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Trial set for duo accused of killing Brian Simpson
week of September 11, 2014

The trial of two men charged with first-degree murder for killing Central Beach resident Brian Simpson in a burglary gone bad on Nov. 17, 2011, is finally set to start in two weeks if it is not delayed an eighth time. Judge Robert Pegg granted defense attorneys for Henry Lee Jones and Darius Robinson seven continuances in the case, beginning in November 2012. After the last continuance ran out at the end of June, the trial was placed on the schedule for Sept. 22, with the first task jury selection. The trial will begin as soon after Sept. 22 as a jury can be empaneled. On Monday, Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said that, as is common with any case that's gotten the media attention this one has, it will be "tough" to find impartial jurors. The reasons why the case so jolted the community are many. It happened just before dark on quiet, upscale Fiddlewood Lane. Brian Simpson, a 41-year-old husband and father of two was gunned down in his own home, found there in a pool of blood. READ FULL STORY


County's largest mixed-use project ever killed by funder
week of September 11, 2014

The largest mixed-use residential and retail development project ever planned for Indian River County has been killed by its California funder, which has concluded that the Vero and Sebastian market is simply not ready for it. The California investment fund that that owns the Orchid Quay tract and was planning to finance a $300 million residential community and upscale retail center at the site has given up on the project and put the property up for sale. Irvine,California-based IHP Capital Partners has concluded on the basis of revised marketing evaluations that the area cannot absorb the 250,000 square feet of retail space and 350 condos and townhomes that were planned. "They had consultants in here from California and Orlando – nobody local – and they said there are too many vacant storefronts at the mall and in strip centers in Vero and Sebastian for this much new retail space to make sense," says Vero Beach developer Joe Paladin, who has been IHP's point man on the project for the past three years. READ FULL STORY


New details on bizarre behavior of accused murderer Jones
week of September 11, 2014

Dozens of pages of emails chronicle the bizarre and erratic behavior that accused murder Michael Jones exhibited while a master's degree candidate at the University of Miami in 2010 and 2011. The emails not only show the emotional roller coaster Jones was apparently on, but how he took fellow students, professors and university staff along for the ride. Jones, charged anew last week with the attempted strangulation of a Fort Lauderdale woman in addition to the charges pending against him here for the strangulation murder of Sebastian nurse and Vero resident Diana Duve, claimed while attending the University of Miami to have an amazing variety of "medically significant" problems including three different rare forms of cancer. As his troubles mushroomed, Jones constantly worked to flatter, cajole and manipulate people who were kind to him or could help him. As for people who were not kind to him, Jones lodged complaints and accusations of discrimination. By one month into the University of Miami program, Jones' "disabilities" were seriously affecting his ability to participate in class. READ FULL STORY


Hospital says tax forms it filed showing bonuses to top executives were in error
week of September 11, 2014

The Indian River Medical Center now says tax forms it filed with the IRS for the last two fiscal years, showing the hospital paid the taxes on more than $1.3 million dollars in supplemental retirement income withdrawn prematurely by CEO Jeff Susi and two others, are in error. The hospital, which reported to the IRS that it had made so-called "gross-up" tax payments on the retirement funds withdrawn by Susi, former hospital Chief Operating Officer Cindy Vanek and Chief Nursing Officer Lynn Hubbard, last week denied making any such payments after it was asked about them by Vero Beach 32963. The gross-up tax payments would have amounted to an additional bonus of more than $400,000 for Susi and over $65,000 for Vanek beyond their salaries, and attracted attention because the expenditures would have come during what was a difficult financial time for the hospital when more than 80 employees were laid off. "But there was no gross-up," said the hospital's Vice President for Marketing, Lewis Clark. "The information in the 990 (IRS tax form) saying that the hospital paid the taxes is an error." He said amended forms would be sent to the IRS "as soon as possible." READ FULL STORY


Hospital sees a profit - if District comes through
week of September 4, 2014

Indian River Medical Center says it has stabilized its finances, may turn a small profit of $10,000 to $50,000 for fiscal 2014, and sees a $2.7 million profit for 2015 – as long as it gets the $9 million for indigent care it is seeking from the county's elected Hospital District Trustees. The Hospital District, however, has offered only $7 million for indigent care reimbursement for fiscal year 2015 – $2 million less than the hospital says it must have – and has refused to raise county real estate taxes to cover the difference. The Hospital District and the hospital will begin mandated negotiations for the second time next week to try to bridge the $2 million gap before the dispute heads into potentially lengthy and expensive arbitration proceedings on their mutual claims. "We'd all love a negotiated settlement," hospital CEO Jeff Susi said at last week's meetings of the full hospital board and the board's finance committee where the optimistic figures were presented. Hospital CFO Greg Gardner, agreeing with Susi, reiterated several times during his presentation that the promising numbers were based upon getting more than $9 million from the District in taxpayer money. READ FULL STORY


New light shed on accused murderer's background
week of September 4, 2014

Since former PNC Bank financial advisor Michael Jones was arrested in June and charged with the murder of his on-again off-again girlfriend, 26-year-old Sebastian River Medical Center nurse and Moorings resident Diana Duve, the community, rocked by this tragedy, has been asking, "Who is Michael Jones?" Among the evidence collected by Vero Beach Police detectives and investigators at the State Attorney's office are more than 100 pages related to Jones' education. Perhaps the most lettered inmate ever housed at the Indian River County Jail, Jones earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Georgia before going on to complete his Juris Doctorate from St. Louis University and graduate in the top third of his class. Then he applied to the University of Miami's college of law to get a specialized degree in estate planning. It is from the application documents he sent to Miami that a horrified community gets a glimpse of the barely believable life the man accused of a horrific murder led up to 2010. READ FULL STORY


