14 burglaries in Englewood area leave victims on edge

An industrial park in Charlotte County has become a burglar hotspot.

In the last four months, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office said 14 burglaries have taken place in the Englewood area, on Avenue of the Americas and Worth Avenue.

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It’s an isolated area filled with salvage yards and auto repair shops, but now workers are constantly looking over their shoulders.

“You feel violated when somebody breaks into your stuff. You think you got a nice safe place, and you leave work and go home with your family, and you come back and someone destroyed what you have,” said Bryan Halstead, Amberjack Sanitation owner.

Halstead said thieves cut through his fence and stole anything they could get their hands on including two laptops, two TVs, speakers, a GPS system, and multiple junkyard tools.

He said he’s out $2,000.

“Very frustrating. People work so hard for what they have, and then somebody just comes and takes it,” said Luke Berry, auto repair shop owner.

Berry has not been burglarized and he wants to keep it that way.

“I installed an alarm system in my building because I can’t afford to have my stuff stolen,” said Berry.

Halstead is following suit.

“We put in cameras, and we plan on putting in more all because of this,” said Halstead.

Anyone with information is encouraged to anonymously call the Crime Stopper Hotline at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477) or the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office at 941 639-2101. A reward may be provided through the Crime Stopper Program for confirmed information that leads to the arrest of those responsible for this illegal activity.


Memorial for Cape Coral man allegedly stolen twice

Friends and family are taking a stand for a Cape Coral man, and the memorial they say was stolen.

Thirty-year-old Marcus Solloway died last October after a severe car wreck along Country Club Boulevard. Friends put up a cross near the spot to honor him, but last week, it was taken. When they put up a replacement, it was gone by the next morning.

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“I always have stuff on me all the time that reminds me of him,” said Ximena Zambonino, Marcus’ best friend.

For nearly six months, Zambonino has been coping with the loss of her best friend.

“I always wanted him to be by my side and close with me,” she said.

She even got a tattoo of a character from one of their favorite shows as a permanent reminder.

Solloway was killed after speeding down Country Club Boulevard, losing control of the car, and hitting a nearby home.

“I just wish that whoever is doing this would stop.”

Friends and family placed a cross near the spot where he died, but last week, it was nowhere to be found. A close friend of Marcus’ first noticed the cross was missing on Wednesday and was back the next day to replace it with a new one. But by Friday morning, that second one was gone as well.

“When I first found out, I cried. We just are mind boggled; we don’t know why anybody would do this,” said Zambonino said.

“I don’t see why someone would take it from here,” said Mike Young, who lives in front of the memorial. “I mean, you gotta honor the child even though they were speeding and it was an unfortunate accident, it’s still a life.”

The city of Cape Coral said none of their public works or code enforcement employees ever touched the memorial, leaving friends, like Ximena, to solve the mystery.

“I don’t know why this is happening after all these months of it being here. It’s almost disrespectful to be doing this, and it’s really hurtful honestly,” she said. “To have it happen as soon as my friend puts down another one is just kinda like a slap in the face.”

“I’m surprised somebody took it down, why? It’s such a shame, though. I hope they put it back,” said Jim Fairley, who lives nearby.

Solloway is buried out of state, leaving the cross as the spot for friends and family to remember Marcus.

“Please stop, if we put another back, don’t move it because it’s really important to us.”

City officials told us that while there are memorials all over the city for people who have passed in car crashes, the cross could have been removed for violating code and no one recorded it. The city is double-checking its records.


Marijuana could soon be legal in Fla. for terminal patients

Full-strength marijuana could soon be legal for medical patients who are terminally ill. This comes ahead of a November ballot issue that would widely legalize medical marijuana.

Governor Rick Scott signed a law nearly a year and a half ago allowing THC — marijuana called Charlotte’s Web — to be used by patients with certain seizure disorders and other illnesses.

Even though Charlotte’s Web still isn’t available to patients, the legislature is looking to expand the law.

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“I have trouble withholding anything from someone who is in the last year or so of their life,” said June Cutright, an advocate for medical marijuana.

She also suffers from a disease that will only get worse as she gets older.

“I have secondary progressive multiple sclerosis.”

She said marijuana helps her with the side effects of her medications as she struggled with her appetite.

“I was 30 pounds lighter than I am now for quite a few years.”

A new law could help others struggling with similar illnesses to legally use full-strength marijuana.

“It intends to increase the eligibility requirements on the existing Charlotte’s Web law,” said Ben Pollara of United for Care, who has little faith in the Florida legislature to pass the expansion. “The only solution now is to go on the ballot and let the people decide.”

Amendment 2 will reach voters in November.

There are some like Pastor Phill Ross who supports some expansion of marijuana laws — just not to the extent of Amendment 2.

