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. Coco's (North A1A)
2. Shores Post Office
3. The Bottle Shop
4. Lemon Tree
5. Corey's Pharmacy
6. 7-Eleven

(South A1A)

MAINLAND

1. Grand Harbor
2. Oak Harbor
3. Regency Park
4. Vero Beach Book
Center

5. Classic Car Wash
6. Hospital Gift Shop
7. Divine Animal
Hospital
8. Sunshine Furniture

9. Vero Beach Bridge Center
10. Many Medical
Offices

Dustinn Keeling jailed, but gets one last break from court
week of July 30, 2015

Dustinn Keeling, the Haiti Club and North County Republican Club scammer, got a huge break in court last Friday when Circuit Judge Robert L. Pegg said he would continue to withhold adjudication so that he would not have a record as a convicted felon, even though he violated probation for grand theft and forgery when he was arrested for DUI on July 5. Pegg did, however, sentence Keeling to six months in jail and warned him to stay out of trouble because this third chance would be his last. “Don’t come back here again because I can’t help you,” Pegg told Keeling, 24, who appeared in court in shackles and an orange jail uniform after 13 days back in jail. Keeling was facing the possibility of 15 years in prison with the probation violation, but Pegg gave Keeling a third chance, he said, because Keeling completely paid restitution to his victims and had done 750 community service hours for volunteer work, which was “far above and beyond what was required.” READ FULL STORY


Updated: Abrecht convicted in death of Shores patient
week of July 30, 2015

Gina Albrecht’s defense attorney Bobby Guttridge faced a mountain of prosecutorial evidence on Tuesday morning when the time came for him to present the defense’s side of the manslaughter case against his client, who is charged with causing the death of 81-year-old George May. Starting Wednesday morning of last week and running through Monday, witness after witness helped paint a picture how Albrecht, 45 years younger than May, who described herself as a home healthcare aide turned Anna Nicole Smith, seduced the senile, disabled man, depleted his finances and then abandoned him to die of starvation.
Guttridge surprised prosecutors in his opener last week when he told jurors that Albrecht “concocted” her story to police that she had moved out of May’s home two weeks before his death and had not been back inside. Actually, said Guttridge, she stuck by May and tried to save him. In the end, the jury took just over an hour to find Albrecht guilty of manslaughter, forgery and ID theft. READ FULL STORY


Oak Harbor looking to mount comeback
week of July 30, 2015

When Oak Harbor opened in 1996, the developer’s aim was for it to be the retirement community of choice for well-to-do Island residents downsizing from large homes in John’s Island, The Moorings and other beachside enclaves. It got off to great start with large single-family homes selling briskly for as much as $760,000 to people attracted by the country club ambiance and healthcare amenities. The community was hit hard by the real estate recession, though, with some homes losing half their value, and other rival retirement communities came along to compete for the island clientele. “When I started to focus on it in 2010, there were a lot homes for sale and property was moving very slowly,” says Jim Knapp of Alex MacWilliam, Inc., who has become the dominant agent in the community, with a hand in 75 percent of Oak Harbor sales in 2014. “Property was selling at a substantial discount and no one was really working to add value and get prices back up.” Despite the body blow delivered by the housing crash, the community was never distressed, but it lost enough luster that owner Carl Icahn put it up for sale. READ FULL STORY


Vero electric customers prepare to jump ship
week of July 30, 2015

During a particularly frustrating period in the struggle to convince the Tom White and Sabe Abell-led Vero Beach City Council circa 2009 that getting Vero out of the electric business was a really great idea, long-time Indian River Shores Mayor Tom Cadden said he was so eager to free the Shores from Vero’s stranglehold that “if we have to, we’ll blanket the Town with windmills.” Considering the controversy one “stealth” cell phone tower has stirred up in the Shores (it’s still not built), Cadden was surely using hyperbole to convey his complete exasperation with efforts to sell Vero Electric to Florida Power and Light. To Cadden, like many who spent distinguished careers taking decisive action, the inability to remedy the $20 million extra paid annually by the community to Vero Electric for power seems unfathomable. This time around, under the equally intransigent Dick Winger and Jay Kramer-led City Council which doggedly defends the city’s right to stay in and profit from the electric business, the functional equivalent of tasteful rows of windmills might, yet again, be emerging as a more fruitful option than continuing to think about, let alone solve, the litany of Vero electric’s problems. READ FULL STORY


Mental Health Court honors its first successful ‘graduate’
week of July 30, 2015

In late January, a 28-year-old man named Matt was among the first participants in the new Mental Health Court in Indian River County. Last week, after six months of programs and services, the attention and affection of trained professionals, and Matt’s own hard work, he was honored for successfully completing the program. And what a difference between the Matt who came to court in January and the Matt who tearfully listened to accolades last week. In January, after being arrested for trespassing a few months earlier and making prank calls to police a few months before that, he was diverted to Mental Health Court because he had a history of mental health issues. At the time, his speech was halting and robotic. When Judge Cynthia Cox, who was instrumental with Sheriff Deryl Loar in getting the court started in Indian River County, spoke to him in court during his first appearance, he merely repeated her words back with no spontaneity. READ FULL STORY


