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Vero’s beaches to finally get infusion of sand
week of May 16, 2019

The City of Vero Beach’s eroded shoreline will be getting a major infusion of sand this fall – from Tracking Station Park all the way to Castaway Cove – partially paid for by funds included in the $91.1 billion budget approved last week by the Florida Legislature. If Gov. Ron DeSantis does not veto the line item in the budget, County Administrator Jason Brown said the county will receive $1.7 million in state funding, which will help pay for the engineers, biologists, miners and truckers needed to add sand to beaches and dunes all along the city’s oceanfront. Brown said FEMA has committed $931,448.63 to the project. The county will fund the balance of the expected $4.8 million cost. Vero is prohibited by charter from using its own dollars for anything but emergency dune repair after a storm as a result of a referendum in the 1980s. But the county collects bed tax money from hotels within the Vero city limits and uses part of those funds for beach sand replenishment projects up and down the island, including in Vero Beach. READ FULL STORY

FAU insider: Red ink led to grab for Harbor Branch funds
week of May 16, 2019

Florida Atlantic University officials conspired to take control of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation’s $72 million endowment because its own research division had failed to recruit enough researchers bringing big grants with them and “was operating in the red,” according to a former top university administrator. James Wilkie, who served as Budget Director of the Division of Research and Assistant Vice President of Budget Finance for the Division of Research until February 2018, made the allegation in an affidavit added to Harbor Branch Foundation’s two-year-old lawsuit against FAU on May 5. According to Wilkie’s affidavit, Daniel Flynn, FAU’s Vice President of Research, began plotting to take control of the Foundation in late 2016 because the University’s research division was losing money, and was not going to reach its goal of hiring researchers who could bring with them $100 million in federal, state, local and private research grants. “As a result of the failure to hire researchers, the Division of Research was not achieving its budgeted revenue stream,” Wilke wrote. READ FULL STORY

Treasure Coast Community Health also trying to serve island patients in need
week of May 16, 2019

Treasure Coast Community Health Care, which as a federally qualified health center serves low-income residents throughout Indian River County, has quietly opened a new clinic with a slightly different patient group in mind: adults, including those living on Vero’s barrier island, who are either on Medicare and/or have high deductible insurance. The spacious, newly renovated clinic, which began welcoming patients in December for lower-cost medical and behavioral healthcare, is located in a medical office complex a couple of blocks east of Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital. The clinic – which Treasure Coast CEO Vicki Soule points out is close to the Barber Bridge – was opened with an eye to potential patients living in Central Beach who could be part of what the United Way calls the “Alice” population – Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed. Or they could be older people who have lost a spouse and find themselves struggling to make ends meet with a sudden drop in income or benefits. “The reality is that we can all identify someone we know who is presumed to be well-off and yet if you were to open their refrigerators you’d be surprised and perhaps appalled at how little there is inside,” Soule said. READ FULL STORY

School Board hires Susan Moxley as interim superintendent
week of May 16, 2019

The Indian River County School Board voted unanimously to hire Susan Moxley as the district’s interim superintendent during a special board meeting on Monday afternoon. Board Vice Chairman Tiffany Justice made the motion to hire Moxley, which was seconded by board member Jacqueline Rosario. “I think Dr. Moxley will do great things for us,” Rosario said. “I’m looking forward to working with her.” Moxley served for a decade as a Florida school superintendent before retiring two years ago. The board is expected to approve Moxley’s contract during its Tuesday evening business meeting. Terms of the contract already pre-approved by the board include an annual salary of $161,000 – the same salary paid to Superintendent Mark Rendell, who will officially step down on May 24. Board Chairman Laura Zorc said Moxley will serve as the interim superintendent for six to 12 months, which will give the board time to launch an extensive search for and hire a permanent superintendent. Moxley is expected to begin work at the district on May 20, which will give her a few days to become familiar with the district’s operations before Rendell departs. READ FULL STORY

Fletcher charged with aggravated assault
week of May 16, 2019

State Attorney Bruce Colton’s office has filed a formal information document with the court charging former Vero Beach mayor A. Craig Fletcher with aggravated assault with a firearm, a third-degree felony, but Fletcher maintains he’s done nothing wrong, and his lawyer says he’ll prove the alleged incident was justified under Florida law. Fletcher was arrested and charged by police with felony aggravated assault on March 29. The formal information document means the State Attorney’s office has reviewed the merits of the case and believes there is enough evidence to bring Fletcher to trial and convict him. “We have entered a plea of not guilty in the case,” Andrew Metcalf, Fletcher’s Vero Beach-based defense counsel, said on Monday. “Over the next several months we will be setting depositions in this case and preparing for a potential ‘stand your ground’ hearing and trial.” Fletcher is accused of answering the front door of his McAnsh Park home with a revolver and pointing it at a landscaping contractor, who had knocked on the door. The alleged victim, Soterios Bouchlas, is a partner in the landscaping company that had been working at Fletcher’s next-door neighbor’s home when a dispute arose, with Fletcher accusing the landscape workers of damaging flowers on his property. READ FULL STORY

Oslo Road interchange: Last big I-95 project here
week of May 16, 2019

Interstate 95 will remain three lanes in each direction in Indian River County through at least 2045 because traffic projections show no need for widening, state transportation officials said last week. And once FDOT completes the $45 million Oslo Road Interchange, estimated for 2027, I-95 in Indian River County won’t require any more major work for about two decades. “We’re not anticipating any need to widen I-95 in Indian River County,” said FDOT consultant Eric Penfield, of RS&H of Fort Lauderdale. “It should work pretty well through 2045.” About 45,000 vehicles per day travel on I-95 in Indian River County, state records show. FDOT anticipates widening I-95 to eight lanes the entire length of Martin County north to Okeechobee Road/State Road 70 in St. Lucie County, records show. READ FULL STORY

Vero not budging on reuse water rates for the Shores
week of May 16, 2019

In one of his first official duties after being selected Vero Beach city manager by a unanimous vote of the City Council, Monte Falls politely rebuffed Indian River Shores’ demand for lower reuse water rates. Falls’ letter said nothing the Shores hadn’t already been told by former city manager Jim O’Connor and Vero water-sewer director Rob Bolton. His May 10 letter just says “no” to the demand for lower rates in a more nicely worded fashion, emphasizing how the City of Vero Beach “has every desire to fulfill the letter of our franchise agreement and maintain good relations with the town.” Like O’Connor, Falls is waiting for the results of a rate study unilaterally commissioned by the city to determine what to charge the Shores for reuse water. This new Vero rate study, the city says, is designed to determine Vero’s cost of bringing reuse water to the Shores, but the Shores says that information is immaterial because the water agreement between the city and the town says the city will match county reuse water rates. Indian River County Utilities on March 1 lowered county rates from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. The difference between the 67 cents and the 21 cents amounts to more than a quarter-million dollars a year, which will either go to Vero utilities or stay in the Shores. READ FULL STORY

