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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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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

One Person Shot & One Person In Custody After Lake Wales Shooting

The Polk County Sheriff Office (PCSO) is currently on scene of a shooting on W. Northside Dr. in Lake Wales. The incident is believed to have occurred around 7pm.

According to Carrie Horstman, public information officer, with the PCSO advised that one person was shot and one person was taken into custody. This appears to be an isolated incident and there doesn’t appear to be any danger to the public.

The person shot was transported to Lake Wales Hospital by a family member (we normally would not report this information, but the hospital is currently on lockdown and they are not letting anyone in or out. A large crowd has gathered near the emergency room and people are cautioned to stay away from the hospital for the immediate future.

This is an ongoing investigation and we will update you when more information is available.

A shooting has taken place and the victim has been transported to Lake Wales Hospital by a family member and we believe the roped off vehicle is the one that transported the person who was shot.

Twenty Yr Old Frostproof Man Charged After Fighting His Arrest By Polk Deputy’s

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Polk County Sheriff’s Office Press Release

Once upon a time in Frostproof, there was this fella–20-year old Paulino Garcia, Jr.

ACT I
On June 7th, a PCSO deputy was flagged down by someone and informed of a suspicious person on private property. It was Paulino, and he fled from the deputy.

Apparently, many of the locals say that Paulino is known to them as “Alto.” The locals also say that Paulino (Alto) is someone who frequently steals from them.

ACT II
On June 13th, a bicycle was reported stolen and Paulino (Alto) was the suspect.

Deputies found Paulino (Alto) and he began to get on the ground, as if to surrender. Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and began fighting the deputies. The fight went on for about 3-4 minutes (which can feel like a very long time when you’re fighting). Even the Taser had little-to-no effect on Paulino (Alto).

The fight didn’t end until Paulino (Alto) attempted to run away which provided the deputies the opportunity to take him down and get him handcuffed.

Fortunately, nobody was injured in the struggle.

ACT III
Paulino Garcia, Jr. was arrested and booked-in at the Sheriff’s Processing Center and charged with: Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer (2-counts), Resisting with Violence, Resisting without Violence (2-counts), False Information to LEO, Petit Theft, and Loitering & Prowling.

The End

Morning Accident Blocks Westbound SR 60 Early Thursday

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The Polk County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) and the Polk County Fire Rescue were called to SR 60 Just West of Story Rd. In Lake Wales. The call came in at 6:40am and crews were completed by 7:22am. Unfortunately the roadway was closed until 8:20am.

According to Brian Bruchey, public information officer, with the PCSO a patient was transported by ambulance to a local hospital suffering only minor injuries.

Details of the accident were not available, but it appeared from viewers photos that the crash involved a sand hauling semi-tractor trailer and a black pickup with a white trailer.

No additional information is available on this accident at this time.

Semi-tractor trailer believed to be involved in crash

In Loving Memory of Ronnie Lee Melton

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Ronnie Lee Melton, 72

Ronnie Lee Melton of Lake Wales passed away Friday, June 7, 2024 at his residence.

He was born January 9, 1952 in Saint Louis, Missouri to the late John and Clara Melton; he moved to Lake Wales from Little Rock, Arkansas 50 years ago. Ronnie was the owner and operator of  a lawn care business. He loved motorcycles and would help anyone he could.

Ronnie is survived by his daughter, Amie Trevillian; son, Richard Lambrecht and wife Lisa; six grandchildren; one great-grandchild; brothers; sisters; and his dog, Dobie who held a special place in his heart.

A memorial service will be held at 10:00 a.m., Thursday, June 13, 2024 at Marion Nelson Funeral Home in Lake Wales. 

“Racehorses and Mules”

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By Jack Hilligoss

Mayor of Lake Wales Florida

    I appreciate The Daily Ridge giving me this opportunity to respond to questions and concerns of Lake Wales citizens directly.  Many questions were asked about several topics of importance. I don’t think they can all be adequately addressed in one article. So, I have asked permission to write a series of responses each focused upon one or two of the top concerns. I’ll begin with…

Growth

     Not surprisingly, the issue that received the most questions and concerns was the rapid growth we are experiencing and how the City Commission is handling it.

   When Norman Schwarzkopf was commanding US military forces during “Operation Desert Storm” he wrote, “Commanding an army is like driving a stagecoach which is being pulled by racehorses and mules at the same time.”  

     That is also a great metaphor for managing a city. Driving a stagecoach with that mixed team is always awkward, it can become nearly impossible if someone fires a starter pistol. In Polk County, the starter pistol is growth, and it has been fired! 

    Polk is the fastest growing county in Florida and in the top five nationally. An average of one hundred new residents have moved to our county every single day in recent years. 

     This growth has been caused by a host of political, cultural, environmental, and economic factors that local municipal governments do not and cannot control. This reality doesn’t look like it will change any time soon and it presents us with enormous challenges. However, it also brings wonderful opportunities.  

