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Orlando Woman Charged With DUI With Serious Bodily Injury After Crash Critically Injuring 2 Young Children In Frostproof Crash

32-year-old Ashauntie Cox (DOB 2/15/1991) of Orlando, who caused serious bodily harm to two children in her vehicle while fleeing from two crashes and driving under the influence, was arrested in Polk County on Friday, May 19, 2023, and charged with several felonies.

According to witnesses and information developed during the investigation, the first crash occurred around 8:00 p.m. on US Hwy 27 at the intersection with US Hwy 98 near Frostproof. Cox was driving a blue Kia southbound on Hwy 27 when she struck a grey Chevy Silverado pickup truck and then fled at a high rate of speed. As she continued to recklessly speed south down Hwy 27, weaving in and out of slower moving traffic, she rear-ended a 2016 Honda CRV while trying to pass between that SUV and the vehicle next to it which were both also going southbound. The victim driving the CRV was taken to Sebring Hospital, where he was treated and released with minor injuries.

The collision caused Cox’s vehicle to flip several times, ejecting two Orlando children, ages 5 and 8 years old. Both sustained significant injuries, and they were taken to Tampa General Hospital where they are both in critical condition. A 27-year-old female passenger was also seriously injured along her spinal cord, hip, and back. She remains at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center in stable condition.

When deputies arrived at the scene of the crash, they detected the odor of marijuana and located a bottle of tequila in Cox’s vehicle. Cox was transported to the hospital and interview by deputies. Cox told deputies they were driving from Orlando to Avon Park to celebrate the 5-year-old’s kindergarten graduation. She admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day, and to having four shots of tequila. Her blood was drawn for further analysis, and she displayed several signs of impairment. 

She was booked into the Polk County Jail and is being charged with:

·        Three counts DUI with serious bodily injury (F3)

·        Two counts negligent child abuse with great bodily harm (F2)

·        Reckless driving (F3)

·        One count DUI with property damage (M1)

·        One count DUI (M2)

Further charges are pending the outcome of the investigation. 

“This woman had no regard for anyone’s life when she got behind the wheel intoxicated and then drove recklessly down a major highway, but what’s worse is the blatant disregard she had for the lives of the innocent children in her car. I expect a successful prosecution to hold her accountable—and let’s hope she loses her driving privileges if she’s released from jail or prison. Please keep these babies and their families in your prayers.” – Grady Judd, Sheriff

Man Airlifted After Motorcycle Burst Into Flames On Hwy 27 In Lake Wales

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The Lake Wales Police Department has confirmed that one person was airlifted after the motorcycle they were riding on burst into flames. According to Troy Schulze, Deputy Chief, with the LWPD the driver didn’t suffer life threatening injuries, but did sustain burns and was transported by helicopter, we did not find out which hospital.

The incident occurred at 3:52 pm at the intersection of Hwy 27 & Washington Avenue. Reportedly after stopping for a light the bike burst into flames. No accident, occurred according to Schulze.

The name of the motorcyclist was not released at this time. If we gather additional information we will pass it along!

Thank you to Mike E. & Shelly F. for photos!

Lake Wales City Commission Approves Amendment Incentivizing a Traditional Neighborhood Design for Future Developments

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by James Coulter

Future developments will be incentivized to be built to traditional neighborhood designs as prescribed in the Lake Wales Envisioned Plan (LWEP) now that commissioners gave preliminary approval to a proposed amendment.

On Tuesday evening, Lake Wales City Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an amendment to Chapter 23 of the Land Development Regulations (LDRs), which would incentivize new developments to be constructed with a traditional neighborhood design.

The amendment was proposed by city staff “to establish standards for a Traditional Neighborhood Development, including incentives to design a Traditional Neighborhood” for all future developments as prescribed in the LWEP.

The LWEP, as mentioned in the city staff memo, contains the following action item: “Create and adopt traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance that will specify requirements for neighborhood design, and streamline approval for development that meets the code.”

These Traditional Neighborhood Development (TDP) standards were designed in collaboration with LWEP consultants Dover, Kohl, & Partners and the city planning staff to help accommodate “complete, walkable neighborhoods with a mix of uses and housing types.”

However, while city commissioners voted unanimously to approve the amendment, many city residents spoke out during public comment against it. Many claimed the requirements were still too stifling and could detract potential developers from working with the city.

Danny Krueger, a former city commissioner, claimed that while he appreciated the LWEP and its overall vision for the city, he did not consider it prudent to require all future developments to conform to one style or design.

“I believe there needs to be design standards but also flexibility,” he argued. “If we lock ourselves into one design. Then everything else is rejected out of hand because we have chosen only one specific route to go down…Traditional neighborhoods should be an option. If it is a good design, there should be a demand. It should not be mandated. It should be incentivized to developers if it is good design.”

