News Update 06/20/24

Day 8 of Zephen Xaver’s sentencing trial began with debate over juror misconduct allegations. The state attorney’s office said it was notified about texts sent between a juror and a friend about them being on the jury. A motion from the defense for mistrial was dismissed after Judge Angela Cowden determined the behavior did not rise to the level of juror misconduct. Testimony was then heard from the adults in his life who were concerned about his mental health when he was a teenager in Indiana. Witnesses included his pediatrician, therapist, his high school nurse, and school guidance counselor. Xaver pleaded guilty last year to the murders of five women at Sun Trust Bank in Sebring in 2019. Court will resume at 8:30AM this morning.

A Hillsborough County family is asking for prayers as they deal with another tragic loss. Nineteen-year-old Ava Hulett died last weekend in Lee County, and the sheriff’s office is investigating her death as a possible homicide. Five years ago, Ava’s 15-year-old brother, Bradley Hulett, was shot to death in Fish Hawk by a classmate who was playing with a loaded gun. Attorney Anthony Rickman who represents the Hulett family, says they appreciate the continued support of the public, and if anything, unlawful happened to Ava, they ask for justice.

Researchers with the University of South Florida are using artificial intelligence to combat malaria. The group has developed a "smart trap" that uses cameras to identify different mosquito species within seconds. The images captured through the device are then uploaded onto an AI computer program. Bay News 9 reports that the goal is to send prototypes to Africa to help stop an infestation of mosquito-borne illnesses by the end of the year.

Help is on the way to protect coral reefs in the Florida Keys. Governor Ron DeSantis was in Marathon yesterday to highlight an additional five-million dollars going toward restoration efforts. The money will allow the Florida Wildlife Commission to install artificial reef habitats to preserve the local environment. There are currently 43-hundred artificial reefs along the state’s coast. During the conference, DeSantis added an extra day to the mini-season for spiny lobsters. He says the season will take place on July 14th, in addition to July 26th, and 27th.

The city of Sarasota is continuing to keep a close eye on several areas that were impacted by last week’s historic rainfall. Public works officials say they have finally completed drainage cleanup. The city has an agreement with the county to maintain its stormwater systems, but officials are asking for residents’ help to keep drains clear of debris. People can contact the public works department for assistance by calling 3-1-1. A historic eight inches of rain fell around Armand’s Circle within three hours during last week’s storms.

A rabies alert is in effect for a portion of Central Florida. The state health department issued the order for the Sumerterville area after a cat found along County Road 301 tested positive for the deadly virus Tuesday. Officials are urging residents to make sure their pets and livestock are vaccinated. People can contact Sumter County Animal Services to remove wild animals from their neighborhoods. The rabies alert will remain in place for 60 days.

Three runners from the University of Central Florida have a chance to make the Olympics. Rayniah Jones, Kiah Williams and Asherah Collins are competing tomorrow in the US Olympic Trials. All three ran track for UCF, but now they’re focused on Paris where the Summer Games will be held. Williams tells WESH 2 News this has been her dream since she was a little girl, and it’s amazing to be able to compete on this stage.

Port Tampa Bay is moving forward with its latest expansion plans. Commissioners approved a half-million-dollar contract yesterday that will begin the design process for the port’s fourth cruise terminal. Opponents of the project told FOX 13 News that they are worried the increased capacity will impact downtown parking and access to the waterfront. If the proposal is fully approved, it’s expected to amount to an 80-million-dollar investment.