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County parks open today

SEBRING – While some parks in Highlands County reopened, county parks remained closed-until today. During the regular meeting of the Board of County Commission’s Tuesday morning meeting, County Administrator Randy Vosburg broached the commissioners on reopening the county parks back up.

After some discussion, the board was in agreement. There are a few caveats, however, that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Park-goers will still have to use guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our plan was to follow what the state’s doing and to go ahead and open up those parks as long as there was not an objection by the board,” Vosburg said Tuesday. “With that, though, would go the messaging that social distancing is encouraged and there is no additional sanitation going on if there’s a playground. That would be the risk.”

Kind of like a “no lifegaurd on duty, swim at your own risk” situation. Technically, the kids are allowed to play on any playgrounds at parks but parents should be aware that they county is not doing any regular disinfecting of the equipment. Vosburg said he did not want to open the concession stands and rent out buildings at the parks yet. The BOCC agreed it was too soon for that.

Commissioner Don Elwell clarified with Vosburg that the crowds would be under 10 people at the CDC’s guidelines as well as social distancing. The wearing of face masks will also be encouraged, as will washing hands often and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

“I think this is overdue. I think we should absolutely open up the parks responsibly to that level, so kids can go out and burn some steam and folks can enjoy some passive recreation out there,” Elwell said via internet.

The opening of county parks for today was announced just a few hours after the meeting on social media. Vosburg wrote to Governor Ron DeSantis to find out when Highlands Hammock State Park was scheduled to open as many state parks are open. He had not gotten a response as of press time.

For more information, visit floridastateparks.org/learn/safety-updates.

The following county parks will open today:

• H.L. Bishop Park, 10 Lake June Clubhouse Road, Lake Placid

• Highlands County Multi Sports Complex, 216 Sheriff’s Tower Road, Sebring

• M.L.K. Park, 141 Josephine Ave., Lake Placid

• Lake Glenada, 2475 U.S. 27, Avon Park

• Lake Francis park, 300 Cloverleaf Road, Lake Placid

• Carver Park-Highway Park, 141 Josephine Ave., Lake Placid

• Lake Henry fishing pier, 46 Lake Henry Drive, Lake Placid

• Windy Point Park, 65 Windy Point Road, Lake Placid

• Istokpoga-Cowhouse park, 2011 Lake Blvd., Lorida

• Lorida Ballfields, 1909 Blessings Ave., Lorida

• Josephine 3, 2430 Oak Beach Road, Sebring

• Red Beach Lake park, 6701 Commerce Drive, Sebring

• DeSoto City Park and Ball Park, 6300 County Road 17, Sebring

• Lake Istokpoga Park, 720 Istokpoga Park Access Road, Sebring

• Lincoln Heights Park and Ball Park, 4821 Muriel St., Sebring

County officials said those who wish to practice at the Highlands County Multi Sports Complex must adhere to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines. Participants should not congregate in the bullpens. Tournament play is not allowed at this time. Restrooms at county parks that have them are open.

County parks are open from sunrise to sunset. For more information, call 863-402-6758.

For continuing updates, follow Highlands County BCC on Facebook by searching for highlandsfl.gov and on Twitter @HighlandsFLBCC.

Frank Hartzell, hero without a cape

This good news story sponsored by Dowden Funeral Home, 2605 Bayview St., Sebring, FL 33870; 863-385-1546.

LAKE PLACID — Frank Hartzell is a hero who wears an apron rather than a cape. Hartzell is a butcher and baker, but not a candlestick maker and owner of Hartzell’s Meat Market & Catering at 350 E. Interlake Blvd. in the heart of uptown Lake Placid.

Hartzell has managed to keep the doors to his small business open while so many others have had to close or drastically change the way they do business.

Hartzell gets in to the store before the crack of dawn and starts making the donuts and breads. He and his employees have been putting in major hours to grind some 400 pounds of ground round a day and even more before the weekend. On Thursday, he had 1,000 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts and 500 pounds of rib eye and loads of Boston Butts being delivered.