Land Trust preserves more land along lagoon
week of September 4, 2014

The Indian River Land Trust, the respected Vero Beach nonprofit that saved eight miles of green lagoon shoreline from development over the past five years, has during the summer picked up two more key pieces of lagoon-side land. The Land Trust also has hired an impressive new director of land protection and established an endowment to help fund stewardship of its holdings. The new hire and the endowment signal a fundamental shift in the Trust's mission, as it widens its focus from mere land acquisition to the ecological rehabilitation of existing properties. "Land acquisition continues to be a primary focus of the Land Trust," says island resident David Heuberger, who started as director of land protection on Aug. 3. "But we will be putting more emphasis on stewardship. A lot of the Land Trust properties have the potential for restoration of their biological processes and their interrelationship between upland watersheds and the Indian River lagoon." READ FULL STORY


Michael Jones previously accused of strangling another girlfriend
week of August 28, 2014

Just a few months before moving to Vero Beach to take a $100,000 job in the Ocean Drive branch of PNC Wealth Management in 2013, accused murderer Michael Jones was being investigated by the Fort Lauderdale police for attempting to strangle his former live-in girlfriend, according to case file documents. The police report of this new victim's story, obtained by Vero Beach 32963, was among evidence compiled in preparation this week's grand jury hearing where the 31-year-old Jones was to be indicted for the murder by strangulation of 26-year-old Diana Duve, a Moorings resident and Sebastian River Medical Center nurse. The new victim, whose name we are withholding, apparently became Jones' girlfriend in the weeks following his arrest in late 2012 on a charge of aggravated stalking stemming from his threat to kill yet another South Florida girlfriend. He was subsequently convicted on that charge. The new victim lived with him for three months before moving out, and her description of her narrow escape is in many ways chillingly reminiscent of what investigators have found out about Jones' relationship with Duve. READ FULL STORY


Shores: 'Grave concern' electric rates will get worse
week of August 28, 2014

The Town of Indian River Shores wants low Florida Power and Light rates for all its residents, and the head of the Shores legal team made that infinitely clear last week during the first of several conflict resolution sessions prompted by the Town filing suit to exit the Vero electric system in November 2016. "The city has systematically ignored the concerns of its outside customers," said attorney Bruce May, who heads up Holland and Knight's utilities division, adding that at the top of the list of those concerns is the fact that "the city continues to charge excessive and monopolistic rates to its outside customers." May said his client, the Town, has no reason to believe that the rate disparity will get better any time soon, and added that Town officials have "grave concern" rates will actually get worse as the bad management decisions and speculative investments of the Florida Municipal Power Association come home to roost in the next few years. READ FULL STORY


Summer island power outages blamed on trees
week of August 28, 2014

Australian pine trees are a fast-growing non-native, invasive species that was reportedly brought to Florida by developers as a way to stabilize sandy shorelines – especially on barrier islands – and they're a big reason why your Vero electric service may have been spotty this summer. "The major cause of the power outages were due to Australian pines that grew into the electric feeder corridor," said Ted Fletcher, head of transmission and distribution for Vero electric. The State of Florida promoted the planting of the Australian pine, which is not a pine but just looks like one, since the late 1800s – way before power lines shared the rights of way – until biologists demonized the tree in 1990. The issue has attracted groups of tree-haters and tree-huggers, the former pushing for eradication and the latter urging that the Australian pines need "saving." Electric customers melting in 90-plus degree weather without air-conditioning would presumably fall into the eradication camp after this summer's experience. Those pesky trees caused nine outages, several of them affecting hundreds of customers for an hour or more since Memorial Day, and keeping arborists busy carefully chopping limbs and grinding trunks down to stumps. READ FULL STORY


One more try to resolve hospital, district dispute
week of August 28, 2014

Both the Hospital District and the hospital have put the brakes on the rush to possibly costly and lengthy legal arbitration over the cost of providing indigent care. At their mandatory Aug. 21 meeting, Hospital District trustees and their newly hired legal team expressed the desire to take a step back and continue negotiations with the hospital's management over the revamping of the Indigent Care Agreement, rather than head immediately to arbitration. Trustees did, however, express their willingness to go to arbitration or litigation (or both) if continued negotiations with Indian River Medical Center fall apart again. "In the spirit of our late friend and colleague Trevor Smith, who spent countless hours trying to negotiate with the hospital, we hope to amicably resolve this," said District trustee Gene Feinour. "We have appointed a negotiating team, but if necessary we will arbitrate and litigate," said Hospital District attorney Jennifer Peshke, who along with five others will comprise the District's new negotiating team. READ FULL STORY


Grand jury to hear details of brutal slaying
week of August 21, 2014

As gruesome details emerge on last June's brutal killing of Sebastian River Medical Center nurse and Moorings resident Diana Duve, the state is convening a grand jury on Tuesday to consider formal first-degree murder charges against former PNC Wealth Management employee Michael David Jones. Jones, who is accused of strangling Duve to death and leaving her in the trunk of her car in a Melbourne parking lot, pled not guilty last month and requested a jury trial. In order to proceed with first-degree murder charges, the state must obtain an indictment by the grand jury because Florida is a death penalty state. Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said he could not comment about the state's case against Jones as presented in the 22-page complaint released last week. "At this point in time the discovery is going to have to speak for itself," he said. Bakkedahl said Indian River County has its own grand jury, which has a total of 21 jurors, at least 15 of whom must be present for any session. Proceedings are held in secret at the Indian River County Courthouse with, on average, five to 10 witnesses being called to give testimony. READ FULL STORY


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