Neighbors are fighting a proposal to build 240 apartments on Publix property at the corner of Lake Miriam Drive and South Florida Avenue, The Ledger reports in a subscribers-only story. A major objection is the addition of traffic to an already congested area, but representatives of developer Preferred Apartment Communities said apartments will generate fewer trips than the currently approved commercial uses. The Lakeland Planning and Zoning Board is scheduled to decide on the project Jan. 19.
If you were not one of the thousands who flocked to downtown Lakeland last night to view the 41st annual Lakeland Christmas Parade — of it you were there and want to live it — here is the city of Lakeland’s video coverage of the entire parade. Hosts are Kevin Cook with the city Communications Department and Beth Sherling with Parks and Recreation: More
- PALMETTO STREET: The 96-year-old building at 719 E. Palmetto Street across from the main library that formerly housed a rubber stamp company is being renovated for retail use. So far the only confirmed tenant is a yoga studio.
- OPIOID SETTLEMENT: Polk County and its cities will get $17.2 million to address the opioid crisis as part of a legal settlement with drug manufacturers and distributors. (The city of Lakeland expects $750,000 of that, an assistant city attorney said in October.) | City of Lakeland resolution agreeing to participate
- SANTACON, Lakeland’s annual holiday-themed pub crawl, takes place downtown on Dec. 11 starting at 5 p.m. | LkldSantaCon.com
Noah’s Ark of Central Florida announces Lisa Gifford and Sonia Glisson as new members of the Board of Directors. More
- MEETING INVOCATIONS: Polk County commissioners voted unanimously to restrict the people eligible to give invocations before their meetings to only those who volunteer as chaplains with the county fire rescue service. Currently all five are Christian ministers. Previously, the county invited the leaders of more than 1,000 faith organizations to sign up. At least one commissioner acknowledged the action will probably prompt a lawsuit. (Subscribers-only story)
- TEEN ENTREPRENEUR “Queen” Michaelah Williams has established a wide reputation for the lemonades she has been selling since she was nine. The 13-year-old Sleepy Hill Middle School seventh-grader is hosting a Children’s Entrepreneur Expo at The Poor Porker on Jan. 29 where all vendors will be 17 and under. | Previous features: ABC Acton News | LKLD Haven
- COMEDIAN Bill Engvall brings his farewell tour to the RP Funding Center on Friday.
The second-degree murder trial of former Lakeland City Commissioner Michael Dunn has been set for three weeks starting tentatively March 14. Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen has previously ruled that Dunn’s “stand-your-ground” defense could not be applied in the October 2018 shooting death of a man attempting to steal a hatchet from the Vets Army Navy Surplus store that Dunn managed. A January pre-trial conference is planned.
The 61-year-old man who was shot and killed by Lakeland police officers at an I-4 construction site Sunday morning was a Miamian who has been working nightly at the site, Fox 13 News and News Channel 8 reported. Police said officers fired after the man pointed a gun at them when they tapped on the window of his parked car, which had been reported as suspicious. The man, who stayed in his personal car while monitoring a pump overnight, started carrying a handgun after being awoken a few weeks ago to men prowling the construction site near Kathleen Road, a friend of the man told the TV stations. | Earlier LkldNow article | More
Nerf guns and virtual reality games will be the focus of a family-friendly business coming to downtown Lakeland and adding to the growing roster of entertainment-oriented venues in the city core. More
A 61-year-old man was shot and killed after he pointed a gun and possibly fired at two Lakeland police officers who approached his vehicle parked in a construction zone on Interstate 4 early this morning, police said. More
Downtown Lakeland’s new shuttle service, “The Squeeze,” kicks off Monday. The eight-person carts will circulate every seven minutes during lunchtime on weekdays, Fox 13 News reports. A longer route will run in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays. Costs are $2/day, $3/week or $9/month via cash apps or tokens available downtown. | Route maps, times, details More
The community responded after VISTE put out a call for more volunteers for their annual Thanksgiving meal delivery to the homebound elderly. The organization went from 200 volunteers signed up last week to 350 in time for Wednesday’s deliveries of 2,000 meals, News Channel 8 reports. There was also an outpouring of cranberry sauce cans, which have been in limited supply this year. More
- THANKSGIVING: If anything, Laura Pinner finds more to be thankful for eight months after being diagnosed with ALS. Though the former model and actress can no longer walk, she is learning to live in the moment and be “thankful for the smallest victories and glories in life.” | GoFundMe
- PARADE CHAIRS: We’re one week away from Lakeland’s annual Christmas Parade, and city officials are discouraging the practice of placing chairs along the route ahead of time, saying chairs set up prior to the day of the parade will be removed. | Parade guide via Lakeland Mom
Lakeland’s Phillip Walker is serving as president of the Florida League of Cities during the year the organization prepares to celebrate its 100th year of advocating for the needs of municipalities. More
Downtown Lakeland’s elaborate Christmas decorations will light up around 6 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, but the process to set them up starts in October when a city parks worker starts preparing the stored fixtures, The Ledger reports (Subscribers-only story). Installation starts Nov. 1 and lasts until the Christmas Parade the first Thursday in December. Costs include: $55k for Lakeland Electric to lease, install, remove and store some of the more elaborate pieces, and $2.7k to maintain and repair decorations.
A new café in south Lakeland offers a healthy twist on the coffee shop/juice bar with a menu specializing in protein-enhanced shakes, refreshers, acai bowls, waffles, and donuts with a focus on “guilt-free, healthy shakes.” More
It will be 2024’s storm season before NOAA’s Lakeland-based Hurricane Hunters can use the Gulfstream 550 they’ve been seeking, the Associated Press reports. NOAA started trying for the new aircraft in 2019, wanting their fourth storm-chasing aircraft to be active in 2022. The agency’s 2022 budget request includes $100 million for the jet, and delivery is expected to Lakeland Linder Airport in time for the 2024 storm season. | Previous coverage
A combination of strong demand and supply-chain disruptions has prompted Publix Super Markets to limit some popular items to two per shopper in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday, Orlando’s Fox 35 reports. Among the limited items: canned cranberry sauce, jarred gravy, canned pie filling, vegetable and canola oil, cream cheese, bacon and rolled breakfast sausage. Check the article for the full list. More
VISTE, Volunteers in Service to the Elderly, faces two shortages as Thanksgiving approaches, News Channel 8 reports. The organization is delivering 2,000 meals to homebound elderly Wednesday afternoon, but has well below the 400 volunteers who signed up last year. (Sign up here.) In addition, more cranberry sauce is needed; if you have extra, drop it off by 4 p.m. today at VISTE, 1232 E. Magnolia St.
An urban-style community of 630 apartments with restaurants and shops will be built on the abandoned Florida Tile site west of Lake Wire, under plans unveiled today at a meeting of the Lakeland Downtown Development Authority. The conceptual design by Atlanta developers Carter & Associates and architects The Preston Partnership received an enthusiastic approval from the LDDA board. More
- GROWTH: Lakeland’s Planning and Zoning Board approved development of Gresham Trails, a subdivision that would bring 321 homes to 129 acres north of West Medulla Road near County Line Road. The project next goes to the City Commission, which denied a neighboring project, an expansion of Morgan Creek Preserve, in March.
- MUSIC composed by Erica Porter, a 25-year-old graduate of Harrison School for the Arts and Florida Southern College, was chosen to be performed at Carnegie Hall in a UN Chamber Music Society Concert.
- MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER bring their annual Christmas tour back to the RP Funding Center Friday after having to skip playing here last year because of COVID.