“I wouldn’t have an issue with it as long as it was constrained to them. I wouldn’t want to see it expanded more than that and see it get into the community,”  said Pastor Ross.

Senate Bill 460 passed through another Senate Committee Monday.

With two weeks left in this legislative session, there is still time for another change to Florida’s pot laws, which could also lead to more nurseries being allowed to grow marijuana. Currently, only five are licensed to grow Charlotte’s Web.


SW Fla. voters await arrival of presidential candidates

Although Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton have plans to be in Florida on Super Tuesday, many Southwest Florida voters want to know when they’ll be visiting our corner of the state.

With just two weeks before the Florida primary, many voters are getting anxious.


“Lee County is ignored by a lot of the candidates,” said Patricia Sala of Fort Myers.

Sala said that a visit from a candidate could sway her vote right now.

“My vote-by-mail ballot is at home and so I’m still undecided,” Sala said.

Latest numbers show 20% of Republicans in Lee County have already voted and Party Chair Jonathan Martin said time is running out for candidates to change minds.

“Maybe it’s too late to come and campaign because so many absentee ballots have been turned in,” Martin said.

However, Dr. Laura Weir, politicial science professor at Florida SouthWestern State College, predicted the candidates will start showing up more frequently as early as next week.

“I think as soon as Super Tuesday is over we’re going to see a lot of people here,” Weir predicted.

Especially frontrunner Donald Trump and Florida’s own Marco Rubio. For them it’s a battleground. The winner gets all of the state’s 99 delegate votes.

Trump’s campaign is in the process of opening a campaign headquarters in Cape Coral.

All of the experts agree that Florida will be a really big deal in the general election, predicting dozens of Florida stops by both party’s nominees.


Lake O releases deplete salinity of Caloosahatchee, threatens marine life

Marine life in the Caloosahatchee is being threatened by releases from Lake Okeechobee, according to local fishing guides and marine scientists. Oyster beds and sea grasses, which serve as habitats for fish, are already dying in some cases.

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Daniel Andrews is a fishing guide and co-creator of Captains for Clean Water. While he has led an effort to stop the releases in the Caloosahatchee, Monday he jumped into the murky water for proof of damage picking up dying oysters near the Sanibel Causeway.

“All those oysters right there, all those are toast,” Andrews said.

For Andrews, the oyster beds and seagrasses are an important indicator of life in the river. They serve as habitats for crabs, redfish, and other animals and fewer habitats mean fewer fish.

“That’s their food source and that’s the whole reason they’re coming in here, you know, the grass and the oysters,” Andrews said. “If you kill that, they’re going somewhere else.”

They both also serve as filtration systems for nutrients in the water.

Oysters and seagrasses are threatened by the massive amounts of fresh water entering the Caloosahatchee. Both can be killed if salinity levels drop low enough, according to FGCU marine scientist Michael Parsons. 

Local marine scientists already said there’s evidence juvenile oysters are dying.

“Little oysters are dead because the salinity has been so low, and it’s going to affect them the most,” Parsons said.

According to a recently released report from local marine scientists, salinity levels in the Iona area have been in the lethal range for oysters since January 24.

Parsons said if enough oysters and sea grasses die off, there will not be enough left to repopulate the area.

“It could be too late for them to recover on their own,” he said.

At the point, he said they would need to be replaced and replanted by conservation and environmental groups, but that effort often comes with a price tag.

“It’s a matter of do we have the political will to do it,” Parsons said.

Local marine scientists hope the releases will stop before spring when spawning season begins for fish, and the Caloosahatchee becomes a hotbed of marine life.

– FGCU students protest Lake O releases
– Boosted lake releases leave SW Fla. leaders all wet
– Lake Okeechobee releases force officials into watery corner
– Record rains increase Lake O flow into Caloosahatchee
– Latest lake releases wreak havoc on Southwest Florida water


Cape officials say LCEC is reaping LED savings reward

The Lee County Electric Cooperative – or LCEC – is planning to swap out thousands of old street light bulbs in Cape Coral with longer-lasting and more efficient LED bulbs.

City leaders, though, say there’s no plan to pass along the savings to customers.


“We have been pushing for this to get our return on investment,” said Michael Ilczyszyn, Cape Coral’s assistant city manager. Ilczyszyn says the city pays LCEC more than $2 million per year to install and maintain the lights, and if it’s going to take less to power them going forward – the cost should drop.

But LCEC spokesperson Karen Ryan said that while the energy savings are real, the lights themselves are more expensive to purchase and install, which means LCEC isn’t saving any money.

“The energy cost is lower but you take into account the higher price of the fixture,” she said. “In the short term it’ll probably hurt LCEC since they have to swallow a bigger bill to start with.”

Nevertheless, Ilczyszyn said he’d still like to see a better cost breakdown – including maintenance fees.

