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Two fires destroy residences in county

SEBRING — Firefighters in Highlands County have been very busy of late with both structure fires and brush fires as well as their usual calls. Wednesday afternoon proved to be no exception with two separate fires that destroyed residences and one causing a brush fire.

Both fires happened just about 2 p.m. The City of Sebring Fire Department was dispatched to a fire on Orange Blossom Avenue, in the Highlands Homes area, and was on scene within four minutes, according to Captain Austin Maddox. When they arrived, the home was engulfed in flames, especially in the front and left side of the home. Maddox said the home was a total loss and the fire is under investigation from the fire marshal. While there were no injuries to the residents or firefighters, two dogs died in the fire.

“The fire was very hot, very quick,” Maddox said.

The home next door was also in danger. Maddox estimated the distance between the homes as about 20 feet. The radiant heat from the house fire melted the siding of the neighboring home. Firefighters were able to get a line in quickly and protect the other home.

Highlands County EMS was on the call in case they were needed as well.

Maddox said the City of Sebring Fire Department trains hard and often to ensure quick and appropriate responses to many circumstances that can arise.

Very shortly after the Orange Blossom fire was dispatched, Highlands County Fire Rescue units were dispatched to the south end of the county for another structure fire. This time, it was a mobile home on the 100 block of EA Smith Avenue in Highway Park, a subdivision of Lake Placid.

The residence fire also resulted in a brush fire off McCoy Drive that was contained. The home was a total loss, according to HCFR Chief Marc Bashoor. The loss was estimated at $20,000. No injuries were reported in that fire.

HCFR units on scene were Lake Placid 36, Placid Lakes Volunteer Fire Department 39, and Sun n Lakes 41.

Three days of crashes in Sebring area

SEBRING — Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday saw more than six crashes on local roads, some resulting in two people ejected from one car, another surviving a rollover, a pedestrian/cyclist hit and others hit trying to leave parking lots.

The worst took place just before 2:40 p.m. Thursday in what appeared to be a fatal crash on U.S. 27 at the junction with Lake Josephine Road between a minivan and a sport-utility vehicle.

The impact threw one vehicle up in the air, landing on its roof, and threw two occupants onto the ground. At least one is believed to have died in the wreck.

Sheriff’s office officials, reading from dispatch reports, confirmed two people were ejected in the crash and the road was completely closed at that time, with the possibility of getting northbound lanes reopened soon.

Florida Highway Patrol had a trooper en route from Hardee County, sheriff’s officials said.

Shortly after that, calls came into 911 Consolidated Dispatch for a pedestrian or cyclist hit on Sebring Parkway at Lemon Avenue in downtown Sebring. No reports on injuries were available as of press time for either of the two Thursday incidents.

Tuesday and Wednesday had seen four collisions, two of them rollovers and the other two from people attempting to exit parking lots into or across traffic. Fortunately, there were not fatalities.

State Road 66The first was at 8:10 a.m. Tuesday on SR 66 near Payne Road. A Sheriff’s Office traffic crash report said that 72-year-old Gail Jean Leavitt, eastbound in a blue 2008 Toyota Rav4, traveled off the road into the ditch, went airborne and hit a power pole.

The SUV rolled over and spun, reports said, landing on its wheels in the ditch, facing west.

Leavitt was transported to Highlands Regional Medical Center, reports said, and spoke to the Highlands News-Sun on Thursday. She had two dogs in the car with her at the time: a 75-pound German shepherd and a 65-pound Akita and German shepherd mix.

They didn’t have seat belts, although she did.

Fred Leavitt, her husband, said the front, top and side airbags probably saved her life.

He posted on social media that she was the victim of a hit and run driver from behind. She said she heard a big thud prior to going into the ditch and had another person tell her they had seen a truck, but had no further information.

“It’s just hard when you don’t know,” Gail Leavitt said.

However, deputies ruled the incident as a single-vehicle crash and found her at fault for failure to maintain her lane.