Lakeland city commissioners on Monday chose not to act on repeated requests made during their last three meetings to declare Lakeland a “sanctuary city for the unborn” and to shut down the one abortion clinic in town. More
John “Lites” Leenhouts has announced he will retire as president and CEO of Sun ’n Fun Fly-In Inc. after the April conclusion of the 2022 aerospace expo, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association reports. Leenhouts, who assumed the position in 2011, transformed the organization’s focus to education and was instrumental in establishing the Aerospace Center for Excellence in Lakeland.
Noah’s Ark of Central Florida is pleased to announce Jim Maskas, Roxann Bonta, Todd Edwards, Linda Harkins, and Susy Aviles as new members of the Board of Directors. More
- LAKE BEULAH ROUNDABOUT: The city of Lakeland is moving ahead with plans for a roundabout that will turn the five-point intersection north of Lake Beulah into four points. City commissioners are also raising safety concerns about the railroad underpass on Sloan Avenue between Lake Beulah and the future entrance of Bonnet Springs Park.
- BANK OF CENTRAL FLORIDA has doubled its assets from $500,000 to $1 billion in two years, a period that saw its territory expand and employment grow from 60 to 80.
- CIRCLE B Bar Reserve’s Marsh Rabbit Run Trail is closed until further notice “for safety of our visitors and resident wildlife,” Polk County announced.
Lakeland Regional Health’s quest to become a teaching hospital will soon become a reality with the first students expected to start on July 1, 2023, hospital CEO Danielle Drummond announced at today’s Lakeland City Commission meeting. More
Lakeland High School was eliminated from the football playoffs in the first round Friday, losing to Lake Gibson 24-20, the Dreadnaughts’ second loss to the Braves this year. Next week, Lake Gibson faces Edgewater in Orlando in the semifinals. | Ledger article (subscribers only)
Among other Lakeland teams, Tenoroc was eliminated in a 42-6 loss to Clewiston. Victory Christian routed Foundation Academy 24-7, and move on to play at Zephyrhills Christian next week. Tonight, Santa Fe Catholic faces St. Edwards.
Jay Dennis, the 62-year-old retired pastor of Church at the Mall, is launching City Central Church, which he describes as a non-denominational congregation for the unchurched and de-churched, The Ledger reports. The new church is leasing the sanctuary at 310 Frank Lloyd Wright Way; it was formerly part of St. Joseph Academy and is now owned by Florida Southern College, which is renovating the adjoining classroom building for its graduate nursing program.
Two Hong Kong orchid trees were planted along Lake Morton this afternoon in memory of civic and business leaders David Henderson and Edie Yates Henderson. More
Lakeland would be part of a Polk-based new Congressional district under the first draft of redistricting maps released Wednesday by the Florida Senate. More
George Jenkins Boulevard is closed between Sloan Avenue and Brunell Parkway this evening as city crews repair a water main break at Veterans Avenue. The work to excavate and then repair an aging concrete line is expected to take several hours and possibly last until Thursday morning, city officials say.More
No charges are planned in the death of Naomi Wood, who died in May 2020 at Lakeland Girls Academy, a faith-based boarding school. The Polk Sheriff’s Office closed its criminal case after the Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the 17-year-old Vermont girl died of natural causes. The report does not mention medical negligence disclosed by a state agency earlier this year, News Channel 8 reports. | ALSO: The Ledger | More
- AIRPORT ROAD’s rapid residential and industrial growth presents traffic challenges to city planners, Maya Lora reports. With little state funding to improve the segment north of the Polk Parkway and limits on growth management, planners will be negotiating with developers of new projects to mitigate a development’s projected congestion. (Subscribers-only story)
- FIRE STATIONS: Polk County Fire Rescue’s new station in Kathleen and 16 others built with the same design minimize cancer risks by separating firefighters’ living and exercise areas from the carcinogens they work around. (Subscribers-only story)
The city of Lakeland is exploring the idea of converting the sidewalk along Sikes Boulevard adjacent to Lake Hunter into a multi-purpose trail. More
- PREP FOOTBALL: Lakeland plays at Lake Gibson Friday in the state 7A-2 quarterfinals. Other Lakeland teams in the playoffs: Tenoroc, Lakeland Christian and Victory Christian. | Schedules
- MENTAL HEALTH: A multi-part series by reporter Kimberly Moore kicked off this weekend with reports on the findings of a statewide grand jury (subscribers only), Polk Vision’s 250-page assessment of local challenges, and a local family’s struggles (subscribers only).
A fight between a man and a woman leaving a downtown bar early this morning escalated to physical blows and then gunshots, leaving the 31-year-old man dead and the 30-year old woman charged with second-degree murder, according to the Lakeland Police Department. More
COVID 19 in Polk County for the week ending Nov. 4, according to the Florida Department of Health:
- New cases: 332, the lowest since mid-June 2020 and the 10th consecutive week of decreases
- Testing positivity: 2.8%, the lowest since testing started in March 2020 (The state is no longer disclosing how many people were tested.)
- New vaccinations: 1,649, a slight rise from 1,626 the previous week. Until this week, vaccinations had decreased every week since 9,560 were administered the last week of July
- Population age 12+ with at least one vaccination: 66%, compared with 73% statewide, unchanged from last week
- Fully vaccinated: 59.2%, according to the CDC, up from 58.8% last week
- Deaths: 22, according to the CDC
The state of Florida shut down its monoclonal antibody treatment center in Lakeland on Friday amid lessened demand for the COVID-19 treatment, News Channel 8 reports. At least 12 of the state’s 25 sites are closing, the station reports. While treatments at the state’s centers are free, patients may face a charge at hospitals or other treatment locations. The closest state centers still open are in Clearwater and St Cloud. | Updated list of state sites More
It was a family affair as two generations of the Barnett family won top awards at the National Philanthropy Day Awards Celebration in Lakeland on Friday. Ashley and Wesley Barnett were one of two couples named philanthropists of the year, and Wesley’s parents — Carol and Barney Barnett — were given the Outstanding Philanthropy Award. More
Ed Holloway, who turned parts of his massive land holdings in southeast Lakeland into the Sanlan Ranch RV & Golf Resort and Holloway Park, died Monday at age 91. More
Another year has passed with COVID-19’s impact still lingering on everyone’s mind, but that has not stopped the Pace Center for Girls, Polk County from continuing its annual Posh Purse Party event from taking place. Last year’s success, given the drastic changes to the fundraiser’s setting from in-person to virtual, has paved the way for an even bigger and better rendition of the yearly showing. More
Veterans Memorial Park will soon be home to a new public arts sculpture commemorating the Spanish-American War, and the often-overlooked historical role Lakeland contributed. Preparations for unveiling the monument include a series of public education events and parades, several of which take place this weekend. More
A monument honoring Polk County’s World War II African American soldiers will be dedicated in Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday during a pre-Veterans Day ceremony. More
- BASKETBALL: The Lakeland Royals, a new semipro team affiliated with the Florida Basketball Association, holds tryouts Nov. 13. Its owner is Amy Rhodes, a Southeastern University student in her early 20s. | Royals on Instagram | Florida Basketball Association
- CHAMBER: Chuck McDanal, owner of the Studio C Solutions business coaching and analytics firm, has been named interim president and CEO of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce. He will serve until a search committee secures a replacement for former CEO Cory Skeates, who resigned last week. | Previous LkldNow article | McDanal on LinkedIn
- FATALITY: Brittany Reynolds, 31, of Lakeland, died in a single-car crash on U.S. 17 near Bartow late Monday, the Polk Sheriff’s Office reports.
