and brake with your left. When you stop, park by a bike rack and don’t block public pathways.

When you’re done, open the app and tap the button to lock the scooter. The app will then show you how much the ride time costs.

Of course, those who took a scooter way outside the CRA district and way past their appointed ride time may find it costs them a whole lot more.

Highlands News-Sun Staff Writer Marc Valero contributed to this report.

Queenie, Queen remembered with balloons and hugs

SEBRING — After more than 100 people released dozens of balloons into the sky, in memory of a lost mother and child, local leaders urged others to spread love.

“You have 30 seconds. Tell someone you love them now. Hug someone now,” said Ada McGowan, CEO of Highlands County Citizens with Voices at Saturday evening’s memorial at Citrus Terrace Apartments.

With that, she and the rest turned to embrace each other in honor of Queenie Roux, and her 3-year-old daughter, Queen, who died Wednesday in a car crash in Atlanta, Georgia.

Queenie was moving from her home at Citrus Terrace to a new life for herself and her six children. Saturday evening’s highlight, after a prayer for unity in the community and the world, was a balloon release with all the pink and yellow, and also purple, silver and gold balloons that Queenie and Queen could have wanted.

The memorial was organized by Queenie’s neighbors, Velma Moses and Rashael Reed, to give Queenie’s family, friends and community a place to mourn her passing.

“I’m going to miss her,” Moses said.

As for the temporary memorial display in front of Queenie’s old apartment, Moses said she was told it couldn’t stay, but she planned to box up the decorations and gift them to the family.

Wednesday’s two-car collision on Interstate 75 took not only the lives of Queenie and Queen, but also a baby Queenie had carried for at least two months, according to family. Queenie had four other children in the car, besides Queen. They survived the crash and are still recovering in Atlanta. Another child was at home in Sebring and was spared the trauma.

Mike Crenshaw, community resident, said this hit home for him because he lost a 6-year-old grandson back in January. He said it’s important that people start looking at each other as fellow human beings and get rid of the anger and hate that permeates the nation so much today.

McGowan’s urging for everyone to embrace took a while to get going, but it kept going, with some shedding tears into warm shoulders when they let themselves feel the loss.

The evening might have ended in an informal party, had the skies not shed rain, first as a drizzle and then more substantial drops.

Teacher planning time may be extended

SEBRING — Teachers at some district schools may have additional planning time in the upcoming school year as the School Board of Highlands County and teachers union work on finalizing an agreement.

At a recent School Board meeting, Deputy Superintendent Andrew Lethbridge said the district has been talking with the teachers union about extending the school day. At one point the district was looking at extending it a whole hour and also extending the student school day.

As they worked through it, it took many turns and the recommendation has shifted to extending specifically teacher planning time by 30 minutes at the elementary schools and Avon Park High, he said.

“We have been continuing to work with the union on that language, we are probably closer at this point,” Lethbridge said. Some of that planning, they are proposing, would be for PLC (professional learning community) and individual planning as well.

Superintendent Brenda Longshore said the extended planning time would be at the elementary schools, Avon Park High and Highlands Virtual School.

School Board Member Donna Howerton said the district was looking at extending the day for students and teachers, so due to the preferences expressed in the the teacher survey, only the teachers will have an extended day, which will be at the end of the day.

Andrew replied, “Yes, that is what we are looking at.”

Lethbridge said recently the district is purchasing new curriculum, which will take time to learn. Anytime you change curriculum there is a period of time to absorb it.

“We also know through this plan, teachers would have increased individual planning,” he said. “There is just never enough time for them to accomplish everything in the hours of the day they are given.

“So with all of the issues of the pandemic, teachers are really trying to work with students to close the [learning] gap.”

Along with additional individual planning time, the extended planning would provide time for “professional learning community” where teachers get together and review data to determine where there are deficiencies and develop strategies to attack those deficiencies, Lethbridge said.

A survey of administrators and schools showed that a whole hour of extra time was too much and so the 30 minutes was a happy medium for providing additional planning time, he said. Avon Park High was the only secondary school that was very interested in extending it the full hour.

For Avon Park High it will be like a pilot program to determine if the extra time shows results with increased student achievement, Lethbridge said.

State, local crime rate down; violent crimes up
  • Updated

SEBRING — Overall crime went down in Florida in 2020, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but violent crime went up.