Doc SherwoodLater that morning, shortly before 10 a.m., a Jeep attempted a left turn across U.S. 27 at Doc Sherwood Boulevard and got hit in the side by another SUV.

The impact rolled the Jeep, spun the other car nearly 180 degrees, sent three people to local hospitals and blocked northbound lanes for approximately an hour.

Sebring Fire Department officials said people did not appear to be seriously injured. They were able to step out of the vehicles and walk to ambulances.

ParkwayA beginning driver is facing possible citations after attempting to turn her gray Jeep Cherokee left onto Sebring Parkway from a parking lot at the former Ruby Tuesday restaurant on Wednesday.

Sebring police report that shortly before 3:45 p.m. the 16-year-old apparently got waved forward by a driver who had stopped for her to cross traffic and head eastbound, but she didn’t see a westbound silver Scion xE, which hit her driver’s side front quarter.

“That driver didn’t see her until she was out in front of him,” Sebring Police Cmdr. Curtis Hart said.

Hart did not have names of the drivers or the young driver’s three passengers, which she was not allowed to have under a learner’s permit.

The crash is still under investigation, Hart said, but possible citations would include violation of the right of way and violation of the conditions of a learner’s permit.

LakeviewAnother driver attempted a turn onto a main road from a parking at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, Hart said, and also ended up getting hit.

Karyl Glessing, 76, of Sebring attempted to turn right onto Lakeview Drive in her red 2009 Mercury Milan from the Publix Super Market parking lot at Southgate Shopping Center. She reportedly did not see an oncoming black Jeep Wrangler Unlimited four-door heading toward downtown on that street.

The impact spun the Jeep 90 degrees and obliterated the front of the Mercury, but both Glessing and 21-year-old Jayda Amarosa, the driver of the Jeep, refused medical transport.

Hart said both cars were disabled and had to be towed. Glessing, he said, was called at fault for failure to yield the right of way and was given a written warning.

County votes 4-1 to buy Haywood Taylor property

SEBRING — County commissioners voted 4-1 to commit the funds to buy the Haywood Taylor Boulevard property for a new fire station.

Commissioner Arlene Tuck cast the dissenting vote, saying she has concerns about the fire engines being able to get out onto U.S. 98 from there and not being closer to Lorida.

The 35-acre site at 7301 Haywood Taylor Blvd. sits immediately southwest of Sebring Regional Airport and the Sebring International Raceway, and at the west end of Spring Lake Improvement District, with possible access directly into the subdivision.

The sale price of $650,000 is covered mostly by cost savings in other projects, according to Capital Project Manager Sarah Albritton. Commissioner Kevin Roberts said he was “pleasantly surprised” to find that a $132,000 savings on the Government Center Annex roof and a $338,000 savings on the Government Center roof dropped the fiscal impact on Fund 151 — the Infrastructure Surtax — to $181,169.

Commissioner Chris Campbell said he was glad to see that in addition to having a fire station on site, there could also be a law enforcement training facility with multi-purpose rooms for the community. Commission Chair Scott Kirouac said Rep. Ben Albritton (District 56) had worked hard on getting funding for that facility into a Florida House bill.

“It’s not been inked yet,” Kirouac said, although he hopes to see it pass through the Legislature this time.

A previous attempt at getting the center, to be named in honor of the late Deputy William J. Gentry Jr. was cut from a previous state budget before final approval.

Commissioners also approved three letters prepared by Legislative Affairs & Grants Coordinator Liz Barber in opposition to two legislature bills and in favor of funding for two state road programs.

Commissioners oppose Senate Bill 1924, the “Emergency Management Powers of Political Subdivisions” bill, which would automatically expire emergency orders issued by a political subdivision and would hamper extension of such orders. Barber said that would hamper back-to-back disaster declarations, such as were needed in the 2004 hurricane season for frequent subsequent storms.