Alleged victim in Sullivan sex case wore a wire
week of July 23, 2015

Charges filed against long-time local attorney Charles Sullivan Sr. are now being handled by Assistant State Attorney Julia Lynch, who heads up the Sex Crimes Unit for the 18th Judicial Circuit headquartered in Brevard County, and the evidence Lynch has to work with includes two recordings taped while the alleged victim wore a wire. Though the affidavit police took to the judge to arrest Sullivan Sr. shows the 82-year-old confirming the actions the secretary is alleging took place, Sullivan’s defense team says the comments selectively chosen from the recorded conversations by investigators do not tell the whole story. On Monday, June 22, ten days after the alleged victim claims she was groped and sexually molested by Sullivan, with whom she worked in the office suite of lawyers, the secretary was equipped by investigators with a recording device and sent back into her workplace to record conversations with him. The next morning, she was sent back in with a wire to record another conversation. Two detectives were nearby listening to the conversations to ensure her safety. READ FULL STORY


INEOS may bring UK waste to Vero
week of July 23, 2015

Since breaking ground in early 2011, INEOS New Planet Bioenergy, the $130 million advanced biofuel facility west of Vero Beach, has generated a lot of attention – but, so far, virtually no biofuel. The company’s management has now apparently found a new culprit to blame for the plant’s failures: Our local Indian River County yard waste isn’t good enough. So in an effort to produce biofuel, sources say yard waste is now going to be imported to Vero Beach – possibly from as far off as the United Kingdom, where the multinational company has its headquarters. The plant has been plagued from the start by issues ranging from inadvertent production of cyanide to equipment malfunctions. Now the focus appears to be on the quality and content of the feedstock used in the biofuel manufacturing process. An informed source says that the process continues to fail before the feedstock goes into the main fermenter, and that INEOS now plans to bring in feedstock from elsewhere in an attempt to remedy the problem. READ FULL STORY


New street of luxury homes set for South Beach
week of July 23, 2015

Construction is slated to begin in December on a new luxury home subdivision just south of Castaway Cove and The Dunes that will bring some much-needed inventory to the island market in 2016. Exotic vegetation is being removed and one of the planned homes has already been sold at the 5.3-acre site that stretches from A1A to the Atlantic Ocean, according to project developer Dolf Kahle. The single-street subdivision, which will be known as Sandy Lane (there is a story behind the name), will include eight Windsor-style homes and one on the oceanfront. The homes not on the ocean will range in size from 2,900 square feet to 4,200 square feet and be priced between $1,695,000 and $2,195,000. “That is the price for a turnkey home, including the pool and all the landscaping,” says Kahle, a broker associate at Premier Estate Properties and former board member at St. Edward’s whose family has been developing property in Vero Beach for two decades. READ FULL STORY


Trial of home nursing aide Albrecht in death of elderly patient underway
week of July 23, 2015

Jury selection went “better than expected,” according to Judge Robert L. Pegg, at the opening of the manslaughter trial of Gina Albrecht, the home health aide accused of causing the death, by neglect, of an elderly Indian River Shores resident left in her care. At the end of the first day of the trial on Monday, 42 prospective jurors out of 78 questioned were told to return for more questioning to determine their suitability for the jury. Indications were that the trial would be fully underway by the middle of the week. Pegg had repeated to every single prospective juror what the case was about as they entered and left the courtroom, one after another. “The state contends that Gina Albrecht was a home healthcare aide or caregiver to George May and neglected him to the extent that he actually died. The defense, of course, hotly contests this,” Pegg patiently repeated 78 times, adding that the state also alleges that Albrecht used the identity of May’s deceased wife to write checks in her name. READ FULL STORY


Vero Beach sets stage for near-40 percent tax hike
week of July 23, 2015

The City of Vero Beach has piled a wish list of items into its proposed 2015-16 budget and now it wants to hear from taxpayers how much they’re willing to fork out for city services and personnel to “keep Vero Vero.” In a move that would bring in 38 percent more property tax dollars from Vero residents than the current rate of taxation, the City Council voted 3-2 last Wednesday to set a maximum tax rate that would support $1.7 million more in spending on salaries, benefits, road paving and capital improvements. The new property tax rate, if set at the maximum approved, would be $2.64 per $1,000 in taxable property value. That's up 61 cents from the current rate of $2.03, and up 73 cents from the "roll-back rate" of $1.91 per $1,000 value that Vero would charge to bring in the same $4 million in property taxes as this past year. The owner of a home in the Vero Beach city limits with a $500,000 taxable value, after homestead exemption, under the maximum tax rate could expect to pay $305 more to the city in the coming year than the tax bill received last fall. That's on top of county, school board and other taxes. READ FULL STORY


