Local News

Teacher found guilty of inappropriate conduct

SEBRING - A former Hill-Gustat Middle School teacher who pled no contest to inappropriate contact with a female student has been barred from teaching for the rest of his life. Judges also continued the cases of a dozen other defendants in court this week. Kenneth Richard Koehler, 34, of Sebring, unlawfully French kissed a student or engaged in inappropriate or lewd conduct with a child, according to the state attorney's office. Both are second-degree misdemeanors. On Tuesday, Highlands County court records show, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Maloney found Koehler guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and breach of peace. Koehler was sentenced to one year probation on the first count and six months probation on the second count.
He is required to perform 75 hours of community service within the next year and complete 30 days of mental health treatment within the next 10 months. His fines and court costs totaled $650. Koehler is to have no future contact with the victim, and he agreed to surrender his teaching certificate. It will be permanently revoked, and he agreed never to reapply. Additionally, he cannot teach children under age 18 in either public or private schools. Deputy Superintendent Rodney Hollinger said Koehler was suspended without pay in March and resigned in April. The Education Practices Commission investigated allegations. The student stated she went to Koehler's classroom after school in December for help with math assignments, and he unexpectedly kissed her on the mouth. On two additional occasions in December and February, he French kissed her. An investigator obtained notarized statements from other teachers, all of which indicated a suspicious relationship was developing. Principal Chris Doty provided investigators with another notarized statement warning Koehler to avoid being too personal with the student, who was removed from the math class. However, Doty noticed Koehler and the student meeting in secret. Two men accused in a window-breaking spree were also in court. On the night of Sunday, March 24, police took more than 75 reports in Sebring, Lake Placid and Avon Park. After videos were examined, Michael William Brown, 46, 316 Baxter Ave., and Anthony Keen, 13, 5414 DeSoto Road, both in Sebring, were arrested, along with Dayfert, 18, who is from Zolfo Springs. Both Brown and Dayfert were arrested on 55 charges of firing a deadly missile at a building, 55 counts of criminal mischief, eight counts of grand theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The three are alleged to fired BB or pellet guns at dozens of downtown and Lakeshore Mall businesses, including J.C. Penney, Belk, Dogtown USA, Children's Museum, Molly's Treats, Riles Pump, St. Vincent DePaul Society, and Brenner Pottery. No more information will be available about Keen, as he is now in custody of the juvenile justice system. However, Dayfert appeared in circuit court on Wednesday for a pre-trial conference. Since his case was not ready for prosecution, he is to reappear on Aug. 21. Jury selection in Brown's case is to begin Sept. 9. Two couples charged in the deaths of babies were also in court. Authorities arrested Kyle Lee Marsh Rupert, 22, of Sanford, Sandra Michelle Jackson, 25, 1024 Hal McRae Loop, Avon Park on neglect charges some six months after Avon Park police arrived at the home and found 10-month-old Milo dead and the other children appearing malnourished and suffering from insect bites. They found trash throughout the house, food on the floors and an infestation of cockroaches. Both pleaded not guilty Monday in February. Neither case was ready for trial, so they were scheduled for another pre-trial conference on July 18. While married mother Adriana Alicia Espinosa, 23, 3521 State Road 70, Lake Placid, and her boyfriend, Polk County detention Deputy Christopher Eiland of Fort Meade, spent two hours in an air conditioned car, her 18-month-old girl sweltered and died from a heat stroke in a separate vehicle that didn't have the air conditioning running, according to a Highlands County arrest warrant. She was charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child and neglect of a child resulting in great harm. He was arrested by the Polk County Sheriff's Office and charged with one count of failure to report suspected child abuse, abandonment or neglect. Afterwards, Eiland resigned. Those arrests came more than a week after the child had a 104-degree temperature after arrival at a hospital. Authorities concluded the mother and boyfriend "were more concerned with concealing the ongoing affair than the welfare of the victim. She first claimed that her baby became sick in an air-conditioned car outside of a doctor's office, then Espinosa told authorities she was in her car in a motel parking lot where she was meeting a boyfriend. Eiland told authorities that they had met at least five times previously in the motel parking lot and that some of those times they had sex. Both are to be arraigned on July 15. All four defendants in the Doty murder case are scheduled for more hearings. Depositions are still being taken in the cases of the two men accused of beating Aaron Doty to death at a Sun N' Lake party last year. Kenneth Felipe Jr. and Jonathan Rodriguez were rescheduled for another pre-trial conference in August. Their two co-defendants, Travis Makris and Giovanni Burgos, both charged with accessory after the fact, are to be back on July 17. Prosecutors have said a plea deal could be coming for Makris, who has been cooperating with the state, but a deal was not discussed in the courtroom Wednesday. Jason Wagner was also scheduled for another pre-trial conference on July 18. In March and May, when two vehicles were set on fire outside a downtown bar, the same Sebring man was seen videotaping the blaze with his cellphone, arrest reports stated. A further investigation disclosed that Wagner, 32, 517 S. Pine St., Sebring, was suspected last year of attempting to set a house on fire. Wagner was convicted in 2008 of arson, the arrest report said. Mitchell Rodriguez was charged with driving while license suspended, second offense; failure to remain at scene of an accident with injuries; and giving false information to a law enforcement officer. His vehicle allegedly struck Jonny Tanner of DeSoto City as Tanner was walking down DeSoto City Road on April 5. Rodriguez will be back in court on July 18. Marlie Joann Westervelt, 56, 1501 Divot Court, Sebring, was arrested April 30 and charged with scheme to defraud, three counts of grand theft involving more than $100,000, forgery, uttering forged instruments, fraudulent use of a credit card, making false entries in books and two counts of money laundering. An affidavit alleges that between January 2008 and August 2012, Westervelt stole $936,121, including $196,010 in unauthorized personal checks, $36,499 in checks involving her son, $12,277 in checks and credit cards involving her daughter-in-law, $3,428 in checks involving her husband, $25,000 in unauthorized transfers of money, $498,532 in unauthorized credit card purchases, $82,290.84 in unauthorized payroll benefits for herself and $82,082 in unauthorized payroll benefits for her husband. She is to return to court on July 17. gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828