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People moved off the Parkway

SEBRING — People who are homeless got pushed off private property last Friday and onto the side of Sebring Parkway, had their pile pared down Tuesday.

After that, residents who did not have a home, known as “John” and “Christina,” hoped that people they knew would be able to give them a ride off the side of the road.

The couple and some others had been living at a campsite north of Home Avenue and south of the Roundabout, for the past two years with no problems. However, a neighbor recently complained, and as Christina put it, the landowner didn’t have much choice once code enforcement got involved.

They got a little help Tuesday morning from Highlands County sheriff’s deputies, who arrived with trailers to help cart off whatever the couple couldn’t take with them or could at least bear to lose.

Prior to that, they’d had to contend with people stopping along the side of the road to either look at their “yard sale” or pick through the piles as if the items were dumped or discarded.

John, 26, complained about people coming along to pick through his and others’ belongings when they were first evicted. Christina said they eventually sold some of it, for much-needed cash.

He busied himself with fixing the front of a small cargo trailer that hitches to the rear of a bicycle, and asking Christina to help him find the tools he needed among the boxes they had left.

Maj. Darin Hood, head of the Law Enforcement Bureau, stood by with approximately a half dozen other personnel while a crew in reflective vests loaded up a trailer with discarded items. Other deputies with him included Environmental Deputy Robert Gunthorp and Lt. Clay Kinslow, head of Animal Services.

“The officers have been really cool,” Christina said of the situation. “They’re trying to do their job.”

John was less conciliatory but in a better mood than expected, Christina said.

She also said the landowner from whose property they were evicted was also “great” for trying to give them extra time to vacate the property.

The problem, however, is that the land on which they and other people had camped for approximately two years, is not zoned or permitted as recreational land. According to land development regulations, people can only camp on recreational land.

“Highlands Hammock [State Park] is the only one that’s recreational land, and they want $50 a night,” Christina said. “That’s as much as a hotel room.”

They had access to the land from the Parkway, in part because a car had crashed into the pasture fence that separated the right of way from private land, and was not repaired.

The sky's the limit for Wilson's future

SEBRING — Sebring High School JROTC Cadet Major Tegan Wilson has two dreams, flying and serving his country. With the help of JROTC and his work ethic, his future dreams are a bit closer to becoming reality.

Wilson has been awarded a scholarship to attend flight school this summer and earn his private pilot license. He has been working toward earning his license on his own and the U.S. Air Force scholarship will assist in completing that goal.

This summer, Wilson will attend a college or university that has partnered with the U.S. Air Force.

Out of 200 applications, Wilson was chosen as an alternate. However, his JROTC instructor Chief Dennis Green told him alternates are routinely chosen as a “select.” Wilson continued to make the requisite deadlines and get his medical clearance. Once again, his persistence paid off and in December he was chosen as a select.

“The fun part of the prerequisites was we get to pick where we’re going. There’s partnering universities that the Air Force has partnered with to send us and to pay for room and board, food, haircuts and all that stuff. Then of course the pilot training, the most expensive part,” Wilson said.

The cadet does not know where he is going yet. He has listed his top five choices but his location is not guaranteed.

“So I pick my preferences all out of state, of course, because if you’re going to pay for me to travel, I’m going,” Wilson said. “ My number one is Troy University, Alabama. I’d like to go there, Number five was Washington State.”

As long as he is flying, Wilson will be happy. His mother might want him a little closer to home however.

“This is a an eight-week program over the summer, kids come in, not knowing anything about an airplane. So leaving, being able to fly in on their own pretty much. I know, eight weeks doesn’t seem like a lot,” Wilson said.

The workload is very intense and not everyone is up to the task of learning everything in eight weeks. Some do not make the cut.

“There’s multiple tests you have to take to officially get your certificate, your private pilot license. The first test you take is the ground school test, which we’re going to do that there at the academy, I have kind of a head start.”

Wilson’s desire to be a pilot has helped prepare him before he knew about the scholarship. During summer 2023, he completed a major milestone by passing his FAA written test.