Home nursing aide going on trial in death of Shores patient
week of July 16, 2015

Gina Albrecht, the Vero Highlands woman accused of swindling 81-year-old Marbrisa resident George May then leaving him to starve to death in late October 2012, will face a jury next week on multiple charges, including the manslaughter of her former patient. Albrecht was assigned Certified Nursing Assistant duties in May’s home via a home-health agency in June 2011 after May’s wife died and he became unable to care for himself without assistance due to the onset of dementia. Court documents say that the 37-year-old Albrecht gained May’s trust, kindled a romantic relationship with the man and moved her family into his Shores home – even pawning her husband Ryan off as a butler. Prosecutors will try to convince a jury that Albrecht gradually took control of May’s finances, spent all his liquid assets estimated at more than $200,000, secured her inheritance of his home and his life insurance proceeds via a new will, then moved out of the Marbrisa home and left May to die in his bed. READ FULL STORY


Contractor holds employee captive in Marbrisa home
week of July 16, 2015

Answering a Craigslist job ad for “a couple ladies” to help with yard work and cleaning at an Indian River Shores home turned into a five-hour ordeal for a Vero Beach woman who was imprisoned in the home against her will and subjected to unwanted sexual advances and assault by a contractor. The contractor, John Murphy, 50, of the 100 block of 15th Street SW, Vero Beach, is now in the Indian River County jail, having been unable to raise $55,000 bond after being charged with one felony charge of false imprisonment and one misdemeanor charge of battery. According to the police report, the woman, who is not being identified in accordance with a long-standing policy to withhold the names of victims of sex crimes, responded to a Craigslist job posting for general labor by Murphy, a painting contractor, who told authorities he had an arrangement with the owner to live at the residence while the house was being prepared for sale. READ FULL STORY


McCulloch resumes research on dolphins in lagoon
week of July 16, 2015

Stephen McCulloch, the island resident made famous in Hollywood movies for his dolphin rescues, is back on the waters of the Indian River Lagoon this month resuming his ground-breaking marine mammal research, this time under the auspices of the Georgia Aquarium. The resumption of the program may have come none too soon – the first dolphins he found in the northern part of the lagoon were in weakened conditions, McCulloch says. The 1,000 or so bottlenose dolphins that inhabit the lagoon are the most studied dolphins in the world, according to Gregory Bossart, the aquarium’s Chief Veterinary Officer and Senior Vice President. This remarkable fact is due to mainly to an internationally renowned research program Bossart and McCulloch launched at Harbor Branch in 2003. That program, known as HERA – short for Dolphin Health and Environmental Risk Assessment – has yielded extensive new marine mammal knowledge. The research was derailed for two years when McCulloch was forced out of the marine mammal research and rescue program he co-created at Harbor Branch, but it is now back on track. A team of 70 specialists using 11 boats was out on the lagoon last week, and work continued this week, with the goal of examining 40 bottlenose dolphins. READ FULL STORY


Beachside doctor saves child’s life on Guam
week of July 16, 2015

After two days of delayed flights, missed connections and even a typhoon warning, Dr. Patricia Zambelli had finally checked into the Hilton Guam Resort and Spa, where she was relaxing by the hotel pool in the late afternoon, knowing she would begin a month-long medical mission in the morning. "I was at the pool for less than 30 minutes," Zambelli, a Vero Beach anesthesiologist who lives in Castaway Cove, said via email. Then came a scream she'll never forget – from the mother of Jisu Lee, a 5-year-old Korean girl who somehow had escaped her mother's view and fallen into the pool, where she was found floating face-down. Zambelli jumped up and ran to that section of the pool, where the girl's seemingly lifeless body was being pulled from the water as the distraught mother looked on. "She was blue and had no pulse or respirations," Zambelli said of the incident that occurred two Saturdays ago, just hours after she arrived at the hotel. "Knowing that this was a respiratory issue, I just wanted to get oxygen back into her and allow her heart to restart. "So in between CPR," she added, "I kept trying to clear her mouth and get the water out of her lungs." READ FULL STORY