Interim school superintendent pick seen near
week of May 9, 2019

The School Board is on a fast-track to hire an interim superintendent, hoping to pick one by May 14 to replace Superintendent Mark Rendell, who will step down May 24. “Ideally, we would like to have the interim begin working Monday, May 20 so that they will have a week to work with Dr. Rendell and become familiar with the job,” Board Chairman Laura Zorc said during a special board meeting on May 1. The board agreed to seek applications from May 1 to May 8. It will then meet publicly from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., this Friday, May 10, to review resumes and decide which candidates board members want to interview. Finalist interviews, also open to the public, will be held 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Monday, May 13. A special business meeting will be held that afternoon from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. so that the board can decide which candidate it wants to hire and begin contract negotiations. READ FULL STORY

Founder of Village Beach Market dies at 73
week of May 9, 2019

Jerry “Butch” Keen, a lifelong grocer who expanded the family business from mainland Vero to the barrier island when he opened the Village Beach Market in 1980, died last week. He was 73. Alma Lee Loy, affectionately known as the “First Lady of Vero Beach,” fondly recalled shopping at one of Keen’s supermarkets on the mainland in the 1960s and ’70s, when Keen would walk up and ask if she needed assistance. “He had a quiet way about him, but when you went into his store, he was always helpful and always had a smile on his face,” Loy said Monday, one day before Keen’s funeral at Crestlawn Cemetery. “I knew Jerry for a lot of years, and he was a really fine man. “It was a joy to have him as a friend.” Keen was surrounded by his family when he died April 29 in Vero Beach. According to his son, Jason, Keen succumbed to complications from a brief battle with a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma, which wasn’t diagnosed until January, shortly after he discovered a lump in his neck. READ FULL STORY

Construction of homes at east end of Wabasso bridge now underway
week of May 9, 2019

Construction is finally underway at the subdivision formerly known as Michael Creek, on the right as you come onto the island off the eastern end of the Wabasso bridge, which was plated and approved more than a decade ago. Now called Orchid Cove, the 57-home development on the south side of route 510 has been revived by Gainesville developer Michael Trematerra and GHO Homes. Concrete block walls are going up for the first of two model homes planned by GHO, and company president Bill Handler says both models and a handful of inventory homes will be complete by late fall, when snowbirds return for Vero’s busy winter season. “I expect we will have some ‘solds’ by that time, as well,” Handler says. Handler has a contract with Trematerra to purchase 37 lots in the subdivision, and has closed on the first batch. The developer’s company, Parkwood Distinctive Homes, will build the other 20 houses, which includes all of the waterfront homes. “We already have two homes under contract,” says Janyne Kenworthy, broker-associate with Treasure Coast Sotheby’s International Realty, who is handling sales of the Parkwood homes. READ FULL STORY

Windsor golf course, grass gone, being restored to Robert Trent Jones design
week of May 9, 2019

While last weekend’s rains greened-up much of the barrier island, things are pretty brown these days at Windsor. Most of the grass on the club’s golf course has been “scalped away,” as a first step in restoring the course to the original Robert Trent Jones design. “The course is almost 30 years old and, over time, the original design changes as a result of the maintenance,” Windsor General Manager Bob Gallagher said. “Typically, the greens get smaller as you cut the fringes. The fringes then get longer. Even the shapes of the bunkers change as they break down. “So we’re not redesigning the course,” he added. “We’re not adding any new design features, other than a few forward tees for family play, which won’t impact the layout at all. What we’re doing now is restoring the original footprint of the course, as it was designed.” Gallagher said the course also will be re-surfaced “wall to wall” with Celebration, a drought- and shade-tolerant grass, and with “tried-and-true” Tiff Eagle Bermuda grass on the greens. READ FULL STORY

Indian River County high schools get poor ratings
week of May 9, 2019

If you’ve seen U.S. News & World Report’s “2019 Best High Schools” list, which was published last week, you can understand why Mark Rendell told a local radio audience he’s “thrilled” about his new job. Indian River County’s outgoing schools superintendent is leaving later this month to become the principal at Cocoa Beach Junior/Senior High School, which was No. 39 in the magazine’s rankings of Florida’s 555 public high schools. He’ll leave behind a district he led for four years in which neither of the county’s two large high schools – Vero Beach and Sebastian River – cracked the top 300 in the state. Vero Beach, the county’s largest school with an enrollment of 2,892 students in grades 9 through 12, was ranked No. 305 in Florida. Sebastian River, with 1,824 students, checked in at No. 336 in the state. Indian River Charter, with an enrollment of only 653 students, fared the best among the county’s high schools, coming in at No. 273 in Florida. As a group, the three local high schools didn’t measure up to those in neighboring counties. READ FULL STORY

Effort to strip specialty license plate funds from Harbor Branch fails
week of May 9, 2019

Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation will get to keep more than $1.4 million in annual revenue from two specialty license plates for at least one more year. A proposed amendment to House and Senate specialty license plate bills that would have redistributed the proceeds from sales of the "Protect Wild Dolphins" and "Protect Florida Whales" tags among a statewide coalition of marine mammal rescue and research organizations – including Harbor Branch – died just before the close of the 2019 legislative session last Saturday. Members of the One Ocean One Health Research Conservation Institute based at Georgia Aquarium's conservation field station in Marineland, Florida had sought the legislation that would have designated their group to administer the tag revenues paid by Florida drivers. But the 2019 legislative session ended with no action. That means the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation – the institute's fund raising and charitable arm – will maintain control of the money and keep awarding it exclusively to Harbor Branch scientists for research, conservation and public outreach. READ FULL STORY

No Vacancy? Top jobs at Vero Beach City Hall filled
week of May 9, 2019

Vero Beach hung out a “no vacancy” sign on City Hall this week after filling the two top spots on its management team. The council on Tuesday decided to halt the headhunter search for a new city manager and instead hired Vero Public Works Director Monte Falls, 61, for that job. Falls has been serving as interim city manager since former City Manager Jim O’Connor’s retirement, same as he did for nine months in 2010 and 2011 while city officials searched for and eventually found O’Connor. The council also voted to hire John Turner of Fort Myers Beach as city attorney. A partner with Peterson Law Group, he has been town attorney for Fort Myers Beach and senior assistant attorney for Lee County. READ FULL STORY

Laura Riding Jackson house will be moved soon to college campus
week of May 9, 2019