“I order from big restaurant supply companies,” Hartzell explained. “With most of them closed or doing take out, there is plenty for us.”

He has never limited customers to the amounts of product they can buy. He has never had to.

Fresh pies, macaroni and chicken salads, coleslaw and smoked mahi mahi dip are crowd favorites.

About March 15, Hartzell noticed things changing with the coronavirus escalating. He never had a doubt about staying open.

“I was just opening up the door to the store and I looked up,” Hartzell said. “I prayed about it. The big stores were out of everything and I still had everything.”

God answered and Hartzell has been working 90-hour weeks ever since. His son and daughter, Heidi and Jonathan, along with Jake Baker, Claire Cruz, Emmett Smallwood, Griselda Zapeda, and Lisa Allen are his loyal staff. Hartzell’s wife, Deborah, also helps out when she is not “in class” as a para for ESE students. Frank said his wife has been very supportive and, despite the long weeks, he still gets to spend time with her.

“My staff stepped up, no complaints,” Hartzell said. “They are not tired and they are working a lot of extra hours.”

Heidi works the cash register and everyone else mainly works behind the counter. The employees try to stock the shelves while there are no customers in the store. Cleaning, washing hands and social distancing are how the staff are staying safe.

“I agree with what the President (Trump) says, ‘put America first’,” Hartzell said.

Hartzell uses Florida tomatoes to make homemade salsa and gets fresh watermelon and sweet corn on the cob in as well.

“I will not sell or buy imports. I only use All-American products.”

Hartzell feels very strongly about helping out farmers. When he found out Dakin Dairy Farms out of Myakka City was having to dump hundreds of gallons of milk because chain stores were limiting purchases, he let the farmer set up a truck in his parking lot to sell as many gallons as they could to residents. The effort was so successful that Dakin was offered cooler space in the store.

“We need to support the American farmer,” Hartzell said. “The grocery stores sell Mexican tomatoes for $3.99 per pound. I have to sell them Florida tomatoes for $1.49. Our farmers are really struggling.”

Hartzell said he and his staff are appreciative for how patient people have been.

“Customers have not been complaining,” he said. “I think they are grateful that we have so much product and there are no limits.”

One thing Hartzell has enjoyed out of this entire crisis is seeing how parents and kids are cooking and sharing their creations on social media. He said people are using the buttermilk from Dakin to make homemade butter and ice cream.

Hartzell’s was first opened in June, 1956 by Frank’s parents, Leroy and Arabel. They built the current location in 1964. Frank took over in 1981 after his folks retired. Frank went to college at South Florida Community College and University of Central Florida where he majored in business and accounting. He learned meat cutting and everything else he would need to successfully run the store from his parents.

“I want to thank our customers, family and workers going through this,” Hartzell said. “If you feel you are getting sick, take heed. Get care and get tested. Be conscientious of others. Watch out for one another. Pay it forward. Always pay it forward.”

Gyroplane in fatal Sebring crash had troubling history

SEBRING — The gyroplane that crashed into a manufactured home killing two men and injuring one person on the ground in Sebring in 2018 had many significant issues with its construction, testing and maintenance, according to a recently released report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

On Oct. 30, 2018 around 2:48 p.m. the experimental amateur-built AutoGyro Cavalon gyroplane was destroyed during collision with a power pole, wires, terrain, a residence and a post-crash fire following a forced landing in Sebring. The commercial pilot, 45-year-old pilot Christopher Lord, and the pilot-rated passenger, 52-year-old Christopher Brugger, were fatally injured in the crash at Sebring Falls Retirement Subdivision.

Witnesses stated the pilot flew the gyroplane earlier in the day for about two hours, serviced it with fuel, then he and the passenger departed from Sebring Regional Airport heading to an airport in Palmetto.

The purpose of the accident flight was for the pilot to take the passenger back to his home airport, the report stated.