Becky Winecoop, a regular resident who speaks during public comments, and who had been a vocal opponent of Krueger during his time as commissioner, found herself surprisingly in agreement with him.

“I find myself in an impossible position: I agree with Dan,” she said. “It [the TND standards) may look good on paper but it may not fit into every situation in the city…Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Another resident, Charlene Bennett, expressed concern about the lack of public hearings with ordinances such as this. Likewise, she was also skeptical towards a “one-size-fits-all” model for future developments within the city.

“We do not know if the product will look anything like the pictures we are shown,” she said. “I don’t know if the picture fits the specifications.”

However, Commissioner Keith Thompson, insisted that the ordinance was not “one-size-fits-all”, as many residents assume. Furthermore, he argued that the TND standards were necessary to further implement the vision as prescribed in the LWEP.

“Here is the thing: You are welcome to feel what you feel about it, but it does not matter how you feel. This [the LWEP] is what we approved. We are married to it. We have to figure out ways it can work…We have adopted this thing and [we are] trying to make it work.”

Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson also claimed the ordinance was a good fit. He argued that other communities that had implemented similar standards have seen good results.

“This is a way to incentivize the traditional neighborhood development…[and has been] a huge success in other places where it has been utilized,” he said. “When people step out and do it, it has proved itself.”

Editors Note: When we first published this article we used the word “mandatory” and “all”. This was definitely a mistake and incorrect reporting on our part. We sincerely apologize for the incorrect reporting. This is just one of several options a developer can use. This is an incentive-laden process, but in no way is mandatory. We thank readers, city officials and friends for reaching out so we correct the mistake. – Carl

Crews Battle Brush Fire In Lake Wales For Nearly Four Hours

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On May 23, 2024, several units responded to a fire in Lake Wales. Units were dispatched at 12:37 pm to an outside fire located at 10936 Shore Drive in Lake Wales.

Photo credit Amy Greco

Crews battled the fire for about four hours. Assigned units were as follows:

  • EN026
  • FC508
  • BR010
  • TE013
  • BR001
  • BR026
  • FRTE1
  • EN014
  • BR014
  • BC005

PCFR Battalion Chief confirmed that the outside fire was just involving brush. There were no injuries and no property damage. The Department of Foresty is still monitoring the situation.

Lake Wales Public Works Expo Tomorrow

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Lake Wales, Fla. (May 22, 2024) – The City of Lake Wales Public Works Department will host a public works expo on Thursday, May 23, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at the Lake Wales Administration Building, located at 201 W. Central Ave., Lake Wales.

 

The expo will feature exhibit booths from City departments, including utilities, public services and parks and recreation. Demonstrations of various types of large equipment, such as bushhog, backhoe, vactor, mini excavator and more, will be given to citizens. 

 

“Our expo is geared to give residents insight into the services and programs offered by the public works division,” said Sarah Kirkland, public works director.  

 

Give-away-items and public works comic books will be available on a first-come first-served basis.

 

“We encourage families to bring the kids to participate in activities,” Kirkland added.

 

For more information contact the City of Lake Wales Public Works Division at (863) 678-4182 ext. 1026

This Local Business Woman Had Her Custom T-Shirt Promoted by a Vegan Influencer. Now Her Business is Booming!

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by James Coulter

When Teresa Lewis gifted vegan influencer and author Tabitha Brown with an inspirational T-shirt during a book tour, she assumed she was simply giving her favorite celebrity a birthday present.

Little did she suspect that her small business would experience a significant boom in orders and potential customers after Tabitha promoted her T-shirt on social media.

Nearly a week ago, on Mother’s Day, Tabitha Brown shared a Facebook reel where she was wearing the T-shirt Lewis made for her. The shirt had the Bible verse Jeremiah 29:11 and the words “I Know” printed on the front.

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The Facebook reel received 9.6 thousand likes, 1.6 thousand comments, and 2.3 thousand shares. It also caught the attention of Lewis, who was stunned in a state of overjoyed disbelief.

“I could not believe that someone like that would have on my shirt,” Lewis said. “This is someone who has been to esteemed places. She is now in movies, her own kids’ show, and a lot of big things. Sometimes, I cannot believe it. I am excited this is happening.”

Even more of a surprise was the influx of orders her business, 3Ts Creations and Designs, received following the social media post. Within one week, she received more orders for her merchandise than when she first started her business.

“My business has taken off again because of that,” Lewis said.

Lewis started her business, 3Ts Creations and Designs, during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, she started sewing masks as a hobby, which quickly turned into a business with her making masks for individuals, nurses, and other professionals in the healthcare field.

Later, her business transitioned into designing custom t-shirts with inspirational messages and artwork. However, following the end of the pandemic, her business began to decline, which made the sudden boom within the past week even more spectacular.