Lakeland voters today re-elected Bill Mutz as mayor with a 2-to-1 margin that decisively endorsed his call for inclusion and growth over far-right challenger Saga Stevin’s push to “Keep Lakeland, Lakeland.” Two first-term City Commission incumbents — Mike Musick and Sara Roberts McCarley — also scored decisive wins over challengers who sought to bring new faces to the board overseeing city government. More
LATEST UPDATE: NOV. 2
Lakeland’s mayor and two of its city commissioners face challengers in the Nov. 2 city elections. The non-partisan election is open to registered voters who live within city limits.
Read on to learn about the election, the candidates and the two charter issues on the ballot. We will continue to update this Voter Guide through Election Day.More
UPDATED NOV. 1: Lakeland’s mayor election has been hit with three last-minute attack mailers from an out-of-town political action committee run by a man whose name has been associated with last-minute attacks several times. More
Stephanie Archibald keeps evolving her business, SB&B Seafood Bar & Grill, Business Observer reports. It started as a weekend get-together with friends and expanded to two locations — a restaurant and a fish market — that she now operates under one roof at 1801 George Jenkins Boulevard. Next the 38-year-old Lakeland native will add a food truck as she awaits the conversion of a 30-foot Ford Stepvan.
Rut Patel, the 26-year-old Lakelander who founded Voyager Industries Inc., is innovating in the use of drone technology for engineering inspections. He built a drone from scratch that uses artificial intelligence for navigation, and he’s working on one that can can go 250 mph and one that uses solar energy, Business Observer reports.
COVID 19 in Polk County for the week ending Oct. 28, according to the Florida Department of Health:
- New cases: 413, the lowest since mid-June
- Testing positivity: 3.4%, the lowest since mid-May 2020
- New vaccinations: 1,626, down from 1,754 the previous week. Vaccinations have decreased every week since 9,560 were administered the last week of July
- Population age 12+ with at least one vaccination: 66%, compared with 73% statewide
- Fully vaccinated: 58.8%, according to the CDC
- Deaths: 51, according to the CDC
Stryker, a company that manufactures medical devices, is closing its Lakeland facility near the I-4/County Line Road interchange and is eliminating more than 500 positions by the end of 2023, Fox 13 News reports.
- AIRPORT RESTAURANT: City commissioners are set to approve a contract Monday for restaurateur and aircraft company CEO Sven Lepschy to open a restaurant, Waco Kitchen, on the mezzanine at Lakeland Linder Airport. Lepschy’s company, DiMor Eats LLC, plans to invest $3 million to enlarge and renovate the existing restaurant space, which has been vacant for two years. (Subscribers-only story) ALSO: LALtoday | City lease agreement with rent credits
- STEVIN NEWSLETTER: A newsletter sent by the Saga Stevin for mayor campaign claimed incorrectly that the city paid $12,500 for membership in the U.S. Conference of Mayors and implied Mayor Bill Mutz supports some of the organization’s left-leaning positions. Mutz said he declined to join the conference because of its liberal stances.
A contemplated expansion of The Joinery food hall and a planned city dog park a block away are the newest projects to enliven a once-dormant strip northeast of Lake Mirror. More
Cory Skeates has resigned as president and CEO of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, a post he has held since January 2015, the organization announced today. The resignation takes effect immediately. More
The publisher of Lakeland Gazette denies involvement with an unregistered political action committee even though the two share a mailing address and digital links, Florida Politics reports. Both the publication and the PAC support Saga Stevin in her bid for mayor and have published repeated attacks on incumbent Bill Mutz. Mutz said he does not plan to file a complaint, but Florida Politics reports Publisher Robert Anderson has been subject to previous fines from the Florida Elections Commission.
Approaches to diversity and assistance to small businesses were major topics this morning when Lakeland mayor candidates Bill Mutz and Saga Stevin appeared at a forum hosted by the Central Florida Business Diversity Council. The forum was moderated by Larry Mitchell, the organization’s president. RELATED: Ledger coverage
Lakeland entrepreneur Rich Wills has sold his three FITNiche stores to North Carolina-based Fleet Feet, which has 190 running-store stores in 37 states, The Ledger reports. Wills is retaining FITNiche Events Inc., which times races, and he is working to bring a line of barefoot-style running shoes to market.
With just over a week until Election Day, the latest Lakeland campaign finance reports show that Mayor Bill Mutz now has the largest campaign chest ($57,725) and largest donor base (202) among the six people running for city office. More
For Jeremy Rosado, a former Lakeland worship leader, 2021 has been a year of second chances. A few months after recovering from COVID-19, he found out he would be a contestant on NBC’s “The Voice.” More
- DOWNTOWN: Onicx Construction of Tampa wants to turn the city-owned Oak Street parking lot into a parking garage and five-story apartment building with retail. City officials will negotiate with the company on property purchase, development details and incentives after city commissioners selected it between two companies that submitted proposals. The city plans to lease 150 spaces in the parking garage to replace the 150 spaces on the current surface lot. | Details: city attorney’s memo
- COVID: Polk County reported 548 new COVID-19 infections last week and a positivity rate of 4.2%; those are the lowest numbers since late June — just before the surge that topped out in mid-August at 7,510 new cases and positivity of 28.9%. | LkldNow charts
- UNEMPLOYMENT in Polk dropped to 5% in September from 5.6% the previous month and 7.8% last September. Florida’s unemployment rate is 4.9%, and the national rate is 4.8% | Detailed Florida numbers
- MONUMENT: After failing to persuade federal district and appeals courts that the city of Lakeland erred in relocating a Confederate monument from the center of Munn Park, the group Save Southern Heritage is attempting to have the U.S. Supreme Court hear its case. | ALSO: News Channel 8
- DANIEL STRADER has been released from prison after serving 26 years of a 45-year sentence for defrauding 56 investors of $2.3 million.
The four candidates for two seats on the Lakeland City Commission expressed views on local issues at a forum sponsored by LkldNow on Wednesday evening. Here is an updated video of the event. The audio is spotty for the first 20 minutes but improves after that.
Here is the video from LkldNow’s Mayor Candidate Forum, held Tuesday evening at Lkld Live. The video starts just after host Andrea Oliver had introduced candidates Bill Mutz and Saga Stevin but just before she asked them the first question. LkldNow apologizes for the technical issues that interrupted our live stream last night.
During the city of Lakeland’s annual swan roundup on Tuesday, Steve Platt of the Parks and Recreation Department took Fox 13’s Elizabeth Fry on his boat to show how he and his co-workers catch the fleeing feathered creatures on Lake Morton. Veterinarians from My Pet’s Animal Hospital are performing the swans’ annual checkups today. More
As part of its efforts to find and arrest Jonathan Pollock of Lakeland, the FBI has released police body-cam video showing his actions during the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, News Channel 8 reports. Pollock has been considered a fugitive since late June, when agents attempted to arrest him on charges of assaulting police officers with a deadly weapon. More
- MAYOR’S RACE: Campaign signs were the focus of charges and counter-charges in the race for Lakeland mayor. Mayor Bill Mutz filed a police report claiming that at least 50 of his signs were stolen from yards and businesses south of downtown early Sunday morning. He did not accuse challenger Saga Stevin of being involved, but she questioned whether he might have been “part of it” and leveled accusations that some Mutz signs had been placed illegally and in places where they obscured her signs.
- CONGRESS: U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin, a Lakeland Republican, has outpaced Democratic rival Eddie Geller of Brandon in campaign fund-raising, according to the most recent finance reports. Franklin reports collecting $80,900 in the third quarter for a total treasury of $230,000. Geller, who entered the race in August, collected $131,611 in the period ending Sept. 30. Another declared Democratic candidate, Jesse Philippe of Riverview, has not filed finance reports.
