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Sebastian River gets new CEO but troubles continue
week of January 16, 2019

Sebastian River Medical Center’s much-delayed $60-million expansion has missed another projected completion date. With no explanation from hospital management, the project blew past the December completion date predicted by the hospital’s then-CEO Kyle Sanders before he left last fall. A new president and CEO, Ronald Bierman, was finally named last week, but the hoped-for February opening now appears further delayed to late spring or early summer. Bierman formerly led another Steward Health hospital, Trumbull Memorial Hospital in Warren, Ohio, and since November has been running Sharon Regional Medical Center in Pennsylvania. Construction setbacks are not the only delays causing the hospital to take heat. As the hospital’s construction team prepares for a review next week by the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration, that same agency has fined Sebastian River for delays in filing financial documents unrelated to the expansion. The $4,000 fine levied by AHCA in mid-December marks the fourth time the hospital has been fined for late filings since Steward Health acquired the hospital in mid-2017. It is the second time the hospital has been late providing prior year financial statements. READ FULL STORY

After years of pursuit, does Vero not really want commercial air service?
week of January 16, 2019

Elite Airways may end up a victim of its own success after the Vero Beach Airport Commission voted in favor of terminating the airline’s lease at Vero Beach Regional Airport to keep the city from losing up to a $1 million a year in state grants. The City Council, which will make the final decision, is expected to take up the issue at its Jan. 21 meeting. Elite Airways, which flies small Bombardier jets carrying 50 or 70 passengers back and forth between Vero Beach and Newark, N.J., as well as other destinations, has been a big hit in Vero. Since it launched service here in 2015, beachside residents with summer homes in the New York area have raved about the convenience of the flights – with free parking, quick boarding and the airport just minutes from the island – and Elite has said that Vero is its best market. Passenger numbers – and airline revenue – steadily increased from year to year and in 2018 the company flew 11,084 passengers, according to city documents. READ FULL STORY

Randy Gori, 47, of Orchid Island slain in Illinois robbery
week of January 16, 2019

When tragedy took a husband and father in Edwardsville, Ill., it also deprived the 32963 barrier island community of an extremely generous, thoughtful, and down to earth part-time resident. Powerhouse personal-injury attorney Randy Lee Gori was brutally murdered in his Illinois home on Jan. 4, and according to reports, died saving the lives of his two minor children. The accused killer has been arrested and the investigation into the heinous crime is ongoing. Mourners paid their respects Monday evening at St. Boniface Catholic Church in the small town of Edwardsville, population 25,000, about 20 miles from St. Louis, where Gori’s law firm has offices. The firm’s claim to fame, according to the St. Louis Business Journal report, is that it “has won more than $3 billion in asbestos cases throughout the U.S.” Gori’s obituary described his charity work saying, “Randy was a true philanthropist at heart.” A bit of the fruits of Gori’s courtroom prowess made its way to Vero’s barrier island eight years ago. Seeking a place to enjoy sun and surf with their children on school holidays, Gori, 47, and his wife Beth first bought a $2.5 million oceanfront home in Ocean Ridge near The Moorings. Then in 2016 the family moved north on the island to an $8 million oceanfront estate in the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club. READ FULL STORY

In dramatic reversal, Vero now seeks train station
week of January 16, 2019

In a dramatic reversal, Vero Beach’s mayor and city council now want to team up with Virgin Trains USA to develop a train and bus station at Vero Beach Regional Airport as the company forges ahead with its Miami to Orlando high-speed passenger rail project. The proposal is an amazing turnaround from what most local officials have been saying ever since the high-speed train project was announced. Up till now, there has been nearly unanimous opposition to the train project, with the county spending millions on lawsuits to block the rail service and the city expressing support for the county’s stance and passing an anti-train resolution as far back as 2014. Now, with the county losing again in federal court and County Attorney Dylan Reingold advising commissioners there is no point in further appeals, the city has decided to try and work with the train company. The council on Jan. 7 directed City Manager Monte Falls to try to negotiate with VTUSA representatives for a train station at the airport and quiet zones at the city’s railroad crossings. READ FULL STORY

Sheriff Loar: ‘This guy is lying to you’
week of January 16, 2019

Sheriff Deryl Loar flatly rejected a mystery plaintiff’s claim that the public records lawsuits filed against the Sheriff’s Office and school district last month were not politically motivated. “This guy is lying to you,” Loar said of the plaintiff, who identified himself only as “John Doe aka” in the court filings. “He’s being disingenuous when he tells you he has no political motives.” Loar said he believes the plaintiff is working – alone or in tandem with a political ally – to defeat Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers, the candidate Loar has endorsed to succeed him as the county’s top law enforcement officer. According to Loar, the anonymous plaintiff filed 320 public records requests with the Sheriff’s Office between Sept. 17 and Jan. 9, and “all of them were directly related to Eric Flowers.” Loar said he also found it curious that retired Sheriff’s Capt. Chuck Kirby, who also is running for sheriff, showed up at the Sheriff’s Office on Nov. 13 and used a money order to pay for some of the records requested by READ FULL STORY

Federal judge reprimands School Board’s hired attorney
week of January 16, 2019

A federal judge on Friday reprimanded county School Board attorney Suzanne D’Agresta for writing and submitting an unauthorized desegregation “progress” report, and sharply criticized her for refusing to include in the report input from the NAACP and the school district’s Equity Committee. U.S District Judge Kathleen Williams, who oversees the school district’s compliance with a long-standing federal desegregation order, informed D’Agresta during a hearing in Miami she would not accept the report the attorney authored and submitted without informing the school board. The outlines of the two-hour hearing were confirmed by Judge Williams office, the school district and the NAACP. “Judge Williams basically decided to throw the report into the trash and ‘spanked’ D’Agresta for refusing to allow the NAACP and the Equity Committee to have any input,” said NAACP President Tony Brown, who attended the hearing. “The judge chewed her out.” D’Agresta could not be reached for comment on Monday. School district officials said Superintendent David Moore, who also attended the hearing, could not comment on the legal issue. Brown said Williams did not instruct the two sides to resubmit a joint report, but said she expected a joint report that meets the court’s requirements when the next progress update is filed later this year. READ FULL STORY