“As people started returning to their jobs and a sense of normal life with COVID, my business took a nose dive,” she said. “My sales were not on top. So, business has been like a struggle.”

During the pandemic, she also began to follow the content of Tabitha Brown, a vegan influencer and author.

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“With everyone being inside and using social media more, she tells her story about her being vegan,” Lewis said. “She is a very inspiring woman who talks about and shares candidly about her rise to fame. She has become a very regarded social media influencer.”

So, when Brown published her new book, “I Did a New Thing: 30 Days of Living Free”, Lewis was more on board with attending her book tour, which included a stop in Clearwater.

Even more interesting, Brown was hosting the book tour during her birthday. So, Lewis, being a huge fan, decided to make a custom inspirational T-shirt and presented it to one of Brown’s attendants at the book tour.

#image_title

What started as a humble gift for a favorite celebrity influencer quickly became a huge marketing asset for her faltering business. To not only be recognized by someone she admires but also for that recognition to earn her extra profit through her struggling business, was nothing short of a pleasant surprise.

“The inner thought came to me to make one [a shirt for her for her birthday, the Holy Spirit told me to make a shirt for her,” Lewis said. “Also, in regards to the t-shirt that says I know. We may not know the path we are going down, but spiritually, God always knows, So I embrace this new journey, this new opportunity with my business, and I am looking for bigger and greater things to come.”

Ashley Schwarze and Julie Huggins Named Teacher and Support Staff of the Year at Lake Wales High School and Charter School System for 2024

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by James Coulter

While attending Polk Community College (now Polk State University) to earn her associate in liberal arts, Ashley Brandon Schwarze was completely ensorcelled by her professor in her Introduction to Literature course.

So enamored was she by her professor’s teaching style, which inspired her and her fellow students to love the material they were studying, that the class, as Mrs. Schwarze said, “would change the trajectory of her future.”

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Mrs. Schwarze earned her bachelor’s in English Education from Warner College (now Warner University). In 1997, she returned to Lake Wales High School, where she had graduated five years earlier, to work as a teacher, hired by the same principal and vice principal who served there when she was a student.

Since then, Mrs. Schwarze has taught English on all grade levels, developed curriculums for drama, debate, creative writing, and speech, helped the school transition to charter, helped hire staff members, and served as the English Department Head.

Her ability to help students love learning as much as she loves teaching allowed her to not only earn the prestigious title of Teacher of the Year at Lake Wales High School but also the entire Lake Wales Charter School System.

Mrs. Schwarze joined paraprofessional Julie Huggins in being named the Teacher and Support Staff of the Year for Lake Wales High School and Lake Wales Charter Schools in 2024. Both received their honorary titles at last month’s charter school meeting.

“She is very proud to be a part of this team of educators,” Mrs. Schwarze wrote in a press release. “What has been most fulfilling in her career has been watching her past students grow up to be productive adults, wives/husbands, parents, and even teachers themselves in this community she has always called home.”

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Mrs. Huggins, meanwhile, has worked with students in grades 6 through 12 for the past 15 years at various schools nationwide. She currently works at Lake Wales High School, where she serves “to create a positive school culture” by designing curriculum material with “instructional best practices to engage students in their learning,” she wrote.

Having grown up in a family of educators, Mrs. Huggins dreamed of becoming an educator ever since she was young. However, her journey towards her career was not without challenges.

“I found that the reality of teaching didn’t quite match my dream,” she said. “In fact, nothing quite prepares you for teaching, and while my educator preparatory program laid a solid foundation in pedagogy and content knowledge, the work of a teacher is hard and as I have learned, never done either. The challenges I faced as a young teacher lit a fire inside of me to make my dream and reality match. I wanted students who couldn’t wait to get to my class.”

Mrs. Schwarze and Huggins appeared on the Chattin on the Ridge podcast to discuss their careers and their recent titles. Listen to the episode on Acast: https://shows.acast.com/chattin-on-the-ridge/episodes/ep-34-lake-wales-teacher-and-support-staff-of-the-year-washl

Lake Wales Woman Dies In Yesterday Afternoon Crash

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The PCSO Traffic Homicide Unit investigated a two-vehicle crash in Lake Wales on Tuesday, May 21, 2024, involving a sand truck and a Toyota, which resulted in a fatality and significant injuries.


Yesterday around 2:30 p.m. deputies and Polk Fire Rescue responded to the intersection of Canal Road and Lake Mabel Loop Road in Lake Wales. The driver of a 2011 Silver Toyota Yaris, 79-year-old Minerva Cruz of Porter Drive, Lake Wales, was found deceased; her passenger, 77-year-old Confesor Lopez (he lives at the same address) was transported to a local hospital with critical injuries.

