VeroNews.com 32963 Homepage
ADVERTISING
TOP BEACHSIDE NEWS STORIES

Want to purchase reprints of your favorite 32963 or VeroNews.com photos?

Copies of Vero Beach 32963 can be obtained at the following locations:

OCEANSIDE

Our office HQ: (located at 4855 North A1A)
1. Corey's Pharmacy
2. 7-Eleven

(South A1A)
3. Major Real Estate Offices

MAINLAND

1. Vero Beach Book
Center

2. Classic Car Wash
3. Divine Animal
Hospital
4. Sunshine Furniture

5. Many Medical
Offices

ONE Sotheby’s buys brokerage from Thorpes
week of November 14, 2019

Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty, a leading island brokerage that did nearly half-a-billion dollars in business in 2018, has been acquired by ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, a south Florida brokerage founded by Mayi de la Vega that handled $2.5 billion in residential real estate transactions last year. Both parties describe the acquisition in glowing terms as a win-win for all involved. For ONE Sotheby’s, the deal, which closed Friday, Nov. 1, extends the rapidly expanding company’s reach all the way from its Miami origins into prime real estate markets in Indian River and Brevard counties. “Treasure Coast’s knowledge of the Vero Beach and Melbourne markets is second to none, and we couldn’t have found a better affiliate to strengthen our forces and expand our presence north,” ONE Sotheby’s President Daniel de la Vega said. For Michael and Kimberly Thorpe, co-owner-brokers at the local Sotheby’s, the transaction allows them to pass the business they created on to a highly successful company they believe will continue to grow the business and help its 100 or so agents and other employees achieve increased success. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian hospital safety rating falls; downgraded to ‘C’
week of November 14, 2019

After a remarkable recovery, jumping from an F safety grade in 2018 to an A this past April, Sebastian River Medical Center has circled back to a C – the same grade it had when Steward Health bought the hospital in 2017. The C was announced last week by the national hospital ratings organization Leapfrog Group, which aims to promote hospital safety with its semi-annual report card. Neighboring hospitals’ scores remained unchanged: a B grade for Cleveland Clinic Indian River and a C for Palm Bay Hospital. Sebastian River’s latest grade makes the A from last spring as much an outlier in the hospital’s rating history as the F it got in spring 2018 – one of only two F grades in the state and 22 in the nation. Apart from those extremes, the hospital has wallowed in C’s and D’s since 2016. Other local hospitals appear to be putting less emphasis on the Leapfrog scores, answering fewer questions on the Leapfrog voluntary survey, as was the case with Cleveland Clinic Indian River; or not responding at all, as with Health First-owned hospitals in Brevard County. READ FULL STORY


State funds study of how to clean up Bethel Creek
week of November 14, 2019

Scientists from Florida Institute of Technology are undertaking a sophisticated computer-model study based on data collected in Bethel Creek to see if the stagnant inlet on the Indian River Lagoon can be cleaned up by flushing it with ocean water. The university was awarded $800,000 by the state legislature for the first phase of the project, which will study the Vero Beach creek – which starts near the Village Market on the barrier island and curves through residential neighborhoods to open into the lagoon near the Vero Beach Municipal Marina – as well as two sites in the Banana River. Indian River County Commissioner Tim Zorc – who has led the charge to clean the murky, dead-end Bethel Creek – celebrated the announcement as an important step forward in cleaning up the lagoon, which has been plagued with nutrient pollution, algae blooms, marine mammal deaths and seagrass losses. When Zorc ran for the commission the first time in 2012, ridding Bethel Creek of its stale water by opening some type of connection with the ocean was a prominent part of his platform. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach Country Club undertakes multimillion-dollar revitalization effort
week of November 14, 2019

Vero Beach Country Club, a venerable institution founded when Calvin Coolidge was president, is gearing up for a multimillion-dollar expansion to help it keep pace with changing times, according to General Manager Tim Straley. The country club, located at 800 30th Street and established in 1924, is known for its beautiful, gently rolling golf course surrounded by attractive homes. It also offers putting and chipping ranges and has an 22,000-square-foot brick clubhouse with a variety of dining options from fine to casual. Other than golf and dining, though, the club has not had much else to offer its 480 members. But that is about to change. The club has submitted a site plan to the City of Vero Beach and will be seeking building permits from the county for a 3,021-square-foot resort-style swimming pool with a beach entry, 1,500-square-foot Key West-style tiki bar with a food menu, 450-square-foot snack bar and a 4,500-square-foot fitness center. The $3.8 million expansion on roughly two acres leaves open the possibility of further construction atop the fitness center, where a rooftop event area could be situated, Straley said. READ FULL STORY


Centennial Place could give Vero the vibrant riverfront that it lacks
week of November 14, 2019

Ever wonder why Vero Beach doesn’t have a lively historic riverfront with restaurants, shops, docks and lodging like towns up and down the coast from Stuart to Cocoa? With efforts underway to devise a plan for redevelopment of the city-owned riverfront property known as Centennial Place – 30-plus prime acres that flank both sides of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge – the question naturally arises. Vero has by far the nicest oceanfront along this stretch of coast, with 4-star resorts, fine restaurants and high-end boutiques in its postcard-perfect seaside village, but it has nothing remotely like the thriving riverfront dining, entertainment and business districts in Stuart, Fort Pierce and other towns to the north and south. Why not? The simple answer is the railroad. The Florida East Coast Railroad tracks run much further back from the water in Vero than in the other towns, and the railroad determined the city’s location. But there is more to it than that. Henry Flagler’s engineers laid their tracks along an ancient geographical feature called the Atlantic Coastal Ridge to keep the rails as high and dry as possible, while still sticking close to the shore of the Indian River Lagoon where a few small scattered settlements had already taken root. READ FULL STORY


School Board narrows superintendent search to 6 semifinalists
week of November 14, 2019

The Indian River County School Board has selected six semifinalists for the district’s vacant superintendent position, including a former inner-city teacher who rose to the rank of regional school superintendent in Palm Beach County, the 10th largest district in the nation. Other candidates range from a veteran superintendent from Georgia to longtime assistant and associate superintendents vying for an opportunity to be the top leader in a school district. The board will interview the semi-finalists on Thursday and Saturday. “We’re very pleased with the quality of applicants we have to choose from,” said Board Chairman Laura Zorc. “We have some excellent candidates.” The district’s nationwide search attracted 36 candidates, offering an annual salary of up to $178,000. Two of the semifinalists would be taking a pay cut if offered the job. READ FULL STORY


10-year plan to clean up the lagoon approved by the EPA
week of November 14, 2019

The Indian River Lagoon Council's 10-year roadmap for restoring the ailing 156-mile-long estuary to good health has been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The comprehensive conservation and management plan put together over the past year or so now has the official green light to engage all 38 cities, five counties, and some 1.6 million residents along the lagoon to reduce pollution flowing into the waterway and begin to get rid of contaminants and sediment, including heavy loads of nitrogen and phosphorus that feed destructive algae blooms. The Lagoon Council’s $2.25 million annual budget comes from the EPA, the five member counties, and state water management and environmental agencies. Currently, the council is backing more than 50 projects along the lagoon to treat wastewater and stormwater, restore habitats on land and in the estuary, and convert septic tanks to sewer hookups. Nine lagoon-enhancing projects completed recently were showcased at the meeting, including phase two of Indian River County's West Wabasso septic-to-sewer conversion. READ FULL STORY


New Vero City Council members emphasize public input
week of November 14, 2019

Political newcomers and island residents Rey Neville and Joe Graves, who won seats on the Vero Beach City Council in last week’s municipal election, will enter public office with similar objectives. The men, who finished at the top of a crowded field of eight candidates in the nonpartisan election in which approximately 4,400 ballots were cast, both emphasize the importance of public input in decision-making. The current City Council in recent weeks garnered criticism and attracted protestors at city hall after making a hasty decision to close the popular swimming pool at Leisure Square without sounding out the community first, only to reverse its decision following public outcry. Both newly elected council members, who will replace outgoing Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle – neither man sought re-election – have pledged to keep the pool open indefinitely and protect other city assets. Graves, 56, a well-known local attorney who touted his position as a fiscal conservative during the race, won overwhelmingly with 1,144 votes or 26 percent of the ballots cast, according to unofficial results from the Indian River Supervisor of Elections. The city has a total of 12,260 registered voters. READ FULL STORY


