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Brian Simpson murder trial gets underway
week of September 25, 2014

After a day's pause for the observance Thursday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, jury selection for the long awaited trial of Henry Lee Jones, charged with the 2011 murder of Central Beach resident Brian Simpson, is expected to finally wrap-up Friday with the trial set to get underway Monday morning. Judge Robert L. Pegg, who presided over the questioning of prospective jurors that began first thing this past Monday, originally said he expected to have a jury in place by the end of the day Wednesday. But that did not occur, and the jury selection process was set to resume Friday. A great majority of those questioned said they had read about the case either in Vero Beach 32963 or in the daily newspaper, and a number of those said they had already made up their minds about the guilt of Henry Lee Jones. Still, prosecutors and defense attorneys, alike, questioned the dwindling numbers of eligible jurors to see if they could cast aside preconceived notions and possibly serve on the jury. Chief assistant state attorney Tom Bakkedahl told prospective jurors that he was encouraged that they read newspapers, but told them repeatedly that "your verdict must be based solely on what happens here." READ FULL STORY


New details from 'mother figure' of accused killer
week of September 25, 2014

In an effort to unravel the events leading up to the tragic death of Sebastian River Medical Center nurse and Moorings resident Diana Duve, Vero Beach Police detectives methodically interviewed people close to Duve and to her accused killer, Michael Jones. One of those interviews was with a confidant of Jones, PNC Bank co-worker Kathleen Pickard, to whom he allegedly made some troubling statements. Pickard told Det. David Farquharson on June 26 that she'd known Jones for about 14 months and described the two of them as "really close friends." "She stated that she viewed their relationship like a mother-son relationship and that they had become 'very close,'" Det. Farquharson wrote after interviewing the 63-year-old woman. She "stated that Michael would come to her about all sorts of problems and would often speak to her about Diana." A few days before Duve was last seen leaving What A Tavern with Jones at 1:30 in the morning, as Kathleen Pickard tells it, Jones had given her some big news. READ FULL STORY


Hospital seeks to grab District’s reserves
week of September 25, 2014

Indian River Medical Center CFO Greg Gardner says the hospital wants to tap the Hospital District Trustees' $2 million dollar reserve fund to bridge the gap between the $7 million the District says it can afford and the $9 million the hospital says it must have for indigent care for fiscal 2015. Gardner's suggestion came as a shock to District trustees at last Thursday's meeting because the grab would clean out District reserves, earmarked for other agencies and emergencies. "You have reserves of $2 million, and there are choices," Gardner told trustees. "We are not going into reserves," Trustee Burton Lee responded, calling the hospital's insistence on getting $2 million more than the District budgeted "a burr under the collar." The six elected Hospital District trustees direct property tax dollars to the hospital to pay for indigent care. They also help fund indigent care for seven other nonprofit agencies in the county. For the current year, the District budgeted $8.1 million for the hospital. The hospital, however, has gone $620,000 beyond that amount, and is likely to need more before the fiscal year ends. READ FULL STORY


All Aboard Florida dreams of 10,000 passengers per day
week of September 25, 2014

While the impact study released by the Federal Rail Administration last week gave glowing reviews to the All Aboard Florida high-speed rail project, the net positive benefits cited in the report are based on AAF's wildly optimistic assumption that nearly 10,000 people per day will buy a ticket to ride. What's a little noise, a little vibration, a little backed-up traffic at railroad crossings when there are billions in economic potential from millions of riders per year? "According to a ridership and revenue forecast commissioned by Florida East Coast Industries and prepared by Louis Berger Group for the Project, the most conservative total annual ridership would amount to approximately 3.5 million in 2019 ... Total annual ridership is predicted to exceed 4 million by year 2030," the report states. To put that into perspective, the 3.5 million rider projection assumes 300 passengers would be waiting at the stations, eager to board each of the 32 daily trains, from early morning until late at night, seven days a week, every single week of the year. READ FULL STORY


Not much expected from Friday electric talks
week of September 25, 2014

In the nearly five weeks since Vero Beach, Indian River Shores and Indian River County came together for a mandatory conflict resolution meeting, no one appears to have found the magic formula for settling the Shores' lawsuit by getting Vero's electric rates down to match Florida Power and Light. Vero's lead utilities attorney, Robert Scheffel "Schef" Wright, set the bar pretty low in an email last Thursday night to the legal teams invited to the second meeting this Friday. "To avoid creating ambiguous or overly optimistic expectations, I want to say now that I do not know whether we will have anything definitive to report on September 26 regarding our efforts to renegotiate our 2008 Power Purchase Agreement with Orlando Utilities Commission," Wright said. As backup for the scheduled discussion on rates, Vero sent the County and the Shores a packet summarizing the city's discussions to date on options aimed at reducing Vero's rates. Wright has stated that, if Vero can achieve all the things on the following list, he thinks the 30 percent rate disparity between the City and FPL can be cut by about half. READ FULL STORY