A witness who was driving southbound on U.S 27 parallel to the shoreline of the Lake Jackson stated that the gyroplane was traveling northwest about 300 feet above ground level “with very little airspeed” and appeared to be turning to the east. The gyroplane descended from the witness’s view; afterward, he saw a large fireball.

The NTSB investigation’s “factual report” delved into the purchase and assembly of the aircraft. The factual report does not include a probable cause for the accident, which is usually part of the “final” report.

The owner/builder, Lou Trillo, reportedly purchased the gyroplane kit from the German kit manufacturer through Maryland-based AutoGyro USA along with a “build-assist” agreement with Cloud9 Helicopters of West Palm Beach, Florida, an independent dealer of AutoGyro USA products.

According to the report filed by Brian C. Rayner, senior air safety investigator for the Eastern Region, Trillo had no experience building or flying aircraft of any kind. His intention was to build the gyroplane and then learn to fly it.

Cloud9 Helicopters agreed to perform the build-assist in exchange for 75 flight hours in the completed gyroplane in order to demonstrate the product to prospective customers for future sales.

After an experienced factory mechanic could not be arranged by AutoGyro USA, Cloud9 Helicopters employed a mechanic who had not previously assembled an AutoGyro product, which conservatively required three weeks for assembly by an experienced builder. Later, an experienced AutoGyro builder, who could provide only one week’s help, was brought in to temporarily assist with building efforts. Upon arrival, the experienced builder directed that the gyroplane be “disassembled because components had been installed incorrectly and in the wrong sequence.”

The parts, components, and hardware had arrived with the kit, but were packaged haphazardly, so considerable time was spent inventorying and organizing for assembly.

After the airworthiness certificate was issued, the gyroplane was test flown for the phase one testing period (40 hours).

The test pilot, Denny Velarde, hired to complete the flight testing stated that, during the testing, the cyclic control exhibited a “sharp left pull” and that he explained the issue to maintenance personnel. The test pilot also stated that multiple exchanges with maintenance personnel and AutoGyro USA failed to resolve the issue.

Velarde further stated that he “grounded” the gyroplane at that time due to “improperly rigged flight controls” and indicated that he would not fly the gyroplane again until it was fixed.

In March 2018, the CEO of AutoGyro USA resigned his position and went to work for a competing gyroplane manufacturer, and Cloud9 helicopters became an independent dealer for the same manufacturer.

Cloud9 Helicopters no longer had incentive to complete the project and the owner/builder had lost interest, so in September 2018, Trillo contacted AutoGyro USA to broker the sale of his gyroplane.

Cloud9 Helicopters agreed to complete the condition inspection and the phase one flight testing in advance of an airshow that began Nov. 1, 2018. At the time the agreement was made, which was on or about Sept. 18, 2018, the gyroplane had not accrued any additional flight hours since the previous flight testing had ceased.

According to Geoff Painter, president of Cloud9 Helicopters, he and three other pilots completed the flight tests between Oct. 4 and 29, 2018.

On Oct. 29, 2018, Lord, who was the chief operating officer for AutoGyro USA, took possession of the gyroplane from Cloud9 Helicopters. His inspection of the gyroplane and its logbooks revealed that the carburetors leaked, and completion of the 40-hour flight test period had not been documented in the maintenance logs.

Lord pointed out the carburetor leaks to the mechanic who had assisted with the build and completed the most recent condition inspection. The mechanic went for tools to address the leaks and returned to find that Lord had departed in the gyroplane, the 106-page report stated.

During Lord’s flight from the North Palm Beach Airport to Sebring, he noted that the cyclic control vibration was “excessive,” and the airspeed indicator was inoperative.

In text messages to the president of AutoGyro USA, Lord stated, “…carbs leaking fuel, airspeed indicator not working, [and] can mix eggs with this control stick,” and “I see how roughly this was put together.”