The dispute comes at a time when the city and LCEC are discussing a new contract, a process that could ultimately see Cape Coral break away and establish its own electric utility.


Abortion waiting period appealed as Fla. eyes more restrictions

TALLAHASSEE (News Service of Florida) — Abortion battles are playing out across state government.

After an appeals-court ruling Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union quickly asked the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate an injunction against a 2015 law that requires 24-hour waiting periods before women can have abortions.

In the Legislature, a Senate panel on Monday approved a sweeping bill that would place new restrictions on abortion clinics, including some restrictions that clinics say could put them out of business.

And on Tuesday, an administrative law judge will hear a case involving a move by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration to sanction a Gainesville clinic. The Agency for Health Care Administration last summer alleged that the clinic and four others performed second-trimester abortions without proper licenses. The clinics said the agency changed the definition of “first trimester” in seeking the sanctions.

The 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision Friday lifted an injunction issued last summer by a Leon County circuit judge against the 24-hour waiting period law. The appeals-court decision went into effect immediately, forcing women slated to get abortions Friday to reschedule.

“Most of them were in tears,” Kristin Davy, owner of Bread and Roses Women’s Health Center in Gainesville, said in an affidavit that accompanied the ACLU appeal filed late Friday “It is only because our doctor, who normally sees patients Wednesday and Friday, was eventually able to rearrange her life in order to return to the clinic tomorrow that most of these women will get care in a timely manner — and even then, they and their families still experienced significant turmoil.”

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the appeals court said the circuit judge had failed to prove the existence of a significant restriction on women’s right to seek abortions.

“The trial court’s failure to make sufficient factually-supported findings about whether the law imposes a significant restriction, and about the state’s compelling interests, renders the trial court’s sparse legal analysis and conclusions unsupportable and the injunction deficient, and hampers meaningful appellate review,” the ruling said.

In its appeal, the ACLU set out to show harm that could result from requiring a second trip to the abortion clinic for women who have to wait 24 hours.

“The mandatory delay and additional-trip requirements will pose particular harms to especially vulnerable groups of Florida women, including low income women; women who are victims of intimate partner violence; those whose pregnancy is the result of rape or other forms of abuse; those with wanted pregnancies that involve a severe fetal anomaly, and those with medical complications of pregnancy that are not immediately life-threatening,” said the motion requesting a review by the Florida Supreme Court.

However, Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who sponsored the Senate version of the 2015 law, said the continuing litigation was “part of the legislative process.”

“We know that sometimes bills like these will be litigated,” she said. “I am happy to see that the stay has been lifted, and hopefully it will lead to the results that this legislature intended.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers are poised to pass a sweeping proposal (SB 1722 and HB 1411), filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Colleen Burton, both Lakeland Republicans, that would further tighten restrictions on abortion clinics. The Senate Fiscal Policy Committee on Monday approved the Senate version, which is now ready to go to the Senate floor. The House version also has gone through all of its committees.

The proposal would require clinics that perform first-trimester abortions to have transfer agreements with nearby hospitals or for clinic doctors to have admitting privileges nearby. Clinics that perform second-trimester abortions would have to meet both conditions.

“This is a major medical procedure, something where there can be some very serious side effects that a woman will have to deal with for the rest of her life,” Flores said. “It’s up to us as the Legislature to ensure that those clinics are held to the highest standards.”

The bill also would define gestation as the period from fertilization through the end of the 11th week of pregnancy. That’s a different definition than the state has used in the past, but it’s consistent with AHCA’s definition in alleging the five clinics performed second-trimester abortions without proper licenses.

Also, the bill would ban the sale and donation of fetal remains from abortions. It would restrict state agencies, local governments and Medicaid managed-care plans from contracting with organizations that own, operate or are affiliated with clinics that perform abortions. And the state would inspect at least 50 percent of abortion-clinic records each year — a requirement Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, described as “onerous.”

“How many women are we denying health care services throughout the state of Florida simply because we’re trying to find a way to restrict abortion services?” Clemens said.

Stargel said the measure could cause six of Florida’s 65 abortion clinics to close their doors, but its intent was to require the highest standards for health and safety.

“Nothing in this bill is removing a woman’s right to choose,” she said.


Before your child’s next ride, how safe are fair coasters?

The Lee County Fair just started and runs through the week. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or you enjoy simply watching from the ground, there’s always that “what if” in the back of your mind.

ABC7 traveled to Tampa for the state fair where it didn’t take long for an incident to happen. Luckily no one was hurt, but it made for some very tense moments for one mother.

The climb, the peak, the fall.

“I always went to fairs as kids and so it’s exciting for me to watch,” said Pauline Patel, a mother.

With your kids in the hands of machines, anxiety is only natural.

“As a mother, you’re going to always be concerned about a ride malfunctioning,” said Nicole Martin.