Accused slayer Jones wowed his PNC bosses
week of September 18, 2014

In the 12 months prior to his arrest for murder, with a felony aggravated stalking arrest and a strangulation complaint from Fort Lauderdale looming over his head, Michael Jones wowed his bosses at PNC Wealth Management on Ocean Drive, according to employment records. The 31-year-old Jones, who now sits in jail awaiting three trials related to threatening, strangling or killing three of his former girlfriends, even got noticed by the corporate office in Pittsburgh for bringing in more than $14 million in new accounts. Those big wins – suggesting a complex Jekyll-and-Hyde-type duality that not only fooled but impressed some very credible people – came from seeds Jones had sewn within the beachside community, as he socialized, networked and closed deals with Vero's professional class. His call sheet and calendar show that Jones racked up 209 face-to-face meetings with local attorneys, accountants, estate planners and high-end clients in a six-month period. A certain $11 million client was landed by Jones in the wake of the breakup of Rossway Moore Taylor & Swan. Another $3 million account came from a personal referral from attorney John Moore, according to an email from Moore in the case file. READ FULL STORY


Lengthy labor dispute weighs on firefighter morale
week of September 18, 2014

The two sides in the failed contract negotiations between Indian River County and its Fire Rescue workers disagree strongly on several key issues, but they're in total agreement on one particular topic: The protracted labor dispute has damaged the morale of the firefighters. As might be expected, the two sides disagree, however, on whether the situation has created health and safety concerns, either for the firefighters themselves or for the general public they serve. The county says essential services are not suffering – the union says it's not so sure. John O'Connor, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), says he's never seen his co-workers so disenchanted. "Morale is at an all-time low," O'Connor said, "which is why we have a record number of firefighters seeking employment elsewhere." O'Connor said the county recently lost firefighters and/or paramedics to Indian River Shores, Palm Bay and even Palm Beach County. Dozens more, he added, applied for jobs in St. Lucie County because they haven't had a cost-of-living raise in six years and they're concerned about health and safety conditions. READ FULL STORY


Ralph Sexton:Vero loses a gentle giant
week of September 18, 2014

Indian River County lost a gentle giant last week when Ralph W. Sexton died in the care of VNA Hospice, just two days shy of what would have been his 87th birthday. At his side in death as in life was his wife Chris Dale Sexton; the couple would have been married 33 years this coming Halloween. The eldest son of Elsebeth and Waldo E. Sexton, Ralph Sexton's contributions to his beloved hometown were as impressive and significant as those of his flamboyant father. Sexton was a longtime cattle rancher, overseeing his expansive Treasure Hammock Ranch. A shrewd businessman, he also deftly managed the family's real estate holdings, which included many of the landmark properties built by his father. Unlike Waldo, who was famous for his showmanship and the creation of properties such as the Ocean Grill, Driftwood Inn, Szechuan Palace, Patio Restaurant and McKee Jungle Garden, Ralph Sexton was renowned for his nurturing spirit and giving nature. READ FULL STORY


Shores electric lawsuit: About home rule – or money?
week of September 18, 2014

Attorneys representing Vero Beach, Indian River Shores and Indian River County will meet again a week from Friday, this time to discuss how Vero could – or could not – be able to offer its electric customers Florida Power and Light rates so the city and the Shores might put the pending lawsuit between them to bed. Neither side seems hopeful for a breakthrough to avoid litigation, and both sides continue to hone their strategies in anticipation of a big legal fight. Indian River Shores lead attorney Bruce May says he's dismayed by the way the Town's lawsuit has been characterized by city officials as an assault on the sanctity of the utility franchise agreement. May, who heads up Holland and Knight's Utilities Division, argues the exact opposite. The suit, he said, aims to affirm the legal concept of a franchise agreement and the Town's right to enter into franchise agreements. The Town in no way wants to do away with franchise agreements, as those long-term contracts are tools used by municipalities to exert home rule and to provide essential services. READ FULL STORY


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


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