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School Board to get appraisals of JCPenney Building

SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County will be getting two appraisals of the former JCPenney building at Lakeshore Mall as the district considers relocating its main offices to gain more space and a central location.

At Tuesday’s School Board meeting, School Board Member Donna Howerton continued to oppose the mall location, while at previous meetings her fellow board members have all been in favor of considering the mall due to its central location on U.S. 27.

Howerton said she is still struggling with it and would probably not vote for it.

In the past week she was approached by someone who has four acres on U.S. 27 and was wondering if the School Board would be interested in it, Howerton said. Officials said the district needs a building to renovate in order to use the dollars (half-cent school sales tax revenue).

The person with the property offered to construct a building and lease it to the school district for 99 years, she said.

“There are some other options,” Howerton said. “I feel we are jumping at this JCPenney and it may not work out with the appraisals. We still don’t have a cost of the parking lot.

She would hate to spend $10,000 on appraisals of the JCPenney building without looking at other options, she said.

Superintendent Brenda Longshore said when the district starting thinking about the amount of property needed for a new building it was around eight acres rather than four acres.

There are a lot of possibilities, Longshore added.

Assistant Superintendent of Business Operations Mike Averyt said the JCPenney appraisal would include a portion of the parking lot as well, if the board wants to move toward purchasing parking.

Howerton asked if there was an asking price for the parking?

Averyt responded that has not been negotiated yet. The district wants the appraisal before starting the negotiations.

Howerton said the U.S. 27 property owner is someone well known and would stand behind their word.

Averyt asked Howerton for the property owner’s contact information to see what price they would want for the property.

School Board Member Bill Brantley moved to approve getting two appraisals of the JCPenney building, which was seconded by School Board Member Jill Compton-Twist.

The motion was approved by a 4-1 vote with Howerton voting “no.”

The JCPenney building has 62,120 square feet with 392 parking spaces. The Lakeshore Mall owner had an asking price of $2,400,000 that is negotiable, the district stated in March.

Remodeling the former department store would cost an estimated $7.5 million.

The district had estimated, for a newly constructed building, the costs would be: $150,000 for eight acres of property in a good location, $1 million for site preparation and $14 million to construct a building.

Driver found in Mexico, arrested for 2007 fatal wreck

SEBRING — U.S. Marshals have found and brought back a Frostproof man who fled the county, charged in the June 30, 2007 DUI traffic deaths of Danny and Patricia McCown of Avon Park.

Brian Dale Andrews, now 43, faces two felony charges of DUI manslaughter, two counts of driving while license is suspended or revoked involving a death and one count of DUI property damage. At the time of the crash, the Florida Highway Patrol found him to have a blood-alcohol content of 0.315, nearly four times the legal limit.

The wreck took place at 5:35 p.m. June 30, 2007, on U.S. 27, just north of County Line Road in Polk County. The couple was en route back to their home in Avon Park. News reports at the time said that they had just had their 33rd wedding anniversary the day before the wreck, and had gone shopping that day in Lake Wales for a gift for their granddaughter’s upcoming birthday.

According to the FHP tips website, Andrews was northbound on U.S. 27 that day in a 1992 white Cadillac when he lost control and entered the southbound lanes. The front of his car hit the front of the McCowns’ car — a silver Chevrolet HHR — killing them, and then his car hit another southbound vehicle.

After his arrest, he did not show up at the arraignment for his charges, and FHP has been looking for him ever since, especially Trooper Chris Wells. FHP had a tip line at intelligence@flhsmv.gov, and a recent anonymous tipster notified Wells of a possible sighting of Andrews in a region southwest of Mexico City. Coordination with the United States Marshals Service resulted in Andrews’ capture on Monday. He was returned to the United States on Wednesday.

The McCowns, both 59, were both natives of Warren County, Kentucky. Danny was a self-employed small business owner, member of the U.S. Army National Guard and had served 12 years with the Bowling Green Police Department in Kentucky. Patricia McCown was the Queen Mother of the Highlands County Red Hatters.

Sanders to stand trial on Nov. 1

SEBRING — Circuit Court Judge Peter Estrada set Nov. 1 for the trial of a former lawn care employee accused of killing a 4-year-old girl nearly seven years ago.

Estrada set jury selection for Monday, Nov. 1, at 8:30 a.m. and said he expects jury selection to take up to three days of the two-week trial.

Estrada explained to prosecutors and Sanders’ defense lawyer Wednesday that the case had been set for trial because COVID-19 had slowed the docket.

“Mr. Sanders was previously set for trial on the more serious charge of first degree murder,” Estrada said during the video conference with Sanders and his attorney at the Highlands County Jail courtroom. “Unfortunately, the victim’s mother … became extremely ill and we had to continue that case because she’s an essential witness.”

He also said he would request more juror candidates because he’s had trouble filling jury seats.

“I believe we’ll resolve those and have a good turnout, especially since we’re a little bit farther away from the pandemic,” he said.

The case, Florida vs. Ivan Sanders, is the second-oldest homicide case on the Highland County court docket. It dates to October 2014, when Highlands County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Sanders, then 28, for beating Mercedes Blair to death in his home. According to the arrest affidavit, the child’s mother, Geisy Alvarez, had left Mercedes in Sanders’ care while she went to work. Sanders – who had taken Alvarez and the child into his home two weeks earlier – told hospital staff the child had tripped and hit her head on the floor. He also said he had found the child passed out on the ground outside the mobile home.

Hospital workers determined the child died from a disfiguring skull fracture and internal injuries. In the hours before the child died, a doctor at Highlands Regional Medical Center noted bruising on nearly every part of the youngster’s body, as well as blunt force trauma to her liver and kidneys.

Estrada also scheduled a status hearing for Oct. 27 at 9 a.m.