County seeks ‘critically eroded’ designation for beaches
week of January 16, 2019

Indian River County commissioners are hoping to get 3.3 miles of beach – mostly in Indian River Shores – designated as “critically eroded,” with the aim of securing state funds to help defray the cost of repairing the shoreline. The area known as Sector 4, which extends from Old Winter Beach Boulevard to Surf Lane, was damaged by hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Dorian. Beaches have narrowed along that stretch due to wind and waves eating away at the shoreline. In an effort to sway the state, the county commission approved a $25,800 proposal to hire engineering consultant, APTIM Environmental and Infrastructure Inc., to analyze beach survey data and prepare a petition to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection that asks the agency to classify the shoreline in Sector 4 as critically eroded. “The county is focused on pursuing the critically eroded designation,” County Administrator Jason Brown said. “Once that process is complete, we will make a decision regarding Sector 4 beach restoration activities.” READ FULL STORY

Local tennis pros compete in 25th annual King of the Hill
week of January 16, 2019

The 25th annual King of the Hill tennis tournament started last week with local teaching pros as committed as ever to playing in the wildly popular, in-season event, which has raised more than $450,000 for Youth Guidance of Indian River County since its inception in 1996. “Without the players, you don’t have an event,” said Gigi Casapu, the longtime local teaching pro who founded and still organizes the doubles-only tournament. “Fortunately, there’s no other place where the pros from different clubs work together and help each other the way they do in Vero Beach. “Their commitment to the event, along with the support we receive from the sponsors and the community, is what has made King of the Hill the tradition it has become.” This year’s tournament has been expanded from six weeks to eight, with play in the 40-and-over and 50-and-over divisions – each has eight players – starting last Tuesday at The Boulevard Tennis Club and continuing Tuesday nights through Feb. 4. Play in the 16-player Open division is scheduled to start Feb. 11 at The Moorings and continuing on Tuesday nights through March 3. READ FULL STORY

Michael Jones appeals conviction for murdering nurse Duve
week of January 16, 2019

Michael David Jones, found guilty last month of murder in the slaying of Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve, has filed an appeal of his conviction with Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. The court reporter transcribing the hearings, jury selection, trial and sentencing of convicted killer Michael David Jones has estimated she will end up sending the appellate court 4,400 pages of transcripts. On top of that, the Indian River Clerk of the Court must send the Court of Appeals copies of all of Circuit Court Judge Dan Vaughn’s rulings on motions and evidence, plus all pleadings filed by the state or the defense in preparation for the panel to consider Jones’ Dec. 3 appeal. Jones, 37, who was sentenced to life in prison for the June 2014 death of the 26-year-old Diana Duve, is challenging decisions Vaughn made eight months before the trial with regard to evidence. He is also questioning the handling of the jury selection process, the trial and the sentencing phase, in which the jury spared him the death penalty. READ FULL STORY

Former DirecTV CEO, wife key in United Way drive
week of January 9, 2019

John’s Island’s lush foliage and guarded gates may protect its residents’ privacy, but their philanthropy still pours into the community, including one-fourth of the $3 million raised every year by the local United Way. Sustaining that stream, and enlarging it, falls to the newly named co-chairs of the John’s Island United Way campaign, Mike and Sue White. Fortunately, Mike White has more than a little experience reaching into people’s homes to raise revenue. White is the former CEO of DirecTV, the largest pay television provider in the world with 21 million subscribers. White held that post until his retirement in 2015, when DirecTV merged with AT&T in a $67 billion deal. “To step up and do this is no small thing. It’s their name and their personalization, even though they may not know everybody, they’re the ones who make all the communications and all the solicitations,” said United Way CEO Michael Kint, adding that most of the chapter’s highest-level donors live in John’s Island. The Whites are taking responsibility “for what is a very important residential community to us.” READ FULL STORY

‘Three hurricanes worth of sand’ added to beach
week of January 9, 2019

Beachgoers were taken aback last week when massive Sahara Desert-like sand dunes appeared on the beach south of Jaycee Park, burying boardwalk stairs and ramps and forming steep cliffs that drop down to the shore. From the boardwalk, the scene looks like preparations to protect the park from a monster storm or turn back an amphibious invasion. But Indian River County officials say this state of affairs is only temporary. It’s part of the long-awaited Central Beach replenishment project that began in November to deposit nearly 180,000 cubic yards of sand from Tracking Station Park south to Castaway Cove. Work trucks and other equipment will smooth out those looming dunes and spread them more evenly along the beach so that Conn Beach will look more like itself again in another couple of weeks, according to Brian Sullivan, spokesman for Indian River County. “They’re bringing in three hurricanes’ worth of sand,” Sullivan said of workers repairing the erosion caused by hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Dorian in the past four years. Dorian alone, which brushed by our coast in September, was responsible for about $7 million in erosion damage, according to county officials. READ FULL STORY

St. Ed’s stakeholders lobby school’s trustees to reinstate fired coach
week of January 9, 2019

A group of St. Edward’s “stake- holders” wants the school’s Board of Trustees to reinstate Bill Motta, who was the Pirates’ head football coach for a decade before he was fired in November. The group, using the email address, is asking “parents, alumni and community leaders” to electronically sign a strongly worded letter that praises Motta’s impact on the Pirates’ football program and players, and asks board members to override outgoing Head of School Mike Mersky’s decision to dump the beloved coach. After firing Motta, Mersky, who plans to retire July 1, refused to explain his decision, instead issuing a Nov. 19 news release in which he stated that he felt “it was time to re-evaluate the direction of football at the school.” Clearly, not everyone in the St. Edward’s community agrees with Mersky’s assessment. “As parents of current and past students, alumni and community leaders (collectively ‘stakeholders’), we are disappointed with this course of action and the manner in which it was handled,” the letter to the board reads. READ FULL STORY