Plans to move the historic Laura Riding Jackson House from the Environmental Learning Center to the Vero Beach campus of Indian River State College have been finalized, and the move is scheduled to take place at the end of the month. Last week, officials from the college and the Laura Riding Jackson House Foundation met to look over the site on the college campus where the 110-year-old house and its original pole barn will be relocated. The house is significant as an example of traditional Florida ‘cracker’ architecture and because it was the longtime home of renowned 20th century poet and literary entrepreneur Laura Riding Jackson. The college was one of several local organizations that offered to host the house after its removal from the ELC campus. The college board voted to give the foundation a 15-year, renewable lease agreement at no cost. “That is what has made it possible for us to do all this,” said foundation Board President Marie Stiefel. READ FULL STORY

School Board looks to move forward after Rendell’s departure
week of May 2, 2019

Now that School Superintendent Mark Rendell has resigned, several School Board members said they hope his departure this month will allow the school district to begin healing from the many controversies and scandals of the past four years. “I wish Dr. Rendell and his family all the best in their future endeavors,” said School Board member Jacqueline Rosario. “At this time, it is critical the board remains focused in our efforts to heal and move the district forward. I have no doubt we will continue to be united toward this end.” Board member Teri Barenborg echoed those sentiments in a short, written statement: “I wish him the best in his future endeavors and thank him for his service to our school community over these past four years.” The board took a first step in moving forward by voting April 23 to join the Florida Association of School Boards, which will help guide the district’s search for an interim superintendent and a new permanent superintendent. READ FULL STORY

2 Vero nursing homes get worst rating–again
week of May 2, 2019

Two Vero nursing homes were once again awarded one star out of a possible five by Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare rating system – the worst possible grade – when the new ratings were published last Wednesday. Consulate Health Care, sued for negligence two dozen times in a decade, and Palm Garden of Vero Beach, facing a spate of lawsuits itself and starting its fourth month on the state’s nursing home watch list, also both got one star in the previous ratings. Both local nursing homes, part of large for-profit chains, ironically are located virtually in the shadow of Cleveland Clinic Indian River – a hospital now affiliated with the second-best health system in the world, according to Newsweek’s just-released ranking. Pennsylvania-based Consulate is the sixth largest nursing home chain in the nation and the largest in Florida, where six of its properties, but not the one in Vero, are on the same state watch list as Vero’s Palm Garden. Seven of the Palm Garden chain’s 14 locations in Florida received only one or two stars on the Medicare Nursing Home Compare site when the new ratings came out April 24. READ FULL STORY

Grace Rehab remains county’s top nursing home
week of May 2, 2019

The county’s top nursing homes shone once again with Grace Rehabilitation Center earning a five-star rating overall from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare grading system – the highest possible score and in line with its ratings over the past five years. Tiny, 24-bed Florida Baptist Retirement Center, the only nonprofit nursing home in the county, tied with 120-bed Willowbrooke Court at Indian River Estates with four stars each. Steward Sebastian River Medical Center’s rehab center overall rating rose from three stars last year to five stars. Randall Rees, executive director of the five-star Grace Rehab for the past 10 years, credits the nursing home’s parent company with giving the local organization the flexibility to “serve from our hearts,” he said. “It’s a special company that allows us to do what we need to do. We try to do the right thing every day by the patients. If we’re taking care of that, the numbers fall in line.”

John’s Island ‘not giving up’ on pipeline project
week of May 2, 2019

A controversial proposal to run a reuse water pipeline beneath the Indian River Lagoon to provide irrigation water for John’s Island – which was blocked by the County Commission on a 3-to-2 vote last week – may go back to commissioners in a month or two. “We’re not giving up on the subaqueous line because we still feel it’s the best option for . . . [our] needs,” said John’s Island General Manager Michael Korpar. “That’s the route we’re still shooting for.” The fate of the $6 million pipeline appears to hinge on the results of a title search on Hole in the Wall island to determine whether the county owns the right-of-way once occupied by the Old Winter Beach Road Bridge. Commissioners voted on April 23 to reject John’s Island’s easement request mainly over concerns about the right-of-way ownership and the likelihood of legal challenges. In response, John’s Island’s legal team is now trying to acquire title insurance indicating the county owns the right-of-way on the island in the lagoon, Korpar said in an interview Friday. READ FULL STORY

Vero Utilities: No plan for replacing old water pipes
week of May 2, 2019

A slightly scary truth emerged last week for Vero Beach Utilities customers who live in older homes, or in older neighborhoods: The city has no plan, and scant funding, to replace miles of aging – and in many cases, deteriorating – water pipes that carry drinking water to thousands of residents. The issue came up during a Vero Utilities Commission meeting after complaints from a handful of residents on Silver Moss Drive in John’s Island who had been plagued by yellow drinking water caused by a span of old galvanized pipe. After Indian River Shores put pressure on Vero and commissioned engineering work at its own expense to map out the problem pipe, the city dug up the pipe and replaced it. But town officials speculated that it was only a matter of time before the yellow water – or worse – started popping up in other older neighborhoods all over the town and up and down the barrier island. READ FULL STORY

Harbor Branch could lose $1.4 million if vanity license plate money redistributed
week of May 2, 2019

The legislature was expected to decide this week whether the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation will lose $1.4 million in annual revenue from sale of picturesque license plates vehicle owners buy to support dolphin and whale research and rescue efforts. A coalition of dolphin research and conservation organizations is pushing hard for an amendment to the state's specialty license plate law that would give each of them a piece of the revenue pie from the "Protect Wild Dolphins" and "Protect Florida Whales" license plates. Currently, all the money from the plates goes to the Harbor Branch Foundation, which uses it exclusively to fund programs at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The Foundation says the money is used for research, education and outreach benefitting marine mammals throughout the state. But members of One Ocean One Health Research Conservation Institute based at Georgia Aquarium's conservation field station in Marineland, Florida, say their nonprofit should take over distributing the funds to Florida organizations that respond to dolphin and whale strandings and conduct scientific research on the animals. READ FULL STORY

Polish-American Club files $1 million suit in aftermath of coup
week of May 2, 2019

The Polish-American Social Club of Vero Beach has filed a $1 million lawsuit against three West Palm Beach attorneys, alleging that the attorneys directed a coup by a handful of rogue members who took over the club and its property for several years. Attorneys named in the lawsuit, which was filed April 4 in the 19th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, include Lynne Hampton, Jay Fleisher and Scott W. Zappolo. The attorneys could not be reached for comment. “These three attorneys directed the efforts to take over the club,” said Bill Summers, a club supporter who helped the original members regain control of the club following a 4-year court battle. “It was an expensive legal fight that cost more than $300,000.” The lawsuit alleges that Hampton and Fleisher “breached their legal duty to plaintiff by devising a plan to take all of the club’s assets and transfer them to another corporation for no consideration and which culminated in the loss of those assets.” READ FULL STORY