School Board to develop plan for deseg order
week of November 7, 2019

The Indian River County School Board says it will begin developing a plan this month – possibility including busing students to different schools than the ones they now attend – to comply with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order. The board made that promise to the NAACP during a special meeting on Oct. 30. “We know there’s work to be done,” Board Chairman Laura Zorc told NAACP members. “We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” The dramatic change of heart comes after years in which the school district fought the NAACP in court to try and get out from under the federal order, claiming that it had complied or was complying with key elements of the plan. At a nearly four-hour-long meeting last week, the two sides reviewed and discussed a report released by the district’s Equity Committee that gave the district failing marks for its efforts to recruit, hire and retain more African-American teachers and adequately address the needs of African-American students, who consistently perform far below their white classmates. READ FULL STORY


Piper unveils plane that can land at push of a button
week of November 7, 2019

A new generation of Piper’s top-of-the-line M600 airplane will be equipped with a safety system that will make it the first single-engine general aviation plane able to land without any assistance from a pilot, the Vero Beach aircraft manufacturer announced last week. Once engaged – either automatically or by a passenger – the HALO Safety System will calculate wind, time, fuel range, glide path, weather conditions and terrain in finding the most suitable place to land. It then will assume control of all the systems necessary to land the aircraft on the best-suited runway, communicating with passengers and air traffic control facilities to determine new flight-plan routes and estimated time until touchdown. Once the aircraft lands, the braking system will activate and bring the plane to a full stop. The HALO technology is expected to save lives in the event pilots become incapacitated. Deliveries of the self-landing aircraft, which Piper has been developing and testing for the past three years, are expected to begin later this year through the company’s global dealer network. The selling price will be $3 million. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian River Medical Center a chronic ‘late pay,’ according to its local vendors
week of November 7, 2019

Sebastian River Medical Center’s out-going president, Kyle Sanders, claims patients are finally coming back to the hospital, after state records show admissions last year were at their second-lowest point in a decade. That turnaround, should it prove true, would be good news for the hospital, one of 36 in a for-profit national chain. But will it mean the hospital will start paying its bills any faster? According to multiple businesses and government entities, Sebastian River Medical Center has developed a reputation for maddening delays in paying invoices, delays that have agencies issuing fines and vendors refusing them services. Some vendors say they have considered legal action but are fearful of scaring off new customers. Others say they grudgingly take on new projects for the hospital without having been paid for prior work, including some who say they are owed for work from six months to a year ago or even longer. After being informed about this story, a spokesman for Sebastian River late Monday acknowledged the slow-pay problem, and attributed it to new owner Steward Health Care’s rapid growth and systems integration issues. READ FULL STORY


Sand replenishment starts at Tracking Station Beach Park
week of November 7, 2019

A massive project to replenish sand on Vero's critically-eroded beaches began Monday at Tracking Station Beach Park. Dump trucks and excavators could be seen at the beach park – which closed Friday – dumping tons of sand for the 3.1-mile project. The area designated for sand replenishment extends from north of the Seawatch Condos in Indian River Shores south through Central Beach to the Riomar Golf Course. The $6 million replenishment will infuse more than 200,000 cubic yards of sand along the stretch of beach known as Sector 5. The project will occur in three phases with Tracking Station Park, Jaycee Park and Humiston Park used as access points for trucks carrying sand onto the beaches as work moves south. County officials previously said Tracking Station Park would be closed until the end of the year, but the county’s new public information officer, Brian Sullivan, said the park now is expected to reopen right after Thanksgiving. Closure dates for beaches at Jaycee Park and Humiston have not yet been announced. READ FULL STORY


School Board says search firm it hired is a $50K flop
week of November 7, 2019

After hiring a Chicago-based search firm in August for $50,000 to help find a new school district superintendent, the Indian River County School Board has decided that the firm is a flop and not up to the task. Rather than allow the firm to lead the final stages of the superintendent selection process, the board has decided to do its own vetting of the 36 applicants for the position. Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates’ “presentations to the board have been sloppy and disorganized,” Board Chairman Laura Zorc said. “We haven’t seen the professionalism that we had hoped for. “Mr. [Bill] Adams, who has been leading our search, has been very condescending at times. When a board member says something that he doesn’t agree with, he rolls his eyes and tries to dismiss their point.” The Board voted 4-1 to hire HYA in August because of the firm’s experience in leading national job searches. Board member Jacquelyn Rosario voted against hiring the firm because she was concerned about documented cases in which it badly botched other districts’ superintendent searches. READ FULL STORY


Mental health testimony seen key in sentencing of Jones
week of November 7, 2019

When jurors return to court next Wednesday to decide whether convicted killer Michael David Jones will be sentenced to death or to life in prison, the defense team is expected to focus on Jones’ shaky mental health – but jail records show Jones has been a model prisoner. At least two medical experts have examined Jones and will testify about mitigating factors that might help explain what was going on in Jones’ head around the time that 26-year-old Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve was killed in June 2014. A hearing about medical experts last week – with the jury not present – suggested Jones’ lawyers may claim he suffered some sort of blackout. A doctor is set to testify that Jones has brain damage which affects his behavior and impulse control. Two days after Duve’s death, Jones went from working in his Ocean Drive PNC Wealth Management office and enjoying business lunches and cocktail hours to living in a jail cell, eating meals served on mess hall trays and being told which days he can shave and shower. READ FULL STORY


Tradewinds restaurant project seen dead in the water
week of November 7, 2019

Three years after unveiling ambitious plans to transform the former Dockside Grille into a 1950s-style steak and seafood restaurant dubbed Tradewinds, owner Tim Girard’s project at 41 Royal Palm Pointe appears dead in the water. The vacant building, where no work appears to have been done in some time, has become an eyesore, languishing behind a chain-link fence propped up by sandbags, getting shabbier with each passing month. The current building permit for the project, taken out in 2018, has been extended five times and is due to expire in two weeks. According to the county building department, if Girard applies for another extension, it will be up to the plans examiner assigned to the job to determine if a sixth extension can be granted. Vero Beach city officials say Girard will be back at square one if the building permit expires, required to reapply for site plan approval. The Dockside Grille closed in 2015 with promises by its then owner that it would open again in the fall, but the restaurant remained permanently shuttered. Before becoming Dockside in 2008, the eatery for many years housed the restaurant Ellie’s and before that a fine-dining restaurant known by its street number, 41. READ FULL STORY


Sheriff and deputy found not liable in death of Susan Teel
week of November 7, 2019

A federal judge in West Palm Beach has dismissed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit brought by Vero Beach physician Dr. Dudley Teel after his wife was shot and killed by police responding to a 911 call to the Teel home. United States District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks ruled on Oct. 17 that neither Sheriff Deryl Loar nor Deputy Jonathan Lozada were liable for Susan Teel’s death. Deputies were called to the home by Teel’s daughter, saying that her mother had attempted suicide. When Lozada arrived, court records show “he spoke briefly with Mrs. Teel’s husband, Dr. Dudley Teel, while standing in the doorway of their home. Dr. Teel explained that Mrs. Teel was upstairs and was trying to kill herself with a knife” and he observed blood on Dr. Teel’s clothing. Records show Lozada walked upstairs to find Susan Teel holding a knife “pointed down over her own head” but then, according to Lozada, she walked toward the deputy holding the knife and taunting him to kill her. READ FULL STORY


Local ISIS supporter who threatened attacks in Vero unfit for trial
week of November 7, 2019

A local ISIS supporter who threatened attacks in Vero Beach to gain notoriety as the world’s first deaf terrorist to inflict casualties in America has been deemed unfit to stand trial. U.S. Magistrate Judge Shaniek Maynard declared Charlton La Chase, 29, incompetent to participate in court proceedings after reviewing a psychological evaluation performed earlier this year on the Fort Pierce resident. La Chase, who was arrested in late May hours after his release from a federal prison in Georgia where he served time for prior threats of mass murder, has several mental disorders, a court-appointed psychologist concluded. “The defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his own defense,” Maynard wrote after reviewing La Chase’s mental health evaluation. Shana Williams, a forensic psychologist fluent in American Sign Language, in July evaluated La Chase and determined he suffers from Bipolar I Disorder with psychotic symptoms and possibly other mental disorders, according to federal court documents. Williams also concluded La Chase experiences “persistent delusional thinking and paranoid processes” that leave him unable to assist his counsel in his defense. READ FULL STORY


