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Watch your step: Warmer weather bringing out snakes
  • Updated

SEBRING — Days have warmed back up and it’s Florida: Get ready to see more snakes.

On Wednesday, Animal Services Officer Brandon Owens caught a large rattlesnake on Andalusia Street in Sebring. His supervisor at the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, Lt. Clay Kinslow, said that one was curled up on the driveway, preventing a woman from reaching her car.

When Owens arrived, the snake curled around and up a pole. He had to use a snake grabber – a long-handled clamp designed to handle snakes – and then use his free hand to unwrap the snake from the pole.

After that, he immediately put the snake into a box and took it to a local facility that milks the animals for venom before releasing them. Snake venom is used to make antivenom, in case someone actually does get bit.

Kinslow said encounters are not always precarious, but people call frequently about snakes. Some want officers to pursue snakes into nearby brush.

“We tell them, ‘You live in Florida. There are snakes everywhere,” Kinslow said, noting that officers will come get a snake if they are in a house, garage, car, driveway, pool area or laundry room. “We won’t search in the woods.”

They will come and help, however, if it’s a poisonous snake, in a family’s living area or frequenting a yard used by children and/or pets.

Fortunately, Kinslow said, most snakes people see are not only harmless, they are beneficial. Sheriff’s officials said that, without snakes, Floridians would be overrun with rats, bugs and lizards.

Some snakes, such as the indigo snake, are illegal to kill. If it is an indigo or black snake, they help, Kinslow said.

“You want those around,” Kinslow said.

As for the rattlesnake, an official said, “It can’t eat you, so it doesn’t want anything to do with you.”

The best way to reduce encounters with snakes is to mow and maintain your yard, keeping grass, weeds and possible nesting and hunting grounds for snakes to a minimum.

“If you give them a place to hide and get under, then they will come,” Kinslow said.

If you see a snake, don’t kill it, even if it is venomous. Just stay away from it and keep pets and kids at a safe distance. If you really want it gone, call 863-402-7200 and ask for Animal Services.

Boy 13, recovering from firework burns, returns home

SEBRING — Gauge Grantham considers himself lucky, and blessed.

The 13-year-old spent a week in Tampa General Hospital after a second-hand fireworks mortar exploded in front of him, burning his chest, neck and face and leaving debris in his eyes.

Wednesday night found him back home in DeSoto City with family, still bandaged on his neck where the aerial bomb had burned him the worst and wearing wrap-around sunglasses to protect his eyes, still sore from surgery and still carrying a lot of debris, his family said.

The homecoming gave him a chance, also, to thank paramedics and emergency medical technicians who arrived last Thursday to treat him and transport him to Highlands Regional Medical Center for the 22-minute flight to Tampa.

His mother, Brandy Grantham, rode with his grandfather the two hours to Tampa to catch up with him.

“It seemed like eight hours,” Brandy Grantham said.

Wednesday, after two surgeries to clean out his eyes, he opened his eyes for the first time since the explosion, she said. He said he could see clearly, but she said doctors told her they couldn’t get everything out and the incident scarred his corneas as much as it did his face and chest.

It all came from an old fireworks item, no larger than an apple, family said, that turned out to be more dangerous than it looked. He reportedly thought it was a smoke bomb.

His grandmother, Sara Gilbreath, said it was 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 8, when Gauge dug a hole in the yard, dropped in the fireworks item that he had and lit it. He didn’t know it was a mortar shell firework.

Licensed commercial fireworks dealers display such shells as being a small ball perched atop of a small cylinder. The shell goes into the bottom of a long tube pointed upward, and the shell has a long fuse for safety reasons.

The bottom part is a lift charge that propels it into the air. Once there, a secondary charge explodes it to release the effects normally seen with celebration display fireworks on holidays and at amusement parks.

Gauge’s twin sister, Raina, remembered hearing two explosions. She was home at the time, along with their mother and grandparents. Gilbreath described a roar like a cannon. Allie Slager, a family friend at a nearby ball field, said it sounded like a gun.

Then they heard Gauge screaming. They ran outside to see him picking himself up off the ground, leaning over slightly, yelling that he couldn’t see. His dark blue T-shirt was burnt away around his chest and neck where he had second- and third-degree burns.

Raina called 911. Gauge tried to flush his eyes with the kitchen sink sprayer until the 911 dispatcher told them to put a wet washcloth over his face and have him stay calm.

Shortly after that, Highlands County Fire Rescue and Emergency Medical Services arrived. Paramedic Medical Supervisor Karin Richardson responded with fellow Paramedics Brody Carr and Daniel Ciorrocco and Emergency Medical Technicians Bryan Sands and John Poynor, who stabilized him for the trip to Tampa.

Wednesday night, the five rescuers took the chance to meet up with Gauge again, under better circumstances. Gauge had a hard time putting his feelings in words, but expressed gratitude that they had helped him out and taken take of him.

“They took good care of him,” Brandy Grantham said.

Treatments from hospital doctors and nurses reduced what could have been several weeks or months down to a week. They were able to avoid skin grafts, too, but the debris in his eyes will have to work its way out.

“He’s still got a ways to go,” Brandy Grantham said.

Though he didn’t talk much about it Wednesday night, both mother and grandmother said Gauge has talked about doing a public safety presentation at his school to warn fellow students not to get, play with, light or even be near fireworks.