Senate Bill 750, “Impact Fees,” would require local governments and special districts to credit a business or developer for any improvements to public facilities or infrastructure, even if such improvements don’t meet the needs created by that development. It would also limit what infrastructure impact fees could buy, such as no new vehicles or equipment for law enforcement, fire services or emergency medical services.

Finally, the county wants to see the state uphold funding for the Small County Outreach Program (SCOP) and the Small County Road Assistance Program (SCRAP), both of which assist small counties like Highlands to make much-needed repair and repaving on local roads. Senate Bill 100, currently making its way through committees, would repeal funding for the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) Project, but has a provision to reduce SCOP and SCRAP funding.

State sees big jump in COVID cases
  • Updated

Highlands County had its new cases of coronavirus increase by 21 per the Florida Department of Health’s daily COVID-19 update on Thursday – a small improvement over the past few days. In fact, most of the coronavirus numbers have seen some improvement.

The new cases bring the cumulative total to 7,848 cases of infection. The majority of people infected are from residents with 7,760 cases of infections and just 88 non-residents who have been infected.

FDOH shows the county has had 163 cases over the past seven days, for an average of 23.28 cases daily.

There were no deaths reported overnight; the deaths remain at 328 people.

There were 301 tests processed with 279 negative results. This generated a positivity rate of 7.31%, which is significantly lower than the previous day.

Hospitalizations went up by five admissions to 625, or 8% of all cases. As of Thursday afternoon, there were 29 people in the hospital from COVID, per the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The county has seen 684 cases of infection come from long-term care facilities. FDOH shows 85 deaths from either residents or staff from long-term care facilities.

The daily median age was 38 on Thursday while the overall median age remained at 52 years old.

The Highlands County Board of County Commission is providing Moderna vaccines to those 18 years and older in the former JC Penney store at Lakeshore Mall on Wednesdays through Saturdays. The HCBoCC schedule is as follows:

  • Appointments only for first and second dose from 8-11 a.m.
  • Walk-ins for first dose from 1-4 p.m. subject to daily availability
  • Walk-ins for second dose from 1-3 p.m. subject to daily availability

For first doses, use the entrance closest to Planet Fitness. For second doses, use the entrance closest to the former Kmart store.

Eligible individuals may register for an appointment by calling toll-free at 866-200-3858 or by visiting myvaccine.fl.gov.

Those who received their first inoculations from the federally supported (FEMA) point of distribution at the Lake Placid Camp and Conference Center can get their second shot 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On April 12-13.

Across Florida, new cases saw a big jump with 7,939 cases over night. The increase saw the cumulative total rise to 2,104,686 cases of COVID infection. Just like with the county, residents make up the majority of infections at 2,065,122 and 39,564 non-residents who contracted the virus.

There were 86 people whose deaths were attributed to COVID. The death report more an doubled overnight.

Wednesday was the biggest testing day in the past two weeks with 117,112 processed with 109,226 negative results. This produced a slightly better positivity result from the previous day at 6.73%.

FDOH shows 10,470,325 doses of vaccine have been given in the state. Those getting Johnson&Johnson vaccines count as one dose. Those that have gotten the first shot of Moderna and Pfizer account for one dose and those who have gotten their second dose of Moderna and Pfizer count for two doses. A lag time in reporting can create a low count.

Numbers in the United States increased 71,752 cases on Wednesday, with states reporting 800 new deaths. Hospitalizations have climbed back to 39,474, with Michigan seeing 63% of the nation’s seven-day increase in hospitalizations and 73% of the 14-day increase.

Testing was down a bit, with 1,360,761 tests processed, which is about 85,000 fewer than the seven-day average for tests.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 110 million people to have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is 33.1% of the population and 64.4 million have received both shots, which is 19.4% of the country’s population.

Among adults, 42.4% of the population has received at least one shot and 76.4% of seniors have received at least one vaccine dose, with 57.4% of seniors having received both shots.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there have been 30.99 million cases in the United States and 559,638 deaths.

Globally, there have been 133.5 million cases and 2.9 million deaths.