Tracking Station park set to close for beach repair
week of October 31, 2019

Tracking Station Beach Park will be closed Friday for the rest of the year as a major beach replenishment project gets underway, according to county officials. The 3.1-mile project, which extends from north of the Seawatch Condos in Indian River Shores south through Central Beach to the Riomar Golf Course, will occur in three phases. Tracking Station Park, Jaycee Park and Humiston Park will be used as access points where loads of sand will be trucked onto Vero’s critically eroded beaches. Closure dates for the beaches at Jaycee Park and Humiston have not been announced. The $6 million renourishment project will infuse more than 200,000 cubic yards of sand along the stretch of beach known as Sector 5. That area, already impacted by hurricanes Matthew and Irma, lost an average of 5 to 8 feet of dune during Hurricane Dorian, which spared the county a direct hit but produced big, destructive surf for several days. Prior to the erosion caused by Dorian in early September, the Sector 5 project was slated to consume about 150,000 cubic yards of sand. The storm created a need for 50,000 more cubic yards and added $1.25 million to the project cost, according to County Administrator Jason Brown. READ FULL STORY


Patient volume a focus; hospital CEO replaced
week of October 31, 2019

Only a year after taking the helm of Sebastian River Medical Center, Kyle Sanders has announced he is leaving his post as president effective Nov. 19. Daniel Knell, president of Steward’s central division, said in a statement he was sorry to see Sanders go and expressed appreciation for his leadership and “valuable contributions to our mission.” Sanders’ exit comes at a pivotal time for the 154-bed for-profit hospital. It is wrapping up a $65 million expansion that will open in February with 24 patient rooms – half the 48 originally announced. While on the way out the door, Sanders provided 32963 with numbers which – if accurate – suggest that Sebastian River patient volumes may finally be recovering from what state figures show has been a steady decline since Steward Health Care took over the hospital in mid-2017. The importance of patient volumes in the current healthcare environment was illustrated anew by the announcement this past week that a Steward-owned hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., St. Luke’s Medical Center, was closing its doors due to an insufficient number of patients. READ FULL STORY


Palazzo Di Mare, aka ‘barcode lady’s house,’ again up for auction
week of October 31, 2019

One of the most well-known houses on the barrier island is up for auction again, two and a half years after it sold in an earlier auction for $8.8 million. The massive oceanfront home known variously as Palazzo Di Mare and “the barcode lady’s house” was purchased in June 2017 by a limited liability company with a Vero Beach-based managing partner for $8.8 million. After an 18-month renovation that dramatically transformed the property, the owner listed it with Cindy O'Dare and Richard Boga at Premier Estate Properties for $17 million in March. When the property had not sold by September, the decision was made to offer it at auction to achieve "a defined date of sale." The no-reserve online auction was announced on Oct. 3 and bidding will begin at 4 p.m. on Nov. 5, continuing until 4 p.m. on Nov. 7. Bidders have to put $100,000 in escrow in order to participate in the sale. Whoever has the high bid will be required to increase their deposit to 10 percent of the sale price by 5 p.m. the day after the auction and close by Dec. 6. READ FULL STORY


Jones’ sentencing to take place amid new concern over Florida death penalty
week of October 31, 2019

Convicted killer Michael David Jones’ sentencing next month will take place against a backdrop of mounting legal, political and religious controversy over Florida’s death penalty. Florida is set to execute its 100th death row inmate since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976. The execution may be delayed until after Christmas, but it could go on as scheduled Nov. 7 should Florida successfully appeal a temporary stay ordered by a federal court. Executions are always a media circus, with protests and candlelight vigils outside the Starke, Florida penitentiary gates, plus passionate pleas to the governor for clemency. But this upcoming execution is newsworthy for a couple reasons. Besides the number 100 being a morbid milestone, James Dailey’s guilt is in question since another man formally confessed in 2017 to the crime Dailey was convicted of. Dailey, 64, has been on death row for 32 years for the 1985 murder of a 14-year-old Pinellas County girl. As the Dailey case indicates, it takes decades of waiting in prison to be executed in Florida, so even if 36-year-old Jones is sentenced to death, it’s likely he would be in his 60s or even his 70s when executed. READ FULL STORY


Most Vero candidates see need for more beachside parking
week of October 31, 2019

There’s a consensus among seven candidates running for two open seats on the Vero Beach City Council that something needs to be done to relieve parking congestion in the Central Beach business district. Only Brian Heady, a gadfly who runs in every election but won only once a decade ago, doesn’t think there is a problem. “If they want to spend money fixing something, don’t you think it should be broke if you’re going to fix it?” Heady said. “It ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They had a consultant and the consultant said that even on the busiest days, there’s excess parking.” Despite Heady’s view, oceanside shop and restaurant owners have long complained about losing customers because of parking shortages near their businesses. The seven candidates who acknowledge the problem generally like the preliminary solutions suggested by planning and design consultant Kimley-Horn, which was hired this year by the city at a cost of $71,000 to analyze the parking problem and identify potential fixes. They also have ideas of their own. READ FULL STORY


Virgin Trains: More counties want aging bridges replaced
week of October 31, 2019

Virgin Trains USA’s proposal to replace the historic St. Lucie River Railroad Bridge in Martin County with a $100 million high-rise lift bridge has prompted requests for new railroad bridges in St. Lucie and Broward counties. St. Lucie County Commissioner Cathy Townsend Friday asked Virgin Trains to replace the outdated Taylor Creek Railroad Bridge, which currently is set for rehabilitation. Broward County officials similarly called upon Virgin Trains and Florida East Coast Railway to replace the New River Railroad Bridge to allow more commuter, passenger and freight trains through Fort Lauderdale. Virgin Trains has long planned to replace the 93-year-old St. Sebastian River Railroad Bridge, which links Indian River and Brevard counties as part of creating the infrastructure of its planned passenger rail service between Miami and Orlando. When service starts – in summer 2022 if Virgin Trains stays on schedule – 34 passenger trains will zip through Indian River County each day at speeds up to 110 mph. Currently, about 20 freight trains per day travel 40-to-60 mph on the FECR tracks. READ FULL STORY


Environmental Learning Center expansion underway
week of October 31, 2019

The Environmental Learning Center is finally moving forward with its multimillion-dollar expansion master plan. According to Board Chairman Don Barr, a $1 million donation for an education and event pavilion earlier this year and a more recent $100,000 donation for a pontoon dock have made it possible to get those projects underway. “We hope to complete both within 12-18 months,” Barr said. The nonprofit’s board sent RFPs for work on the education and event pavilion to five architectural firms, interviewed two and, last month, selected local architects Edlund-Dritenbas-Binkley to design the pavilion. According to Barr, Coastal Tech, a Vero Beach engineering consulting firm, has evaluated the existing pontoon dock’s condition and will design the improvements, develop cost estimates and obtain any needed permits, “all pro bono.” Dock improvements will include new railings, solar-powered lighting, seating at the dock entrance, a kayak launch and a mechanism for moving wheelchair occupants from the dock into and out of the pontoon boat. ELC board member Tim Buhl is coordinating both projects. READ FULL STORY


Luxury seaside condos set for Florida Tech site
week of October 24, 2019

Vero Beach real estate developer Coastmark Companies plans to build luxury seaside condominiums on the abandoned Florida Institute of Technology lab site adjacent to the county’s Tracking Station Park. Coastmark has the prime 4-acre, oceanfront parcel under contract and is “currently conducting due diligence on the land,” according to company vice president Yane Zana. The news comes a week after the Vero Beach City Council approved a request by FIT to have the property – a small swatch of unincorporated Indian River County sandwiched between the town of Indian River Shores to the north and the city of Vero Beach to the south – annexed into the city. Under the county codes that prevailed before annexation, development was limited to three units per acre. But the Vero council approved land-use and zoning changes that will permit both multifamily residential and commercial development, and allow up to 15 residential units per acre. READ FULL STORY


Circumstantial evidence key to Jones’ conviction
week of October 24, 2019

“The intent with which an act is done is an operation of the mind and, therefore, is not always capable of direct and positive proof. It may be established by circumstantial evidence like any other fact in a case.” That language, from the Florida Supreme Court guidelines for jury instructions, was the last thing prosecutors and defense attorneys working the first-degree murder case of accused killer Michael David Jones argued about Monday afternoon before Judge Dan Vaughn recessed his courtroom for the day. The language is not in the standard criminal jury instructions, so the matter was up for debate. Assistant Public Defender Stanley Glenn asserted that those words should not be included in the instructions Vaughn would give jurors on Tuesday when sending them out to deliberate Jones’ guilt or innocence. But Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl urged Vaughn to instruct the jury “that circumstantial evidence is good evidence,” in Bakkedahl’s words, because the State of Florida’s case relied heavily on jurors filling in the gaps when it came to the death of 26-year-old Diana Duve. READ FULL STORY