Vero’s Grady Bunch having a great time on trip to Bahamas
week of July 16, 2015

The plan was simple enough. Get past customers out on the water more often. Show them how much fun they could have on their Grady-White boats. Make sure they enjoy themselves so much that they tell their friends, who then become new customers. That was Bruce MacIntyre's thinking back in 1988, when the Vero Marine Center owner created the "Grady Bunch" and began organizing cruises to destinations as far away as the Florida Keys, St. Augustine and the Bahamas, as well as day trips to area beaches and local waterfront eateries. Little did he know then that this group, which he started as a way to promote his business, would somehow form a family that would grow to more than 50 such clubs across the country – all operating under the Grady-White banner – and spread to Canada, Puerto Rico, Central America and other places where the company has dealerships. Now, there's even an annual "Grady Fest," sponsored by Grady-White and held at different U.S. locations. READ FULL STORY


Vero’s risky policies bolster Shores electric lawsuit
week of July 16, 2015

Two lawsuits – one already filed against Vero Beach, and a new one threatened – topped the list of developments in the Vero electric saga so far in July. The City of Vero Beach predictably asked Judge Cynthia Cox to dismiss the Town of Indian River Shores’ lawsuit, and the Orlando Utilities Commission – less predictably – threatened to sue Vero for its new scheme to buy electricity on the open market. Those who cringe at the thought of the Vero Beach City Council and its hired consultants speculating in the commodities market briefly hoped the OUC threat might save Vero from itself by quashing the current efforts to exit the OUC contract, pay up to $50 million in penalties and go fishing for deals on bulk power. But Vero's attorneys responded to OUC on Monday, taking a hard-line approach and asserting the city's right to seek proposals for alternate power supply contracts. In fact, Vero took issue with OUC's letter, alleging that the letter itself might constitute tortious interference in the city's matters. READ FULL STORY


Mini-sub hunts for what’s left of coral reef
week of July 9, 2015

Most people think of the Keys when they think of Florida coral reefs, those colorful underwater worlds teeming with an almost magical array of life. But just 14 miles off of Vero’s beaches, there are “stunning white ivory tree corals” that serve as habitat for fish that mature in the Indian River Lagoon and end up in local restaurants and markets, according to Harbor Branch assistant research professor Joshua Voss. “Vero Beach is more intimately tied to the coastal ecology of southeast Florida than perhaps many people who live here realize,” says Voss, who led a three-day coral research expedition off the Treasure Coast in June. The branching ivory coral, known as Oculina varicose, forms part of the 200-mile-long Oculina Reef that stunned the marine science world when it was discovered by Harbor Branch researchers in Johnson-Link submersibles in the 1970s. The coral exists nowhere else in the world except off of Florida’s east coast. “All the fish that come up into Vero are connected to the populations that are living on the reefs offshore and to the south of us,” Voss added. READ FULL STORY


Dustinn Keeling arrested, this time for driving drunk
week of July 9, 2015

Less than two years after Circuit Judge Robert Pegg generously accepted a plea bargain that offered a second chance at life, Dustinn Keeling was back in the Indian River County Jail on Sunday, shortly after being stopped for speeding on State Road 60 and charged with driving drunk. Keeling, 24, who as a youth schmoozed his way into trusted positions within local Republican Party circles before being arrested in July 2012 for scamming two local non-profit groups and a family member out of nearly $50,000 dollars, also was charged with violating the conditions of his probation. Somehow, though, Keeling, now a bartender, was able to post bond – $1,000 for the DUI and $7,500 for the violation of his felony probation – and was released from jail only 10 hours after his 1:10 a.m. arrest. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Eric Flowers said the bonds were set by Circuit Judge Cynthia Cox during a first-appearance hearing Sunday morning. “I’m not sure how that happened, but I guess we need to revoke his bail,” said Assistant State Attorney Christopher Taylor, who prosecuted the 2013 case against Keeling, who apparently now uses his first name, Phillip. “We’ll file a motion and it’ll be up to the judge.” READ FULL STORY


Art Club, Museum are feuding – again
week of July 9, 2015

If it’s summer, there must be trouble between the Vero Beach Art Club and the Museum of Art. After blistering off-season disputes in 2011 and 2013, the club and the museum have lawyered up again, this time over work space for the club’s manager. Office mates for 30 years, the museum directors have given the club a July 15 deadline to move its lone employee out of the museum’s central administration complex and into the education wing. Not such a big deal, one might presume; the education wing is where many of the club members come anyway to teach or take classes. And the move was spelled out in a 2011 letter from the museum’s executive director, Lucinda Gedeon, to the club’s 400-plus members. Turns out, Gedeon’s suggestion wasn’t well-received then, in the midst of a heated dispute over space use fees that had never been charged before. Further, it appeared to have been rendered moot by a joint statement Gedeon issued in August 2013 with the art club’s then president, Mary Ellen Koser. That statement followed months of back-and-forth over the club wanting to build its own home next to the museum. READ FULL STORY


