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SWFCA loses in semis, 67-49

The Southwest Florida Christian Academy basketball team lost to Orlando Christian Prep 67-49 in the Class 3A state semifinals at Lakeland Tuesday night.

The King’s made it to the final four for the first time in school history.

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Syphilis cases on the rise in Southwest Florida

Syphilis cases are on the rise in Florida, with the rates of infection having nearly doubled in the state from 2010 to 2015.

It’s happening in Southwest Florida, too.

In Collier County, syphilis diagnoses have quadrupled since 2010, and in Lee County, the infection rate reached a 15-year high in 2015. 

“Surprising because it makes me worry about who I do. I mean, if I do hook up with someone,” said Khayree Mutakabbir of Fort Myers.

The news is disturbing

“I think it’s something to consider,” said Linda Phillips.

Syphilis is a curable disease and is popping up across the country.

“You got a lot of people from different parts of the country, different parts of the world coming in and spreading whatever they got,” Mutakabbir said.

In Collier County, the rate of infectious syphilis per 100,000 grew from 1.2 to 4.9 in five years.

“I could definitely see how the dating apps could make a rise in STDs,” said Debbie Phillips.

Apps like Tinder make it easier than ever to meet people.

“If you think about it, ten years ago, it would be really awkward to walk up to somebody in the mall and say, ‘Hey, do you want to have sex?'” said Debbie Phillips.

The rates of infection in Southwest Florida are much lower than the rest of the state.

“You’re meeting someone online, get to know them. Why do you have to have sex?” said Linda Phillips.

In Lee County, the number of syphilis infections hit its highest count since 1999.

“Kids don’t know to protect themselves growing up and when they become experimental in high school, and they’re getting these STDs, and they don’t know to get checked,” Mutakabbir said.

As always, the best advice to protect yourself is to practice safe sex.

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NBC-2 | WBBH

Syphilis cases on the rise in Southwest Florida

Syphilis cases are on the rise in Florida, with the rates of infection having nearly doubled in the state from 2010 to 2015.

It’s happening in Southwest Florida, too.

In Collier County, syphilis diagnoses have quadrupled since 2010, and in Lee County, the infection rate reached a 15-year high in 2015. 

“Surprising because it makes me worry about who I do. I mean, if I do hook up with someone,” said Khayree Mutakabbir of Fort Myers.

The news is disturbing

“I think it’s something to consider,” said Linda Phillips.

Syphilis is a curable disease and is popping up across the country.

“You got a lot of people from different parts of the country, different parts of the world coming in and spreading whatever they got,” Mutakabbir said.

In Collier County, the rate of infectious syphilis per 100,000 grew from 1.2 to 4.9 in five years.

“I could definitely see how the dating apps could make a rise in STDs,” said Debbie Phillips.

Apps like Tinder make it easier than ever to meet people.

“If you think about it, ten years ago, it would be really awkward to walk up to somebody in the mall and say, ‘Hey, do you want to have sex?'” said Debbie Phillips.

The rates of infection in Southwest Florida are much lower than the rest of the state.

“You’re meeting someone online, get to know them. Why do you have to have sex?” said Linda Phillips.

In Lee County, the number of syphilis infections hit its highest count since 1999.

“Kids don’t know to protect themselves growing up and when they become experimental in high school, and they’re getting these STDs, and they don’t know to get checked,” Mutakabbir said.

As always, the best advice to protect yourself is to practice safe sex.

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NBC-2 | WBBH

Teen vandals strike young Cape mom’s home, car

A Cape Coral mother, trying to put her baby down for a nap, was shocked to find teenagers vandalizing her house.

The vandals left a broken window and car damage behind when they struck Monday morning.

Sydney Newcume is still shaken.

“I was inside, putting him down for a nap. Then all of the sudden I heard glass shattering,” she said.

She immediately stepped outside of her her home to investigate.

“I thought, oh my God, someone must have hit the car. Then something kind of caught my eye. I go and see that the garage window is busted. I’m like what? And then I see two teens just hauling it that way and I’m like come on! Really?”

The young mother told Cape Coral police she knew exactly what the teens used to break the garage window.

“I saw the rock, it was a good-sized rock.”

After helplessly watching the two boys get away, Newcume found scratches and a crack in her new car’s tail light.

“I can’t run, but if I could run and get, chase them if I’d seen them, I would. I feel sorry for them, I mean it’s like I said, you know as a mother, I can relate,” said neighbor Barbara Wurst. 

Neighbors and Newcume hope whoever did this doesn’t come back or do something worse to someone else.

“I’m gonna make sure I buckle, my alarm is on all the time now when we’re out,” Wurst said.