8 local bird species are seen threatened by climate change
week of October 24, 2019

A new report produced by the National Audubon Society says nearly two-thirds of North American bird species are at severe risk of extinction due to climate change – a "bird emergency," according to a prominent local bird expert. The report, entitled "Survival by Degrees: 389 Bird Species on the Brink," says about 64 percent of 604 species found in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico will shift the ranges where they fly, feed, and reproduce in response to warming of just over 1.5 degrees Celsius, and they may not survive. "The unprecedented pace and magnitude of climate change make it an existential threat to birds, people, and the natural systems we depend on," the report says. Audubon compiled decades of observations collected from birders overlaid on the most recent models developed by climate scientists to project how each species' range would change as the climate warms and human impacts increase. It also produced a ZIP code-based climate tool to show impacts on local areas – including 32963. "It really means our future," said Pelican Island Audubon Society president Dr. Richard Baker. "It's not just birds that will be affected. It's going to affect everything." READ FULL STORY


Virgin Rail seeks local support for costly new bridge
week of October 24, 2019

Virgin Trains USA is asking local officials in one of the counties its high-speed trains must pass through en route from West Palm Beach to Orlando to help apply for tens of millions of dollars in federal grants for an elevator bridge traversing the environmentally sensitive St. Lucie River. The proposed new two-track bridge – featuring four 80-foot-tall lift towers – would replace an 81-year-old drawbridge, one of the few historic bridges Virgin Trains initially planned to rehabilitate. Virgin Trains Vice President Rusty Roberts met privately with Martin County and Stuart City commissioners during the past two weeks to pitch the lift bridge concept and ask their assistance. “In order to undertake a project of this kind of scope, it’s important to have local support,” Roberts said. “They could even serve as co-applicants for the grant.” Roberts was scheduled to update South Florida and Treasure Coast officials on Friday in West Palm Beach on the company’s efforts to establish passenger rail service up the Treasure and Space coasts to Orlando by summer 2022. READ FULL STORY


Sebastian cop acquitted in death of K-9 partner
week of October 24, 2019

Sebastian police officer Eric Antosia will always have to live with what happened on April 28, 2017, to his K-9 partner Diesel, but at least now he can move on from legal actions that were lodged against him. Diesel, a black German Shepherd dog, died after being left several hours in a police SUV on a day when temperatures rose to 88 degrees. Honored as a hero, Diesel’s photo and story are listed alongside other fallen law enforcement personnel on the Officer Down Memorial Page. But tears of relief and cheers marked last week’s acquittal of Antosia, who had faced a first-degree misdemeanor animal cruelty charge. The surprise dismissal by Brevard County Circuit Judge Kelly Ingram occurred before the three-man, three-woman jury got a chance to hear final arguments. The three-day trial ended when Ingram ruled that Assistant State Attorney Michael Hill had not proved the cause of death of the animal, when and why the death occurred, if others had access to the vehicle, and the location of the vehicle at time of death, which could have been either in Indian River County or Brevard County. READ FULL STORY


U.S. Customs facility at Vero airport will come at no cost to city taxpayers
week of October 24, 2019

Corporate Air Inc. plans to construct a multimillion-dollar U.S. Customs facility at the Vero Beach Regional Airport – pending the federal government’s approval – and the state-of-the-art facility will come at no cost to city taxpayers. The City Council last week solidified its support for the facility – which could become an economic boon for the area by attracting more air traffic from foreign destinations – by voting unanimously to allow the company to move forward with its plan and negotiate a deal that would indemnify the city of costs and liability. “I think it’s a big benefit to the community, to our businesses, to our city,” Mayor Val Zudans said. “And it doesn’t cost the city a penny.” Corporate Air, an aircraft fueling, maintenance and storage company founded at the airport in 1987, caters to private flights with a ramp large enough to handle a Boeing business jet and a 4,200-square-foot private terminal. The company estimates the facility could cost upwards of $2 million and would be available for all flyers to use. Corporate Air would cover the operating costs, including the salary of a customs worker. READ FULL STORY


Teachers get pay increase and bonus, but agreement falls short of what union was seeking
week of October 24, 2019

Local teachers got some good news last week when the School Board voted to settle a contract impasse between the school district and the teachers union, but the final agreement fell short of what the union was seeking. Teachers will receive a $200 increase in performance pay and will not have to pay more for their health insurance, but the union had sought a $400 increase in performance pay. Teachers also were disappointed that the district will not have to pay $1.56 million into the teachers' health insurance fund, as was promised several years ago. Instead, teachers and other district employees will receive a one-time $653 bonus. The School Board made its decision on Oct. 14 at a contract impasse hearing at which district officials and representatives of the Indian River County Education Association argued their cases. The School Board, which voted unanimously in favor of the school district’s proposals, indicated its decision was based on the need to be fiscally responsible. READ FULL STORY


Beachside parking fixes seen costing $500,000. Where’s the funding?
week of October 24, 2019

The Vero Beach City Council wants to try a bunch of things to reduce the long-running beachside parking shortage but is now plagued by another dilemma: how to pay for the pricey fixes. Preliminary short-term solutions for the next two years recommended last week by consultant Kimley-Horn for which City Council members expressed support cost roughly $500,000 – but there is no dedicated funding source for the projects. One fix is the creation of an additional 79 parking spaces by permitting parking in front of multi-family housing or commercial buildings on east-west streets near the problem area. This alternative – which could cost around $400,000 for curbing, gutters and pavement – is significantly less expensive than building a parking garage near the beachside business district. The garage option, which would cost between $3 million and $4.8 million, would add about the same number of spaces. READ FULL STORY


Is School Board ready to comply with deseg order?
week of October 17, 2019

Is it possible that the county finally has a School Board eager to comply with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order, and willing to spend millions of dollars to do it? That’s the message School Board members gave the district’s Equity Committee at an Oct. 8 meeting, declaring they are eager to press forward with a costly program for recruiting and hiring more African-American teachers and implementing programs to help African-American students improve academically. “If we’re going to do this right as a district, we need to put resources behind it,” said Board member Teri Barenborg, whose comments were echoed by other board members. “We need to reach out as never before.” Board member Jacqueline Rosario questioned aloud why it has taken the district 52 years to comply with the order. “Why has this taken so long,” Rosario said. “It’s common sense. We just need to do it.” READ FULL STORY


If this bridge closes, what happens then?
week of October 17, 2019

Will the heavily used Sebastian Inlet bridge connecting Brevard and Indian River counties close while the 55-year-old structure is being replaced by a new span in 2026? If so, how long will northbound and/or southbound traffic on A1A be interrupted? Months? Years? What will the 3,000-plus cars that use the A1A bridge each day to get from Brevard County to Indian River County or vice versa do when the closest alternative routes require crossing the lagoon many miles to the south or north? And what will the financial impact of a bridge closure be on residents? Small businesses? For that matter, on Sebastian Inlet State Park? Those at the moment are million-dollar questions for engineering consultants to answer, according to Florida Department of Transportation officials. “I couldn’t answer any of those things until we get those people on board, they do some analysis, start looking what type of structure, how much property do we own in the area,” said Gerry O’Reilly, FDOT’s South Florida district secretary. “That’s why we do the studies,” O’Reilly said during an interview with Vero Beach 32963 following the Oct. 9 Indian River County Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting. READ FULL STORY


Defense disputing everything in trial of Michael Jones for strangulation murder of girlfriend
week of October 17, 2019

The defense will make no concessions. Everything the prosecution says will be in dispute. Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann made that clear right from the opening Monday of the first-degree murder trial of Michael David Jones, 32, who is accused of the premeditated manual strangulation of his girlfriend Diana Duve. “The issue of the cause of death is in dispute in this case,” Naumann said, announcing that the defense will be bringing in a retired coroner who has a different theory about how Duve died in June 2014. For the prosecution’s opening salvo, Assistant State Attorney Brian Workman told jurors in detail about Duve’s death. Workman revealed the brutality of the alleged crime, that the young nurse’s body and face were bruised, her eye swollen and hemorrhaging and bones in her neck broken and fractured from the force with which she was strangled. Workman explained that Jones would have had to choke Duve for 20 seconds or so while she fought back until losing consciousness, and then strangle her for another four minutes until she died. READ FULL STORY


Ocean Grill eases dress code for lunch, but not for dinner
week of October 17, 2019