Hospital District trustee resigns over terms of agreement
week of July 9, 2015

The battles between Indian River Medical Center and the Hospital District over indigent care funding may be over for the moment, but a district trustee resigned last week expressing unhappiness with where things now stand. Jim Seaton, a retired hospital executive from Polk County who moved to Vero Beach in 2012, stepped down less than six months after replacing Burton Lee as a Hospital District trustee in January. “The new Indigent Care Agreement is full of weaknesses that greatly concern me because we have tremendous responsibility as holders of the hospital lease but limited authority, and I can’t in clear conscience continue on the District board,” he said in a letter to District chairman Tom Spackman. In his letter, Seaton cited an appellate court decision from 2000 which said it was up to District trustees as representatives of the taxpayers to decide the amount of taxpayer dollars that go to the hospital. But he said that the District had recently “negotiated away its authority” in the new agreement. “As a trustee, I agreed to be responsible for how the taxpayers’ money is spent, but under the new agreement the authority of the trustees has been wrongly limited,” he told Vero Beach 32963. READ FULL STORY


Million dollar home sales set record pace
week of July 2, 2015

Real estate brokers up and down the island say the season just ended was the best ever, and nothing better illustrates the strength of the market than the number of homes sold for $1 million or more so far this year. The Vero market is tiny in terms of population and number of homes but it consistently rivals and often surpasses Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, Malibu and the top ZIP codes in Naples and Sarasota in the number of $1-million-and-up homes listed for sale. By late June more than 125 homes priced above a million dollars had changed hands in the 32963 area. Another 30 or so million-and-up properties were under contract, either pending or contingent. John’s Island Real Estate led the trend with more than 100 transaction sides in less than six months on the sale of 56 million-dollar properties in the island’s signature community, almost as many million-dollar sales as the company had in all of 2014. The 56 John’s Island sales include 30 homes priced between $1 million and $2 million, 10 priced between $2 million and $3 million, 12 between $3 million and $5 million and 4 that closed for more than $5 million. READ FULL STORY


Sexual battery case pits legal legends versus Vero Beach Police Department
week of July 2, 2015

Attorney Charles Sullivan Sr.’s defense team has tried to cast aspersions on the Vero Beach Police Department’s investigation which led to the felony sexual battery charge against the 82-year-old, but Police Chief David Currey says the case was handled strictly by the book. “I’ve never seen a case move this rapidly and this reckless,” said attorney Andy Metcalf, who has taken on many high-profile Vero criminal defenses solo, but who this time around is working second chair to former State Attorney Bob Stone. “How fast this happened, it (the investigation) couldn’t have been thorough and based upon what we know already, it wasn’t thorough,” Metcalf said. “There was a rush. Based upon what I’ve seen so far, it was very cursory at best.” “He’s had a, really, an ongoing dispute, or a dislike with the Vero Beach Police Department, because he’s tried many cases against them and he’s been very successful in doing that. We don’t know all the reasons why we’re here, but we’re gonna find out,” Stone added. READ FULL STORY


No joke: Polish American Social Club torn by bitter feud
week of July 2, 2015

While calls for racial justice ring out across the country, in Vero, the scene of the simmering rage, name-calling, picketers and frequent police presence is not the African American community. It’s at the Polish American Social Club. In the last few months, a divide as deep as the Vistula River has pitted Pole against Pole – or at least, part-Pole. As membership rules are tightening, freebies for the hardest working volunteers are being done away with. Infractions like late dues or lapsed memberships are being used to toss people out or not let them renew. Rumors are flying that each side is trying to take over the valuable eight-acre property along the northern stretch of U.S One, sell it and pocket the proceeds. Innumerable flare-ups included one between two women – the club’s petite 55-year-old club manager and a short, stocky woman in her 70s with a heavy Polish accent described as “no-nonsense” by her supporters. The woman got so “in my face,” according to the manager, telling her to “get the hell out of here,” that on the advice of her attorney she now calls for a deputy whenever the “Polish people”– the faction opposing the current board – pull into the parking lot. READ FULL STORY


Vero now wants to trade in bulk power market
week of June 25, 2015

Proponents of getting the City of Vero Beach permanently out of the electric utility business suffered a huge blow to their efforts last week when the City Council voted to seek proposals to purchase bulk power on the open market. To embark upon this market-based approach that’s been pushed by Mayor Dick Winger, who is asking to be re-elected in November, and by Vice Mayor Jay Kramer, who is running for Indian River County Commission in 2016, Vero would need to exit its 20-year wholesale power deal with the Orlando Utilities Commission and pay up to $50 million in early exit penalties. According to Vero’s expert advisors, the still-sketchy plan would involve Vero brokering multiple short-term power contracts with various suppliers, which could include OUC or Florida Power and Light. Those purchase agreements would be staggered to hedge the effects of market volatility like fluctuations in the cost of natural gas, or major shifts in supply and demand. Vero, its elected officials and its consultants would in effect become day-traders in the commodity of electric power. The best-case result, the Council was told, could mean a savings of $3.50 to $4 per month on the typical Vero Beach power bill. READ FULL STORY