“First breaking a window, on a garage, and then what are you going to do next? Go spray paint a wall,” Newcume said.

The cost to fix the damage to Newcume’s property will be about $500.

She said she doesn’t plan on pressing charges against the two teenage boys but wants them to stop and not hurt anyone else.

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NBC2 Investigators: More women report abuse of power at federal agency

More women are coming forward to accuse a Social Security Administration employee of taking their personal information — and then stalking them.

The NBC2 Investigators broke this story in January and have since found out the man still works for the federal government.

After that story had aired about a woman who came forward with the allegations, other women contacted NBC2 with similar stories.

They say it starts with a routine visit to the social security office. Then, turns into harassment. 

“There’s dating sites for this sort of stuff, you don’t go to social security to update your information to be texted and called and threatened and harassed,” said one of the women, who did not want to be identified.

She said her nightmare started after she visited the Social Security Administration office in Charlotte County.

“The next night, I started receiving texts from the individual that interviewed me.”

Her story was eerily similar to the one told to NBC2 in January when Charlotte County resident Ashley Guzman said she started getting weird texts after her visit to the office.

“I made it very clear that everything had to be confidential,” said one of the accusers. “He turned around 24 hours later and was texting me.”

“I started connecting the dots, realizing he just got my information from the social security office,” Guzman said.

“He said, ‘Hi, my name is (bleep) from social security. I’m interested in getting to know you,” an accuser said.

“When I called, they confirmed that this person did work there. That was when I really started to get freaked out and scared,” Guzman said.

A man working inside a federal office – where you share personal information – accused of using it for himself.

“I said you obviously took my number out of your computer; he said I did,” an accuser said.

The women said that in the texts, he begs for a date, asks the woman to meet his children, and gradually becomes threatening.

“He said he’s going to put personal stuff on the internet,” one said.

“I’m very scared.”

Based on the Federal Privacy Act, employees at the social security office can be criminally charged and lose their job for disclosing personal information.

“It was inappropriate; it was absolutely inappropriate,” an accuser stated.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office confirmed an investigation launched more than a month ago and now they have multiple cases focused on this same man.

All are active but require investigative help from the federal government since it happened in their office.

Theys said they’re still waiting for full cooperation.

Meanwhile, victims fear what -or who – could be next.

“I’m trying to help and warn the women of Charlotte County to be careful, always know your surroundings; you never know who’s looking at you,” Guzman said.

“I don’t know that he’s not dangerous, I don’t know anything about him,” an accuser said.

Because he hasn’t been named a suspect, we’re not identifying the man accused of stalking these women, but when NBC2 spoke with him off camera, he claimed he dated the unidentified woman in our story.

He said he’s been cleared by his employer but has been asked to resign or be fired.

The Social Security Administration has not responded to NBC2’s requests for information.

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Website connects students to scholarships

College graduates are leaving school with debt higher than ever before.

The Institute of College Access and Success said the average undergrad faced just over $30,000 in loans in 2015. Those students will pay about $300 a month for more than 10 years.

There are hundreds of Southwest Florida scholarships available to local students, but it’s not always easy to find them. A new website is working to streamline the process.

The Collier County Scholarship Connector is in its pilot year. The website works to compile hundreds of local scholarships and help match them with qualifying students.
 
“Now we have this tool that will help students consolidate all local scholarship opportunities,” said Sharon Bayata.  

Bayata is the director of Education and Scholarships for the Community Foundation of Collier County. She said thanks to a donor, the CF Collier was able to launch the website, and has been hard at work reaching out to local organizations and the Collier County Public School system.

Students can log on and create a profile containing information like their socioeconomic and cultural background, extracurricular activity, and college goals. The site then filters out which scholarships are appropriate for them, and shows them how to apply.

“They have access to the applications, they have access to the contact for that scholarship provider,” Bayata said. “It’s just is a more efficient process in searching for them.”

Tomas Justiz is the founder of one of the scholarships listed on the site.  He said a late night homework project sparked the idea for Bright Screens, Bright Minds, a scholarship helping students afford laptops for schoolwork.

“Knowing that you’re making a difference in the community feels awesome,” Justiz said. “In today’s day and age, a laptop is almost as essential as a pen and paper for education.”

While Justiz and Operations Manager Alexis Ngo help others, they’re also using the Scholarship Connector to find scholarships for their own college dreams.

“I didn’t know how I was going to pay for college,” Ngo said. “Then I applied for all the scholarships and financial aid, and I’m not worried anymore because there’s a lot of opportunity out there.”