Get to know the candidates for mayor and city commissioner by watching LkldNow’s candidate forums this week. The mayor candidate forum will be live streamed Tuesday at 6 p.m., and our City Commission candidate forum will be live streamed Wednesday at 6 p.m. More
Lakeland city commissioners today approved the use of shipping containers as tiny homes on property zoned for mobile homes or multi-family dwellings. In addition, shipping containers are now available for certain commercial uses. More
- SCHOOL OPTIONS: Polk County Public Schools are changing the application process for magnet schools, choice schools and career academies. A single limited deadline is being replaced with three enrollment periods; in addition, families will be able to apply via a paper form, not just by computer. | LEARN MORE: PCPS website.
- BANDIDAS: The three Latinas who founded the new Bandidas test kitchen have set out to expand Lakeland’s culinary horizons and host pop-up events emphasizing cuisine, music and inclusiveness. (A subscribers-only story) | LEARN MORE: @BandidasLKLD
Power boat racing returns to Lake Hollingsworth Saturday and Sunday as 100+ racers participate in the 83rd annual Orange Cup Regatta. This year’s event was postponed from its traditional March date because of COVID concerns, LALtoday reports. Races are scheduled from 10 a.m. to sunset and are free for spectators to watch from the lakeshore. | Tentative schedule
An hour of audience questions at an NAACP candidate forum was dominated by people challenging mayoral hopeful Saga Stevin on her statements critical of Black Lives Matter, police body cameras and moving Confederate monuments. The next day she told The Ledger she had been “set up.” NAACP Lakeland Branch President Terry Coney responded that the forum was no different than other candidate events hosted by the nonpartisan organization. ALSO: Video of the forum
As of the end of September, Saga Stevin and Sara Roberts McCarley had the largest campaign treasuries among the six people running for Lakeland mayor and City Commission this fall. Shandale Terrell had the most individual donors. And Allyson “Al” Lewis had the most donations from political organizations. Read on for more highlights and a summary of each candidate’s financial support. More
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of at least 17 Polk County Public Schools employees this school year; twelve were “active” employees who had returned to work when classes resumed this fall, and five had not returned. School Board member Lynn Wilson tells News Channel 8, “Our hands are tied. The reality is — you can’t enforce a mask policy. I know a lot of folks wanted a mask policy. I think the real key was allowing a virtual option and we couldn’t do that either” because of restrictions imposed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. ALSO: The Ledger | More
Lakeland High School defensive end Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, ESPN’s No. 5 football recruit nationally, has chosen the Oklahoma Sooners. The deciding factor was head coach Lincoln Riley’s personal touch. “When I first started talking to them, they were like, we’re not going to be talking football with you, we’re just going to get to know you as a person. That drew me towards them,” the LHS senior told ESPN.
Sixty-plus teachers from 16 countries have come to Polk County to help relieve the teacher shortage in public schools, Fox 13 News reports. The teachers, who are in the U.S. under exchange visitor visas, are certified and qualified in critical subject areas, according to sponsoring organization TPC Cultural Exchange (website). More
A day before today’s scheduled arraignment of Bryan Riley on charges of murdering four people in their north Lakeland homes, his attorneys told a judge that they are considering an insanity defense and may need a year’s delay in the case, the Associated Press reported. Prosecutors asked Judge Jalal Harb to limit the defense to 45 extra days. He did not rule on a delay Monday.
A new anchor at WESH 2 News in Orlando has Lakeland roots. Luana Munoz, 39, stepped into her new role as weekend anchor on Sept. 15 at the Hearst-owned television station. “It’s been a lot of jumping around and working in other markets and locations. So being able to come back home is a big deal for me. There’s family here. I just love the feeling of central Florida,” said Luana Munoz. More
No injuries were reported when a semi-trailer overturned in the intersection of Florida Avenue and Memorial Boulevard this afternoon. LPD advises driver to seek alternate routes since several lanes will be blocked until the debris is cleaned up. Eastbound Memorial is partially blocked and the right turn lane of Florida Avenue is blocked.
Around 4:30 p.m., LPD said it will probably two more hours before the intersection is fully open.
“There was an issue with the equipment brought in for the trailer removal. Backup equipment has arrived, but we anticipate another two hours before the roadway is clear,” spokeswoman Robin Tillett said
Check LPD’s Facebook post for updates.
- MAYOR: Polk Sheriff Grady Judd clarified that he does not endorse candidates in municipal elections. His statement came after questions were raised about whether a photo of Judd and mayoral candidate Saga Stevin on her campaign literature implied his endorsement. “I know both candidates and, of course, I am a longtime friend of Mayor Bill Mutz. It is up to Lakeland voters to choose their next mayor, not me,” he said.
- QGIV, a Lakeland company that provides online fund-raising tools, announced that its platform has processed more than $2 billion in donations to nonprofits. ALSO: News release
The Lakeland Police Department’s responses to calls this year have been roughly evenly divided between the four quadrants of the city, according to police department data. Calls involving northwest Lakeland comprise 25.26% of the total, not 90%, as claimed by mayoral candidate Saga Stevin at a forum this week, according to the data. More
The names of two Lakeland police officers who died while on duty were added to a memorial wall during Polk County’s annual service in memory of fallen officers on Thursday. The names of Officers Ken Foley and Paul Dunn were added during a ceremony at Veterans Park in Lakeland that was delayed twice because of COVID-19, Fox 13 News reports. ALSO: ABC Action News | LPD video of the ceremony | More
The two candidates for mayor offered starkly different visions for what is needed to develop northwest Lakeland at a forum on Tuesday. Incumbent Bill Mutz called for mentoring, training and creating minority business financing, while challenger Saga Stevin pushed for more policing in an area she claimed is marked by gangs and violent crime. More
With nearly a third of its sworn employees out because of COVID-19 cases or quarantines, the Lakeland Fire Department paused “non-essential duties” and had some firefighters working 48-hour shifts regularly during September, department leaders told city commissioners on Monday. Normal operations resumed Oct. 1, The Ledger reported in a subscribers-only story.
- APARTMENTS: Developer Jason Lewis has gotten the go-ahead to construct a four story, 48-unit apartment building one block from Lake Morton at the southwest corner of Lime Street and Indiana Avenue. Previously, Baylis Consulting had received approval to build apartments on the property but the project did not materialize.
- ELECTION: In the race for the Southwest District seat on the Lakeland City Commission, incumbent Sara Roberts McCarley is emphasizing the city knowledge she has gained in nearly three years on the commission while challenger Allyson “Al” Lewis, a 28-year-old high school history teacher, presses the case for adding age diversity to the commission.
The number of new COVID-19 infections in Polk County dropped for a fifth straight week to 1,455 new cases, nearly the same level as the second week of July, a period when the delta-fueled surge was just starting its rapid ascent.More
- NURSERY: Chris Rumph, the owner of Mid Florida Nurseries, has sold his County Line Road property to a warehouse developer and is moving the plant operation to a larger parcel he purchased in Polk City.
- KHS: Four students were added to the 15 previously arrested in connection with a Monday protest at Kathleen High School. They were charged with misdemeanors: disruption of school function and resisting arrest without violence.
- GIVEWELL: In a QA, GiveWell Community Foundation President and CEO John A. Attaway Jr. describes how the organization functions as a philanthropy savings account and explains why it’s not for just the wealthy.
Business Voice, the political arm of the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, announced today it is supporting the three incumbents in this fall’s city of Lakeland elections over their challengers. After interviewing candidates on Wednesday, the organization’s members voted to endorse: More
- HISTORIC HOUSE: Michael and Annalee Mutz are restoring the long-neglected 1908 Queen Anne house at 1022 Success Ave. Michael buys, restores and sells distressed houses for a living, but this is where the young couple plans to raise their family.