Portuguese man o’ war again bringing pain to island beaches
week of January 9, 2019

Beware the blue-hued bulbous creatures you may see – or fail to notice – washed up on our beaches or tumbling in the surf over the next few months. ’Tis the season for the bothersome Portuguese man o’ war whose stings sent 15 beachgoers rushing to lifeguard stations at South Beach on a recent Friday afternoon. The invertebrates look like jellyfish but are zooids that typically float around in the Gulf Stream, unable to swim. They ride the seasonally strong onshore winds and currents of fall and winter to arrive in our local waters. Dr. James Masterson, a marine biologist at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, describes the creatures as “colonial organisms” – individual creatures that specialize in different functions such as defense, digestion and reproduction joined together in what appears to be a single animal. Their diet consists of small fish and squid, he says, and they may be food for leatherback sea turtles which nest on our beaches – so they do serve an ecological function apart from being a nuisance to beachgoers. READ FULL STORY

Accused murderer seeks counsel from ex-lawman father | NEWS ANALYSIS
week of January 9, 2019

Elisha Charles Martin sits behind bars at the Indian River County Jail awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges for the shooting death of 16-year-old Logan Spencer of Sebastian. Six feet, 4 inches tall with a baby face, Martin is just shy of his 19th birthday, which is coming up on Jan. 26. He told police in an interview that he just “wants to go back to being a regular kid again,” but the chances of that happening seem remote due to ugly events last February. Police say Martin drove Spencer, a Sebastian River High School football player, out to Fellsmere, shot him in the head, execution style, and dumped his body near the Stick Marsh. Spencer’s family and friends searched for him for three days – hoping he’d just run away or gone incommunicado – until police confirmed the worst. Spencer’s body was found with a shattered skull, exposed to the elements and badly decomposed. Martin is alleged to have committed the murder three weeks after his 18th birthday, meaning he’ll be prosecuted as an adult. READ FULL STORY

Massive construction crane only sign in county of Virgin Trains construction
week of January 9, 2019

Virgin Trains USA contractors are going great guns in Palm Beach and Brevard Counties, working to extend the high-speed passenger rail line from West Palm Beach to Orlando, but not much is happening in Indian River County. The only significant sign of the vast construction project here so far is a massive construction crane that’s been deployed near the railroad tracks in Roseland to handle the heavy lifting when work gets underway to replace the 93-year-old St. Sebastian River Railroad Bridge. Virgin Trains contractors recently cleared and graded the land along the tracks in Roseland and built a gravel base for the crane where the railroad bridge touches down on the bluffs overlooking the river. But that’s the only sign of construction activity so far along the train tracks in Indian River County for the $2.4 billion extension of Virgin Trains passenger rail service between Orlando International Airport and the existing train station in West Palm Beach. Virgin Trains started service between Miami and West Palm Beach in 2018 and says it expects to start running 34 trains between Miami and Orlando by the end of 2022. READ FULL STORY

New superintendent impresses high school teachers and staff
week of January 9, 2019

“My purpose is to tell you who I am, what my goals are, what drives me, and how I want to connect and pull us all together,” new School District Superintendent David Moore told faculty and staff gathered Monday at Vero Beach High School. Vero Beach High was one of three schools he visited that day to share his vision for the district he was hired in December to lead. High among his priorities are gaining an “A” grade for the district from the state in the next five years – the current grade is a “B” – and conducting School District business in a transparent way. “I’m going to show everything to our community – the good, the bad, everything,” Moore said. “We already know the suspension rates are not [equitable between black and white students], and our proficiency rates have been stagnant for several years. “I’m willing to be evaluated by my walk and actions ... One thing I will not waiver in is my belief that by our interactions with students we can change lives.” READ FULL STORY

Is someone trying to derail sheriff’s candidate Flowers?
week of January 2, 2019

Is someone trying to dig up dirt on Sheriff’s Office Maj. Eric Flowers, possibly in an effort to derail his candidacy for the agency’s top job? Twice in a 10-day period last month, an anonymous plaintiff filed lawsuits alleging that public records were being wrongly withheld by the school district and Sheriff’s Office. The most recent lawsuit, filed last week in Vero Beach, seeks a court order to compel the Sheriff’s Office to provide the plaintiff with text messages, emails, social media account information and activity, computers used and their browsing histories, digital chat logs, and authorizations for usage. All of the plaintiff’s public-records requests are aimed at Flowers, who serves as the Sheriff’s Office’s public information officer, using his agency-issued credit card to purchase in September a one-year subscription to “Hootsuite,” a software application that allows subscribers to manage multiple social media accounts. According to the lawsuit, Flowers – or someone under his direction – linked the Sheriff’s Office’s Hootsuite account to Facebook pages created by local radio personality Rhett Palmer, who allows the agency to broadcast its radio shows from his Royal Palm Pointe studio. READ FULL STORY

Battle of the gourmet food markets ahead
week of January 2, 2019

A gourmet food market with outdoor dining is slated to open this summer on Cardinal Drive in the building occupied for decades by the now-closed Super Stop convenience store. The new store, tentatively named Ryder’s Gourmet Market, will be located just two blocks south of Chelsea’s Gourmet Market. Like it’s long-established rival on Cardinal, Ryder’s plans to sell condiments, cheeses, sauces, jellies, sausages, fine chocolates and other foods, and serve take-out meals. Ryder’s market will open sometime in July, according to John’s Island resident Thomas O. Ryder, who purchased the building and half-acre lot at 3106 Cardinal Drive in May for $2.3 million, according to county records. “It will be a true gourmet market,” Ryder told Vero Beach 32963. “We will sell carefully curated foods and wines and beers from all around the world.” Ryder plans to begin remodeling the building after the new year. Renovations will include the addition of a kitchen for fresh takeout food, modifications to the parking lot and installation of 588 square feet of covered outdoor seating, according to city documents. READ FULL STORY