 

Cruz was stopped at the stop sign on Canal Road when she entered onto Lake Mabel Loop to turn left (south) and into the path of a 2020 Kenworth dump truck loaded with sand that was heading north on Lake Mabel Loop. The dump truck driver, 60-year-old Oriol Bernal of Kissimmee, swerved and braked to avoid striking Cruz but was unable to do so. The dump truck landed on its passenger side off the roadway as a result of the impact. Bernal had minor injuries and was also transported to the hospital.

 

Lake Wales High School Boys & Girls Track Teams Heading to State Finals this Friday

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by James Coulter

Half of the members from the Boys and Girls Track Teams at Lake Wales High School will be racing to Jacksonville on Friday to compete in The FHSAA 3A Track and Field Championship.

“It is a reassuring feeling for me and my staff to have our athletes reach this level of success,” said Johnathon Feagin, Head Track and Field Coach.

Being able to see more than half his students qualify to compete more than met his expectations, which remain consistent each year: to keep his athletes performing at peak level so they can compete at the state level. Such consistent expectations always manage to produce consistent results, he explained.

“We want to attract talent and convince them that a state title is worth pursuing,” he said. “We all have the ability to work consistently towards any goal. Track is a talent sport, and when you are able to convince talent to work harder, you will begin to see some separation in fitness and performance.”

Feagin owes his fellow coach, Stanley Smith, for doing a phenomenal job preparing their athletes in both fitness and performance. Through such hard work and determination, they have managed to overcome their two-fold challenge of keeping their athletes healthy and training in a less-than-state-of-the-art facility.

“This season, we have had major setbacks on our boys’ team with CJ Brantley, Jayden Johnson, and Dylan Garcia getting injured during our push for the State Championship,” he explained. “We do not have an up-to-date synthetic track, which is ideal for sprint performance training, but we are doing our best with what we have.”

As his expectations for his runners always remain high, his expectations for them in the upcoming championship remain even higher. They overcame so many hurdles to reach this level, and they hope to overcome even more to make the championship.

“We expect our athletes to focus on competing, and not watching,” he said. “We are positioned to compete against the very best…[and while] this will be tough for us, given that we are small in numbers, but my athletes are trained and prepared to leave it all on the track.”

The FHSAA 3A Track and Field Championship will be held Friday, May 17 at the University of North Florida at Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville, FL.

Polk County Fire Rescue Currently Working An Active Structure Fire On Avenue C In Lake Wales

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The Polk County Fire Rescue is currently on scene of a fully involved structure fire on Avenue C in Lake Wales (it is off Waverly Rd.). The call came in at 12:55am.

A Captain of the Polk County Fire Rescue could be heard over the radio relaying information to the two battalion Chiefs headed to the fire.

Power lines are down in the back of the structure. They are currently checking for any victims in secondary structure. All occupants of the main structure have been accounted for at this time.

This is a developing story and we will update as more information becomes available.

Tragedy Struck Bok North FFA In The Form Of 29 Show Animals Being Slaughtered By Pack Of Wild Dogs

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More Than 29 Show Animals Were Killed at This Lake Wales School. Here’s What You Can Do to Help.

by James Coulter

 

After several of their show animals were killed during an attack by stray dogs, this Lake Wales school’s agriculture program is seeking donations from the community to recover and rebuild.

 

On Thursday morning, Jennifer Williams, the Academic Dean of Agriculture at Bok Academy North in Lake Wales, received a distressing phone call from the school custodian.

 

She was informed that a pack of dogs had tunneled under the fence and snuck in to kill 29 of the school’s show animals.

 

The dogs had ripped apart the cages, killed all the baby chicks, and killed all of the show rabbits and chickens. They were about to tear into the goat pen when the custodian chased them off, Williams said.

 

“They [the dogs] actually broke the wire,” Williams said. “They pulled the wire apart to get into the cages because the cages were secured and locked. So they broke the cages.”

 

With most of their animals killed and their fencing and cages destroyed, Williams will need to have new fences and cages constructed and reinforced to ensure their new animals will be safe from any potential threats.

 

Bok Academy North’s chapter of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) was named the premier chapter last year, and they will be named the premier chapter again this year in the state of Florida. They had also enrolled more than 200 entries in this year’s Polk County Youth Fair and went to state for citrus and land judging.

 

Their chapter has completed nine community service projects, which included collecting more than 1,200 toiletries and other essential items for needy families, raising $1,600 for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) K-9 unit, and performing monthly cleanups along Masterpiece Road, which they adopted to participate in Keep Polk County Beautiful.

 

Williams is seeking donations from the community. Williams will have a supply list made available to anyone who calls the school. Anyone interested can call the front desk at 863-232-4665.

 

“We appreciate any help the community can give us because we try to give back to the community when we can,” Williams said.