In Highlands County, those results were mixed. While murders went down, rape didn’t go down by much and aggravated assault increased significantly. Burglary and larceny went down, but motor vehicle theft went up significantly, too.

Florida saw 1,285 murders last year, an increase of 260, or up 14.7% from 2019, according to the FDLE annual crime report. Of those, 1,025 were committed with a gun, approximately 80% of the total, up 20.2% from 2019.

Burglaries, robberies and larcenies dropped significantly during the year as many people worked at home or stayed home more often because of the coronavirus pandemic. 2020 had 13,439 robberies, a drop of 17% from 2019; 51,928 burglaries, down 17.8%; and 291,923 larcenies, down 18.5%.

Florida as a state also saw fewer reported rapes, from 8,439 in 2019 down to 7,650 in 2020 — a decrease of 9.3%. Motor vehicle thefts also dropped slightly. Meanwhile, aggravated assaults increased by 9.5%, from 55,333 in 2019 to a total of 60,567 last year.

Accounting for state population growth, all crime was down 15.7% in 2020.

Highlands County, with 103,434 people in 2019 and 104,834 people in 2020, saw a slightly larger drop in the crime index, FDLE reported. The total numbers of reported crimes dropped from 2,621 in 2019 to 2,185 in 2020 — a 16.6% drop.

The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office saw a 17.7% drop in reported crime for 90,786 people, including those in the city limits of Avon Park. The Sebring Police Department saw a 13.7% drop among its 11,208 people, and the Lake Placid Police Department saw a huge 39.2% drop among its 2,840 people.

Inside the Town of Lake Placid, in all categories, seemed to have lower crime numbers. However, the crime rate was lower, on average in the Avon Park and unincorporated areas, combined, with a rate of 1,805.3 per 100,000 people.

Lake Placid, inside town limits, had a rate of 2,746.5, and Sebring had the highest single-area rate with 4,175.6.

The clearance rate per 100 offenses got better from 42.4 in 2019 and 50.8 in 2020. Sebring had the best clearance rate of 53.4, followed by the Sheriff’s Office at 51.6 and Lake Placid Police at 20.5.

Murders in Highlands dropped from 11 in 2019 to nine in 2020. Reported rapes went down from 30 to 29, but aggravated assaults went up from 181 to 220 — a 21.5% increase. Five of the murders took place in unincorporated areas and/or Avon Park, three in Sebring city limits and none inside Lake Placid town limits.

Eight rapes took place inside Sebring and another 21 in the unincorporated areas and/or Avon Park. Meanwhile, 157 of 2020 aggravated assaults took place in either Avon Park or the unincorporated areas, while 53 were in Sebring and 10 were in Lake Placid.

Of Highlands’ 39 robberies in 2020, down from 58 in 2019, there were 15 in Sebring and another 24 in either Avon Park or the unincorporated areas. None were reported in Lake Placid.

All areas had burglaries, larcenies (theft of personal property) or motor vehicle theft. Of 333 burglaries in 2020, down 39% from 546 in 2019, there were 259 in Avon Park and the unincorporated areas, 69 in Sebring and five in Lake Placid.

Out of 1,405 larcenies in 2020, down 17.8% from 1,709 in 2019, FDLE tallied 1,043 in Avon Park and the unincorporated areas, with another 302 in Sebring city limits and 60 in Lake Placid town limits.

Of 151 motor vehicle thefts in 2020, up 75.6% from 86 in 2019, there were 130 in Avon Park and the unincorporated areas, 18 in Sebring city limits and three in Lake Placid town limits.

Total arrests dropped almost in half from 2019 to 2020, from 4,024 to 2,232. Of those, the Sheriff’s Office had 1,697, Sebring Police had 387 and Lake Placid Police had 67.

Of the Sheriff’s Office arrests last year, 1,532 were adults and 165 were juveniles. Of those, two were for murder, three for rape, 17 for robbery, 74 for aggravated assault, 48 for burglary, 209 for larceny and 20 for motor vehicle theft.

Sebring Police arrested 361 adults and 26 juveniles. Of those, one was for murder, four were for rape, six for robbery, 19 for aggravated assault, 12 for burglary, 27 for larceny and one for motor vehicle theft.

Lake Placid Police arrested 66 adults and one juvenile. Of those, six were aggravated assault and five were for larceny.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrested 46 in 2020 — 44 adults and two juveniles — one for larceny and one for aggravated assault. The Florida Highway Patrol arrested 35, all of them adults.