- ELECTION: One race on the Nov. 2 city ballot is a reprise of last spring’s City Commission special election. Shandale Terrell, who lost the May runoff by 146 votes, is challenging now-incumbent Mike Musick.
Noah’s Ark of Central Florida has announced Mandy Fulton as the organization’s new Development Director. More
Dissent Craft Brewing, known for its “outspoken ales,” plans to open its downtown Lakeland location on Oct. 15 in a 2,000-square-foot storefront at 125 S. Kentucky Ave. next to Pita Pit. It is Dissent’s first expansion beyond its St. Petersburg base. More
Polk School Board members heard mixed messages on COVID-19 in local schools when they met Tuesday, The Ledger reports. Infections involving students and staff have steadily decreased during the last three weeks, Superintendent Frederick Heid said. But he and an infectious disease expert expressed worries about the effects of new, laxer state rules regarding quarantines of students exposed to the virus.
A Kathleen High School teacher/coach is being accused of provoking Monday’s protest that resulted in 15 student arrests. Tomaris Hill was arrested in Orange County, where he lives, on misdemeanor charges of interfering with the education process and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, News Channel 8 reports. The school district is “moving forward with terminating” Hill’s employment, Superintendent Frederick Heid said. | RELATED: The KHS principal is taking steps to improve communication, The Ledger reports. More
A partnership between Lakeland’s International Aerotech Academy and Piper Aircraft aims to put a dent in the nation’s aircraft mechanic shortage by offering tuition stipends and conditional job offers to the academy’s students who complete an interview successfully, ABC Action News reports | News release
Don Whitworth, who served as publisher of The Ledger from 1988 to 2000, died last week in his Lakeland home at age 77. Whitworth, a graduate of Lakeland High School, is the only publisher in The Ledger’s 97-year-history who grew up here. More
A “largely peaceful” protest at Kathleen High School Monday morning resulted in 15 students arrested for disrupting the campus. Student grievances with new Principal Daraford Jones include strict enforcement of class tardiness rules and directives about dress and close dancing at an upcoming homecoming celebration, Fox 13 News reports. ALSO: News Channel 8 | Bay News 9 | The Ledger | ABC Action News | More
Food vendors and retail businesses in Lakeland may soon be able to operate from shipping containers similar to the ones seen in Tampa’s Sparkman Wharf, The Ledger reports. The city Planning and Zoning board has approved changes in regulations that would allow the containers, and the City Commission will consider them soon. The containers would have to be on property zoned for commercial use and comply with certain regulations. | View the proposal
The city of Lakeland’s $763 million budget for 2022, which was approved Thursday night, includes $1.1 million to purchase body cameras and other technology for police officers, The Ledger reported. The property tax rate was reduced slightly from $5.4644 to $5.4323 per $1,000 assessed value; that represents a 4.3% increase in revenue to the city because of rising property values. | ALSO: Budget presentation | Budget ordinance | News release | More
Polk County’s COVID-19 numbers are continuing to decline. The 2,413 new infections reported this week represent the lowest number since mid-July, a time when the current surge was beginning to accelerate. Testing positivity was down to 11.4% from a high of 28.9% in mid-August.More
Publix pharmacies in Polk and three other Florida counties began providing Pfizer vaccine booster shots today to eligible people: those 65 or older or immunocompromised people who received two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at least six months ago. More
Prosecutors announced today they will seek the death penalty against Bryan Riley, who has been accused in the slayings of four family members in their north Lakeland homes on Sept. 5. The 33-year-old security guard and former Marine sharpshooter had been under the delusion that the victims were engaged in sex trafficking of a pre-teen girl, Sheriff Grady Judd has said. More
Lakeland Regional Health now has a Caring Cradle, an invention by a Lakeland woman designed to assist families grieving over a stillbirth or the death of a newborn. More
A 22-count Polk County grand jury indictment charges Bryan Riley, 33, of Brandon, with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four north Lakeland family members, the Associated Press reports. Other charges included attempted murder, kidnapping, arson, burglary and animal cruelty.
Lakeland Regional Health is waiting for federal guidelines before figuring out how to ensure hospital employees and associates are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, as required by an executive order from President Joe Biden. More
Southwest Middle School is slated for a $50 million makeover with most of the campus being demolished and rebuilt. Construction, expected to begin around the end of the year, will be done in stages in a way that classes will remain on campus, The Ledger reports. A conditional use permit was approved by the Lakeland Planning and Zoning Board Tuesday and still needs City Commission approval. | Zoning documents More
- CARILLON LAKES: Negotiations between an apartment developer and nearby homeowners have yielded an agreement that both sides believe will relieve traffic pressure at the Carillon Lakes Boulevard exit onto Airport Road. Developer Matcon Construction has agreed to build a right-turn lane onto Airport Road and has received a verbal go-ahead from the Florida Department of Transportation to plan an exit from the planned Parkway Preserve apartments directly onto Airport Road. | City Commission document
- CANNABIS: Modern Canna Laboratories, which certifies the quality cannabis of used for medical marijuana, is poised to grow from 14 to 50 employees in a year at its Beacon Road lab, company CEO George A. Fernandez said. | Modern Canna website
A passionate speech by conservative political consultant Roger Stone fired up a crowd of nearly 250 people at a Lakeland rally supporting the right of health-care workers to reject an employer’s vaccine mandate. More
The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Polk County declined steeply this week for a third week in a row, according to the latest update from the Florida Department of Health. For the first time in nearly two months, the number of new infections — 3,233 — is below the previous high of 3,579 last January.More
Stephanie Madden had geared up for a major campaign for re-election to a second term on the Lakeland City Commission. At one point, two other people had said they were running for her at-large seat. But when candidate qualifying ended at noon today, she found herself re-elected without opposition. More
Polk County Commissioner Neil Combee wanted the other commissioners to sign a letter he wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis promoting the public’s right to try unapproved COVID treatments, but they declined to go along in a 3-2 vote this morning. With only Bill Braswell, supporting the letter, Combee said he would send the letter on his own behalf supporting use of ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, The Ledger reported. | ALSO: View the letter | News Channel 8 coverage
- I-4 AND SR 33: Improvements are coming to the obsolete interchange of I-4 and SR 33 near Bridgewater, but construction could be several years away. A congressional infrastructure deal set aside $20 million to rebuild the interchange; it won’t cover the estimated $70-80 million price tag, but local officials hope it will incentive state transportation planners to advance the project from 2028 to 2014. (Subscribers-only story)
- SCHOOL NURSE Cynthia “ Cindee” Kasey of Lakeland’s REAL Academy has died at age 58 of COVID-19; she’s the seventh Polk public schools employee known to have succumbed to an infection since classes started in August. A friend and colleague said Kasey contracted the virus at work.
- DIXIELAND FIRE: The owners of a 96-year-old house at 912 S. Missouri Ave. worry they may have to demolish it after fire struck recently; they fear the same fate may befall another structure on the property that once housed Child’s Garden of Learning, a private elementary school that closed in 1974. (Subscribers-only story.)