If you’ve gone to the Ocean Grill for lunch the past couple of years, you might’ve noticed men wearing tank tops or baseball caps while seated at tables and wondered: Doesn’t this place have a dress code? In fact, the iconic beachside restaurant’s website clearly states: “We ask that our guests refrain from wearing tank tops and beachwear.” The website, though, needs to be updated – because Ocean Grill owner Charley Replogle said last week the restaurant now allows men to wear tank tops at lunchtime. “We don’t allow it for dinner,” Replogle said. “And, frankly, we don’t get very many guys here in tank tops, anyway. They usually go to Mulligan’s. But we do occasionally get people who come in off the beach for lunch, and we didn’t want to keep turning them away.” So Replogle’s son, Joey, who manages the upscale restaurant, decided more than a year ago to ease the lunch-hour dress code to allow men to dine in tank tops and even wear baseball-style caps. When tank-top wearers do come in, Replogle said, it’s usually on weekends, particularly on Saturdays. READ FULL STORY


Students of all ages spend day immersed in ‘Lagoon 101’
week of October 17, 2019

Seventh-grader Walter Lloyd waded waist-deep into the water at Vero Beach's MacWilliams boat ramp last Thursday holding part of a seine net while several classmates helped. When they hauled the net onto the beach, they found anchovies, glass minnows and a baby snook in the mesh. The students carefully recorded each creature they collected on log sheets, then released the minnows back into the Indian River Lagoon alive. It was Walter – an avid fisherman and scuba diver – who identified the snook among the other little fish. "I could tell by the black line and the way the mouth looked," he explained, referring to the lateral line running the length of the little snook's body. Walter, a student at Gifford Middle School, was among some 1,600 elementary, middle and high school students from Volusia County south to Jupiter who spent last Thursday morning collecting water and sediment samples, measuring tide height and current speed, and counting fish along the entire 156-mile-long lagoon. All were working as citizen scientists in the second annual "A Day in the Life of the Indian River Lagoon" – mentored by their teachers and a few hundred volunteer resource managers, scientists and environmental educators. READ FULL STORY


Eight running for Vero Council agree on need for public input
week of October 17, 2019

The two candidates elected to the Vero Beach City Council next month may well be in a position to cast decisive votes on some of the biggest development decisions that have ever faced the municipality. The eight vying for two open seats being vacated by Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle largely share similar stances on the process the city should use to redevelop the deteriorating Vero Beach Municipal Marina and the 35-acre riverfront property on 17th Street and Indian River Boulevard commonly known as Centennial Place. All agree public input is vital to the future of both projects, regardless of their own preferences. “It could be the crown jewel of the city and my intention is that it shall be,” Rey Neville, a barrier island resident and retired Air Force colonel, said of Centennial Place. “And the way we’ll arrive at that is through a disciplined and vigorous inquiry of the city of Vero Beach to identify what they think should be done with this wonderful location.” Prominent local attorney and island resident Joe Graves agrees the public must be involved in the planning process. READ FULL STORY


City and county urged to explore wastewater partnership
week of October 17, 2019

Would consolidating Vero Beach’s municipal wastewater operations with those of Indian River County be the most cost effective and best option for taxpayers? The Vero Beach Utilities Commission has pressed city staff to leave no stone unturned in exploring a partnering option before building and independently operating a new multi-million-dollar inland site away from the lagoon. The vote came nearly a month after the Vero Beach City Council issued a similar unanimous policy directive explicitly expressing its desire to relocate the city’s unsightly wastewater treatment plant from the Indian River Lagoon as soon as possible, following speculation city staff was looking for ways to renovate the aging facility. The council also asked staff to open a dialogue with the county to gauge if that jurisdiction is interested in taking over the city’s wastewater operation at an inland site. “It has to be fully vetted in an objective manner,” commission Vice Chairman Robert Auwaerter said. To hammer home the importance of properly examining partnering with the county, Auwaerter presented the commission with three studies that outlined the benefits other jurisdictions experienced from making such a move. READ FULL STORY


Could a lifeguard on duty have saved latest drowning victim?
week of October 17, 2019

Might 25-year-old Bogyu Choe, the South Korean flight student who drowned near South Beach Park on Sept. 30, still be alive if lifeguards had been on duty? “That’s a very good question, but I’d like to think so,” Vero Beach Lifeguard Association president Erik Toomsoo said last week. “There’s no way to know for sure because, based on what I’ve been told, he went down quickly. “But he definitely would’ve stood a chance.” For the first time this summer – from Memorial Day through Labor Day – lifeguards protected the city’s beaches from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., two hours beyond the 5 p.m. cutoff the rest of the year. Choe drowned at about 6:45 p.m., nearly two hours after the lifeguards went off duty at nearby South Beach Park. Toomsoo said lifeguards surely would’ve seen Choe and his friends, who were on the beach south of the park, and probably would’ve noticed that Choe wasn’t comfortable entering the dangerously rough surf. According to a Vero Beach Police report, in fact, one of Choe’s “close friends” on the scene described him as a “weak swimmer” who “should not have gone out that far.” READ FULL STORY


Sebastian Inlet Park may drop its fees for some
week of October 10, 2019

Beginning next year, more than 20,000 residents of the northern part of Indian River County may be able to fish from or visit the Sebastian Inlet State Park free or for a reduced charge. A proposal to lower or eliminate fees for people who live in the Sebastian Inlet District – most of them in Brevard County, but some in Indian River – is in a bill state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Melbourne Beach) is filing for the Legislature’s 2020 session. The Indian River County portion of the Inlet District includes the barrier island north of Old Winter Beach Road and some unincorporated county plus the City of Sebastian on the mainland. The bill, after expected modifications, would either eliminate or discount the park’s $8-per-carload admission fee – as well as the lesser fees for bicyclists, pedestrians and single-occupant cars – for Inlet District residents. How to make the proposed change work, since the Inlet District doesn’t own the state park, will be a challenge for the legislative staff and committees before it ever reaches the House or Senate floor. READ FULL STORY


Jones’ murder defense: Hard to understand?
week of October 10, 2019

Over the past five years, readers following the story of murdered 26-year-old Moorings resident Diana Duve and the protracted criminal proceedings against accused killer and former PNC Wealth Management advisor Michael David Jones have been swamped with information. What’s out there includes graphic details, crime scene photos and now, from one media outlet, 14 Twitter updates per day on the rather boring minutiae of the past week and a half of jury selection. But despite all that reporting, if you want to know what it’s really like to sit in the courtroom where Jones is scheduled to be tried for first-degree murder this month, you need to know one thing that no one mentions. Jones’ lead defense attorney is very hard to understand. It’s probably not politically correct to write about this, but it’s a rather unique – and important – element of this high-stakes capital murder trial. Assistant Public Defender Stanley Glenn, 44, was born partially deaf in both ears. His father, a Negro League baseball pitcher, related in a book he wrote in 2006 how his son as a boy struggled in public school, but did great in a Catholic school with small classes. He subsequently earned an undergraduate degree from Virginia Wesleyan College in 1997, a Juris Doctorate degree from Catholic University in 2000, according to Martindale-Hubbell, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2001. READ FULL STORY


Home split between counties may finally go to Indian River
week of October 10, 2019

The borderline separating Indian River and St. Lucie counties runs right through neurosurgeon Oszkar Szentirmai’s oceanfront home. He steps back and forth across the border many times each day. Coincidently, an unfinished subdivision across State Road A1A, Round Island Plantation, features six lots in Indian River County and 25 lots in St. Lucie County. So, when Dr. Szentirmai asked for the St. Lucie County portion of his lot to be moved into Indian River County, officials proposed shifting the six Round Island Plantation lots into St. Lucie County. “It just kind of made sense,” said Indian River County Administrator Jason Brown. “The taxable values are pretty similar right now. All of the property owners are in agreement.” Indian River County commissioners were set to vote this week on a resolution to support the boundary change. Commissioners gave preliminary approval on Sept. 17. St. Lucie County commissioners approved a similar resolution Oct. 1 and included the boundary change in their 2020 state legislative priorities. READ FULL STORY


Central Beach sand replenishment hits snag
week of October 10, 2019

A major sand replenishment project in the critically eroded Central Beach area could be compromised if the Costa d’Este Beach Resort & Spa and a handful of other property owners refuse to let county contractors place sand on their oceanfront property. The county has plans for a $6 million project slated to begin in November that will place 205,000 cubic yards of sand from Tracking Station Park to Castaway Cove – a stretch known as Sector 5 – but the project could be undermined if oceanfront property owners and homeowners associations refuse to sign an agreement allowing the county to place sand above the mean high tide line on their private property. So far, the county has received a green light from 63 property owners and is still waiting to hear back from 8 others. Four oceanfront properties, including Costa d’Este, have rejected the agreement. The standoff comes in the wake of a state law that went into effect a year ago that took away local governments’ power to simply declare beaches public through the ‘customary use doctrine,’ putting in place a requirement for a court ruling to settle disputes about public access to privately-owned beach above the high tide line. READ FULL STORY


