News Update for 06/10/24

Three weeks of painstaking juror qualification wrapped up on Friday for the Stephen Xaver sentencing trial. Friday afternoon concluded with the successful selection of 14 jurors. Xaver pled guilty and was convicted of five counts of first-degree murder. The sentencing trial is set to begin this morning more than 5 years after the execution style murder of 5 women in the SunTrust Midtown Bank Branch in Sebring.

Alcohol is suspected in a deadly crash in Polk County on Friday. It happened in Auburndale on 42nd Street Northwest. The sheriff’s office says Robert Harrison was drunk when his pickup truck hit a van. A five-year-old girl in the van was killed. Deputies identified her as Madeline Nichols. Thirty-three-year-old Justin Jones and 32-year-old Jacqueline Nichols were also in the van and are listed in critical condition. Deputies say Harrison’s breathalyzer results were above the legal limit. The 24-year-old is facing charges that include DUI manslaughter.

A wrong-way driver killed a woman and injured two people in Hardee County early Sunday morning, The Florida Highway Patrol said that at 3:02 a.m., an SUV was heading the wrong way on the northbound lane of US-17 when it crashed into another SUV at East Broward Street. The two vehicles collided head-on, killing the driver of the second SUV. The deceased driver was a 31-year-old woman from Wauchula. Reports say that the wrong-way driver was a 29-year-old Arcadia woman who suffered minor injuries.

Three people have been injured in two shark attacks off the Florida Panhandle. Authorities in Walton County say the attacks happened just four miles apart at two separate beaches on Friday afternoon, leaving two people in critical condition and a third in stable condition. One of the victims was a Virginia woman who is now dealing with life-changing injuries. The South Walton Fire District says the 45-year-old’s lower left arm was amputated, and she suffered significant trauma to her midsection and pelvic area.

The Florida Department of Transportation is the early planning stages to implement a more than 200-mile pedestrian trail to span across 6 counties. According to the project manager for the FDOT Collier to Polk County Master Plan, Kat Chinault, it would go from Marco Island up to the Auburndale TECO Trail in Lakeland. It will include the counties of Highlands, Polk, Hardee, Glades, Hendry, and Collier.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that will require all doors, hallways, and gates in and around schools to be locked during all learning hours. School officials say it’s a step in the right direction for safety, but it’s creating logistical issues with different protocols needed at every campus. Being taken into account are the many different ages of students as well as simple things like bathroom breaks and trips to the clinic. The law will go into effect July 1st.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet will consider proposals on Wednesday, to spend more than $40 million to limit development on four ranches. The proposals would purchase more than 12,100 acres of conservation easements in Highlands, DeSoto, Hardee, and Okeechobee counties. In one deal, $7.938 million is proposed for 1,977 acres owned by Dark Hammock Legacy Ranch, LLC in Highlands County. The Highlands County land is expected to complete part of a statewide wildlife corridor from Avon Park to Lake Okeechobee. The state also anticipates that $2.8 million of the Okeechobee County purchase would be covered by the federal government for providing a buffer for the Avon Park Air Force Range.

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