After landing in Sebring, Lord and a colleague retorqued the carburetor float bowls, and “wondered if the 40 hours Phase 1 testing had been done.” The two further attempted to balance the rotor system through trial and error by adding and then subtracting weight on either side of the rotor head, which was unsuccessful on each attempt and subsequent test flights, according to the NTSB report. AutoGyro USA offered to ship the necessary rotor balancing equipment to Lord, who rejected the idea.

The Palm Beach Post reported that on the one-year anniversary of the Sebring crash, Brugger’s widow sued Lord’s estate, the helicopter’s U.S. distributor and Cloud 9.

She alleged that when the aircraft left the north county airport, all the parties knew what her husband didn’t: That its control stick was plagued by violent vibrations.

By the time the lawsuit was filed in Palm Beach County Court, Cloud 9 owners Geoffrey Painter and David Jude had themselves been killed, along with five passengers, in July 2019 when a helicopter they were piloting dropped into the ocean off a small island in the Bahamas.

Brugger, a Bradenton-area chiropractor, had flown his own gyrocopter to Sebring for service and had expressed interest in this one. Lord offered to fly Brugger back to demonstrate it.

The lawsuit alleged Lord did so despite knowing about the aircraft’s problems.

Highlands virus cases now at 88 with 37,439 statewide

SEBRING — The Highlands County total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 88 with two cases reported on Monday. A total of 31 have been hospitalized in Highlands during the pandemic and 7 have died.

The cases in Highlands involving Florida residents include 45 males and 42 females, within an age range of 0 to 85 and a median age of 55.

The two most recent cases in Highlands, according to the Florida Department of Health, are a 49-year-old male on Sunday and a 35-year-old male on Monday.

The number of cases by zip code in Highlands are: 33825 — 28; 33870 — 22; 33872 — 11; 33852 — 10; 33875 — 6; less than 5 for each 33876 and 33960 and zero for 33960.

Hardee County had an unusual spike of 10 new cases on Saturday and one new case on Sunday for a total of 34 cases (including 2 non-residents), 6 hospitalized and no deaths. The Bowling Green, Fort Green and Fort Green Springs zip code of 33834 has 20 cases while the Wauchula zip code of 33873 has 10 cases.

Data from the Florida Department of Corrections shows no positive cases in staff or inmates at the Hardee County Correctional Institute, which is within 33834 zip code.

Also, Hardee County has nearly twice as many females (21) who have the virus compared to males (11). Statewide it is 50/50 mix of females (18,271) to males (18,195).

Statewide, after 778 new cases on Sunday, there were 589 new cases on Monday.

Miami-Dade County, which has had the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Florida had a drop in new cases with 155 on Monday after there were 296 new cases on Sunday. Overall, Miami-Dade County has had 13,224 cases, 1,764 hospitalized and 407 deaths.

Florida has had 37,439 cases, 6,330 hospitalizations and 1,471 deaths.

In the U.S.A. there have been 1,181,885 cases with 69,079 deaths.

Worldwide, there have been 3,618,325 cases with 252,346 deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new testing recommendations recently, which The Florida Department of Health in Highlands County urges the public to review.

Individuals who meet CDC’s recommendation for high-priority testing include:

• Hospitalized patients.

• Healthcare facility workers, workers in congregate living settings, and first responders with symptoms.

• Residents in long-term care facilities or other congregate living settings, including correctional and detention facilities and shelters, with symptoms.

The health department and local physicians may also test:

• Persons with symptoms of a possible infection with COVID-19, including: fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, new loss of taste or smell, vomiting or diarrhea, and/or sore throat.

• Persons without symptoms who come from racial and ethnic minority groups disproportionately affected by adverse COVID-19 outcomes.

• Persons without symptoms who are prioritized by health departments or clinicians.

If you would like to be tested for COVID-19, please call your primary care physician. If your physician does not have testing supplies, contact our local health department at 863-386-6040.

Remember, call before you go; wear a face mask; and practice social distancing. Visit the Florida Department of Health COVID-19 webpage for information on COVID-19.