Dr. Donald Ames, pioneering Vero surgeon, dies at 83
week of January 2, 2019

For the family of Dr. Donald Ames, Vero Beach’s first board-certified orthopedic surgeon and for 35 years a consulting doctor for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Christmas holidays over the years were often interrupted as Ames responded to an annual epidemic – the injuries of kids wiping out on new skateboards and roller skates. “We’d hear him on the phone to the hospital. ‘I’m on my way, just keep ’em on ice,’ he’d say,” said Doug Ames, Don’s eldest son. “I can remember all of us waiting for him in the car outside the emergency room.” This year, Ames’ absence was far more profound. On the Sunday before Christmas, the distinguished physician died at his home surrounded by family, quietly closing his eyes in mid-afternoon and missing one last sunset over the Indian River Lagoon. It was a sweeping view he cherished and had made the centerpiece of his island home. “Best sunset in the county,” he liked to say. He shared that vista with hundreds if not thousands of guests over the years in a house he built with gatherings in mind, from cocktail parties to benefit galas. READ FULL STORY

Lawyer says county tourism director was drugged at bar prior to fracas with police
week of January 2, 2019

Defense attorney Bobby Guttridge says his client, Allison McNeal, 40, was drugged while out drinking on a Saturday night in a local bar prior to being arrested at 3 in the morning on Dec. 22 for punching a Vero Beach police officer at the U.S. 1 IHOP. The case has attracted widespread publicity because McNeal for the past seven years has served in a high-profile position with the Indian River Chamber of Commerce, working as the county’s designated tourism director. Guttridge said on Saturday he’s uncertain of McNeal’s employment status since her arrest. “She may be under some form of suspension, but I hope to set up a meeting with the chamber to do something about that,” Guttridge said. Calls and messages to chamber President Dori Stone were not returned, as the offices were closed last week for the Christmas holiday. According to police, McNeal showed up in the wee hours of a Sunday morning at the Vero Beach IHOP. The restaurant employee who called police said McNeal “was yelling and acting irate” toward customers, but Guttridge said McNeal did not have any personal agenda for being at the restaurant that would fit with her behavior, such as a lovers’ quarrel or family dispute. READ FULL STORY

Will county appeal Virgin Trains ruling to Supreme Court?
week of January 2, 2019

It is hard to believe the County Commission would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review its lawsuit against Virgin Trains, which just failed in dismal fashion in appellate court. But Indian River County has already persisted longer and spent more on its legal battle to block high-speed passenger trains than any neighboring county, so who knows? In any case, the County Commission will have to decide soon whether to continue its increasing quixotic crusade to stop the high-speed rail project, which commissioners fear will cost the county money, threaten public safety and reduce quality of life along the route. Commissioners have until March 19 to petition the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari if they want to continue fighting to overturn federal financial and environmental approvals for Virgin Trains passenger rail project. County Attorney Dylan Reingold and the county’s train counsel, Philip Karmel of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, will discuss the ramifications of the appellate court ruling and how to advise the commissioners, county spokesman Brian Sullivan said Friday. READ FULL STORY

Will the name Centennial Place become official in 2020?
week of January 2, 2019

A handful of names continue to be bandied about for the city-owned waterfront site most commonly called Centennial Place, and the prime piece of real estate likely won’t receive a definitive designation until sometime later this year. The steering committee designated to oversee planning for redevelopment of the site earlier this month refrained from naming the 38-acre property, which includes the former power plant, current wastewater treatment facility and former postal annex. The city now plans to launch a naming survey on – the official online forum for the redevelopment effort – after a redevelopment plan is decided on, said Jason Jeffries, planning and development director. “We’re holding off because we don’t know what the selected design is and there is some thought that the name would reflect whatever is the selected scenario,” Jeffries said. DPZ CoDesign co-founder Andrés Martin Duany disagrees. The city earlier this year hired the world-renowned urban planning firm to help guide the planning process and formulate a final design for the riverfront property, which flanks the 17th Street bridge on the mainland side, and Duany believes naming the site now will drive the planning process and reduce confusion. READ FULL STORY

County’s bid to block train near end of the line
week of December 26, 2019

Indian River County’s federal court challenge against the Virgin Trains USA passenger train project may have reached the end of the line. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Friday agreed with the district court judge who threw out the county’s complaint challenging the train project’s federal financial and environmental approvals. “The bottom line is that the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the All Aboard Florida (Virgin Trains USA/Brightline) project clearly complies with the requirements of National Environmental Policy Act,” wrote Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards for a three-judge panel. Indian River County leaders will review the court order, consult with their legal team and decide whether to take the appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, said county spokesman Brian Sullivan. County Commissioner Tim Zorc said he wants to hear County Attorney Dylan Reingold’s analysis of the appellate decision before deciding whether he supports seeking high court review. “We’re disappointed,” Zorc said. “We’ll review our options. READ FULL STORY

Susan Moxley: An ‘absolute blessing’ for our schools
week of December 26, 2019

When Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley parachuted into Vero Beach in May, she found a school district whose finances were in chaos and a frustrated School Board that spent most of its time fighting amongst itself. A dark cloud of distrust hung heavy over school district employees, students and the community. Fast, effective rescue action was called for. “When I was hired, the board wasn’t looking for someone to hold down the fort until a new superintendent could be hired,” said Moxley, whose last day with the district was Dec. 19. “The district was bleeding badly. They needed someone to come in and get the work done immediately – and that’s what I tried to do.” In the eyes of the School Board and others in the district, Moxley was brilliantly successful. “Dr. Moxley has been an absolute blessing to Indian River County Schools,” said School Board member Jacqueline Rosario. “She came to our district at a time when healing was desperately needed and that is exactly what she has accomplished.” READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic announces generous new parental leave policy for employees
week of December 26, 2019