CF Collier is also working on another component to the site – a donor match program. Students will be able to create a profile on the site, and donors will be able to select individual students they’d like to sponsor.

Bayata said they plan to have it up and running this spring.

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Movies in theaters could damage kids’ hearing

A trip to the movies is a chance to escape reality, but the reality is the experience may be doing more harm than good to a child’s hearing.

Loud movies, along with other loud sounds, can be the foundation of premature hearing loss, according to the American Hearing Research Foundation.

“I haven’t thought about it, but it definitely makes sense,” said Fort Myers mom Jessica Lindsey.

Dr. Maria Compton, an otolaryngologist at Bayfront Health Medical Group in Punta Gorda, said the hairs on your inner ear can be damaged by prolonged exposure to loud noises.

“There’s two things that hurt hearing long-term, and the first is the decibel level, or the sound, and the second is the period of time that you’re listening to that decibel,” Compton explained.

An average conversation ranges from 60 to 65 decibels. Eighty to 85 decibels is the sound of traffic on a highway.

“We know that at about 80 or 85 decibels, your ears can be damaged for a prolonged period, so if you’re in that environment for eight hours or more, it can hurt your ears. Kids are even less,” Compton said.

When exposed to constant loud noises, Compton said a child’s concentration in school can suffer and even pose behavioral problems later in life.

“Now that I know and I’m aware, I would probably be more concerned about it,” Lindsey said.

How do movies compare?

ABC7 went to see “Lego Batman,” the most popular kids movie out at the moment.

With two free sound decibel apps on an iPhone, we were able to see how loud the theater was during the animated action comedy.

A majority of the movie stayed under 70 decibels, but with some action-packed punch, sound peaked over 95 decibels multiple times.

Movie theaters regulate their own sound.

Edison Park 8 Cinemas in Fort Myers took ABC7 inside to show us how it works.

Each new movie they receive comes with a guide of suggested decibel levels, but it depends on the number of speakers inside the theater.

“It’s filmed a certain way, and they already sort of equalize what they want, kind of like the music industry. However, they do give us options,” explained Mandy Mena, general manager.

Mena’s suggestion for the ultimate, sound-safe movie experience is to sit in the center.

“When it’s dialogue, everything comes from the front end of the theater which people don’t realize that,” Mena said. “The action or the big booms come from the back.”

Movie theaters said complaints about sound level are few and far between, but they do try to accommodate guests who have problems.

Just like at a concert, if you leave the theater and your ears are ringing, that’s a sign that you could potentially have some damage from the loud noise.

Compton suggested making a habit out of using ear plugs when at a loud event, like a concert or a car race.

Ear plugs have a rating to show how much noise can be absorbed. Usually, they block up to 10 decibels of sound.

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Consequences continue to follow scathing Fort Myers PD review

Leaders of NCAAP say they’re not surprised by a scathing audit of the Fort Myers Police Department.

The investigation revealed favoritism, corruption, even accusing officers of tipping off drug dealers about raids.

They’re demanding a federal investigation.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Fort Myers wants more power to oversee the police department.

The attorney general’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement told us they aren’t investigating.

The FBI refused to confirm or deny an investigation and the local state attorney’s office never answered our questions.

The Department of Justice also hadn’t gotten back to us.

“The Fort Myers Police Department at this point should not be trying to go this alone. They need oversight from an outside independent investigation,” said James Muwakkil, NAACP.

That’s the plea from the NAACP calling into question the nearly two dozen recent arrests for racketeering after the Freeh Group report pointed to internal corruption at the agency.

On the same day of the report, we learned five officers were put on leave.

“What we’re asking from the state attorney’s office is to confirm that those five men were or were not involved in the Harlem Lake Boyz investigation,” Muwakki said.

The report points to major concerns within the department itself, but some in the community don’t see those concerns as new.

“We don’t think that all of Southwest Florida understood what happened here,” Muwakki said.

“I’ve heard of it, I haven’t seen it first hand, but I have heard of it,” said resident Jenny Smith.

Others in the city wonder about taking the report at face value.

“I like to believe that whatever they’re being investigated for isn’t accurate, but I don’t know,” said resident Christy Nordlund.

But the NAACP stands by its concerns from the beginning and expects to reach out to the Department of Justice for a civil probe into the entire police department – top to bottom.

“Is there any way to fix it without that, we believe it’ll only be their version, which we believe is not working.”

James Muwakki said they’ll demand the investigation within the next few days.

The Department of Justice could also conduct a criminal probe into the claims within the report, but it has not answered any of our calls or emails.

Should the mayor have more power over law enforcement?

The mayor of Fort Myers wants to personally oversee the police department, but that could be a challenge.