Sheriff’s spycam gets half-naked innocent woman
week of April 25, 2019

At least one partially naked woman – who was receiving a legitimate, hour-long, non-sexual massage in January – was included in the surveillance videos recorded by hidden cameras installed by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office during its recent prostitution sting at a spa north of Sebastian. So Vero Beach attorney Andy Metcalf, who represents more than two dozen of the men charged with soliciting prostitution, said he now plans to review all of the Sheriff’s Office’s in-room videos from the East Sea Spa to see if other innocent customers may have been similarly surreptitiously recorded. Metcalf, who noticed the woman while combing through the video evidence turned over by prosecutors during the discovery process, said the videos expose the Sheriff’s Office’s failure to minimize the invasion of privacy required by the search warrants issued by Circuit Court Judges Cynthia Cox and Paul Kanarek. He also contends the Sheriff’s Office’s six-week, video-surveillance operation lacked the required judicial oversight and, thus, continued longer than was necessary to break up the prostitution ring. READ FULL STORY

Virgin Trains finally raises funds for expansion here
week of April 25, 2019

Virgin Trains USA’s plan to start zipping passenger trains through Indian River County in 2022 is now on a fast track thanks to Wall Street investors. Virgin Trains announced that it closed a week ago on the sale of $1.75 billion in private activity bonds to 67 different investors, which will help pay for construction of new track between Virgin Trains’ West Palm Beach station and the new South Terminal at Orlando International Airport. “Construction will begin imminently and is expected to be complete in 2022,” Virgin Trains said Friday in a prepared statement. The project includes installing a second set of tracks in the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way through Indian River and southern Brevard counties to handle the addition of 32 passenger trains per day. Virgin Trains also plans to construct new train tracks along State Road 528, also known as the Beachline Expressway, to connect the airport terminal to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks in Cocoa. READ FULL STORY

School superintendent resigns; takes job as principal in Brevard
week of April 25, 2019

School Board members, who have made it clear they believe it’s time for new leadership in Indian River County, voted at the April 23 board meeting to not renew Superintendent Mark Rendell’s contract beyond June 30, 2020. Their action comes one week after the board rejected Rendell’s demand that they agree by April 17 to pay him $62,545.60 to step down from his post effective May 24. “We’re not going to be rushed through this,” Zorc said. “We’re going to take our time and make the best decision we can for the district.” Several board members, including Zorc, balked at Rendell’s initial demand that the board agree to never make any “perceived disparaging” remarks about him, which include during future discussion of academic problems or lawsuits filed against the district during his tenure. The day after the meeting, Rendell resigned. READ FULL STORY

Jones again convicted; shows no emotion as widow addresses court
week of April 25, 2019

Henry Lee Jones Jr. will spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole for the 2011 murder of Central Beach resident Brian Simpson. An Indian River County jury last Thursday found Jones guilty of two first-degree felony charges – First Degree Felony Murder and Armed Robbery and Assault and Battery. The jury determined that there was not enough evidence to convict Jones of a third charge – the actual shooting of Simpson. Shortly after the jury announced its verdict, Circuit Court Judge Daniel Vaughn sentenced Jones to two consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole. Prior to sentencing, Vaughn allowed Simpson’s widow, Kristen, to address Jones in court. What followed was an emotional 22-minute speech by Simpson, who unleashed eight years of anger, pain and frustration on her husband’s killer. “You’re the kind of person who would kill another human being – a cold, heartless coward who would shoot somebody from behind a door,” said Simpson as she glared at Jones sitting less than 10 feet away. READ FULL STORY

Shores decides proposed dog law is not yet ready for prime time
week of April 25, 2019

Proposed legislation aimed at regulating canines on Indian River Shores beaches needs much more work before it’s ready for a vote, Town Attorney Chester Clem told the town council on Monday. Prompted by complaints from a small number of residents about unleashed dogs on the town’s beaches, the proposed action would require every dog owner in the town who wants to let their dog run on the beach to get a license from the town’s Public Safety Department. The license would be available to residents who furnish proof of up-to-date vaccinations, attest “that the dog has not been involved in any aggressive actions towards humans or other pets,” and pay a $50 fee. Once licensed, dogs would be permitted to be off-leash on the beach during certain hours. New rules would designate blocks of time in the morning and evening – possibly 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., or longer periods during daylight hours – when licensed dogs would be allowed on designated town beaches. Violators would be subject to fines of $50 to $500 for failing to license or control an animal. READ FULL STORY

New Cleveland Clinic signs going up at hospital complex
week of April 25, 2019

A year before the Jan. 1 takeover of Indian River Medical Center by Cleveland Clinic, the head of the famed health system’s Florida division, Dr. Wael Barsoum, said he hoped the Cleveland Clinic sign would go up on the Vero campus on Day One of Cleveland’s tenure. But as Day 110 dawned this week, there was still no sign of the four-cornered, blue-and-green Cleveland Clinic logo on the Vero hospital’s facade. Signage has sprouted in other places throughout the sprawling campus, however. Along the roadways, existing signs are wearing a new top: vinyl printed with “Cleveland Clinic Indian River” has been stretched and bolted over “Indian River Medical Center,” leaving the rest of the signs’ information in place. That should clear up confusion on the part of people looking for the hospital under its new name. Last month, a North Carolina resident, here to visit his mother who he was told was at Cleveland Clinic Indian River, had to call to make sure he was at the right place when his Maps app led him to a complex still studded with signs for Indian River Medical Center. READ FULL STORY

Shores hires attorney to pursue reuse water rate relief with Vero
week of April 25, 2019

Vero Beach officials don’t seem to be budging in response to repeated requests by Indian River Shores that they honor a franchise agreement and match Indian River County’s reuse irrigation water rates, so the Shores has hired a lawyer to help resolve the dispute. Local trial attorney Louis B. “Buck” Vocelle is now working for Indian River Shores on an hourly basis, his first salvo being a letter to Vero Beach Interim City Manager Monte Falls saying his client, Indian River Shores, wants its reuse irrigation rate lowered from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. This message had already been delivered in writing by former town manager Robbie Stabe, and in person by new town manager Joe Griffin on April 16. But Griffin said he was not satisfied with the Vero Beach City Council’s response to a presentation he made, providing documentation to show why Indian River Shores is entitled to the lower rate. “They were repeating the company line that they weren’t going to reduce the charges and they wanted me and the Vice Mayor [Bob Auwaerter] to participate in a rate study,” Griffin told the Shores Town Council on Monday. READ FULL STORY

Rendell’s effort to dictate exit terms gets little support
week of April 18, 2019