Vero marina expansion seen as a 10- to 20-year project
week of October 10, 2019

The City Council has decided to move forward with a major revamp and expansion of the deteriorating Vero Beach Municipal Marina that could take up to two decades to complete. The board in a 4-1 vote last week chose the most dramatic among several possible facelifts for the dilapidated facility, which will include new dockage along the southern shoreline, a one-way drive with angled parking near the dog park, an expanded mooring field and a pedestrian bridge from the marina to Riverside Park. The project – which Councilman Robert Brackett anticipates could take 10 to 20 years to compete – also calls for the replacement of the northern dock to relocate it farther north; demolition of what’s known as the lagoon dock and an increase in the number of slips on that dock; repair or replacement of the floating dock; additional vehicle parking; repair or replacement of the dry storage building; and dredging near docks to open moorings for larger boats. An office building on the property formerly occupied by the Waddell Insurance agency is in good condition and could be rented out to a new tenant if the city so desires, or demolished to create more parking. READ FULL STORY


29 Virgin Trains deaths fuel push for new safety regulations
week of October 10, 2019

Efforts to establish state safety regulations for Virgin Trains USA passenger rail service are gaining momentum as deaths mount, track construction accelerates and passenger rail projects progress throughout Florida. Virgin Trains and its predecessor company Brightline killed 22 people from Jan. 1, 2018, through May 31, 2019, federal records show. Since then, media reports attributed seven more deaths to the passenger train. While some of these were suicides, the total number of deaths has attracted legislative attention. The body count, along with increased media focus on passenger rail and a consultant’s report identifying holes in state and federal train safety regulations, is providing a power boost to state Sen. Debbie Mayfield and others campaigning to enhance rail safety. “The legislation I’m going to introduce next year is going to be directly related to the findings [of the consultant’s report] to ensure we have the safety of our citizens in mind,” Mayfield said at a press conference last month. Florida has no regulations for when fencing should be installed along railroad tracks or who should be responsible for the costs, according to an Oct. 31, 2018 report by CPCS Transcom Inc., of Ottawa. READ FULL STORY


Shores v. Vero water battle to resume with mediation scheduled for October 25th
week of October 10, 2019

Postponed by Vero officials due to preparations for Hurricane Dorian, a mediation session in the utility dispute between the Town of Indian River Shores and the City of Vero Beach is now scheduled for Oct. 25. Indian River Shores claims Vero breached its 2012 water-sewer utility franchise agreement with the town when Vero refused to reduce Shores’ residents’ reuse irrigation water rates from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents in January after Indian River County reduced utility customers’ reuse rates to 21 cents. The franchise agreement ties Shores’ rates to county rates, but Vero officials say the type of reuse water delivery the Shores receives is different from any service the county offers, and therefore the rate restriction does not apply. The Shores Town Council also takes issue with the manner in which Vero has maintained, or failed to maintain, aging water lines within the oldest parts of the town and especially in John’s Island. Vero’s attorney John Turner, when asked to clarify whether the session would be a mediation, or what is being termed a settlement meeting, said, “It’s a mediation under the terms of the franchise agreement. Whether it settles or not is anyone’s guess, and any settlement would have to approved by City Council at a public meeting.” READ FULL STORY


Crab Stop restaurant moving to location of the former Cajun Cove
week of October 10, 2019

The Crab Stop is on the move, leaving its 14th Avenue location in downtown Vero Beach this week and reopening next week at Royal Palm Pointe – on the site of the now-closed Cajun Cove. Crab Stop co-owner Ellis Buckner said the new location provides a back patio in a more-enticing waterfront setting, where the wildly popular restaurant will expand its offerings to include a full liquor bar and dinner service until at least 9:30 p.m. “The move has a lot of advantages for us, but the key is the location,” said Buckner, who, along with his wife Brandy, opened the Crab Stop five-plus years ago, after a heart attack forced him to retire after 25 years as a county firefighter and paramedic. “People like eating crabs on the water, so that back patio should be a big draw,” he added. “We’ll also have parking available all around us. With the appearance and size of the building, it’s a better fit in every way.” Local commercial real-estate broker Billy Moss said he suggested six weeks ago that the Buckners look at the Royal Palm Pointe property. The deal to purchase the Cajun Cove’s equipment, furnishings and liquor license – as well as to lease the building – was finalized in late September. READ FULL STORY


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in dolphins in lagoon
week of October 10, 2019

Scientists have found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a high percentage of bottlenose dolphins living in the Indian River Lagoon, raising concerns of an increased risk to humans who eat fish from the lagoon or come in contact with the water. Researchers from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and collaborators from other research groups tested bacteria samples collected from the blowholes, gastric fluids and feces of 171 bottlenose dolphins in the lagoon between 2003 and 2015. Harbor Branch epidemiologist Dr. Adam Schaefer, the study’s lead author, said they found a “significant increase” in antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals over that period of time. “The dolphins are acting as a sentinel of what’s in the environment,” Schaefer said. “It’s an early warning system for human health threats in the lagoon. The patterns we see in dolphins mirror patterns we’re seeing in human health.” Schaefer said antibiotics themselves or the bacteria that have mutated to resist them are making their way into the lagoon through wastewater discharges, drainage canals or septic tanks. He said sewage treatment doesn’t necessarily break down these medications. READ FULL STORY


Will Jones be star witness at own murder trial?
week of October 3, 2019

The trial of Michael David Jones is historic for Vero Beach in its scope and impact. Not since the Ira Hatch racketeering trial of 2010 has such a cast of local witnesses been assembled as up to 152 people could be called to testify over the next four weeks as Jones faces first-degree murder charges – finally after five years of delays – for a June 2014 crime. Courts were closed Monday for the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashanah, but potential jurors were to begin reporting for duty in batches of 25 to 50 people twice a day, morning and afternoon for a process called voir dire. Loosely translated from French, the legal term means “to speak the truth,” and that truth is what attorneys for the prosecution and the defense hope to get out of the pool of roughly 200 people this week. READ FULL STORY


It’s dumb. It’s against law. But few get a ticket
week of October 3, 2019

Three months after Florida passed its new law allowing police to stop motorists for texting while driving, you’ll still see dozens of drivers taking their eyes off the road to tap out messages on their mobile phones. That’s not likely to change. Since the new statute went into effect July 1, local law enforcement agencies had written only nine texting-and-driving citations as of Sept. 27 – eight by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and one by the Sebastian Police Department, which also had issued six warnings. The Vero Beach Police Department had issued only one warning. Neither the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department nor the Fellsmere Police Department had stopped even one motorist for texting and driving. That’s not even one citation a week in Indian River County. The reason for so few stops, local law enforcement officials say, is that the language of the law makes it difficult to enforce. READ FULL STORY


Wabasso bridge is named after person who never existed
week of October 3, 2019

A local bridge that was supposed to be named after an island citrus pioneer was accidently dedicated to a fictitious person and the mistake remained enshrined in state records for more than 50 years. Now it may get corrected. When descendants of famed island citrus grower A.B. Michael recently learned the bridge connecting the barrier Island to the mainland in Wabasso had been named in honor of A.B. Mitchell – apparently a non-existent person – instead of their prominent relative, they were shocked, as were county officials. The error was made so long ago that no one can quite figure out how it happened, but the county commission has a fix in the works. In September, commissioners passed a resolution requesting the Florida Legislature enact legislation designating the arched concrete structure as the “A.B. Michael Bridge,” in addition to erecting markers on the bridge with that name. County officials expect State Sen. Debbie Mayfield (R-District 17) to enter a bill next legislative session to accomplish the change. READ FULL STORY


Panel sees busing as way to promote racial equity in schools here
week of October 3, 2019

Remember the battles in cities around the country in the ’60s and ’70s over court-ordered busing of students to desegregate public schools? Well, Vero may be headed for a reprise of those battles a half century later. The School District Equity Committee – which is charged with making sure Indian River County complies with a federally-mandated desegregation order – is recommending the district be rezoned, with some students bused to different schools than they now attend, so that schools will be more racially integrated. The five-person Equity Committee plans to make the recommendation, along with others, to the School Board at the board’s Oct. 8 work session. “I’m for it, if it achieves the needed results,” said Tony Brown, a member of the Equity Committee, referring to adjusting the geographical areas from which individual schools draw students. “But believe me, when we bring up rezoning, there’s going to be an uproar in the community. READ FULL STORY


