Week of May 22, 2024

Investigation Results in Multiple Arrests on Child Predator Charges

Special to the News | May 21, 2024

During an eight-day-long undercover sting investigation during February entitled "Operation Child Predator V," area police detectives filed 27 felony charges against eight suspects accused of crimes against children. Polk County Sheriff's Office detectives, along with police in Lake Wales, Auburndale, Davenport, and Lakeland, and the Hardee County Sheriff's Office, charged eight suspects with crimes related to those who prey upon and travel to meet children for unlawful...

Crash With Dump Truck Takes Life of Lake Wales Woman

News Staff Reports | May 22, 2024

A traffic crash with a loaded dump truck took the life of a local woman Tuesday afternoon in an unincorporated area of Lake Wales. Polk deputies and Polk Fire Rescue responded to the emergency call around 2:30 p.m. from the rural intersection of Canal Road and Lake Mabel Loop Road. They found one person deceased at the scene. Minerva Cruz, 79, of Lake Wales, was the driver of a 2011 Silver Toyota Yaris that apparently entered the path of a 2020 Kenworth dump truck loaded with...

Slaton a Finalist for New Smyrna Beach Position, Gets High Marks From Treasure Island Commission in New Job Search

Robert Connors | May 18, 2024

Lake Wales City manager James is among a group of five finalists and two alternates that have been winnowed from a long list of candidates being considered for the city manager's job there following a Thursday evening special meeting of the beach town's city commission. The discussion among that city's board focused on the mechanisms that will be employed in interviewing the candidates, some of whom come from distant states and will fly in to inte4rviews. Discussion within...

Sheriff's Investigators Help Solve 52-Year-Old Murder

Scott Wilder | May 17, 2024

Polk County Sheriff's Office detectives have solved and closed a murder investigation that started 52 years ago in unincorporated Eloise. Detectives have identified the victim using advanced forensic genetic genealogy, and uncovered the two suspects responsible for the murder, both of whom are dead. On May 17, 1972, Polk deputies responded to a reported body found in a field just to the south of the canal between Lake Lulu and Lake Ship, and southeast of the US 17 overpass...

Community Open-House to Focus on Economic Development

Robert Connors | May 14, 2024

A community "open house" planned for Monday, May 20 will give area residents an opportunity to discuss key economic issues and and perceived opportunities that may help shape the future of Lake Wales. The five-hour "drop in" will be hosted by the Central Florida Regional Planning Council under a contract with the City of Lake Wales. Residents are invited to share their thoughts on the draft Economic Development Strategy and discuss the "identified goals, strategies, and next...

Work Begins on New ADS Manufacturing Plant

Robert Connors | May 14, 2024

Construction has begun on the long-planned Advanced Drainage System manufacturing plant in Lake Wales. Work preparing the nearly 100-acre site east of South 11th Street is currently employing more than a dozen earth-moving machines, as well as surveyors and other crew. Meanwhile, Duke Energy workers are installing upgraded electrical service along Hunt Brothers Road to the site. The plant will manufacture thin-walled, corrugated plastic pipe commonly used in drainage...

Crash With Injury Near McLaughlin School Reminder of Risks Everywhere

News Staff Reports | May 18, 2024

Failure to yield the right-of-way resulted in a crash with injuries on 4th Street at the edge of the McLaughlin Middle/High School campus recently. The incident happened at approximately 6 p.m. after the school zone had cleared for the day. The incident happened when a vehicle driven by a woman identified by Lake Wales Police as Laken Taylor Upchurch was driving westbound on Grove Avenue in a 2019 Ford Expedition and "slowed" for a stop sign before entering the path of a 2004...

The "Squeeze" Starts Service on Monday, Making Getting Around Downtown a Breeze

Robert Connors | May 9, 2024
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Lunch-hour diners and shoppers will find getting around downtown Lake Wales a breeze beginning Monday as the newest city service arrives in town. Described as "fast, frequent, and fun," The Squeeze will offer free transportation around the city's center, ranging between Central and Crystal Avenues between First Street and Market Street. The service will utilize new 8-passenger open-air "golf cart" style vehicles to shuttle guests to and from area businesses. The shuttles will...

Park Avenue Streetscape Project Advances, Only Tip of the Vast Connected Plan Effort

Robert Connors | May 6, 2024

A new Park Avenue is steadily emerging in downtown Lake Wales as work continues on the first phase of a multi-million dollar reimagining of the city's heart. The ongoing work is creating a shady pedestrian oasis in the heart of the city, replete with rows of spreading live oaks, new benches, lighting, wider sidewalks, and brick-paved streets and parking areas. The stretch of Park Avenue between First and Market streets is rapidly nearing completion, offering business owners...

Commissioner Carol Gillespie Joins Lake Wales City Board

Robert Connors | May 8, 2024

A brief swearing-in ceremony at the start of Tuesday's city commission meeting saw newly-elected Commissioner Carol Gillespie join the board. Gillespie, joined by her husband Gary Robillard, stood before the audience and repeated the oath as read by City Clerk Jennifer Nanek. Gillespie won seat 4 on the five-person commission by a wide margin over incumbent Danny Krueger. The swearing-in event was met with applause from an enthusiastic group of supporters. Speaking during...

Fire Destroys Rural Home Despite Efforts of Two Departments

Greg King | May 8, 2024

The City of Fort Meade Fire Department responded to a residential structure fire today along US 98 east on the outskirts of the city. Although the fire occurred outside of the city, Fort Meade units were the first on the scene, and had put water on the fire and established incident command by the time Polk County Fire Rescue units arrived. "I am really proud of my department. They responded quickly and were able to start battling the fire by the time county units arrived,"...