The Liberty Tree dedicated at festival

An ancient live oak, at least six feet in diameter, will be dedicated as a Liberty Tree this Sunday, April 18. The dedication will be part of the festivities at the Heritage Festival, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Highlands County. It will take place at the Edna Pearce Lockett Estate, on the south side of U.S. 98, west of the Kissimmee River.

The Highlands Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution chose this tree as a memorial of the original Liberty Tree in Boston that was cut down by the British in 1775. That tree, a great elm that stood near Sam Adams’ brewery on the road into Boston, had become a gathering point of the Sons of Liberty, and all those who opposed English oppression.

This live oak, which shades a hundred-foot area, was growing 256 years ago, in 1775. It was likely growing 375 years ago when Boston’s Liberty Tree was planted in 1646.

Live oak is the slowest growing of all oak trees. When Highlands County was formed, this tree was about five feet in diameter, as it only grows one inch every six years, after it reaches 160 years old. The formula used to date live oak trees at Amelia Island advises measuring the tree four and one half feet above the ground.

This tree measured 19 feet circumference at 30 inches above the ground, the narrowest spot, which is six foot diameter. By that formula, this tree would be 450 years old.

Above and below that, it spreads into roots and limbs. At four and one half feet above the ground, it is six inches larger in diameter, which would add 36 years. Expert advice is sought out for more exact dating.

On April 18, 1775, 700 British troops crossed the Charles River by boat, then marched north to seize the American arsenal at Lexington and capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams. The same night, alerted by two lanterns in the steeple of Old North Church, Paul Revere and William Dawes left Boston by fast horses to raise the alarm and warn Hancock and Adams. At 5 a.m. April 19, 77 armed militia awaited the British arrival on Lexington Green. The British fired first, the shot heard around the world, and the Revolutionary War had begun.

April 18 and 19 are a state holiday in Massachusetts and Maine, and Boston’s Patriots Day celebration is usually watched worldwide. This year, all is quiet in Boston due to COVID restrictions. The most memorable Patriot’s Day celebration in America this year is not in New York or Boston, but is in Fort Basinger, Florida 33857. Google calls it a ghost town on the Kissimmee River. This is the location of the Edna Pearce Lockett Estate, which has never before been open to the public, and the 100th Anniversary celebration of Highlands County.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, the Liberty Tree will be dedicated by Revolutionary War dressed color guard, from all over Florida. At this unveiling of the bronze plaque, the quiet countryside will be awakened by the firing of flintlock muskets. The smell of black powder smoke will waft through the old oaks as it has not for over a century. The best kept secret in the country, the best patriot day in America this year is not in Boston, but here in the heart of old Florida.

James Dean is the president of the Highlands County Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution and president of the Old English Motor Company.

Office closing early

The Highlands News-Sun, located at 321 N. Ridgewood Drive, will be closing at 3 p.m. until further notice. Call 863-385-6155 if you need assistance.

County surpasses 8,000 cases of COVID
  • Updated

Highlands County surpassed the 8,000 mark for new cases of COVID when the Florida Department of Health came out with the daily coronavirus update on Thursday. Not only did the county hit the 8,000 mark, but with 41 new cases, it rose to 8,024. Thursday was the highest new case day of the entire month.

All of the new cases were residents and they make up for 7,933 of the cases. Only 91 nonresidents make up the total. Over the past seven days, there have been 171 new cases in the county for an average of 24.42

In addition to the bad news concerning the new cases, another death was reported overnight to bring the total deaths to 332 people.

Testing was way up with 473 processed and 432 negative results. Unfortunately, the positivity rate was still higher than Wednesday at 8.67%.

Hospitalizations remained at 633 admissions, per FDOH. According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, there were 33 people being treated for COVID as of Thursday afternoon. Across the state, hospitalizations were up to 3,273 people with the main diagnosis of COVID.

There have been 695 cases from long-term care facilities and 127 from corrections.

The daily median age went up to 46 but the overall median age stayed at 51.

Moderna vaccines are still being given by the Highlands County Board of County Commission at the former JC Penney in the Lakeshore Mall, Wednesday through Saturday.

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.

Across Florida, new cases were down, albeit by an infinitesimal amount to 6,762. The total new cases are 2,148,448. Of those cases, 2,108,030 are from residents and 40,418 from nonresidents who contracted the disease.

Overnight, 78 deaths were reported and includes four non-resident deaths. The death toll has risen to 34,709. Of those deaths, 34,238 were residents and and 669 were non-residents.

There were 101,372 tests processed with 94,624 negative results. The daily positivity rate was 6.66%.

Numbers in the United States dropped slightly on Wednesday, with states reporting 70,751 new cases. Deaths climbed 65 to 869, while hospitalizations are still continuing their slow upward trend, with 41,185 hospitalized. There were 7,992 reported in ICU, although not all states keep track of ICU patients.

Michigan did see a drop in hospitalizations, marking the first time since March 10 there wasn’t an increase. The state’s positivity rate has also decreased slightly over the past few days. The state did report 6,303 new cases on Thursday and 112 new deaths, with 81 of the deaths found in a review of death certificates.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States has seen a total of 31.46 million cases and 564,747 deaths. The global count is 138.6 million cases and 2.98 million deaths.