After saying for years the city needs to add recreation in fast-growing southwest Lakeland, city commissioners are now pondering a land deal: $7 million for 101.5 acres to house a community park southwest of Lakeland Linder Airport. More
Friends and family are mourning D’Anthony Dorsey, a 24-year-old marine biology teacher who was infected with COVID-19 and spent three weeks on a ventilator before dying Tuesday night, WFLA reports. “He was a good player for us but just, a better human. Just a solid kid,” said Bill Castle, who coached Dorsey when he was a linebacker on the LHS Dreadnaught football team in 2013 and 2014. ““He was a gentle giant whose calm and caring presence was appreciated by everyone on campus,” read a statement from the principal of Auburndale High School, where Dorsey taught. More
- COVID DEATHS: New data from the CDC shows that Polk County experienced 96 COVID-19 deaths in the week ending Sept. 14. In all, 1,941 people have died from COVID in Polk, according to a compilation from USF epidemiologist Jason Salemi. | LINKS: CDC county data | Salemi’s dashboard
- SCHOOL TESTING: Polk School Board members and the head of the local teachers union express cautious optimism about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ legislative proposal to replace high-stakes testing in public schools with progress monitoring.
A lush, vacant lot across from Southgate Publix lined with stately oak trees is taking on a new life after a group decided it’s the right place for a shared residential lifestyle for seniors and adults with disabilities. More
- HITCH, a ride-sharing/car-pooling app aimed at inter-city trips, debuts in Lakeland Thursday. A ride between Lakeland and Tampa or Orlando is expected to cost from $20 to $90, depending on level of service, the company’s founder says. | Ridehitch.com
- HISPANIC HERITAGE Month is being marked in Polk County with production of a series of videos teaching youth about Hispanic heroes and achievements.
- POLK COUNTY Commissioners gave initial approval to a budget that exceeds $2 billion for the first time. The property tax rate remains at $6.89 per $1,000 of taxable value.
- FLORIDA POLY has received approval to house International Flavors & Fragrances as the first tenant of its campus research park. The Fortune 500 company plans to focus on research involving citrus flavors. | News release
The Lakeland Chamber of Commerce is partnering with the Tampa Bay Women’s Business Centre to offer free business coaching to female entrepreneurs. More
- PARKS: Polk County government plans to spend $13 million improving parks next year include two Lakeland-area projects: replacing the boardwalk at Crystal Lake Park and a new basketball court and restroom building at Loyce E. Harpe Park.
- CANNABIS tracking company Metrc LLC continues growing, adding two new executives and making plans to expand its 140 employees beyond its 5,000-square-foot Lakeland facility. | Metrc website
Parked on the weekends on Memorial Boulevard near Ohio Street and next to the new Coney Funeral Home, the 1911 Rollin Cigar Lounge gives small groups of people a chance to gather and smoke cigars in a comfortable RV. More
The family of Bill Bateman knew that he had served in the U.S. Marines during World War II, but they did not know until after he died Monday at age 96 that he had received a Bronze Star for heroism, News Channel 8 reported. Discovery of his heroism citation means that Bateman, who owned McDonalds franchises in Lakeland and Bartow, will be buried with full military honors. More
Lakeland firefighters will no longer be required to work overtime at Detroit Tigers/Lakeland Flying Tigers games and Lakes Church events, the city and firefighters union agreed in settling a union grievance. Union leader Shannon Turbeville also claimed that the city isn’t paid enough to cover its costs for private events, The Ledger reported; the city’s human resources director responded to the union that the fire chief “will be suggesting modifications” to ensure the city is fully compensated.
A downturn in new COVID-19 cases in Polk County continued for a second straight week as the Florida Department of Health reported 4,787 new infections here. That’s 1,387 fewer new cases than were reported last week, the largest one-week drop to date. Still, the past week’s total was the sixth highest since the coronavirus crisis started in Polk 18 months ago.More
- BODY CAMERAS will be issued to LPD officers for the first time, under an initial 2021-22 city budget approved Thursday night. The cameras were approved 5-2, with City Commissioners Madden, Mutz, McCarley, McLeod and Walker in favor and Commissioners Musick and Read opposed. | Video: full meeting | City news release
- CANNON AUTOMOTIVE GROUP has a new owner: Myers Auto Group LLC of West Palm Beach. The three Cannon brothers, whose family has owned the business since 1964, felt the time was right to sell since they are approaching retirement age and the business is thriving, Danny Cannon said.
Sheriff’s investigators have learned what drew murder suspect Bryan Riley to a quiet north Lakeland neighborhood where his delusions of a sex-trafficking operation led to a rampage that killed four people and wounded another, Sheriff Grady Judd said this morning. More
Two GoFundMe funds have been set up to assist family members of Sunday’s mass shooting victims with funeral costs for the four who died and medical costs for the child who was wounded, Axios Tampa Bay reports. The 11-year-old Lake Gibson Middle School student has had four surgeries and is receiving blood transfusions after suffering 11 gunshot wounds, mostly below the waist, and a broken leg, family members say. | Fund for child’s mother | Fund for child’s grandmother
Polk County commissioners today decided to reword their letter to Gov. Ron DeSantis about alternative COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin after getting feedback on the issue in a public meeting today, The Ledger reports. The head of Polk’s health department urged commissioners not to send the letter, saying, “I think you’re sending a message to the public that it’s the Wild West of anything you can get your hands on, take it. That message bothers me as a physician.” | ALSO: News Channel 8
Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Lakeland today to announce a three-prong legislative plan to attract more recruits to law enforcement, including $5,000 signing bonuses. He said he chose Lakeland for the announcement because he was impressed by the local Police Department’s out-of-state recruitment efforts, Fox 13 News reports. | ALSO: The Ledger | Video: full news conference
The staff at Lakeland Regional Health is anxiously waiting to see if the past week’s retreat from record high numbers of COVID-19 patients signals a peak in the current surge or just a momentary blip, a hospital vice president told city commissioners this morning. More
The 11-year-old girl who survived with wounds as four others died at the hands of a gun-wielding stranger on Sunday morning in two north Lakeland houses will remain at Tampa General Hospital for several months, family members tell Fox 13 News. She has undergone four surgeries for her 10 wounds, but she is awake, talking, reading, writing, and in good spirits, family members say. | ALSO: News Channel 8 – Girl told investigators she survived by playing dead More
Forty-year-old Justice Gleason, one of the four people murdered in two north Lakeland homes on Sunday, was “an amazing father” whose “smile could light up a room,” the mother of his 4-year-old daughter tells 10 Tampa Bay. Now Miranda Watson is grappling with how to one day tell her daughter about what happened to her dad. | ALSO: News Channel 8 – Neighbors grapple with fate More
Brian Riley will remain jailed after being denied bail this morning when he went to court for the first time after being charged with four counts of first-degree murder and other felonies in the shooting deaths of four people, including in infant, in two North Lakeland homes and wounding an 11-year-old girl multiple times. More
5:30 P.M. UPDATE: A gunman in military armor who said he was high on methamphetamines shot and killed four people, including an infant, in two houses off North Socrum Road early this morning, then exchanged gunfire with deputies and police before surrendering, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. More
Polk County Public Schools’ new COVID-19 dashboard shows that 11,163 students and 323 staff have had to quarantine during the last two weeks. Quarantined students without access to digital devices and wifi are having difficulty keeping up with classwork, the head of the teachers’ union tells News Channel 8. | View the dashboard More
- REGENERON: Lakeland Regional Health has ramped up the number of monoclonal antibody treatments it can provide. LRH follows the FDA guideline of reserving the treatment for people who have tested positive for COVID-19; the state of Florida’s Regeneron site at Lakes Church also accepts individuals who have been in close contact with a confirmed case. | MORE: LRH info
- ALTERNATIVE COVID TREATMENTS are being touted by a majority of Polk County commissioners in a letter to Gov. DeSantis written by Commissioner Neil Combee. Commissioners on Tuesday take a formal vote on the letter, which promotes options such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine that are not approved by the FDA and shunned by pubic health experts. | ALSO: News Channel 8
- JUDGE’S MEMORIAL: A public memorial service for the late Judge Oliver Green is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Aerospace Center for Excellence on the SUN ’n FUN Expo Campus.