One way or another, Mark Rendell’s four-year run as Superintendent of Schools in Indian River County this week appeared to be drawing to an end. The major outstanding questions as the School Board met this past Tuesday were the timing of Rendell’s departure, how much of a buyout he would get, and whether restrictions like a non-disparagement clause would apply. Less than 24 hours after the School Board informed Rendell last week that his contract would not be renewed, the embattled superintendent offered to resign effective May 24 if the district paid him $62,545.60 and promised to never say anything negative about him. He also gave the board a deadline of this Wednesday for accepting his terms. The board, which previously indicated it would not rush into any settlement with Rendell and wanted a longer period to find a replacement, showed little inclination to agree to his demands. “I’m pleased to see he’s willing to negotiate his departure,” Board Chairwoman Laura Zorc said prior to Tuesday’s meeting. “I think the board will be willing to make a counter offer. READ FULL STORY

Public Guardianship Program moving to Senior Resource Assn.
week of April 18, 2019

The memory is so vivid it brings Morgan Libbey Smith to tears. Morgan was 14 when her mother, a court-appointed guardian, had her gather up her childhood trove of stuffed animals to bring to a run-down nursing home in town. There Morgan met her mother Margaret Libbey’s client, an elderly woman with dementia so severe it had rendered her non-verbal. Like many such patients, she had reverted to wanting to hold soft things, her mother explained to Morgan. As her Teddy bears found new purpose in the dingy room, Morgan saw her mom’s work in a new light. “All the billion phone calls that took her away in the middle of something, all those moments suddenly strung together, and I thought, this is incredible what my mother’s doing for these people,” Smith says. Ten years later, at age 24 and with a degree in health services administration, Smith came home to Vero Beach and joined her mother’s company, Treasure Coast Elder Care. At the same time, she took the reins of a fledgling non-profit, the Public Guardianship Program of Indian River County. READ FULL STORY

Fish Foundation up for talks on Riverside tennis partnership
week of April 18, 2019

Vero Beach’s fledgling efforts to get its Recreation Department’s facilities to pay for themselves – or at least offset operational and maintenance costs through public-private collaboration – might’ve hooked a big one. The Mardy Fish Children’s Foundation is exploring the benefits of entering into a partnership with the city to refurbish and reconfigure the Riverside Park Racquet Complex so that the island facility could be used for fund-raising events, including tennis tournaments and exhibitions, and youth activities. “The city would prefer to not spend money on recreation, particularly improving and maintaining facilities, and we’re looking for a home,” foundation president Tom Fish said last week. “So maybe this is a way we can work together and help each other. “We’re still very early in the process, and the talks we’ve had were very preliminary,” he added. “But this is definitely something we want to look at.” “We’re really excited about the Fish Foundation,” said Rob Slezak, the city’s recreation director. “I know all the wonderful things the foundation does for at-risk kids, and this is chance for us to work together to give them the home they’re looking for. READ FULL STORY

Defense focused on charges of racial prejudice in Jones retrial
week of April 18, 2019

In the retrial of accused murderer Henry Lee Jones, defense attorneys relentlessly hammered away at the credibility of key prosecution witnesses, attempting to portray them as racially prejudiced. Their efforts in the trial – which went to the jury late Thursday afternoon – prompted some cringe-worthy testimony that raised the eyebrows of some jurors, caused others to shift uncomfortably in their chairs, and at one point prompted a visibly frustrated Chief Assistant State Attorney Thomas Bakkendahl to clap his hand over his forehead. One of the most awkward moments occurred when William F. Schabot testified seeing a “suspicious black man riding a bicycle” past his home on the evening of Nov. 17, 2011 – around the time victim Brian Simpson was murdered. “Let me get this right; you see a black man riding a bicycle and thought it was suspicious?” asked Assistant Public Defender Brett Peters. “Would you have thought it was suspicious if it had been a white woman on that bike?” READ FULL STORY

Is snook caught in lagoon a world record for six-pound test line?
week of April 18, 2019

A 37-year-old local woman caught and released alive a potential world-record snook on April 6 in the Indian River Lagoon near Sebastian Inlet. Artist and gallery owner Regina Gallant caught the 27-pound snook on six-pound test line while wading in the shallows with boyfriend Adrian Gray. The couple weighed, measured and photographed the fish, then put it back in the water to swim away. If certified by the International Game Fish Association, the fish will beat the current women's six-pound test mark of 23 pounds caught in Jupiter in 1995. Gallant said she and Gray have been pursuing the record in local waters for the past two months, and on that fateful Saturday, spotted their target in the middle of a school where Gallant cast a live pilchard. "I free-lined my pilchard into the school and felt the solid telltale thump," Gallant said, referring to the technique of casting the bait without any weight on the line. "I came tight and couldn't believe the fish charged toward me and then proceeded to scream off about 200 yards of line as she went by. I battled her for over 20 minutes before she was netted." READ FULL STORY

German shark victim returns to Vero, meets with rescuers
week of April 18, 2019

The hugs were long and tender. The tears were real. The reunion was as emotional as – and even more cathartic than – Karin Stei had expected during Saturday’s get-together at Waldo’s. One by one, starting with the man who swam into the bloodied waters off the beach near Humiston Park after she had been bitten by a shark seven years ago, the German tourist embraced each member of the crew that she believes saved both her leg and her life. “I’m so happy that you were there that day,” Stei told Vero Beach lifeguard Erik Toomsoo, who, upon hearing her ear-piercing scream, sprinted through the sand and dived into the surf, swimming to her rescue and pulling her to safety. She would repeat those heartfelt words to the other lifeguards who attended the gathering, which was organized by Toomsoo after learning that Stei, now 54, was returning to Vero Beach for the first time since that fateful morning. She would say them again to Shanna Stokes, a nurse who happened to be on the beach with her mother when the shark attack occurred, and to Fire Rescue paramedic Dustin Hawkins, who had arrived on the scene within minutes. READ FULL STORY

Indian River Shores is getting new A1A traffic light
week of April 18, 2019

Sometime in the next six or seven weeks, drivers on A1A will need to stay much more alert when passing through Indian River Shores, or run the risk of cruising through a red light. Crews are working on crosswalk safety enhancements and three new streetlights at the corner of Highway A1A and Fred Tuerk Drive, but the most abrupt change when the project is complete will be a fully activated red light for all four directions of traffic. This will come as a shock to locals and visitors who for decades have grown accustomed to not stopping at the flashing light at that intersection. Drivers traveling northbound and southbound now have a blinking yellow light giving them the right of way over drivers traveling eastbound, westbound or turning onto A1A from either direction. According to Florida Department of Transportation District 4 Project Administrator Diego Velasquez, the contractor has until the first week of June to complete the construction. “Hopefully they will be able to complete it before then,” Velasquez said, adding that the fully activated traffic light will be operational no later than June 6. READ FULL STORY