City Files For Final Judgement to Regain Walesbilt Hotel Title

Robert Connors | May 8, 2024

Attorneys representing the City of Lake Wales have filed a motion for final judgement in their two-year pursuit of a lawsuit against Dixie Walesbilt LLC. The motion seeks to dismiss all counts in the suit beyond the two already decided in favor of the city. The two counts already decided by the court concluded that Dixie Walesbilt principal Ray Brown had committed "fraud in the inducement" to trick the city into assigning the title to his firm. The city had granted title to...

Baking Temperatures Expected This Week Before Relief Arrives

Robert Connors | May 6, 2024

Scorching temperatures are expected to bake the Ridge area this week before increasing clouds bring growing rain chances to the area early next week. Floridians acclimated to warmth may still be shocked to encounter temperatures rising into the 90s to near 100° this week under sunny skies. Long-range models are showing that relief could come with more cloud cover beginning as soon as Sunday. The baking temperatures are adding to the stress of gardens, lawns, and even trees....

  • Panera Bread Latest Chain to Confirm Lake Wales Location Plans

    Robert Connors | May 8, 2024

    A new Panera Bread restaurant is expected to rise soon on a vacant parcel adjacent to the Aldi grocery on US 27 north in Lake Wales. City officials have revealed that they have conducted a pre-construction meeting with the developer, and construction should begin within weeks. Panera is the latest in a wave of chain restaurants finding sites on the fast-growing corridor near Eagle Ridge Mall. Panera Bread, based in St. Louis, MO, offers a bakery-café style restaurant that...

  • McLaughlin Campus "Forest" Dedicated to Memory of Alex Wheeler

    News Staff Reports | May 10, 2024

    A celebration of life for a beloved community leader was combined with a celebration of new life recently as the staff of McLaughlin Middle/High School joined volunteers from Lake Wales Heritage to mark the dedication of 40 trees planted on the Lake Wales school campus. The trees were a gift from Lake Wales Heritage and its supporters in honor of the late Lee A. (Alex) Wheeler, who served as treasurer for the non-profit organization. Wheeler, who died in 2020, was also a...

Polk Region Population at Higher Risk of Deadly Stroke

Special to the News | May 21, 2024

Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, including Florida, with an even higher risk in Polk, Hardee and Highlands Counties. Florida Health Department data shows in 2022, Highlands County had an age-adjusted stroke death rate of about 64 per 100,000 people, compared to Florida's overall rate of 47.6. Similarly, Polk County had a stroke death rate of around 54 per 100,000 people, also higher than the state average. Hardee County had the highest age-adjusted...

  • William Braunlin, 1948-2024

    News Obituary Services | May 22, 2024

    William Braunlin of Lake Wales passed away Saturday, May 11, 2024 at AdventHealth Lake Wales. He was born September 10, 1948 in New Jersey City, New Jersey to the late William and Isabell Braunlin; he was a resident of Lake Wales for most of his life. William was a cab driver and a veteran of the United States Marines. He was a very friendly person who loved fishing and talking to people. William is survived by his wife of 55 years, Sharon Braunlin. No services...

  • William Robert Simpkins, 1947-2024

    News Obituary Service | May 19, 2024

    William Robert Simpkins, age 76, passed away on Saturday, May 11, 2024, at his home in Bartow, FL after a long courageous battle with Parkinson's Disease. He was born on November 8, 1947, in Millville, NJ to parents Janice and William. He graduated from Vineland High School in 1966 and completed his education at Warner University in Lake Wales, FL where he graduated in 2001 with a bachelor's degree. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserved from 1965-1967. He worked in law...

  • Linda Gale Fielder, 1965-2024

    News Obituary Service | May 7, 2024

    Linda Gale Fielder, age 59, of Zolfo Springs passed away Sunday, May 5, 2024. She was born April 23, 1965 in Avon Park, FL to Richard & Margaret Rhoden. Linda Gale was a Paraeducator for Alturas Elementary School. She was a member of Crewsville Bethel Baptist Church in Zolfo Springs. She was preceded in death by her father Richard Rhoden, brother Larry Rhoden and father in law Lowell Fielder. Linda Gale is survived by her husband of 36 years Brian Fielder of Zolfo Springs,...

  • Dean Burbank, 1944-2024

    News Obituary Services | May 7, 2024

    Dean Burbank, age 80, passed away April 30, 2024, at Bartow Regional Medical Center. He was born on April 30, 1944, in Pleasantville, IA to the late Russel Merton Burbank & Mary Evelyn Burbank. He graduated from Pleasantville High School in 1962, St. Bernard College in 1967 with a BA in Mathematics and University of Alabama in 1979 with a MS in Applied Mathematics. He was a United States Air Force Veteran serving as a B52 Navigator Bombardier in Vietnam. He received the...

  • Martha Ann Lewis, 1963-2024

    News Obituary Services | May 9, 2024

    Martha Ann Lewis, age 61, of Babson Park, FL, died Tuesday, April 30, 2024, at the Forsythe Hospice House in Auburndale, FL. She is survived by her children, Terrance Mosley, Brian Mosley and Jarvis Mosley of Babson Park, FL. Sisters; Christine Barnes and Gladys Tucker of Lake Wales, FL. Brother; Clifford Lewis of Babson Park, FL. Nine grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends. Visitation with family and friends will take place on Saturday, May 11,...

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