This week’s COVID-19 update from the Florida Department of Health yields hope that the toll of the delta variant may have peaked in Polk County and Florida. During the last week, 6,174 new infections were reported in Polk, a solid drop from last week’s record 7,510 new cases. The testing positivity rate continued its slide for a second week, falling below 20% for the first time in five weeks.More
The recent surge in COVID-19 infections is being felt at Lakeland City Hall. During August, 154 city employees tested positive for the virus. That is almost three times the 53 infected last December, the previous high month. And it represents 28.6% of the total 539 cases reported among city workers since April 2020. More
- COVID AT SCHOOLS: Polk County Public Schools’ new COVID dashboard, unveiled Thursday, shows infections were reported in 792 students and 115 staff from Monday through Wednesday this week. Students quarantined during that period numbered 4,321. | View the dashboard
- MERCHANTS WALK shopping center is getting two new stores in the space vacated by Stein Mart: off-price retailer Burlington and discounter Five Below. LINKS: Merchants Walk stores | Burlington | Five Below
- POLK EMS AND FIRE employees have worked an average of 449 hours of overtime during the last year, leaving them exhausted amid worker shortages, union leaders say. A county spokeswoman said 74% of the overtime hours were voluntary.
- LAKELAND ELECTRIC workers being laid off as part of the shuttering of the McIntosh 3 plant no longer have to sign a separation agreement. Union officials, who said the agreement would have deprived workers of their rights, still are dissatisfied because the city issued no apology.
With its record COVID-19 patient load, Lakeland Regional Health has brought in a mobile refrigerator cooler as a contingency to expand its morgue capacity, Fox 13 News reports. On Monday, the hospital reported 442 patients with COVID, nearly two-and-a-half times its peak of 180 during the winter surge. LRH has not disclosed how many COVID-related deaths have occurred there. Elsewhere, Advent Health says it has 10 mobile coolers at its Central Florida hospitals, and Sarasota Memorial has also added extra capacity. More
Tensions are flaring between the city of Lakeland and the union representing around 26 Lakeland Electric workers who are being laid off today in connection with the closing of the city’s coal-fired electric plant. Bob Mahoney of Utility Workers Union of America told The Ledger he has several objections to an agreement workers are being asked to sign in order to receive eight weeks’ severance pay, including a provision he fears would end ongoing claims for job-related injuries. City Manager Shawn Sherrouse said the city is working with the union “toward a resolution.”
Houses in the Lakeland metro area are the most overvalued in Florida and 21st most overvalued in the U.S., according to a new Florida Atlantic University study. Home prices here are 31.39% higher than would be expected based on trends of the last 25 years, the study concluded. One of the professors conducting the study told The Ledger he was unsurprised by the finding because of relatively low housing costs here and projections that metro Lakeland’s population will grow 24% population over the next 10 years. MORE: WFLA | News release | U.S. list | Florida list | Methodology
A preliminary report of COVID-19 cases in Polk public schools released Friday shows that 1,170 students and 297 staff have been reported as positive for the virus since Aug. 2. In addition, 8,228 students and 223 staff have quarantined after exposure to infected individuals. More
Polk County added 7,510 new COVID-19 cases this week, setting a new record for a fifth week in a row, according to the weekly update from the Florida Department of Health. The average positivity rate of tests in Polk dipped to 23.2% this week from last week’s record of 28.9%, but still significantly above the 5% rate desired by public health officials.More
Unlike neighbors in Orlando and three Tampa Bay area counties, Lakeland residents don’t need to worry about COVID-19 treatments affecting municipal water supplies or the taste of drinking water. More
Which face masks and techniques for wearing them offer the best protection against spreading COVID-19? With more people wearing masks again as infections surge, LkldNow asked local public health officials about best practices. More
- OLIVER GREEN, retired appeals and circuit judge and decorated Korean War veteran, died Wednesday at age 88 of a disease unrelated to COVID-19. | ALSO: Family-placed obituary in LkldNow
- U.S. REP. SCOTT FRANKLIN holds town hall meetings differently than nearby colleagues. Instead of announcing them in advance, Franklin issues invitations by automated telephone calls to a vendor’s list moments before the meetings begin, usually at 7 p.m.
- POLK DEPUTY CHRISTOPHER BROADHEAD will be memorialized at 10 a.m. Monday at Victory Church. He died at age 32 after being hospitalized for several weeks with COVID-19. Both the church service and law enforcement honors that follow will be live-streamed on the PCSO Facebook page. | Learn more
Some Central Florida hospitals say they’re seeing signs that the surge in COVID-19 patients is leveling off, but that’s not the case at Lakeland Regional Health. The hospital’s snapshot of patient load at 10:30 a.m. today showed that 443 patients had tested positive for the virus, the highest number reported yet. More
At the end of the five-month transition period after Lakeland Electric’s coal-driven McIntosh 3 power plant was taken offline, 26 employees are slated to be laid off Sept. 4, The Ledger reports. Initially, 60 were told they would be laid off when the utility announced it would shut the plant earlier than the previous 2024 target. That number was reduced as 23 found other jobs with the city and others left for other jobs or retired, Lakeland Electric said.
Masks remain optional in Polk public schools. Polk School Board members heard passionate debate from both sides of the mask debate on Tuesday, but did not vote on the issue. Vice Chair Kay Fields tried to make a motion for an emergency mask mandate, but Chair Lori Cunningham ended the meeting without calling for a second, The Ledger reported. Earlier in the meeting, Superintendent Frederick Heid said a new COVID-19 dashboard with real-time data is coming to the school district’s web site; the current dashboard has been criticized for lags in updating data.
Following the COVID-19 death of 32-year-old Polk Deputy Christopher Broadhead, Sheriff Grady Judd is urging people to vaccinate against the virus. Fifty of Judd’s 2,000 employees are infected with the virus, and as many as five are in the hospital. Judd, who received the Moderna vaccine when it became available, told News Channel 8 he doesn’t know how many of his officers are vaccinated and won’t say whether Broadhead received a vaccine. But he said he will not mandate his employees be vaccinated, declaring to do so would be government overreach. More
The state of Florida today opened a monoclonal antibody treatment center at Lakes Church, 1010 E. Memorial Blvd., that has the capacity to treat up to 300 patients a day. Gov. Ron DeSantis came to Lakeland to announce the clinic, which will provide free treatments to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and vulnerable people who have been exposed to somebody with COVID, ClickOrlando reported. The treatments are provided regardless of vaccination status and are intended to keep recipients from needing hospitalization. | MORE: Learn more & make an appointment | DeSantis news conference
With nearly 7,000 new COVID-19 infections reported in Polk County this week — the fourth consecutive week of setting a new high mark — Polk has exceeded 100,000 total infections since testing began in March 2020. The county recorded an average positivity rate of 28.9% this week, also a new high mark.More
The path to Don Bosko bringing the first Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurant to Lakeland in 1991 began with his working for free for a month before the chain’s owner granted him a franchise. This weekend, the 74-year-old restaurateur celebrates 30 years in business. More
Citing rising public concern about school safety as COVID numbers increase, Polk School Board Vice Chair Kay Field has called for the board to consider a 30-day mask requirement. She also says that her three requests to hold a special School Board meeting to discuss safety concerns have been ignored. More
Returning to Lakeland for an 86th season, the Detroit Tigers will lead off Spring Training 2022 at Joker Marchant Stadium with an exhibition game against Southeastern University on Feb. 25 followed the next day by a home game against the Washington Nationals. More
- FLORIDA SOUTHERN COLLEGE is asking unvaccinated students to supply a negative COVID-19 test before returning for the fall semester and will randomly test those students. FSC is also requiring all students and staff to wear masks in classrooms and other indoor communal spaces.