The winner of the naming contest is ... Centennial Place
week of April 11, 2019

Three months ago, in our New Year’s issue, we launched the “Name That Property Contest” soliciting reader input on a name for the lagoon-front property owned by the city at the west end of the Alma Lee Loy Bridge. Our goal was to help Vero come up with a classy, meaningful name for the combined 35 acres of property at the intersection of Indian River Boulevard and 17th Street, which has the potential – once the old electric plant and wastewater utility are gone – to become an incredible new focal point for the city’s future. Our secondary objective was to head off the Press Journal’s insistence on referring to the property as “Three Corners” – a name that is arguably even more stupid than the idiotic sobriquet “Twin Pairs.” During January and February, some 90 local residents responded with emails to, suggesting several hundred possible names. The three finalists were Alma Lee Loy Place, Centennial Place, and Manatee Station. And the winner is . . . Centennial Place. READ FULL STORY

Irate ex-mayor charged in gun incident at home
week of April 11, 2019

Police say former Vero Beach mayor Craig Fletcher crossed a line in his words and behavior when he answered the front door of his home brandishing a loaded gun amid a dispute with his neighbor’s landscapers, but attorney Andrew Metcalf said the allegations paint a picture vastly different from the Fletcher many long-time Vero residents know. Fletcher, 77, a retired aerospace engineer and Vero native, was arrested on March 29 by the Vero Beach Police Department, charged with felony aggravated assault and, as a condition of being released from the Indian River County Jail on $2,500 bond on March 30, he was ordered to have no contact with the alleged victim, Soterios Bouchlas. “We will be entering a plea of not guilty and waiving arraignment, and I will be giving Mr. Fletcher the best possible defense,” Metcalf said. “As a lifelong resident of Vero Beach, I am well aware of his service to our community, and these allegations are certainly not in character with his life of service, and that should not be forgotten.” READ FULL STORY

Retrial of accused killer of island man off to a slow start
week of April 11, 2019

The second murder trial of Henry Lee Jones got off to a slow start this week when Chief Assistant State Attorney Thomas Bakkendahl and Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann, who is representing Jones, spent the opening morning going over jury questionnaires while potential jurors waited outside the courtroom. The questionnaires were prominent because they contained questions about racial bias – Jones is black and the man he is alleged to have murdered was white – and Jones’ first conviction for murder was overturned because the judge did not allow his lawyer to ask potential jurors if they had racially prejudiced views. When 75 potential jurors were finally admitted to the courtroom for selection, 38 of them told Circuit Judge Dan Vaughn they had biases that made them incapable of rendering an impartial verdict, or else knew a witness in the case. Thirteen of those 38 were quickly dismissed. The opposing attorneys then spent the afternoon continuing to question some of the remaining potential jurors. READ FULL STORY

John’s Island pipeline project heads for showdown at County Commission
week of April 11, 2019

Opponents in the quarrel over an effort by John’s Island to install an irrigation water pipeline 80 feet beneath the Indian River Lagoon are rallying their troops for a show of force at the April 23 County Commission meeting. Supporters and foes of the $6-million project are circulating petitions and calling for their followers to attend the meeting where commissioners are expected to review two crucial pipeline-related items. The first is a consultant’s report on whether it would be feasible to install a new irrigation pipeline in the crowded underground utility right-of-way along A1A from Wabasso Beach Road south to John’s Island instead of tunneling under the lagoon. The second is a request for a temporary construction easement under Hole in the Wall Island so a contractor can install a 16-inch pipe beneath the lagoon to carry reuse water to John’s Island from Indian River County’s Sea Oats Wastewater Treatment Plant on 77th Street. The commissioners could effectively block the subaqueous pipeline project by denying the easement request for the old Winter Beach Road bridge right-of-way. READ FULL STORY

Defense confident spa videos will be suppressed
week of April 11, 2019

Citing the Florida Constitution’s heightened protections from governmental intrusion, a Vero Beach attorney representing more than two dozen men arrested in a recent prostitution sting is asking judges to exclude from trials the video evidence prosecutors need to prove their cases. Andy Metcalf said he has filed motions to suppress the surveillance video police used to charge more than 160 men with soliciting prostitution at two massage spas in Indian River County. A hearing has been set for April 23. “I’m attacking the installation and use of the cameras,” Metcalf said. “The need for the video in a low-level prostitution case is pretty aggressive stuff. This was an overreach by law enforcement.” On Monday in Vero Beach, County Judge David Morgan denied Metcalf’s motion to prohibit the dissemination of the spa videos, saying it was “not ripe,” which means the videos haven’t been publicly released and no one has requested them. However, Metcalf said Morgan ruled that the videos’ contents were obscene under Florida law, which makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to disseminate obscene materials. READ FULL STORY

Verizon gives shores another new date
week of April 11, 2019

Verizon Wireless customers waiting to get decent reception in their Indian River Shores homes are now being told a better signal will come in June. Verizon reached out to Vero Beach 32963 in response to a recent article stating that Verizon service from the Shores new cell tower was expected to be up and running by late April, saying that the best estimate they now have is not April but June. “Though construction should be complete by the end of April, Verizon service is not expected to go live until June. We look forward to enhancing coverage and capacity in this area in June,” said Verizon Public Relations spokesperson Kate Jay. Datapath Tower President Curt Jones had provided the April target date. “I was going off of what the general contractor was doing on the site and extrapolated when the site should be on the air.” St. Petersburg-based Datapath Tower permitted and constructed the Monopine tower – which bears some resemblance to a pine tree – in partnership with the town. But the two companies who lease space on the tower – AT&T and Verizon – install, test and maintain their own transmission equipment. READ FULL STORY

Piper sales soar; company expects to add more workers
week of April 11, 2019

Piper Aircraft’s payroll now exceeds 1,000 employees as a strengthening economy has sparked an increased demand for its single- and twin-engine airplanes, and the Vero Beach-based company predicts it will add as many as 100 workers by early next year. If that happens, Piper’s workforce will have nearly doubled since 2015, when sagging sales and uncertainty in the global market prompted layoffs and early retirements that reduced the company’s payroll to fewer than 600 employees. “We’re still hiring,” Piper spokeswoman Jackie Carlon said last week, when the company – the largest private employer in Indian River County – announced the biggest civilian fleet order in its history and, at the same time, the introduction of two lower-cost training aircraft to its product line. The announcement of a 10-year contract to build 240 airplanes for L3 Commercial Aviation came only 14 months after Piper received a record-breaking order to build 152 training aircraft for China’s Fanmei Aviation Technologies. The L3 order, however, will not impact Piper’s current 1,009-employee workforce because, Carlon said, the company “knew before the year started that the deal was coming” and “had already adjusted staffing levels to meet our production schedule.” READ FULL STORY