    How we try to meet the challenges and maximize the opportunities are the decisions we have control over. I am happy to share with you steps we have taken to do both, but I think it is important to begin with some facts about the building and growth in Lake Wales.

Growth Facts

    Local news sources have published several stories in the last few years speaking of the population “boom” coming to Lake Wales and which will create “Trafficgeddon” and overwhelm our water supply. It is undeniable our streets, highways, schools, stores, and restaurants have gotten crowded.

    However, in the last five years, the City of Lake Wales has only issued 532 building permits for single or multi-family homes to be built in the city limits. There have only been 453 Certificates of Occupancy granted for homes. That is an averageof less than 100 new homes built and occupied in Lake Wales per year for the last five years. The overwhelming amount of traffic and crowding we are dealing with is from new housing being built in nearby communities or in unincorporated Polk County. 

    This is one reason why proactive annexation and land use planning is important for  our city. If we do not take these actions, the growth still happens, we absorb the impact, but reap none of the benefits needed to maintain infrastructure or provide adequate services. Now, I want to address…

Future Growth

   While we have not permitted or seen many homes built in Lake Wales in the past five years, the fact remains there is a great deal of potential growth in the future. I emphasize“potential growth”. 

    In the last few years, we have approved 40 development plans (I combine multi-phase plans in that count) that could result in 15,884 new single and multi-family residents being built in city limits. Those numbers can be frightening and conjure images of an overnight population explosion. That will not happen.  

   The majority of those developments, well over 50%, were approved before I was elected Mayor of Lake Wales in 2022. So, they have been “approved” for some time and, yet, we have only issued 532 permits and 453 C.O.’s. That is less than 3% of the homes approved.

    Getting a development from “approved” to “built” is a long, demanding process. It begins with a great deal of work to produce a Site plan and secure a PDP (Planned Development Project) with the City Planning department.  That can take months and even years. After this, the proposed PDP must go before the Planning and Zoning Board for recommendation to the Commission. These presentations often result in requests for further adjustments to the developer’s plan. If the P&Z Board recommends approval, the PDP then comes before the City Commission for “Site Plan Approval”. When you include the annexation, land use, and zoning votes that must occur, each development is voted on seven times over three meetings before this happens.

    Once the developer receives this “Site Plan Approval”, they must produce engineered plans. This can take over a year and cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those plans are then sent to County and State officials for “concurrency” studies. These “Concurrency studies” consider the developments impact on traffic, school capacity, water capacity. They can take up to one year and often result in further adjustments to the developer’s plan. The development cannot get approval for construction if there is not sufficient capacity in any of the areas studied. 

    Many developments which are initially approved by the City Commission never get through this process and come to fruition.With these facts in mind, understand that of the 40 developments “approved” by the City Commission in the last several years, only 13 have gotten to the point of “Site Plan Permit”. 

    After this, the developer must go through the process of developing all the infrastructure before they can begin securing building permits.  Currently, only 9 of the approved developments have reached this point. Those are permitted to build less than 700 residences. Now, some of those developments are permitted in stages and will likely receive building permits for further residences soon, but that is the present reality. 

    Over 6000 of the 15888 “approved” residences are in a single development. The Peace Crossing Development on Hwy 27 between Thompson Nursery and Mountain Lake Cut-Off Road. This development hasn’t even begun the planning process, it likely will not turn the first shovel of dirt for years, and it will take over a decade for the entire site to be developed. 

     Often, a developer will attain the Site Plan Permit and stilltake years to do the infrastructure work and pull building permits. Leoma’s Landing, a fairly large development on Chalet Suzanne Road, had “Site Plan Permit” for several years before it received its first building permit. 

     None of this is a denial that growth is coming. However, I do hope that it brings some perspective to the reality and pace of that growth. The population of Lake Wales is certainly going to increase, but it is not going to double or triple in the next decade. Probably not in the next two or three decades based upon current realities.

Planning for Growth

    We are at times accused of “ripping up the orange groves” and “killing off the wildlife”. The decisions about what is done with privately owned land is not in the hands of a City Commission. Any City Commissioner or Commission candidate that promises they can stop growth is either naïve or disingenuous. State laws and existing Comprehensive Plans give landowners the right to sell and develop their land. They can do this with or without the cooperation of the City Commission; and many of them are doing so because of the unfortunate setbacks experienced in the citrus industry over the last decade.

    The only action a City Commission can take is to try to assume some control of the quality of the growth and garner as many benefits for their citizens. If a city does those things well, growth can bring great opportunities and benefits. I feel like we have been very proactive in this.

    In 2022, Lake Wales adopted a 180 Utility Service Area Ordinance which gives us a sort of “first right of refusal” when new development is considered around us. It affords our city a chance to influence the quality of development in an area much larger than our current city limits. It also sets a “footprint” to guide us in trying to do proactive planning of the growth as it comes.