Innovative oyster mats filter millions of gallons of polluted lagoon water
week of October 3, 2019

Scientists and engineers from around the U.S. spent last Friday proposing and demonstrating innovative technology for restoring the ailing Indian River Lagoon at an event hosted by Florida Tech’s Indian River Lagoon Research Institute. The daylong event featured presentations on everything from muck removal to new steel oyster mats intended to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean. With plastic becoming a growing concern, Dr. Kelli Hunsucker and her graduate students have been experimenting with replacing plastic oyster mats with steel mats and running electrical currents through them – a technique used successfully to spur coral growth for reef restoration. Hunsucker said an eight-month pilot study showed about the same amount of oyster settlement on both plastic and steel mats. Dr. Robert Weaver said the oyster mats can be attached to existing docks and fastened near the water’s surface. That way, the oyster mats require almost no maintenance, he added. READ FULL STORY


Social media may be factor in choice of jurors for Jones
week of September 26, 2019

While accused killer Michael David Jones waits for his first-degree murder trial to begin next month for the 2014 death of 26-year-old Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse Diana Duve, attorneys now focus on seating an impartial jury. One-hundred potential jurors were summoned to the Indian River County Courthouse on Tuesday, then another hundred on Wednesday and more on Thursday. Waiting at the courthouse for those citizens will be a detailed, three-page questionnaire that the defense and prosecution will use to start learning about the potential jurors as they begin the process of picking a panel of 12 who will judge the innocence or guilt of Jones. The first page of the questionnaire covers the basics: Name, age, etc. It’s not until midway through the second page that potential jurors find out the defendant is Michael Jones and that he’s charged with first-degree murder in the death of Diana Duve. That section’s questions are designed to determine the potential juror’s knowledge about the details of the case and those involved in it. Those questions continue to the third page, which concludes with a survey of sorts about the death penalty asking when, if ever, the person responding feels the death penalty is an appropriate punishment. READ FULL STORY


Ocean Drive gets new bar, new Bottle Shop owner
week of September 26, 2019

The island this month not only gained a new beachside bar, but new ownership of what was once many 32963 residents’ favorite liquor store, the Bottle Shop. The two are located side-by-side on Ocean Drive, in the space once occupied by Treasure Coast Sotheby’s between Bobby’s Restaurant & Lounge and the Holiday Inn. Both the liquor store and the bar, named The Boiler, are now owned by Jared Smith, his wife Billie Jean, his cousin Brian Smith, and Brian’s wife Kelley. Jared Smith has owned The Stamp bar in Vero’s downtown for nine years, and has been a co-owner of The Grove bar, with fellow St. Edward’s graduate Andy Capak, for seven years. Billie Jean Smith said the family group wasn’t looking to buy and operate a liquor store – just a bar. However, local commercial realtor Billy Moss presented them with the possibility of doing both and, as she put it, “Everything just fell into place.” The Bottle Shop, the island’s only full-service liquor store, prospered for years when it was located in Pelican Plaza. But after John Feuerstein sold it four years ago, it struggled and the new owners – blaming the location – moved it to Ocean Drive. READ FULL STORY


Special playground equipment makes recess better for students with physical disabilities
week of September 26, 2019

Thanks to new technology and innovative thinking by county school officials, students with physical disabilities no longer sit on the sidelines while their peers play on swings, slides and other playground equipment during school recess. Noah Fleming, a fifth grader at Rosewood Magnet School, lacks muscle control and is unable to speak, due to cerebral palsy, but he is mentally capable and cognizant of everybody around him, according to his father, Mark Fleming. “School officials wanted to lay Noah on a slab of cement under a pavilion during recess while the other children played,” Mark Fleming says. “That’s when I stepped in and asked the district if they could come up with something that would allow my son to enjoy recess also.” After a little investigating, Jon Teske, the district’s assistant superintendent of operations, discovered a wheel-chair platform that attaches to a regular swing set, allowing Noah and other children who don’t have physical disabilities to swing side-by-side. One day last week, Noah was enjoying the special equipment, grinning broadly as teaching assistant Dee Adams gently pushed the large swinging platform that holds Noah’s wheelchair in place. READ FULL STORY


Virgin Trains won’t start laying tracks here until summer
week of September 26, 2019

Virgin Trains USA has now postponed start of new track construction in Indian River County until next summer. Virgin Trains also plans to install so many safety measures at its railroad crossings on the Treasure and Space coasts that train engineers would not be required to blow their warning horns. The latest plans for higher-speed passenger rail service between Orlando and Miami were discussed Friday by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, a group of 25 local government leaders. “We know that the Indian River County portion of construction is delayed versus that that’s happening in Palm Beach County,” said Kim DeLaney, the council’s director of strategic development and policy. Virgin Trains plans to construct new tracks between West Palm Beach and Orlando to handle 34 passenger trains per day, which are projected to start running in summer 2022. Trains would travel up to 110 mph along the Treasure and Space coasts. The company started providing service between Miami and West Palm Beach in May 2018. The trains operate from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. at speeds of up to 79 mph. READ FULL STORY


Work again proceeding on Blue at 8050 Ocean condos
week of September 26, 2019

The investigation into the origins of skeletal remains found on a construction site in Indian River Shores in June continues, with archaeologists testing a theory about the bones being Native American. But developer Yane Zana said he’s proceeding with his luxury condo project on schedule and plans to “go vertical” with buildings sometime in October. The side walls and entrance to the development have been constructed, and crews will begin installing underground utilities next week. Auger pilings will be sunk soon. Zana said he has zero qualms about proceeding with construction, based on what he’s been told by state officials. “I had a long conversation with Kathryn Miyar from the state archaeologist office and she told me that her work at the state level on the remains will continue, but that the part involving my land is over,” Zana said Monday of the Blue at 8050 Ocean property. “She said the report shows the bones have Asian characteristics and that they may be Native American but that she’s not convinced of that so she’s going to go to examine the remains herself,” said Zana. “If the remains are Native American, Kathryn said her main concern would be contacting the tribes to handle the remains properly.” READ FULL STORY


Dorian damage to sea turtle nests not as bad as was feared
week of September 26, 2019

Damage to sea turtle nests along Indian River County beaches from Hurricane Dorian's early September tidal surge was not as bad as first feared. While many beachgoers were horrified to see exposed nests, broken eggshells and dead hatchlings scattered in the sand following Dorian's passage, Quintin Bergman – the county's sea turtle coordinator – said the storm destroyed only about 18 percent of turtle nests laid on 32963’s more than 22 miles of sandy beaches. And that percentage could go down if green turtles continue their brisk nesting pace through the season's official end Oct. 31, a pace that is steadily upping the overall number of nests for the year. As of last Friday, the county's sea turtle team estimated 1,613 nests were lost to Dorian while 1,488 remained in the storm's wake. More than 5,400 were estimated to have hatched before Dorian's arrival. Total nests counted since the season began in April: 6,159 loggerheads; 2,366 green (47 since Dorian's departure); and 37 leatherbacks. Bergman said it's been a banner season for the green turtles which are known to be late nesters on our beaches. READ FULL STORY


Beach path by Surfsedge moves ahead; completion expected in November
week of September 26, 2019

A 5-foot-wide public beach access that caused a great deal of controversy when the Town of Indian River Shores wanted to sell a 5-acre overgrown oceanside parcel to a private developer is now quietly coming to fruition on the construction site of the Surfsedge community on A1A. The town has approved about $11,000 for the $24,000 project; the remaining cost will be split between the Lutgert Companies, which is building Surfsedge, and residents of Pebble Beach Villas, a condo complex immediately south of Surfsedge. Shores Town Manager Joe Griffin said it should take roughly six weeks to complete the walled coquina rock path. The thick forest of invasive Brazilian pepper trees that covered much of the property has been torn down and mulched, and the land cleared, according to Lutgert project manager Mike Hoyt. “The path is started with the coquina already installed. The fence on the south side of the path will go in the next couple of weeks, then the last piece will be the site wall on the north side of the path,” Hoyt said. “That is about six weeks out. We will be able to open it up to the public after the wall is in place.” READ FULL STORY


