In 2022, the SouthCentralFloridaLife.com website, the digital home of the Lake Okeechobee News and Caloosa Belle Independent newspapers had more than 2 million page views. Throughout the year, readers stayed up to date with news of local sports, schools, city and county government meetings, arrest reports and fire reports. They also enjoyed feature stories about community members and galleries of photos of local events.
The top 10 stories attracting the most readers to the website in 2022 included the following.
The story garnering the most views on the website in 2022 involved two deaths at the Okeechobee County Jail. Kaitlynn Joy Barnes, a 19-year-old female inmate was found not breathing in her bunk during morning roll call on Sept. 12, 2022.
The Medical Examiner later ruled her death was due to a pregnancy complication. “Barnes had non-specific changes in the lungs and liver, which are suggestive indications of but not limited to eclampsia, H.E.L.L.P. syndrome, and acute fatty liver during pregnancy,” the report explained. “Eclampsia is a condition in which one or more convulsions occur in a pregnant woman suffering from high blood pressure, often followed by a coma that poses a significant threat to the health of the mother and baby.
“H.E.L.L.P. syndrome is a rare pregnancy complication. It is a type of preeclampsia that causes elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count. Each contributes to the death of Kaitlynn Joy Barnes and, ultimately, her unborn child.”
Joseph Abruzzi, 60, was found dead in his cell on Sept. 13. The Medical Examiner ruled this was a natural death from complications of Diabetes Mellitus, with Hypertensive Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease as a contributing factor.
Fatal traffic accidents drew a lot of attention to the southcentralfloridalife.com website in 2022. Five of the top stories of the year were traffic deaths, including four head-on collisions and one collision with a train.
• On Jan. 17, 2022, an Okeechobee man was killed in a head-on collision on U.S. 98 after a southeast bound pickup truck driven by a Sebring man traveled into the northwest lane.
• On Aug. 18, two Okeechobee women were killed in a head-on collision on Martin Highway after a west bond Toyota Matrix veered into the eastbound lane and collided with a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.
• On Sept. 4, a 9-year-old Okeechobee girl was killed when a driver lost control of a Sports Utility Vehicle towing a trailer southbound on State Road 78. The SUV traveled into the northbound lane. The SUV collided with a northbound sedan. The child was a passenger in the sedan.
• On Nov. 26, 2022 , a Sports Utility Vehicle, driven by a 43-year-old Columbus, Ohio woman was traveling north on SR 78 when the vehicle crossed the center line and struck another SUV driven by a 37-year-old Lakeport woman. Both the Lakeport woman and a 6-year-old passenger in the Ohio woman’s vehicle were killed.
• On Nov. 28, a semi-truck driver was killed in Clewiston when his vehicle ran into a train at a locomotive crossing on U.S. 27.
Another story that drew a lot of readers, was “Sheriff’s office arrests former Stayton Construction office manager.”
On Dec. 22, after a nine-month investigation, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office arrested Samuela Vuleta on two counts of money laundering, six counts of grand theft and contractor fraud. Total bond was set at $520,000. The investigation is still ongoing. Any customers involved with Samuel Vuleta you feel were scammed or taken advantage of can make an official complaint with the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office using our non-emergency line at 863-763-3117.
It wasn’t all bad news in 2022. Two stories in the “top ten” celebrated excellence.
In April, Okeechobee community members celebrated when one of their own, Evan Neal, was drafted by the New York Giants. A crowd of family, friends and fans packed the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center to watch a live broadcast of the NFL Draft. Neal was celebrated throughout the community. He was presented with a Key to the City by the Okeechobee City Council and a special proclamation in his honor by the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners. Local school children made posters about Neal’s life for a special poster contest. “Seeing all these posters made my day,” Neal posted on social media.
Another good news story that got a lot of attention was “Rucks Family honored at Farm-City event.” The Rucks family have milked cows in Florida since the 1930s. They moved to Okeechobee in 1958. They currently milk about 1,200 dairy cows at Milkin R Dairy. In 2020, during the pandemic, the Rucks saw a need for a delicious home-made ice cream. The ice cream was a hit, with new batches quickly selling out online and customers agreeing it was worth the drive to the dairy to pick up the delicious confection. After the success of the ice cream, the Rucks began bottling their own milk.
And sometimes, news coverage makes the news as was the case when SouthCentralFloridaLife.com reported a planned visit from a television network.
Thousands of readers also logged in to read about a Fox News visit to an Okeechobee restaurant. On Oct. 19, FOX News Channel’s (FNC) FOX & Friends presented its signature “Breakfast with Friends” segment from Pogey’s Family Restaurant in Okeechobee, Lawrence Jones Cross Country host and FOX & Friends enterprise reporter Lawrence Jones spoke with diner patrons about the upcoming midterm elections, inflation, immigration and other news of the day impacting Florida voters.
The Lake Okeechobee News is a weekly publication distributed in Okeechobee, Hendry, Glades and Western Palm Beach County. The Caloosa Belle Independent is published monthly and delivered via mail to households in LaBelle, with some free distribution at area stores. SouthCentralFloridaLife.com includes individual pages for the communities of LaBelle, Clewiston, Okeechobee, Highlands County, Belle Glade, Pahokee, Indiantown, Immokalee and Ave Maria. For more information, or to sign up for a website subscription, go online to southcentralfloridalife.com.