   In 2023, we engaged in an intensive planning process-“Lake Wales Envisioned”. This process took several months and engaged many Lake Wales citizens in discussing land uses, economic development, and environmental preservation priorities. The study produced a set of several recommendations for zoning and building code change to ensure higher quality development while preserving as much natural environment as possible and stimulating economic development. That plan was unanimously adopted by the City Commission in the fall of 2023 and, just this month, the first changes to our land development regulations were adopted to codify the plan and incentivize higher quality development in our city. I would encourage every citizen who is concerned to read the plan at: lakewalesenvisioned.com

    Finally, a big concern related to growth is water usage and availability.  Each municipality in Polk County has a Water Usage Permit issued them by the Southwest Water Management District. Lake Wales has a permit to pump 3.9 million gallons of water per day. We are using only 2.7 million per day. With our current growth projections, we will be at 3.7 million gallons per day by 2032. We spent a great deal of time seeing if we could find our own alternative source of water and realized in mid 2023 we couldn’t. However, we are in good shape until at least 2032 and we can buy into phase #2 of the Polk Regional Water Cooperative’s Southeast Well Field Project.  

    Along with that, the city is always working on Land Use Transfers with grove owners who are developing their land. This will also increase our water pumping capacity.  The city will have a presentation on water supply and usage prior to our July 15 meeting at 5:00 PM. After that, we are considering hosting a Town Hall to get more information to and receive more interaction from citizens.

Future Articles

   Thanks again to Carl and the Daily Ridge for giving me this opportunity. I will write more articles in the coming weeks to answer questions and address concerns about Economic Development, Parks and recreation, care of our lakes, among other issues that were raised in response to Carl’s invitation to me.

    However, I want to invite any reader; please, if you have questions, feel free to email me [email protected]. Orcall City Hall and request an appointment to visit with me. I have an office there and try to dedicate Friday mornings to meeting with our City Manager. I would certainly take the time to meet with a citizen as well.

In Loving Memory Of Utah Farris

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Utah Carrol Farris passed away on June 5th, 2024 at 2:30pm at the age of 88.

Utah is predeceased by his wife, Anita Farris and son, Loren Farris. Utah is lovingly remembered by his children, Luanna Kanada, Robert Rodgers,
Deborah Abrams and Phillip Patterson. As well as his brother, Steve Farris and sister, Louetta Murken. Utah is also remembered by many grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Utah Farris was born in Holdenville, OK on October 29, 1935. He moved to Lake Wales, Fl upon retiring from Martin Builders in Lafayette, LA in 2003.
Since retirement, Utah could be found at Lake Wales Pioneer Days, Alafaya Rendezvous, and several of powwow throughout Florida selling his handcrafted Native American style flutes.

A Celebration of Life will be held at his place of residence: 5019 Pineapple St., Lake Wales, Fl 33898 on Saturday, June 15, 2024 at 11am.

Lake Wales Charter Schools Board To Hold Special Meeting Regarding Investigation Into Superintendent Rodolfich

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The Lake Wales Charter Schools Board will hold a special meeting session Friday, June 7, 2024 3:00pm
at the Lake Wales High School. The public is encouraged to come as well as the media we are being told. The meeting is to go over superintendent investigation status report. The investigation stems from the LWCS HR Director receiving complaints or grievances by multiple employees in the office of the school system. On March 19th HR Director LaQuanda Burroughs received a grievance from an employee accusing Dr. Rodolfich of created a toxic and hostile work environment. The complaint stems from over a year of interactions with the Superintendent, according to the complaint all staff members have been listed as witnesses. An additional complaint was also made by reportedly a different employee stating on March 18, 2024 at 8 am Dr. Rodolfich yelled at an employee and pounded on the table. It was referred to as demoralizing and embarrassing. It was also reported that Dr. Rodolfich has allegedly discriminated against and singled out an employee due to race. HR Director LaQuanda Burroughs recommended that an external employment law firm be retained to investigate and substantiate the claims.

The Tampa law firm of Barbas Cremer, which specializes in employment and business law was the one used to conduct the investigation. The investigation has concluded.

Questions abound regarding the outcome of the investigation. Will Dr. Rodolfich be terminated? Will he be vindicated ( Dr. Rodolfich has maintained his innocence since the investigation started) and what is next depending on the outcome. If Dr. Rodolfich is terminated it would put a short timeframe in place to get a replacement before the school year starts. What will the board do? Will they put another committee together to find a replacement? Will it temporarily replace him with one of the local candidates who applied for the position in the past? Those candidates would be

Emilean Clemons 

Emilean Clemons is a homegrown candidate, who was raised in Lake Wales, attended its schools, graduated from Lake Wales High School in 1974, then returned to teach at schools in her hometown.