As the Florida legislature prepares to consider two bills filed earlier this month that would make businesses give new parents three months of paid leave, Cleveland Clinic announced a similar companywide benefit for its employees who are having babies, including at Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. Beginning in April, Cleveland Clinic employees will be eligible for fully paid maternity and paternity leave. New mothers will get eight weeks of maternity leave plus four weeks of parental leave; the other parent will get four weeks of parental leave. “Paid family leave offers economic security and peace of mind to families during one of life’s most significant events. And it has a positive effect on the health and well-being of both the mother and the newborn,” said Cleveland Clinic CEO and president Tom Mihaljevic in announcing the paid leave benefits. “I am incredibly proud Cleveland Clinic can offer this benefit to our caregivers and their families.” The policy covers same-sex couples, adoptive parents and surrogate parents, according to Mihaljevic, who was interviewed by READ FULL STORY

Bookkeeper accused of stealing to fund cocaine habit
week of December 26, 2019

A bad cocaine habit led a trusted 17-year employee of Banov Construction, a close-knit firm that designs and builds luxury homes in Orchid Island and other high-end communities, to forge 48 checks and steal nearly $70,000 from her employers, according to the allegations against a Sebastian woman. As company bookkeeper, Andrea Lindsay, 44, had full access to all Banov Construction’s bank accounts, court records say, so it took some time for the extent of the year-long fraud to unravel. It was only after Lindsay was out of the office and in a drug rehabilitation facility that the full tally of missing money came into clear view. Vero Beach police were called to the offices of Banov Construction on August 16 after architect and co-owner Amy Banov discovered the initial forged checks dating back to April 2018. Lindsay was paid by direct deposit, so there was no legitimate need for paper checks made out to her, the warrant affidavit states. “Ms. Banov said Ms. Lindsay was writing checks to herself for various amounts and forging Robert Banov’s signature,” the affidavit states. READ FULL STORY

Mystery plaintiff sues school district over cellphone records
week of December 26, 2019

An anonymous plaintiff has filed a lawsuit alleging the school district has withheld public records – specifically text messages, emails, photos, notes and logs – from board member Tiffany Justice’s district-issued cellphone. The lawsuit, filed last week, is seeking a court order to compel the district to provide to the plaintiff the documents, including any communications that have been deleted from her iPhone as well as those stored in the iCloud account that backs up the device. In particular, the plaintiff’s lawsuit targets phone and message logs for Justice’s communications with Sheriff’s Maj. Eric Flowers and former Vero Beach Mayor Val Zudans between December 2018 and October 2019. Flowers, who is a candidate for sheriff, launched a four-month cyber-stalking investigation requested by Justice earlier this year, when a school district employee posted tweets implying Justice had an inappropriate relationship with now-former Schools Superintendent Mark Rendell. Justice and Flowers are friends and she has publicly endorsed him in the sheriff’s race. They are known to have exchanged numerous text messages about the cyberstalking investigation. READ FULL STORY

Was accus ed killer too drunk to waive his Miranda rights?
week of December 19, 2019

How drunk is too drunk to understand the right to remain silent in police custody? And does it matter if it’s the defendant’s eighth arrest and he presumably knows the drill? Accused killer Asbury Lee Perkins’ new court-appointed defense attorney says he was sloppy drunk – stumbling, slow to respond and slurring his words – the night in November 2015 when he was found in his boxer shorts with the dead body of his estranged wife, Cynthia Betts, in a house on Seagrape Drive in Floralton Beach. Betts had been shot twice and her body had been rolled up in a rug. West Palm Beach-based attorney Valerie Masters says Perkins likely did not understand the two times his Miranda rights were read to him by Indian River County Sheriff’s Deputies. “Since the Defendant’s waiver of his Miranda warning was not freely and voluntarily made, his statement, and evidence located, developed or otherwise seized by law enforcement because of the statement, must also be suppressed,” Masters argued in an Oct. 12 motion filed with the court. READ FULL STORY

School attorney rapped for rogue desegregation filing
week of December 19, 2019

Newly appointed School Superintendent David Moore says a rogue desegregation “progress” report written and submitted to a federal judge by School Board attorney Suzanne D’Agresta has damaged the school district’s credibility and undermined relations with the NAACP and the district’s Equity Committee. The report, which claims the district is complying with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order, included false and misleading information and was not authorized by the Indian River County School Board, Moore and the board acknowledged. “We can’t undo what’s been done,” Moore said at the board’s Dec. 10 meeting. “But we can take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Neither the School Board or Moore would say what, if any actions would be taken against D’Agresta for writing and submitting the report without the board’s knowledge or permission. The board, which has been increasingly critical of D’Agresta’s counsel, has previously indicated publicly it may not renew her contract, which expires in March. READ FULL STORY

County’s new weapon against invasive plants: A goat herd
week of December 19, 2019

Indian River County's latest weapon in its longstanding war to reclaim conservation lands from invasive plants like Brazilian pepper is friendly, cute, cuddly – and effective. It has managed to devour most of a dense forest of pepper trees covering five acres of former citrus grove west of Vero Beach just since August. At the same time, it has done a number on other exotic vegetation at the county-owned site, gobbling up guinea grass, Caesar weed, Peruvian primrose willow, and a bush called Turk's Turban. The secret weapon is a herd of goats tended by goatherder Steven Slatem, who recently started a company in Melbourne that deploys the animals wherever needed to chow down on pesky plants. Indian River County is one of Slatem's first customers. "It's a pilot project for us," said Beth Powell, the county's conservation lands manager. "We don't have anything to lose here. Can we tip the balance from non-native to native with the goats' help? We don't know the answer yet. They've done a great job, and their herder is a good part of their success." READ FULL STORY