Central Beach hit by a rash of auto burglaries
week of June 25, 2015

Over and over again, Vero Beach Police have been called by Central Beach residents reporting their unlocked vehicles had been burgled overnight. The most recent incidents last week prompted officers to issue a friendly reminder to do something slightly unnatural for long-time Vero residents: Please lock your car doors. That’s the simple message the Vero Beach Police Department is planning to distribute via neighborhood crime-watch groups and community meetings. And to drive the message home, Public Information Officer Anna Carden is designing a door-hanger type placard for residents to display in their (hopefully locked) vehicles. “It would be similar to the handicapped parking placards hung on the rear-view mirror,” Carden said. “And it would say this vehicle is locked, that there are no valuables in the vehicle, and that you will be reported to the police if you try to get into the vehicle.” The tool is something Carden said she’s seen used successfully in other communities. If nothing else, it’s a daily reminder to the driver who looks at the dangling message to lock up and not leave valuables inside the car. READ FULL STORY


Blame turtles for seaweed on beach
week of June 25, 2015

From November to February in the height of season, the City of Vero Beach rakes its beaches of seaweed and other debris twice a week, resulting in the miles of inviting, sandy shore our Northern visitors have come to expect. But all that stops when sea turtles show up. The earliest species of turtles begins laying eggs in March, then the height of nesting season kicks in two months later in May and runs through Oct. 31. During that span – which includes the busy summer beach season when kids are out of school – state regulations strictly govern what cities, counties and even private clubs and resorts can do to control debris on their beaches. City Manager Jim O’Connor said he and the Vero Beach staff and contractors take sea turtle regulations very seriously, “The last thing we would want is for our people to disturb any of those sea turtle nests,” he said. To keep trash on the beach under control, Vero pays a contractor to comb public beaches by hand once a week so debris can be removed while leaving seaweed in place. The seaweed and the tiny critters that get caught up in it provide nourishment for wildlife. READ FULL STORY


Indian River’s Mental Health Court gets glowing reviews
week of June 25, 2015

Mental Health Court in Indian River County has grown to 21 participants, all diverted from jail in the last six months in an effort to stop the revolving door of incarceration by getting mental health treatment for them. Last week, half of them appeared before District Judge Cynthia Cox to talk about how they’re doing. Almost all had glowing reports. The few minutes they spend in front of Cox every few weeks is negligible compared to the time and effort that goes into getting them there. Prior to the session in open court, a staff meeting with 16 people who play a role in their progress (including the judge, case workers, group home managers, assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders, deputies and court administrators) gave a more complete picture of the enormous effort that goes into getting and keeping each client on the right track. Doing the work up front, statistics overwhelmingly show, often turns people headed for a life of crime and incarceration into productive citizens, cutting down dramatically on the cost to taxpayers, who would pay an average of $90 a day to keep them in jail. READ FULL STORY


Simpson family touched by youth’s plea for forgiveness
week of June 18, 2015

With last week’s sentencing of Darius Robinson, Kristen Simpson and her kids, Samantha and Scott, say they were able to put another sad chapter in their lives behind them. What so touched them at the hearing, they said, was that Darius, now 20, asked to speak to them. “The sentence and penalty were set so nothing he said would make a difference,” said Kristen. “Still, he looked me straight in the eye and said: ‘Ma’am, I beg your forgiveness.’ “I can’t tell you how that helped,” said Kristen. In November, 2011, Robinson, then 16 in the 10th grade at Vero Beach High, went with Henry Jones, then 23, to break in and rob the Simpson home on Fiddlewood in Central Beach. Robinson, who was acting as lookout in the yard, ran into the home to tell Jones that a man was arriving unexpectedly. When Brian Simpson walked through the front door and heard the intruders in his bedroom, he went toward them. The bungled burglary ended when Jones shot and killed Brian Simpson, 41, husband of Kristen and father of teens Scott and Samantha. READ FULL STORY


Less than one third of ‘bed tax’ goes for outreach to tourists
week of June 18, 2015

The Board of County Commissioners last week approved spending $734,000 next year to promote tourism – money collected via the local-option tourist tax or “bed tax” – but less than one-third of that money is actually budgeted for advertising Indian River County as a tourist destination. The total available is up 9.4 percent largely due to a banner year for the island’s hotels, but that did not translate into a marked increase in funds for more ad buys in northern states and Canada, or in the driving-distance market around Florida. According to documents in the public record obtained from the Indian River County Office of Management and Budget, most of the funds go to pay operating costs, including salaries and health benefits, for employees of the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce, the Treasure Coast Sports Commission, the Vero Heritage Center and Citrus Museum and other agencies. READ FULL STORY