Nonprofits seek updated data on area social needs
week of September 19, 2019

The United Way of Indian River County and other groups are launching a Community Needs Assessment to get a handle on the scale of poverty and social need in an area that is very near the top of a national list that calculates income inequality. Although Vero Beach is renowned for its beachside beauty and the affluence of its island residents, there is another side to the story. According to the United Way, 51 percent of Indian River County households struggle to pay for such basic necessities as food, housing and childcare. That was the finding of the group’s February 2019 ALICE report (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). Meanwhile, a July 2018 report from the Economic Policy Institute shows the Vero-Sebastian metro area has the fourth most extreme income inequality in the country, with the top 1 percent of households having an average income of $2,519,981 while the remaining 99 percent average just $39,710. The purpose of the first comprehensive Community Needs Assessment done here since 2008 is to pinpoint unmet needs, identify community strengths and assets available to meet the needs, eliminate some duplication of services and help foundations better allocate their resources so they have the most impact on people’s lives. READ FULL STORY


Vero’s effort to provide hurricane relief to Bahamas continues to grow
week of September 19, 2019

Local attorney and avid fisherman Brian Connelly isn’t surprised by the generous and caring way Vero Beach has responded to the humanitarian crisis in the Bahamas – especially the Abaco Islands, particularly Grand Cay – in the wake of Hurricane Dorian. “Not at all,” Connelly said. “Grand Cay isn’t a resort area where you see a lot of crowds. It’s a fishing village. I’ve been going there for 15 years, and we go because it’s some of the best fishing and diving in the islands. But because it’s so small, you get to know the people there. That’s the case for most of us who go there on a regular basis,” he added. “Over the years, we’ve developed friendships with some wonderful people there. I have the phone numbers of a half-dozen of them, and we’ll call before we come over to ask if they need anything. Even in good times, they don’t have a lot, so there’s always a need.” Grand Cay, affectionately known as “Little Grand,” is at the far northern end of the Abaco Islands, but it didn’t escape Dorian’s devastation – the destruction of homes, businesses, the power grid and water system. READ FULL STORY


Accused slayer Jones files last-minute pretrial motions
week of September 19, 2019

Everything but the kitchen sink. That’s the non-technical term for what defense lawyers are throwing into the legal mix two weeks before jury selection is set to begin for the murder trial of Michael David Jones. It’s unclear who has been steering Jones’ defense team since the accused slayer of nurse Diana Duve petitioned Judge Dan Vaughn to fire his three lawyers last month, but the pre-trial motions have been flying like crazy. The motions force prosecutors to respond, eating up time needed to finalize their preparations for what’s expected to be a four-week trial with more than 100 witnesses, including an impressive gaggle of medical and behavioral experts. Nearly 200 new pages of documents prompted by last-minute defense motions have come out just in the past week, on top of the more than 5,000 pages of pleadings and discovery accumulated since Jones arrest in the summer of 2014. Among the 11th-hour wrinkles the defense is fighting for is the right to show everyone in the jury pool graphic photos of the crime scene where Duve was found dead, an autopsy photo and photos of the attractive 26-year-old Sebastian River Medical Center nurse enjoying life before her murder in June 2014. READ FULL STORY


Council members reaffirm desire to move sewer plant off lagoon
week of September 19, 2019

Mayor Val Zudans and Councilman Harry Howle have only a couple of months left on the City Council before their terms end, but both said they will take action to lay groundwork for the City of Vero Beach to get its aging sewer plant off the Indian River Lagoon. Two weeks ago, Vero Beach 32963 reported that city staff and hired consultants were still spending significant time, effort and money studying ways to refurbish and keep the sewer plant on the river, which contradicts long-standing direction given by previous city councils going back to 2011 and 2012 that the plant needs to be moved. Zudans said he felt it was prudent to price out all the options for comparison, but he wants to make it clear that he has always envisioned Vero’s riverfront with the sewer plant gone as soon as possible, and said he resents any accusation he’s hedging on getting the sewage processing plant off the river. READ FULL STORY


Riding the rails: A view of the future from a locomotive
week of September 19, 2019

ABOARD LOCOMOTIVE 101 – As our freight train rumbled down the Florida East Coast Railways track last Tuesday, up ahead I watched a bicyclist ignore the flashing lights, zig zag around the closed crossing gates, and pedal across in front of us. How many will try this, I wondered, when instead of a freight lumbering down the track at 45 miles an hour, it’s a Virgin Trains USA passenger locomotive racing toward them at 110 mph? An hour or so later, we came upon a white SUV stopped on the wrong side of the downed gate at the Main Street crossing in Sebastian, a couple of feet away from our passing locomotive. How had that happened? A vehicle collided with a train at that crossing on Feb. 8. Those were the major safety concerns I observed on a run south from Jacksonville to Miami September 10th aboard a red and yellow FECR locomotive. But this was just one trip! READ FULL STORY


Equity Committee hoping School Board will set more specific desegregation goals
week of September 19, 2019

Representatives from the NAACP and school district agree the School Board needs to set more specific desegregation goals and be accountable for hiring more African-American teachers and improving retention and graduation rates of African-American students. Those are among the recommendations that the five-person Equity Committee plans to make to the board in October when it submits its review of what is needed to bring the school district into compliance with a 52-year-old federal desegregation order. Along with recommendations, several committee members had complaints about school district officials. They said some officials spent most of the year trying to sabotage the committee’s efforts, but added that things have improved recently, since Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley took over. “I don’t feel that school officials have been taking this seriously enough [up till now],” Merchon Green, the group’s chairman, said during a committee meeting in late August. “The goal of this committee is to hold the district accountable and see what the district is doing to reach its goals. READ FULL STORY


Community forums create profile of ideal Indian River School superintendent
week of September 19, 2019

The next superintendent of the Indian River County School District needs to be able to unite the community, be a champion for civil rights and create a climate of trust in the district. Those are the top qualities cited by educators, administrators, students, parents and community leaders who participated in forums this past week organized by the firm that is conducting the search for a new superintendent. "The School Board will use the citizen input to create a profile for the kind of superintendent the district is looking for," said Monica Browne of Hazard, Young, Attea Associates. The board is scheduled to review and discuss citizen comments during a special board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 24, Browne said. Once the board agrees on what they think are the top attributes a new superintendent must have, Hazard, Young, Attea Associates will launch a national advertising effort and begin actively recruiting candidates. The School Board’s goal is to hire a new superintendent by January. READ FULL STORY


Vero man details horror of Dorian’s Bahamian blitz
week of September 19, 2019

“I’m still having nightmares. Every time I close my eyes, I hear the roar,” says Bobby Childs, who experienced Hurricane Dorian’s wrath first-hand. “But people were awesome; they were all so loving and helpful. I saw the best in people and I saw the worst in people.” Childs and wife Elizabeth (Liz) are among the lucky ones. He survived and they own a condo in Vero’s South Beach area, where they can regroup. It will be a while, however, before they’ll know the full extent of the damage to what was once their lovely waterfront home on Lubbers Quarters Cay, a tiny 2-mile-by-half-mile island in the Abacos, accessible only by boat. Or for that matter, the boat and car they stored in nearby marinas. When Dorian became a named storm, Childs, who after selling his collision repair businesses became a yacht delivery skipper, went down to shore up the house. Liz, a representative for Pantaenius Yacht Insurance, was at a Newport boat show, so first mate/chef Karen Svea Grahne volunteered to assist him. Childs was still recovering from a mid-August wrist operation to correct a decades-old navicular fracture. READ FULL STORY


Still time to sign up for Saturday’s Coastal Cleanup
week of September 19, 2019

If you want to do something to help the Indian River Lagoon, there's still time to sign up for the Indian River County edition of the world's largest volunteer trash pick-up – the 34th annual International Coastal Cleanup – set for this Saturday. More than 500 have registered at www.keepindianriverbeautiful.org to collect trash on foot, underwater, from kayaks and boats at some 20 sites along the county's lagoon and ocean beaches. Keep Indian River Beautiful executive director Daisy Packer says she can always use more volunteers – especially at four lagoon sites managed by the Indian River Land Trust. "There's not as much trash on [ocean] beaches since the king tide has taken everything," Packer said,"[but] the trash that washes into the lagoon is just stuck there." Packer added that more trash could still show up along the ocean, as debris pushed across from the devastation in the Abacos and Grand Bahama Island earlier this month washes ashore. Keep Indian River Beautiful will supply volunteers with gloves, trash bags, data cards, pens and – while they last – tee shirts. Late registrants are asked to call 772-226-7738 to secure a site. READ FULL STORY