Vero balks at county’s wastewater terms but still exploring pros and cons of partnership
week of December 19, 2019

The Vero Beach City Council hasn’t slammed the door on the idea of a wastewater services partnership with Indian River County, but councilmembers are not happy with the county’s preconditions for continued talks – which include some that would be costly for the city. “The offer is not favorable to the city,” Vice Mayor Laura Moss said last Tuesday, echoing the sentiment of fellow board members. Despite getting its hackles up, the City Council directed staff to provide a cost estimate for meeting the conditions laid out by the county commission. Councilmembers want to compare the cost of the county’s requirements to the cost of building a new city wastewater treatment plant to replace the worn-out facility by the 17th Street Bridge. To keep its options open, the City Council also voted to proceed with design plans for a new plant, which would be built near the airport and is projected to cost $50 million. The county commission last month gave staff a green light to continue talks with the city about taking over some of the city’s wastewater treatment responsibilities – if Vero Beach agreed to pay for extending lines to and from county wastewater facilities, and to cover the cost of expanding county wastewater processing capacity to handle the extra load. READ FULL STORY

St. Ed’s students keep aid flowing to Bahamas in colorful cargo container
week of December 19, 2019

Three months after Hurricane Dorian devastated the northern Bahamas, the headlines that focused attention on the plight of our island neighbors have faded – but students at St. Edward’s School are keeping the aid flowing. Every couple of weeks, a large steel cargo container goes back and forth between Fort Pierce Inlet and the islands on various barges, carrying needed supplies and equipment to Bahamian communities trying to rebuild after the monster storm. “Many of our families spend their summers in the Bahamas, and have friends and loved ones over there,” said St. Edward’s Director of Communications Monica Jennings. “Students wanted to do something to help their friends on the islands and it has transformed into a community effort.” The effort got underway in September when a group of students – supported by their families, friends and teachers – raised more than $6,000 to purchase the cargo container in early September. Student artists Catalina Pratt and Chris Maguire used 200 cans of spray paint to decorate the container with colorful island images, and added the school’s flag to the design, transforming it into a functional work of art. READ FULL STORY

Overall health of lagoon seen slightly improved over last year
week of December 19, 2019

The Indian River Lagoon’s overall health has improved a little bit since a baseline was established last year, and the Vero Beach area has some of the cleanest water along the estuary’s 156-mile-long length, but water quality and seagrass cover remain poor in much of the waterway. That’s the gist of the Marine Resources Council’s latest health report card for the lagoon, which incorporates data collected by state and local regulatory agencies. “It got a little better from how it was . . . but when you hit rock bottom you have nowhere to go but up,” said Dr. Leesa Souto, MRC executive director. Conditions revealed by the council’s inaugural health assessment were “abysmal,” Souto said when that report was released a year ago. Water quality scores for each of the lagoon’s 10 regions, which together stretch from New Smyrna Beach to Jupiter, were calculated by measuring water clarity, the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water, and the amount of algae present. READ FULL STORY

Homeowners worry about new bridge for Virgin Trains
week of December 19, 2019

Homeowners near the 93-year-old St. Sebastian River Railroad Bridge fear pile driving during construction of a new bridge for the Virgin Trains USA passenger rail project could damage their homes. “I’m worried about the foundation,” said Maria Leclair, whose small, concrete-block home on 133rd Court in Roseland sits about 100 feet from the train tracks. “My biggest concern is the house being shook and damaged,” Leclair said last week. “If they do cause damage, are they going to fix our houses?” Leclair has received a certified letter from Virgin Trains asking permission to inspect her house before and after the railroad bridge construction to determine whether pile driving operations cause any structural damage. Many of her neighbors got a similar letter. “This is being done to protect the interests of property owners, Virgin Trains and its contractors in the rare instance any damage may result from vibratory or impact driving of sheet wall elements,” the letter says. But the letter did not explain what VTUSA intends to do if post-construction inspections find structural damage in homes caused by construction. READ FULL STORY

School Board told three local charters ignore deseg order
week of December 12, 2019

While the Indian River County School District has begun working closely with the NAACP to comply with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order, three local charter schools reportedly are ignoring the order and acting as if it does not exist. Chris Taylor, the school district’s director of assessment and accountability, told the School Board and the NAACP that three of the five area charters have refused to submit required reports to his office. Those reports are supposed to outline what efforts the schools are taking to improve African-American student academic achievement, retention and graduation rates and the hiring of more African-American teachers, and what results they are getting from the efforts. “Most of them have ignored my requests for information,” Taylor said at a recent School Board meeting. “If they continue to refuse to comply, we could take steps to have their charters revoked.” The School Board has not discussed possible revocation but members have made it clear they believe charter schools should be making an effort to comply with the court order, since they are part of the district. READ FULL STORY

Cleveland Clinic sees openness with patients key to improvement
week of December 12, 2019

As Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital’s foundation kicks off a $12.5 million maternity ward renovation campaign, the hospital’s medical leaders are taking a hard look at quality measures in maternal and child health. That laser focus, as they call it, includes attaching doctors’ names to patient data; previously such tracking was “blinded” – with providers lumped together anonymously in the hospital’s reporting. Unmasking individual doctor’s performance proved dramatically helpful in lowering the rate of episiotomies, a once-common practice of surgically widening the perineum as the baby first emerges during childbirth. That procedure, now seen as carrying risks of infection and fecal incontinence, has dropped at the Vero hospital from 18 percent to around 7.8 percent. The national goal, as established by hospital safety and quality organization The Leapfrog Group, is 5 percent. “Everyone’s competitive, right?” said Megan McFall, director of women’s health at Cleveland Clinic Indian River, talking about unblinding the data. “Let’s just let each other know how we’re doing as practitioners – Dr. X or Dr. Y are providing X number of episiotomies – so you know.” READ FULL STORY