Island surgeon gets rare honor from Swimming Hall of Fame
week of June 18, 2015

For eight summers, starting when he was only 16 years old, Vero Beach orthopedic surgeon Peter Wernicki worked as a lifeguard on the busy beaches at the New Jersey shore. “I grew up at the beach,” he said. “So to get paid to be there every day, I couldn’t have a better job.” Little did he know then, however, how much those summers in the sand would shape his life – a life that, 40 years later, has earned the recognition of the International Swimming Hall of Fame. On Friday night, at a black-tie affair in Santa Clara, CA, Wernicke will receive the Hall of Fame’s 2015 Paragon Award for his global leadership in aquatic medicine, water safety and drowning prevention. The award is presented annually to one person worldwide for his or her contributions to advance water safety. Last year, it went to Bob Burnside, the former Los Angeles County lifeguard who became the first president of the United States Lifesaving Association in 1964 and developed the then-revolutionary “Burnside Rescue Can,” the red plastic buoy now considered standard equipment for beach lifeguards. READ FULL STORY


Some owners agree to stop renting homes for less than 30 days
week of June 18, 2015

Three of four owners of short-term vacation rental properties in Vero Beach paid fines last week and signed compliance agreements with the city saying that they would no longer rent their homes for under 30 days. Residents opposed to the short-term rentals hailed the compliance as a victory for the city and, more importantly, a step toward maintaining the quality of their neighborhoods. The fourth owner, who sued the city saying the ordinance restricting residential short-term rentals to a 30-day minimum is illegal, got a continuance for an appeal of his fines. His case will be heard in July. The compliance and payment of fines, as well as the appeal extension, fell into place last Wednesday at a city code enforcement meeting, just as Circuit Judge Cynthia Cox denied a request for a temporary injunction from Charles Fitz, the short-term rental owner who is suing the city and who asked for an extension for his appeal. READ FULL STORY


Parents and kids plea for fixes at Beachland Elementary
week of June 18, 2015

Beachland Elementary School parents and students fired a shot across the bow of the county school board last week with a peaceful appearance to demand improvements to the island’s aging and increasingly dilapidated public school. PTA President Pat Blackburn said students receive a quality education from wonderful teachers at Beachland, and expressed gratitude for all the good things about the school that are a source of pride for Beachland families. “But we are not proud of the physical campus,” she said. Fourth grader Will Blackburn, the PTA President’s son, told board members: “My school stinks – literally. My school makes me sick. I have asthma and allergies.” He described attending a 90-minute meeting last summer in the library, and returning home sick and in need of inhaled medication. Eva Justice, also a fourth grader, said: “My cafeteria is a gross place to eat and I wish it wasn’t.” School Board member Shawn Frost was the only person on the dais to address the concerns of the parents and students during the meeting, calling their comments “an eye opener. READ FULL STORY


Health issues at aging Beachland Elementary concern parents
week of June 11, 2015

Beachland Elementary School parents, who a couple of years ago successfully fought to save the school’s treasured oak hammock from being bulldozed, now are fighting for a healthy and safe building when their kids return in August to the barrier island’s only public school. Complaints about the nearly 60-year-old structure include moldy carpets, unrepaired leaks causing water intrusion, rusty and broken fixtures, broken and rusted-out air conditioners, peeling paint, potential structural and electrical hazards and a general state of neglect and disrepair – problems on which parents pleaded for help from the Indian River County School Board Tuesday night. Later this month, the Board is expected to vote on a construction plan for the school and on other budget-related items, so Beachland PTA leaders decided to rally the families via social media. Beachland parents have spoken out previously about conditions at the school – which they claim are making students sick – but School District emails reveal that as of two weeks ago, no investigation was ever ordered in response to internal and external complaints. READ FULL STORY


Supreme Court help sought on electric
week of June 11, 2015

Indian River County has made its case to the Florida Supreme Court for why the panel should overturn two February Public Service Committee rulings that would appear to keep south barrier island and many mainland county residents tied to service by Vero electric forever. The 77-page document was filed last week as part of the Florida Public Service Commission’s appeals process, which leaves only the state’s high court as a remedy for utility customers who feel they got a raw deal before the unelected five-person bureaucracy that sits in Tallahassee as judge and jury on many utility matters. County Attorney Dylan Reingold and the county’s outside utility legal counsel, Floyd Self, told the court that going to the PSC was not the community’s preferred action, but instead a necessary step once it became apparent that Vero would not or could not complete a deal to sell the entire Vero electric system and all Vero’s 34,000 customers to Florida Power and Light – a transaction the county argues would deliver the best result for all ratepayers. READ FULL STORY


Landlord asks court to block $500 fines on vacation rentals
week of June 11, 2015