School Board talks seriously about replacing Rendell
week of April 4, 2019

The School Board’s March 26 meeting was contentious and perhaps momentous, and there have been hundreds of responses – on social media sites, in radio interviews, and in press reports – to what happened that evening as the board talked seriously about replacing Superintendent Mark Rendell. The superintendent and some School Board members are locked in an increasingly bitter dispute that erupted after the board began discussing Rendell’s upcoming job evaluation during a March 12 work session. At that time, several board members indicated they might not support renewing the superintendent’s contract. Rendell responded by having Tallahassee-based attorney H.B. Stivers send a letter dated March 20, notifying the School Board that he has been “retained to advise and assist Dr. Rendell concerning the terms and conditions of his employment with the district.” Rendell further raised the ire of board members by informing them by email on March 25 that he was seeking employment outside the district and reminding them that by the terms of his contract, he is only obligated to give them a 30-day notice of his departure. READ FULL STORY

New guidelines expand access to healthcare
week of April 4, 2019

More people in Indian River County will qualify for low-cost healthcare after a vote by the Hospital District Board to change its criteria for who is considered medically indigent from 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines to 200 percent, effective in October. The board also made it easier to sign up for county-funded care. The new guidelines mean a family of four making $50,200 or less will be eligible for subsidized healthcare under the Hospital District’s mandate. That care is delivered by low-cost clinics and other agencies which are then reimbursed through the Hospital District, which is funded by taxpayers. The move edges the taxing district closer to income guidelines of the Cleveland Clinic, which in January took over Indian River Medical Center. Cleveland Clinic provides free care to uninsured patients earning up to 250 percent of the poverty guidelines, and offers assistance to patients earning up to 400 percent. Insured patients include those with commercial insurance as well as Medicaid and Medicare. READ FULL STORY

Vero Ford dealership passes from Velde family to Mullinax
week of April 4, 2019

Last week marked the end of an era in Vero Beach, where, for the first time since 1976, the Ford dealership conducted business under a name other than Velde. The Apopka-based Mullinax Automotive Group finalized the purchase of Velde Ford on March 26 and immediately rebranded the dealership as Mullinax Ford of Vero Beach. The local Ford dealership is now one of five owned and operated in Florida by Mullinax Ford, the state’s largest Ford retailer, which was among the pioneers of the upfront, no-haggle pricing philosophy that began in the mid-1970s and has become popular throughout the automobile-sales industry. “We’ve been in this industry for many years, and I know our philosophy can provide the community with a dealer experience they haven’t had before,” said Jerry Mullinax, owner of the Mullinax group, which has been doing business in Florida since 1970. Mullinax said he has retained about 90 percent of the Velde staff, most of them longtime employees. Those employees made the decision to sell the dealership difficult for Patty Velde, who had served as Velde Ford’s president since her husband, Jeff, died in September 2012. READ FULL STORY

Shores demands action from Vero on rates for reuse irrigation water
week of April 4, 2019

By next week, Indian River Shores utility customers will either have some indication that the City of Vero Beach will reduce reuse irrigation water rates for the town, or the town will declare that Vero Beach Utilities has defaulted on its water-sewer franchise agreement with the Shores. The town’s 2012 franchise agreement ties the Shores’ water, sewer and reuse irrigation water rates to Indian River County Utilities’ rates, meaning that both Vero and the Shores gambled on what the county would do with its rates. In December, Indian River County reduced its reuse irrigation rates from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons, effective March 1. Vero officials, so far, refuse to give the Shores the lower 21-cent rate, citing a technicality that was not identified or clarified in the 2012 contract. All five members of the Shores Town Council agreed last week that this refusal violates the terms of the franchise agreement, and that the time to stick up for the town’s rights is now. READ FULL STORY

Elite Airways will resume seasonal flights to Asheville and Portland
week of April 4, 2019

Elite Airways announced last week that it will resume its seasonal flights between Vero Beach and Asheville, N.C., on May 23 and continue the non-stop service through Sept. 5. The airline also plans to bring back its non-stop service to and from Portland, Maine. “We’re adding Portland for the summer,” Elite President John Pearsall said Friday. “So we’ll have the Asheville flights on Sundays and Thursdays, and the Portland flights on Fridays and Mondays. “We’re also looking at adding flights to one other place, but nothing has been decided yet.” Pearsall said the airline hadn’t yet set a date for when flights between Vero Beach and Portland will resume or determined what the airfares will be. The service to and from the North Carolina mountains depart Vero Beach at 2:45 p.m. and Asheville at 5 p.m., with airfares starting at $179 each way. Elite, which returned commercial air service to Vero Beach in 2015, currently offers non-stop service to Newark, N.J., with flights four days per week. READ FULL STORY

35 scientists conduct first survey of invasive fish in Indian River County waters
week of April 4, 2019

A posse of 35 scientists from nine federal and state agencies, universities and other research institutions fanned out across rivers, canals, lakes and drainage ditches from Sebastian to the north fork of the St. Lucie River Tuesday and Wednesday, hunting and catching freshwater invaders. Using cattle-prod-like electro-shockers, minnow traps, cast nets, seine nets and hook-and-line gear, the scientists collected 11 species of invasive fish that are not native to Treasure Coast waters – trying to get a handle on what species are here, exactly where they live, and how their presence affects native fish such as bass, bluegill and others. "There's a lot we don't know about non-native fish," said Dr. Pam Schofield, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Gainesville, who led the two-day ‘bio-blitz.’ Before you can do any assessment or management, you've got to know who is where. There's no way any one agency can keep track of all the fish in every pond, canal, ditch or lake in Florida So we work together. Everyone pitches in." READ FULL STORY

New tap water rates for Shores seek to deter waste
week of March 28, 2019

Vero Beach Utilities on Tuesday will take up a new schedule of rates and fees for its water and sewer customers in Indian River Shores, and the changes could force residents to stop wasting tap water – or pay more. Vero supplies tap water, reuse water for irrigation and sewer service to the Shores. This slate of conservation-minded tap water rates is the same one imposed by Indian River County Utilities on March 1 after a December vote of the Indian River Board of County Commissioners. By the terms of a utility franchise agreement signed with Vero Beach in 2012, Indian River Shores is governed by any changes Indian River County makes to its water-sewer rates. Vero has by resolution also extended county rates to the South Barrier Island and mainland county customers outside the city limits to quell complaints about those customers paying city rates. Still in dispute is a rate change on the Indian River County schedule, effective March 1 for county customers, reducing the cost of reuse irrigation water from 67 cents per 1,000 gallons to 21 cents per 1,000 gallons. READ FULL STORY