Support grows for preserving ‘Big Blue’ at Centennial Place
week of December 12, 2019

When they toured Vero’s now shuttered electric plant last week, members of the Centennial Place steering committee were wowed by the massive industrial building and some now are thinking seriously about preserving the history-rich structure, which is woven into the fabric of Vero Beach. Committee Chairwoman Vicki Gould was impressed by the sheer enormity of the building and the development possibilities it presents. “It just makes your creative juices flow and makes you think of what it could be,” Gould said, adding she wants to hear what the community thinks about preserving “Big Blue” before coming to a conclusion about the building’s fate. The plant was abandoned roughly a year ago after Florida Power & Light Co. bought the city’s electric system for $185 million. The 12-member steering committee was formed last month by the city of Vero Beach to help organize community input on the redevelopment of the 30-plus-acre site now occupied by the shuttered power plant and current wastewater treatment facility. The city earlier this year hired world-renowned urban planning firm DPZ CoDesign to help guide the planning process and come up with a final plan for the riverfront property, which flanks the 17th Street bridge on the mainland side. READ FULL STORY

Accused reality TV fraudster seeking reduction in bond
week of December 12, 2019

Christopher Todd Delaney wants to go home for Christmas. Incarcerated since his July 3 arrest on charges that he bilked investors out of more than a half million dollars they invested in a reality television show called “JetSet” that never got off the ground, the accused fraudster has filed a motion to have his $150,000 bond reduced, claiming it is excessive. Delany, who managed two firms on Vero’s Ocean Drive, wants Judge Dan Vaughn to reduce his bond to a “reasonable amount,” the Nov. 27 motion states. But with only $1,700 in declared assets and $1,100 monthly Social Security checks as income, it’s unclear where 63-year-old Delaney would get the funds or security to bond out, unless the bond is reduced dramatically. Vaughn is set to hear Assistant Public Defender Justin Barenborg’s arguments for the bond reduction next Tuesday. Even if the bond is reduced and Delaney can come up with the means to bond out, there could be another hurdle. Delaney is charged with one felony count of fraudulent transactions, falsification or concealment of material facts; and one count of first-degree grand theft, pursuant to a scheme or course of conduct. READ FULL STORY

Elite Airways resisting Vero’s bid to raise airport fee
week of December 12, 2019

Elite Airways President and CEO John Pearsall said last week his executives were continuing to negotiate with Vero Beach officials, who are seeking a new three-year agreement under which the airport fees the Maine-based airline pays annually would more than triple. Pearsall refused to comment on the city’s proposal, saying only that he hopes the matter will be resolved soon. However, when asked if the fee increase could prompt the airline that provides the airport’s only commercial air service to leave Vero, Pearsall replied: “I’m not saying that.” According to a Nov. 22 memorandum from Vero Beach Airport Director Eric Menger to City Manager Monte Falls, Elite’s annual fees would jump from $8,400 to $38,625 under the new agreement – an increase the airport figures it needs to cover the costs of having commercial airline service at Vero Beach Regional Airport. Menger said last week the increase was “not unreasonable” and should not be considered a “big cost” for a commercial airline, even though it calculates to a 360 percent price hike. READ FULL STORY

Train-related deaths prompt new focus on safety measures
week of December 12, 2019

Indian River County’s crusade to reduce train-related deaths prompted Virgin Trains USA and state transportation officials last week to unveil new safety measures. VTUSA, also known as Brightline, intends to run 34 passenger trains per day through Indian River County at up to 110 mph by late 2022 after completing track construction between West Palm Beach and Orlando. The trains are already running in South Florida, between Miami and West Palm Beach. For several years, county commissioners and state Sen. Debbie Mayfield have pleaded with state leaders to establish regulations for higher-speed passenger trains and exercise greater oversight on the $4 billion VTUSA project linking Orlando to Miami. Longstanding local safety concerns took on greater urgency Dec. 2 when the Associated Press reported its analysis of Federal Railroad Administration data showed VTUSA had the worst per-mile death rate of the nation's 821 railroads. The AP reported 41 deaths along its South Florida route. With most of the deaths attributed to suicide, VTUSA/Brightline President Patrick Goddard announced Dec. 4 the company would work with the 211 Helpline on a new effort to combat suicide-by-rail. “Suicide-by-rail is an industry-wide issue,” Goddard said. “The nationwide statistics are startling.” READ FULL STORY

Is paid parking becoming latest trend downtown?
week of December 12, 2019

Apparently, privately owned pay- to-park lots in downtown Vero Beach are proliferating. Six months after the new owners of the lot across Old Dixie Highway from the Kilted Mermaid and Fishack began charging people to park after business hours and on weekends – and towing dozens of cars to make their point – the longtime owners of the lot behind Vero Prime plan to do the same. In fact, the owners of that lot – located on the east side of 15th Avenue, south of 21st Street, across from the rear of the Indian River County Courthouse – started charging a flat fee of $5 to park there a couple of weeks ago. The owners stopped charging – temporarily – when the police informed them they needed a permit, which they plan to obtain this week. “We didn’t know we needed one,” said longtime insurance broker Gerry Thistle, managing partner of the local group that owns the buildings along 14th Avenue, between 20th and 21st streets, as well as most of the parking lot behind them. READ FULL STORY