The idea information was potentially falling through the cracks was enough for Mayor Randy Henderson to bring up wanting to amend city charter once again.

As he put it, they can’t afford to be left in the dark.

The Fort Myers Police and Fire Departments only report to the city manager, who then decides what information to take to the city council.

After the scathing Freeh report showed years of alleged misconduct in the department, Mayor Henderson questioned if the council should have direct communication with the chief.

The same goes for the fire department that’s also experienced issues of alleged favoritism and corruption.

Any changes would have to go to a vote by the city.

We spoke with one council member who feels the charter should stay the way it’s written.

“The charter set that up so that law enforcement doesn’t get political. I think that’s probably a pretty good move,” said Councilman Forrest Banks.

Councilman Johnny Streets says he is on board with making amendments to the city charter.

He said he plans to host a meeting to talk about these changes and the police review in depth with his constitutents in Ward 2 Thursday, March 2.

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Border Patrol detains 12 in Collier County

Federal agents are cracking down on an immigrant smuggling operation in Naples.

Border Patrol agents were seen in Naples at the Coast Guard Auxiliary on 9th Street on Tuesday. Their vehicles were parked there all day with agents walking in and out of the locked building near the Naples city dock.

They said within the past 24 hours, they’ve detained 12 people involved in a smuggling operation and have more work to do.

Locals have been taking pictures of Border Patrol agents in Collier County.

As Claudia Martinez was driving to work Monday, she snapped a picture of a Border Patrol vehicle on Airport-Pulling Road in Naples.

“I’ve lived here for 30 years. My entire life and I’ve never seen that before,” she said. “I’ve never seen one before in Naples, my whole life.”

Some of the agents are in town as part of the illegal smuggling investigation, having detained 12 people on I-75 Monday.

Border Patrol would not say what charges those people face or where they are, but an Immokalee woman identified one of the detainees as Leonel Perez, her boyfriend of 10 years.

Noemi said she believes Perez’s detainment is a mistake, saying her boyfriend was on his way home from work when he was stopped. She said because he’s undocumented, she fears he could be deported.

“Let people work and target the real criminals,” Noemi said.

Noemi is also undocumented and lives in Immokalee with her 11-year-old daughter as well as Perez.

Eleven people from Guatemala, and Perez, from Mexico, were detained in the operation. Border Patrol said it stopped two cars on the interstate and they’re now talking with those they’ve detained.

“I believe it was a mistake. A big mistake,” Noemi said.

“He only works. He came to the United States for the American dream, just working. He has never had a record.”

She said the group was picking chili peppers in West Palm Beach for work, and is now afraid Perez will be charged and deported.

“The president said that he was only going to target criminals, but it seems like he is just targeting everyone,” she said.

Some say all this presence is leaving the Hispanic community on edge.

“The fear is that they could be deported and separated from their families,” said Solemi Hernandez.

Hernandez moved to Collier County 15 years ago from Venezuela because of how dangerous the country was becoming. She said that’s the case for many immigrant residents.

“We come from our countries for a better quality of life because we cannot go to the supermarket without the risk of being killed.”

“It’s really affecting everyone in the community who is undocumented and lives in fear,” Noemi said.

Border Patrol agents said the detainments are part of a joint operation with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

Hernandez has a meeting scheduled with the sheriff to talk about what’s been happening.

“This is our city. We have to make it secure for everyone. It’s not fair, it’s not right that everyone has fear to do basic things.”

ABC7 has asked Border Patrol for the names of the people detained in Monday’s operation and what the next steps are for them.

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Cape Coral man takes on code enforcement

A Cape Coral man is taking on code enforcement with what he said are his constitutional rights.

Dan Agostino has made signs showing what he has declared as his rights to code enforcement and the mayor’s office.

His boat has been parked in his driveway since November, which is against code. He hasn’t been cited or given a notice since, he said, because of the call he made to the city declaring his rights.

He now wants to spread the knowledge he said finally got code enforcement off his back.

“What gives them the right?” Agostino asked. “This is my property, my tax bill. If they come on my property, it’s posted no trespassing, I will have them arrested.”

A lawyer, however, said Agostino’s invocation of rights wouldn’t hold against the city legally.

A city spokesperson said the city put a hold on Agostino’s case because they are changing code laws not to punish anyone who has a reasonable need to break code.

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Regulations are different across Southwest Florida.

For example, you can park a boat at the side of a house or in the backyard in Fort Myers, just not in the driveway.

In Punta Gorda, you may park a boat in the driveway during the day but need a permit to do it overnight.

In Collier County, you’re not allowed to park any sort of vehicle on the grass and cannot block the right of way.