“This past summer, I was going through a thing called Ground School. That’s basically everything a private pilot needs to know before they hop in an airplane and start flying. And that’s a lot, it really is. I spent all summer going through ground school and I completed ground school in October.”

Wilson’s sense of duty to country and flying were instilled in him at an early age.

“I have a lot of family in the military and law enforcement too,” Wilson said.

Their examples made an impact on young Wilson. His patriotism was heightened in a history class in school.

“We were learning about World War II and seeing the sacrifice that all those young men gave to keep us free. I wanted to be a part of that,” Wilson said.

Besides the military, much of his family are in the aviation field. His father works at Space X. One encounter in particular would cement his passion for flying and his career choice.

In 2020, Wilson attended a Young Eagles Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) monthly pancake breakfast, John Rousch took him up in a small plane. He was even able to take the controls for a bit.

“That is something I will never forget,” Wilson said.

The flight was over Lake Jackson and he saw everything from a different perspective. He fell in love with the freedom he feels while sky surfing. His aim to get his private pilot license and then commercial license was never as strong. He continues to take the EAA classes offered in school.

Wilson wants to be a pilot in the U.S. Air Force or the Army as an alternate. He might like to have a career in law enforcement as a pilot.

Wilson, who works at the Sebring Regional Airport, recently showed his animals in the fair and maintains an impressive GPA. In his spare time, he taught himself how to play the guitar from a garage sale instrument. He plans to celebrate his 18th birthday by skydiving.

His mother, Summer Centonzio, is incredibly proud of her son and understandably nervous about him flying. She said Tegan will meet and exceed every goal set for him. She said he was always patriotic, even when he was younger.

“He’s just a one of a kind kid,” his mom said. “I just know that God has huge plans for him. That’s kind of why I don’t feel afraid. Because I just know that he’s gonna do great things.”

Chief Green is very proud of Wilson and is honored to have him as a cadet. Wilson and fellow cadet Colonel Isabelle Violette were both recent recipients of coveted scholarships. Green said he has no idea how the teens keep up with all their clubs and other responsibilities and excel the way they have.

Green has watched them mature over the year.

“I’ve been blessed to watch them develop their leadership skills and put it into action,” the Chief said. “I mean, I’ve done this for 23 years and these are some of the best kids to come along.”

Green also said JROTC gives the students the skills that they don’t get in other classes. There are plenty of scholarship opportunities, especially when students attend four years of JROTC.

Wilson summed it up simply and Violette agreed.

“I really thank God for everything,” he said. “We’re really blessed to have this opportunity. It’s just glory to God.”

Ukraine military identifies soldier seen in grisly war video

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A man who appeared to be shot dead by Russian-speakers in a short video was tentatively identified Tuesday as a missing Ukrainian soldier while the footage circulated widely on Ukrainian social media and caused an uproar.

The country’s chief prosecutor announced a criminal investigation into the killing, and human rights chief Dmytro Lubinets argued that it was a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Senior Ukrainian officials alleged, without providing further evidence, that the man was an unarmed prisoner of war killed by Russian soldiers. In the video, the man did not appear to be armed.

The 30th Mechanized Brigade on its Facebook page named the man as Tymofii Shadura. The identification is based on preliminary information and is not final, it said.

Shadura has been missing for just over a month, since disappearing during bitter fighting in the Bakhmut area of eastern Ukraine, the post said. The city has been a combat hot spot as the war extends into its second year.

His identity is to be confirmed once the body is returned from a Russian-occupied area, the post added, though it did not say when that might happen.

The Ukrainian military’s general staff gave the same name for the dead soldier, saying it was “according to preliminary information.”

In the 12-second video, the man in combat fatigues is seen in a wooded area smoking a cigarette.

Someone off-camera is heard speaking in Russian. The man then says “Glory to Ukraine” and is hit by a volley of gunshots, falling into a hole in the ground, with an off-camera voice saying “Die,” followed by an expletive.