- AN INDOOR ARTS FESTIVAL features works from at least 18 artists Saturday and Sunday at the Magnolia Building on Orange Street. | Facebook: Fine Art at the Magnolia
Even before the Watson Clinic announced last week that it would require its employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by November, a local group had planned a rally to oppose vaccine mandates. More
With ambulances stacking up at the Lakeland Regional Health Emergency Room and response times declining under the strain of the COVID-19 surge, Polk County’s fire chief advises residents to avoid calling 9-1-1 if at all possible. More
Upcoming pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Lakeland include one today from 3 to 7 p.m. at Bryant Stadium and one on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon at the Cleveland Heights Golf Clubhouse. Both are open to the public, no appointments are necessary, and vaccines are free. More
- POLK’S HISPANIC/LATINO population grew 76.2% between 2010 and 2020, according to new U.S. Census data. The groups constituted 25.9% of Polk residents in 2020, compared with 17.7% in 2010. (Subscribers-only story)
- MCKEEL ACADEMIES staff must wear masks at work after 12 individuals across the three campuses tested positive for COVID-19. The director of schools said he is preparing an opt-out form in case a temporary mask mandate becomes needed for students.
Lakeland Regional Health is stepping up employee recruitment and getting creative in how it uses space as its staff copes with a burgeoning number of COVID-19 patients, CEO Danielle Drummond told city commissioners today. More
The newest candidate for the seat in Congress that represents Lakeland is Eddie Geller, a 37-year-old entertainer and activist who recently moved to Brandon to run for the seat, The Ledger reports. Geller faces Jesse Philippe in the Democratic primary that will determine who faces Republican incumbent Scott Franklin of Lakeland next fall. He said he was motivated to run by seeing Franklin “vote to challenge the election results and perpetuate the big lie.” LINKS: Tampa Bay Times article | Campaign website | YouTube announcement
- ELDERPOINT SERVICES, a nonprofit agency that provided transportation and nutrition for seniors, has discontinued its services. VISTE and Citrus Connection are working to serve as many former ElderPoint clients as possible.
- LAKE WIRE RETIREMENT CENTER on Peachtree Street has closed, its owner retiring and selling the property to a developer who plans to build apartments. New housing has been found for the 38 residents, owner Jacquelyn Dawson said.
For a third week in a row, Polk County set record highs for the number of new COVID-19 cases — 6,521 new infections were confirmed — and the rate of tests that come back positive — 27.2% — according to the weekly update from the Florida Department of Health.More
A mobile tour aimed at educating Latinos about COVID-19 vaccines and combatting misinformation is coming to two Lakeland flea markets this weekend. More
The property at North Florida Avenue and 8th Street is special to Denise Gilmore. She spent much of her childhood there in her grandparents’ house. She worked across the street at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center for 27 years. And she is in the process of making it the home of Mary’s Bagel Café, named after her grandmother. More
With Tropical Depression Fred expected to bring tropical storm conditions to Central Florida this weekend, Polk County is offering filled sandbags for flood protection. Nearby pickup locations include 8970 N. Campbell Road in Lakeland and 900 NE 5th St. in Mulberry. More
Starting Friday, students and staff at South McKeel Academy, a charter elementary school, will be required to wear masks indoors and on school buses for two weeks. Students at a sister elementary, McKeel Academy Central, will also be required to wear masks while riding school buses. Alan Black, director of schools for The Schools of McKeel Academy, told The Ledger that an increase in COVID-19 cases led to the new policy, but he did not say how many students were affected.
Watson Clinic is requiring its more than 200 doctors and its 1,600+ employees to vaccinate against COVID-19 by November. The clinic’s board of directors made the decision in recognition of “the serious threat the COVID-19 Delta variant posses to our patients and community at large,” the clinic said in a news release. More
News Service of Florida reporter Dara Kam explores some tricky issues that could face Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady if his wife of 24 years, Jennifer Canady of Lakeland, succeeds Colleen Burton in the Florida House of Representatives. The Canadys respond that they will follow all rules and laws. “My husband has spent his entire career in public service meticulously following the law,” Jennifer Canady said. Florida News Service has allowed LkldNow to publish the full article: More
City of Lakeland employees have once again been told to wear face coverings at work while indoors or in city vehicles when they are unable to maintain social distancing of six feet, The Ledger reports. “These protocols are necessary to protect our city workforce,” City Manager Shawn Sherrouse wrote in an email to employees. There is no mask requirement for non-employees visiting city buildings, but masks are encouraged.
Zack Kirkland, a teen who started a project 4 1/2 years ago to bring cheer to children at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, has received a letter from the White House praising his work. His Silly Sock Saturdays, now a nonprofit organization, delivers bags with colorful socks, coloring books and other fun items monthly, Fox 13 News reports. MORE: Silly Sock Saturdays website
Shaina Day was counting down the days until Krispy Kreme opened in north Lakeland on July 27. The traditional glazed doughnuts at the popular doughnut shop were calling her family’s name.
Krispy Kreme joins two other new food establishments, Arby’s and Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, on U.S. 98 North, where Toys R Us lived for 30 years. More
Lakeland city commissioners are at odds over two key pending decisions: next year’s property tax rate and whether to equip police officers with body cameras. At a budget workshop Tuesday, commissioners discussed either keeping the tax rate at the current $5.46 per $1,000 of assessed value or reducing it to $5.43, The Ledger reported. Both are above the 5.20 “rollback rate,” the level expected to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue as the current year. The 5.43 level pushed by Commissioners Bill Read and Mike Musick is the highest level that can be adopted with a simple majority vote.
With the number of patients testing positive for COVID-19 rising eightfold since late June, Lakeland Regional Health today announced it will temporarily postpone elective surgeries that require an overnight hospital stay. More
With COVID-19 infections in Polk surging, The Estates at Carpenter senior living facility is requiring all employees to be vaccinated, News Channel 8 reports. Its CEO says the move is for the safety of residents and he is calling on Lakeland Regional Health to also require all of its staff be vaccinated. A hospital spokesman told the station that a vaccination rate of employees is unavailable. ALSO: Fox 13 News | The Ledger
Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross of Lakeland is taking on a new role working with young adults in addition to his position at Southeastern University. He has been named interim CEO of College to Congress, a non-profit organization that provides financial support for low-income students who are placed in congressional internships. More
LkldNow’s COVID-19 chart, below, illustrates the virus’ trajectory in Polk County far more dramatically than our words can. This week’s 5,703 new cases is the highest weekly number yet, and Polk’s average positivity rate of 26.3 for the past week is also a record.More
Local medical professionals say the science shows that children should mask up in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but Polk School Superintendent Fred Heid said his hands are tied by the state, News Channel 8 reports. Polk’s school district has no plans to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order on masks, as other districts have done, Heid said during a virtual news conference Friday. MORE: News conference video | Fox 13 News | 10 Tampa Bay | ABC Action News | The Ledger
Propelled by the ultra-contagious delta variant, COVID-19 is spreading rapidly through Polk County, sending record numbers of people to the hospital, most of them younger than 50 and almost all of them unvaccinated.
That was the message Thursday afternoon at a news conference called by the leaders of Lakeland Regional Health, Watson Clinic and the Florida Department of Health’s Polk County office. The main way to prevent the spread, they said, is by getting more people vaccinated. More
Usually U.S. News & World Report rates Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center somewhere among the top 35 hospitals in Florida for treating complex and high-risk cases, but not this year. More