Major renovation set for hospital’s maternity ward
week of December 5, 2019

At least 20,000 babies born at Indian River Medical Center have one shared experience: they first opened their eyes to the same surroundings – a maternity ward unchanged for more than two decades. Now that setting is about to change, as one of the most sentimental spaces in the hospital, which became part of Cleveland Clinic Florida in January, gets ready for an extensive $12.25-million renovation. Hospital District trustee Allen Jones delivered the good news last week that the capital campaign for maternity ward improvements is being launched. He also announced that infant and maternal health in the county is getting better, crediting the improvement to Partners in Women’s Health – a Hospital District-subsidized, Cleveland Clinic-run OB-GYN practice providing maternal care for three-fourths of births in the county. Partners doctors, nurses and soon-to-be-added midwives provide prenatal and postpartum care to women regardless of their ability to pay. Jones, for whom maternal and infant health has been a pet project since 2015, proudly reeled off the latest data from 2018 at last week’s Hospital District meeting: READ FULL STORY

FlightSafety Academy surrenders accreditation
week of December 5, 2019

Nationally known FlightSafety Academy in Vero Beach has been training entry-level pilots and filling the cockpits of commercial airlines and corporate carriers across America and around the world for more than 50 years. In fact, a FlightSafety executive said last week that 25,000 of the academy’s graduates have gone on to become professional pilots since the company’s founder, Albert L. Ueltschi, opened the school at what is now Vero Beach Regional Airport in 1966. For the past three months, however, the academy has been operating without accreditation, which it surrendered on Aug. 30, ending a three-year struggle to comply with standards set by a long-established, U.S. Department of Education-recognized organization that evaluates post-secondary vocational and technical schools. Among the more-alarming deficiencies cited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), which had placed the academy on “warning” in 2017 and then “probation” in 2018, was a failure to maintain a graduation rate of at least 50 percent for its professional pilot program. According to the ACCSC, the academy’s reported graduation rates for that program plummeted from 38 percent in July 2016 to 14 percent in July 2017 to only 3 percent in February 2018. READ FULL STORY

School’s outside lawyer disdains NAACP input in writing deseg report
week of December 5, 2019

The NAACP and Indian River County School District may be headed back to court due to a dispute over a report that is supposed to be submitted in federal court by Dec. 14, detailing efforts to comply with a 52-year-old desegregation order. According to NAACP President Tony Brown, the report is supposed to be a collaboration between his organization and the School Board. But the NAACP recently discovered school district attorney Suzanne D’Agresta had already written the report without any input from the NAACP or the district’s own Equity Committee. “We’ve contacted our attorney and are looking at our options, including possible litigation,” Brown said. D’Agresta’s report doesn’t include any reference to a list of failures by the district or recommended steps for improvement that were submitted by the Equity Committee and accepted by the School Board during an Oct. 30 meeting, Brown said. At that meeting, it was agreed the report to the federal judge would be a collaborative effort between the School Board, the NAACP and the Equity Committee, with attorneys for both sides would not be involved. READ FULL STORY

Home nurses accused of defrauding seniors remain free
week of December 5, 2019

Nearly a year after the serious felony theft case against home health nurses Chiquita Lashae McGee and Sophia Monae Shepherd was expected to go to trial, no trial date has been set. McGee and Shepherd (aka Sophia Brown) are accused of stealing from their elderly patients, John’s Island residents Alfred and Michelina “Aline” Martinelli, defrauding their banks throughout 2017 and using more than $543,000 of the Martinellis’ money and credit for luxury purchases. McGee and Brown were arrested in March 2018 and in April 2018 formally charged with the first-degree felony of Exploitation of the Elderly and the second-degree felony of Scheme to Defraud a Financial Institution. Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans has been pushing since August to get the case on the docket as soon as possible while the lone surviving victim is still alive. The second victim in the case passed away nearly two years ago. But while the health of the victims deteriorated, both defendants have continued to enjoy their freedom, out of jail on fairly lax pre-trial release restrictions. READ FULL STORY

Tow trucks busy hauling cars out of Old Dixie lot
week of December 5, 2019

If you’re going to park in the downtown lot across Old Dixie Highway from the Kilted Mermaid and Fishack after 5 p.m. weekdays or any time of day on weekends, be sure you pay or your car probably will be towed. Towing was infrequent during late summer and early fall after Deerfield Beach-based Global Parking Services began enforcing its pay-to-park system, which charges customers $4 per hour. In September, only four cars were towed from the lot, but that same number were hooked up and hauled away last Friday night, when Vero Beach 32963 witnessed two cars being removed within a 30-minute span. A total of 33 vehicles were towed in November. “We’re not in the towing business,” Global executive assistant Margarita Perez said Monday. “We don’t wake up on Friday mornings waiting to see how many vehicles we’re going to tow that weekend. It doesn’t make us happy. “We started our business there in May, and we gave a three-month grace period to let people get used to it being a paid-parking lot,” she added. “We didn’t start towing until August, and the owners of the establishments there – Fishack, Kilted Mermaid and American Icon Brewery – know it’s a pay-to-park lot.” READ FULL STORY

The Source plans Dignity Village, 100 tiny homes for homeless
week of December 5, 2019

A well-established Vero Beach charity plans to build a picturesque but highly functional village of 100 tiny homes in south county to provide housing for homeless people and people in danger of becoming homeless in Indian River County. The Source, a Vero Beach-based Christian ministry that provides cold night shelter, emergency hunger relief, counseling and benefit referrals to the county’s growing homeless population, has already raised $500,000 of $2.7 million needed to purchase the 25-acre property where it plans to build Dignity Village, according to the organization’s executive director, Anthony Zorbaugh. The village will include an administration and services building, an event pavilion, a chapel, a community garden and village green, along with clusters of 500-square-foot homes. The nonprofit recently had to change its plan to transform its former 4,000-square-foot thrift store at 1239 16th Street into an overnight shelter for 100 homeless individuals enrolled in job training programs after the building was sold, Zorbaugh said. Many of the services The Source offers at its current location would be transferred to its new south county facility when it’s complete. The “Main Building” is expected to take a year to build, while the tiny homes would be built in phases, at a cost of $27,500 each. Rent would be $400. READ FULL STORY