The owner of a home being advertised for vacation rentals in Central Beach squared off in court last week against the City of Vero Beach, seeking to stop police and code enforcers from handing out $500 tickets to landlords renting out homes for fewer than 30 days. The attorney for Chuck Fitz, who rents out three homes in Central Beach for periods ranging on average from a week to a month, asked Judge Cynthia Cox to grant an injunction stopping the citations because, he said, the local code forbidding rentals of under a month is “pre-empted by state law.” The injunction was denied Wednesday. Attorney Johnathan Rhodeback told the Court that a 2011 city ordinance forbidding transient rentals could not apply to rentals of under 30 days because the 30-day minimum was not in the code until 2015, meaning that owners of vacation rentals purchased before 2015 should be allowed to rent for under 30 days. “The city would have you believe that the 30 days was always in existence, but there was no definition of transient before 2015,“ said Rhodeback. READ FULL STORY


Soaring flood insurance rates hit snowbirds hard
week of June 11, 2015

Many Vero Beach homeowners are having sticker shock when they get flood insurance bills this year, which are sky-rocketing – and snowbirds are getting hit extra hard with an additional $250 on top of the new rate hikes and extra fees. Take snowbirds Joanne and Don Anderson, who own a winter residence at Tarpon Island Club condominiums on the lagoon: A few weeks ago they got a letter from their insurance company telling them that because of federal legislation passed in April, they could expect their flood insurance to increase. Last year, they paid $300 for flood insurance. But this year they will pay approximately $700. That’s because the base rate for flood insurance is increasing 15 to 18 percent to fund the National Flood Insurance Program, which is $24 billion underfunded, making the Andersons’ base rate go up to between $345 and $354. Plus they’ll owe 15 percent more on top of that subtotal for a new federal reserve fund assessment. Then comes a whopping additional fee of $250 because their Vero Beach residence is not their primary home, which is in Illinois. All told, they could pay over $700 this year and even more next year. READ FULL STORY


Shuttle for workers hopefully will end Ocean Drive parking problems
week of June 4, 2015

The escalating war between Ocean Drive merchants and Central Beach hotel and restaurant workers who occupy most of the parking spaces in front of their shops may be about to end with a $40,000 peace offering from the Heaton Companies. The Heaton Companies, it was learned, recently put up the entire local contribution needed to launch a GoLine shuttle that will ferry Central Beach employees between a parking area in Riverside Park and their jobs seven days a week. The free “Beachside Circulator,” scheduled to begin service July 1 after County Commission approval, will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily circling from a parking area in Riverside Park to Jaycee Park, then south along Ocean Drive to Flamevine Lane, and finally back to Riverside. The shuttle, which will cost $160,000 a year to operate, is mostly funded by the Florida Department of Transportation, with the stipulation that 25 percent of the money for the first year – $40,000 – had to be provided by private business, said GoLine administrator Karen Diegl. READ FULL STORY


Emergency Room reports treatment times better; more upgrades on way
week of June 4, 2015

Patients appearing at the Indian River Medical Center Emergency Room are being seen faster by healthcare professionals and getting discharged slightly more quickly than was the case two years ago, with only half as many walk-ins giving up and leaving before treatment, according to new data. The latest numbers from the hospital, gathered from Dec. 1, 2014 to May 1, 2015, show the average ER wait until seeing a healthcare professional decreasing by 24 minutes and the average wait until discharge from the ER to go home decreasing by four minutes under the management of ApolloMD, which replaced Emergency Physicians of Central Florida a year and a half ago. But the most dramatic improvement – the number of patients who get tired of waiting and walk out of the ER before being seen – decreased from four percent to two percent. For those ill enough or badly enough injured to warrant admission, the average wait-time from being registered in the ER to being admitted was essentially unchanged, increasing slightly from five hours and 36 minutes to five hours and 40 minutes. READ FULL STORY


Shores residents may finally get better cell service
week of June 4, 2015

Frustrated cell phone users in Indian River Shores and elsewhere on the barrier island may get some relief in their dismal service by Christmas, if all goes smoothly with the process the Town has laid out. After raising hopes (and flaring tempers) over numerous options for locations ranging from behind Town Hall to the Florida Tech Marine Lab at Tracking Station beach to Bee Gum Point to John’s Island, the town has decided to put out a formal request for new proposals. Town Manager Robbie Stabe said he’ll be contracting with local firm NBB Engineering to draft the RFP at a cost of less than $2,000. Then it will take time to get proposals back, review and rank them, and finally choose a winning plan. The whole process, including obtaining whatever approvals or variances would be needed, will take months. Though he’s had an initial meeting with a potential vendor and received information he deemed “very helpful,” Stabe said he did not feel comfortable going forward with a sole-source contract on the cell tower. “We need to definitely conduct an RFP for something of this magnitude and expense.” READ FULL STORY


Read previous News Stories...