“You hear stories, things breaking down, injuries,” said Patel.

One of those stories became all too real for mother Essie Wilson as she was helplessly watching as  her kids were stuck on one of the rides.

“I want to know if I can go and get him off,” she said. “I have twins up there and we’ve been waiting all day to ride this ride.”

Wilson’s kids got off the ride safely and was shut down soon after until it could be looked at.

Inspector Mark Gonzalez works for the state’s Bureau of Fair Ride Inspections. It’s responsible for checking all fair and festival amusement rides in the state.

“As a part of our inspection, as the rides being assembled, we go through to make sure all the bends and uprights are properly secured, all the pins and keys are in tight,” Gonzalez said. “All the track areas, especially the dips and valleys because those are all the force when the roller coaster is coming in where we will see stress cracks.”

He took us through an inspection of the Comet II.

If a ride has malfunctioned in the past, it gets extra attention.

“There are some rides where we do keep an eye on more than others.”

Rides like those at the Lehigh Spring Festival have had at least one malfunction each year for the past three years.

In 2013, it was the “Ring of Fire” that broke down, injuring five children. The next year, the “Rage in the Cage” sent pieces of metal flying. In 2015, eight people had to be rescued by firefighters after the “Power Surge” was stuck mid-air.

“The industry as a whole is very regulated,” said Inspector Jonathan Brooks.

He’s seen his share of mechanical issues but also warns riders to obey the rules.

“In a lot of cases, it’s not a mechanical error; it’s something that the patron has done,” Brooks said.

“What happens is sometimes the parents frustrated and say, ‘Well my child’s just under the height requirements.'”

There is something that parents can do to prevent an injury to your child. It might sound simple, but follow the guidelines that are here. 

We spoke to one inspector who told us parents will go to great lengths to get their kids on the ride. Some going as far as putting paper underneath their shoe so that they hit that height requirement.

“Why bother? There’s an obvious reason for the height requirements,” Patel said.

“If they don’t fit, don’t force it,” Martin said.

Inspections are done every time a ride changes locations. When it’s clear to ride, it gets a green sticker. Just make sure it’s from the correct state. That sticker should be displayed near the ride operator. If you can’t find it, ask the person in charge to see it before you let your child on the ride.

There is no website to check if a ride has been inspected but you can reach out to the state to find out.


Fiery flyer starts latest round in Bonita car wash battle

If you live in Bonita Springs, you may have gotten a flyer in the mail asking for support of a car wash being built south of the Imperial River on US-41.

But the item’s wording — particularly how it describes opposition to the project — has raised eyebrows.

The group that operates Rocket Shine Car Wash in Fort Myers wants to build in Bonita, and its chief operating officer, Max Levine, refers to the would-be location as a “car washer’s dream.”

“It doesn’t get better than that,” he said.

The flyer refers to opponents as elitists and snobs, and Levine suggests that those against the plan have no better alternative to what he’s proposing – and a specific beef with the people who’d benefit.

“We know a tiny little group of politically connected people have a problem with the car wash,” he said, “even though they have nothing better to offer the city than to say no to us. They didn’t want a project that was going to create jobs for certain kinds of people, and to us that sounds like snobbery.”

Some recipients said the flyer’s wording was instantly noticeable. Others not so much.

Meanwhile, the city of Bonita Springs provided a statement that said little, but hinted at more.

“It may not be appropriate for us to respond given that, depending on possible actions to be taken by the city council at their next meeting, we may be involved in litigation regarding this situation.”

The council will meet Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.

And Levine says he’s not concerned about the prospect of going to court.

“A lawsuit against us is going to be a costly loser,” he said.


Parents questioning release of Fort Myers High lacrosse coach

Parents of Fort Myers High School lacrosse players want answers after their coach was let go.

The Lee County School District released a statement stating that because Coach Chip Dopman is a supplement and not an employee, the principal can release a coach without cause.


But parents said they have their theories as to why the coach was dismissed.

“We lost a great coach for a great program for this Fort Myers High School and it’s just not fair,” said parent Jeff Manning.

Dopman coached the boys lacrosse team for two years, but Friday, he was told he would no longer be allowed to.

“We were shocked and angry. He’s meant a lot to our son,” Manning said.

Manning said they’re disheartened.

Parents believe the coach was dismissed suddenly after he kicked a player off the team.

“Coach Dopman has done a wonderful job coaching and mentoring these kids and he has a lot of passion for this program,” Manning said.

The district told NBC2 in a statement that “coaching contracts are supplements and not a term of employment. A principal can release a coach at will and without cause.”

“This is a very sad situation that halfway through a lacrosse season you lose your head coach,” Manning said.

Parents said even though the team’s assistant coach will now fill the head position, they want Dopman back.