The Associated Press could not verify the video’s authenticity, any details about when it was recorded or anything about the people involved.

Questions sent by the AP to the Russian military about the clip did not immediately receive a reply.

The video circulated widely on social media in Ukraine and unleashed an outcry.

In his nightly video address Monday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “I want us all together, in unity, to respond to (the soldier’s) words: “Glory to the hero! Glory to heroes! Glory to Ukraine!” And we will find the killers.”

Moscow also has expressed suspicion about the treatment of Russian prisoners of war by Ukrainian forces.

Last November, Ukraine said it would open an investigation into video footage that circulated on Russian social media, which Moscow alleged shows Ukrainian soldiers killing Russian troops who may have been trying to surrender after one of the men seemingly refused to lay down his weapon and opened fire.

In other developments:

— Ukraine and Russia completed another exchange of captives. Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak reported that 130 Ukrainian soldiers returned from Russian captivity, most of them with severe injuries. Russia’s Defense Ministry said 90 Russian servicemen were returned from territory controlled by Kyiv. Since the beginning of the war, 1,993 people have been returned from captivity, according to Lubinets.

— U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was on his way to Ukraine for a meeting Wednesday in Kyiv with Zelenskyy. The two are due to discuss the extension of an agreement that allows Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports and permits Russia to export food and fertilizers.

— Ukraine’s presidential office reported Tuesday that at least one civilian was killed and 11 more were wounded in Ukraine over the previous 24 hours. Fierce battles continued in the region for the key city of Bakhmut, where fewer than 4,000 civilians remain from a prewar population of 70,000, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk.

— A parliamentary delegation from Hungary said Tuesday during a visit to Denmark that it supports Sweden’s NATO membership. Some Hungarian lawmakers had balked at supporting the NATO membership applications by Sweden and Finland, due to what they called “blatant lies” from Stockholm and Helsinki on the state of Hungary’s democracy.

Fire took another day to squelch

SEBRING — Social media users learned from Highlands County Fire Rescue that a fire crew finished mopping up Monday afternoon a landfill fire from Sunday.

Tuesday morning, walking into the Board of County Commissioners meeting, Public Safety Director/HCFR Chief Laney Stearns said fire crews had to return again that morning to handle hot spots.

It reacted much like a muck fire, said county public information officials Tuesday morning. Like a muck fire, it’s hard to reach the hot spots, which are already surrounded by fuel and pockets of air.

The landfill also has the additional complication from several fire-starters in the form of reactive batteries and chemicals dumped into the household garbage, much to the dismay of landfill operations staff.

“We had a cell phone battery sparking on the top,” Solid Waste Manager Ronnie Sumard told commissioners about other non-burning spots of the mound. “We got it out immediately with our water truck.”

Bob Diefendorf, project manager and assistant to the county engineer, said the county saw a lot of Hoverboard-style motorized skate and wheel boards, with internal batteries, turned in Saturday at the Household Hazardous Materials event.

However, Diefendorf said, they ran over one with a piece of heavy equipment, just to test how volatile it is. Sumard called it an “instant ball of fire.”

Sometimes, Sumard said, when loads containing chemicals land on the mound, they start smoking. Putting water on them, sometimes, just makes them burn hotter.

This week, landfill crews will go over the 2.5-acre fire site on the south slope and make sure it’s covered in sand and earth, to prevent further flare-ups.

Public information officials reported that approximately 300,000-400,000 gallons of water went onto the fire on Monday alone.

County Commissioner Scott Kirouac said he wanted to see if there would be any way to set up cameras to watch the landfill and catch smoldering fires before they get out of hand.

At this time of year, Kirouac said, the conditions are right for a fire — dry/low humidity with consistent stiff breezes — and having sparkers and accelerants in the mound doesn’t help.

“Anything we can do proactively, as a commission, I want to do,” Kirouac said.

Find out what local service providers are offering in the Highlands News-Sun’s March 2023 edition of Who Does It? In Highlands County — Your Guide to Local Services.