Star Suites makes Riverside ‘an even more coveted gig’
week of March 28, 2019

Eliza Doolittle no longer has to look for “a room somewhere.” Now, she’s got a suite. The cast of Riverside Theatre’s current mainstage show, “My Fair Lady,” are the first to stay in Riverside’s new actors’ housing facility, the Star Suites, which opened this month near Historic Dodgertown. “Riverside Theatre has done something completely new and, as far as I know, unprecedented,” said James Beaman, who plays Zoltan Karpthy in ”My Fair Lady.” “I know that, once word is out in NYC about these great new actor digs, Riverside Theatre will be an even more coveted gig than it already is!” The 60-suite hotel will relieve Riverside of having to find – and pay for – some 10,000 nights a year of hotel rooms or apartments for visiting cast and crew. It also will generate a steady stream of revenue for the theatre as rooms are rented to the public when not being used by actors, directors and designers. As an Equity theater, Riverside is required to provide housing for its performers and other theater professionals, many of whom come here from New York to entertain Vero Beach audiences. READ FULL STORY

County government services coming soon to new office in Central Beach
week of March 28, 2019

Island residents soon could have a shorter trip – and not have to cross bridges to the mainland – to register motor vehicles, get marriage licenses, question property taxes, apply for passports, pay traffic tickets and file for homestead exemptions. County officials are in negotiations to rent office space in a building on Cardinal Drive, where they plan to open a satellite facility for the Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of the Circuit Court. Carole Jean Jordan, the county’s tax collector and the driving force behind the project, said she’s hoping to have a lease in hand next month and open the beachside branch no later than May. “There’s no lease yet, but we’re getting closer,” Jordan said last week. “Once we have one, there’s still a lot of work to do, because the offices will need to be wired to connect our computers to our networks. “But I’m excited,” she added. “I’ve been talking about this for several years, but it was only in the last 60 days that things got serious and we were able to look for a place that works for everybody.” READ FULL STORY

School superintendent hires lawyer as board members talk of dismissal
week of March 28, 2019

School Superintendent Mark Rendell has hired a lawyer and is accusing School Board members of meeting illegally to discuss firing him. Rendell’s current contract expires June 30, 2020 and the board has until the end of July to decide whether it will extend his term of employment. Tallahassee-based attorney H.B. Stivers, who represents Rendell, sent a letter dated March 20 notifying the School Board that he has been “retained to advise and assist Dr. Rendell concerning the terms and conditions of his employment with the district.” “It appears that the terms and conditions of his employment has been a ‘hot topic’ of conversation by board members amongst themselves as well as with third parties,” Stivers wrote in the letter. “During the representation of our client, it will be necessary for us to be included on any and all communications, whether those are directly to us or that we are copied on, that concern or otherwise relate to Dr. Rendell’s employment.” READ FULL STORY

While acting as his own lawyer, Jones undermined his murder defense
week of March 28, 2019

Accused murderer Henry Lee Jones appears to have inadvertently undermined his own defense while serving as his own lawyer and preparing for a retrial of his 2014 conviction for the slaying of Brian Simpson in his Central Beach home. In a pretrial motion filed last year – intended to show that the killing of Simpson during a botched burglary was not premeditated and thus could not be first-degree murder – Jones stated: “When the victim returned home, the defendants attempted to retreat through the bathroom window. The victim initiated an attack which prevented the defendants from leaving. This led to the victim’s death.” This misstep – which comes close to an admission of guilt – was one of several Jones made during an eight-month period in 2018 when he insisted on serving as his own legal counsel, and it could hand state attorneys a golden opportunity to use Jones’ own words against him during his upcoming April 8 retrial. Assistant Public Defender Dorothy Naumann asked Circuit Court Judge Daniel Vaughn during a March 20 hearing to wipe Jones’ self-incriminating statement from court records, and so keep it from being entered as evidence during trial. READ FULL STORY

Verizon now hopes to finally go live on Shores cell tower in April
week of March 28, 2019

Verizon cellphone customers heading back to their northern homes for tax deadlines or for Easter will have to wait until next season to experience smooth data service and clear phone calls while inside their homes and traveling on the barrier island. Last week, Curt Jones, who heads up Datapath Tower, the Town of Indian River Shores’ business partner on the town’s new cell tower, said equipment needed to provide upgraded service to Verizon customers was on the way, and would likely have arrived by the time this issue of Vero Beach 32963 reaches mailboxes. “Verizon Wireless did redirect assets from another site and shipped them to Florida to use on the Indian River Shores site,” Jones said. “Equipment is being delivered this week and installation will occur over the next few weeks. Then, Verizon Wireless needs to commission the site and optimize it, so by the third or fourth week of April, it should be live.” Town Manager Joe Griffin confirmed that Jones’ estimate matches the latest information provided to the town. READ FULL STORY

Officials fear escalating railroad crossing maintenance costs
week of March 28, 2019

Indian River County's local governments paid $2.8 million to Florida East Coast Railway and affiliates in the past five years to lease and maintain 29 railroad crossings, where local roads cross the railroad’s right-of-way. Those costs could double, increasing to more than $1 million a year, if Virgin Trains USA realizes its vision of establishing express train service between West Palm Beach and Orlando, according to a consultant’s estimate. And the local governments could be on the hook for escalating railroad crossing costs for decades if the express train proves profitable and continues to run. That’s partly because longstanding agreements between Florida East Coast Railway and local governments from Miami to Jacksonville require those governments to reimburse FECR for the costs of constructing and maintaining railroad crossings and safety equipment. Virgin Trains has an agreement with Florida East Coast Railway to operate on its tracks and right-of-way. Another reason is FECR’s 159 railroad crossings between West Palm Beach and Cocoa must be upgraded to meet the Federal Railroad Administration's sealed corridor standards for the higher-speed passenger trains. READ FULL STORY

Village Beach Market still interested in store in Orchid
week of March 28, 2019

Orchid officials haven’t seriously considered longtime Vero Beach businessman Ken Puttick’s recent suggestion that the town buy his vacant, commercially zoned, 7-acre parcel of land on the north side of State Road 510, immediately west of Jungle Trail. But they probably will – and soon. In fact, Orchid Mayor Hal Ofstie predicted the topic will be raised at the Town Council’s April 5 meeting. “We haven’t ever discussed it as a council, so, in terms of anything official having transpired, the answer is no,” Ofstie said last week, nearly a month after Publix withdrew its proposal to build a supermarket-anchored shopping center on the property in the face of resident objections. “Some people have mentioned it, just in casual conversation, and within the community you can almost hear people’s brains churning on what to do,” he continued. “So I suspect we’ll probably talk about some of the comments we’re hearing from the community, maybe at our next meeting. “But we haven’t heard from Ken, and there’s really nothing happening at this point.” READ FULL STORY