Andy Oguntola 

Andy Oguntola is a local candidate, with strong ties to the Lake Wales community and Polk County. He is dean of workforce education and economic development and adjunct professor.

Anuj Saran 

Anuj Saran is the principal and head of the International Baccalaureate program of Lake Wales High School. Anuj Saran has been part of the Lake Wales Charter School System shortly after it’s inception.

Each of these candidates have positives and negatives. They also all lost out to Dr. Rodolfich in their pursuit of the position. It’s also questionable if any of them have the desire to take on the job.

This is also huge hurdle for the LWCS Board. It’s gone over a substantial makeover in the last year. The chair remains the same with Funeral Director Danny Gill and two commissioners, Attorney Tanya Stewart & Dr. Lori Hutto, are still there. The board has an open seat with Banker Paul Gerrard taking leave due to additional commitments. Three newer commissioners, Banker Brian Marbutt, Mortgage Broker Raphael Unzueta and Pastor/Executive Director Andy Blair, will have their first opportunity to be part of a superintendent search.

Some questions have arisen regarding commissioner Raphael Unzueta and if he should recuse himself in any decision regarding Dr. Rodolfich since his wife is Julie Unzueta who is the Payroll Manager at Lake Wales Charter Schools and works in the office where the allegations against Dr. Rodolfich occurred.

Free PIZZA in the Park at Wall Street Park For Frostproof Youth

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Attention, Frostproofers with young Frostproofers! The City of Frostproof and the Polk County Sheriff’s Office have a great lunch-time event planned for Thursday, June 13th at Wall Street Park.

Think of it as a grand re-opening for the park with brand new playground equipment. The plan is to have some good food and good fun, and it’s all free!

We hope to see you and your children for Pizza in the Park next week!

Details: PIZZA in the Park at Wall Street Park in Frostproof June 13th, from 11am – 1PM

Children (5th Grade & below, please) are invited to check out the park’s new playground equipment!

There will also be free water guns and pizza!

In Loving Memory Of H.L. Hiers

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H.L. Hiers of Lake Wales passed away Wednesday, May 29, 2024 at his residence.

He was born September 25, 1930 in Bartow to the late Harley and Thelma Hiers; he has been a lifelong resident of the area. H.L. graduated from Summerlin-Bartow High School where he was very active in sports. He was the quarterback of the football team and was the state champion for track in discus, high jump, and high hurdles. H.L. attended the University of Alabama on a track scholarship for one year before returning home to work for his father in citrus. He then received a scholarship to the University of Tampa where he played football, basketball, and baseball. H.L. enlisted into the United States Navy where he was stationed on the USS Intrepid which toured around the Mediterranean Sea. While serving, he played on the Navy basketball team. H.L. finished his education at the University of Tampa with a degree in physical education and social studies. He received his master’s degree in education from Stetson University. H.L. began his career in education at Lake Wales High School where he taught social studies and coached track. He later became the principal of Lake Wales High School in the late 1960’s. During his tenure as track coach, his team won a state championship. H.L. was an avid golfer, he was the Club Champion of the Lake Wales Country Club and played in many tournaments throughout Polk County. He was principal of Hillcrest Elementary School for many years. H.L. was an active member of First United Methodist Church of Lake Wales where he was a lay leader, usher, choir singer, and head of the Methodist Men. He also taught men’s bible class for 25 years. H.L.’s especially enjoyed spending time with his family.

H.L. was preceded in death by his parents, Harley and Thelma Hiers; sister, Joanne Henderson; and brother, David Hiers. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Thalia Whitehurst Hiers; children, Brad Hiers and wife Wendy, Dean Hiers and wife Lynn, and Fran Bean and husband Derek; grandchildren, Bradley Hiers and wife Amanda, Ashley Fallin and husband Mike, Luke Hiers and wife Morgan, Lyle Hiers and wife Summer, Olivia Hiers, Brent Bean, and William Bean; and great-grandchildren, Hannah Grace Hiers, Harrison Hiers, Bennett Hiers, Miller Fallin, Taylor Fallin; and sister, Janice Wolff.

A visitation will be held from 9:00 a.m. until the funeral service at 10:00 a.m., Thursday, June 6, 2024 at First United Methodist Church of Lake Wales with Pastor Ron Burks officiating. Interment will follow at Lake Wales Cemetery. 

Lake Wales Mainstreet Wine Downtown Coming Next Week

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Kick off Summer with Lake Wales Mainstreet and our amazing businesses in Downtown Lake Wales for Wine Downtown on June 6th. Event starts at 4PM and ends at 8PM. Ticket price includes swag bag, map of participating locations, assorted wines/craft beers paired with food items at each location. Check in is in front of the Citrus Mural on Stuart Avenue and Scenic Highway. Questions can be directed to Ronni, [email protected]. We can’t wait to see you!