Irma power outage, gang killings: Lake Worth’s top 5 stories of 2017

1. Hurricane Irma knocks out power: After Hurricane Irma hit Palm Beach County on Sept. 10, close to 25,000 of the city’s 27,000 Lake Worth Utilities customers were without power.

“Sleeping becomes a challenge when there is no breeze,” said city resident Bob Lepa.

Lake Worthians know all about darkness during a hurricane, especially since residents had experienced lengthy power outages after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 and Wilma in 2005.

City crews teamed with 13 out-of-state crews — including workers from Illinois, Oklahoma, Alabama and Minnesota — to fix the problem.

Eventually, after all the hard work, power was fully restored.

2. Gang’s killings tied to MS-13: Palm Beach County Sheriff’s authorities, with assistance from federal law-enforcement agencies, tied killings in Lake Worth on Oct. 30 and Nov. 5 to MS-13 gang members.

Police reports say Victor Fuentes and five teenagers agreed to rob five Hispanic men across Lake Worth, but Fuentes told authorities that a “demon” made him pull the trigger and kill two men.

MS-13 is an international gang based in El Salvador. It’s known for its violent crimes as well as drug and human trafficking.

“It’s very dangerous around here,” said resident John Oja. “You hear gunshots at night. You don’t want to come into the neighborhood at night. There might be some gangs around here. I live in an assisted living facility and I stay inside at night to be safe.”

3. Lake Worth Street Painting Festival: Each year, for a weekend in February, Lake Worth becomes an art hub as more than 600 artists participate in the Lake Worth Street Painting Festival, the city’s signature event that turns Lake and Lucerne avenues into a dazzling, giant outdoor art gallery.

More than 100,000 people attended the event. The works of art ranged from a giant shark, a unicorn and Super Mario to his purple badness Prince.

“It feels a little crowded, but that’s a good thing,” said Katie Schrock of West Palm Beach, who was taking in her first festival. “The process is the best part. You have something from nothing. The painters have this idea in their head and then we get to see every stage. It’s cooler than just seeing the final product.”

4. Hurricane aid at John Prince Park: Thousands of people came to John Prince Park in October to take advantage of hurricane food stamp program.

The Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program, run by the Department of Children and Families in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, designed the program for those in Florida who lost food or suffered damage from the recent hurricanes.

During Hurricane Irma, Roberto DeLeon and his family of five lost several items of food when power went out inside their West Palm Beach home. “We had to borrow close to $400 to buy some more,” said DeLeon, 58, who received nearly $1,400 in food assistance.

5. Lake Worth makes changes to Historic Preservation Policy: After the city council unanimously passed an ordinance on second reading that updates and clarifies the city’s Historic Preservation Policy, City Manager Michael Bornstein was ecstatic.

“This is a significant step in making historic districts work well, work better and to be more user-friendly,” he said. “This has been over a year-plus pulling this together. This ordinance should address 80 percent of the problems people encounter.”

The ordinance clarifies what elements should be under design review and spells out elements that are essential for the overall preservation of the integrity, character and charm of an historic district.

The goal is to make it easier for those who own an historic home to make it easier to fix and upgrade their treasured properties.

Looking ahead to 2018

1. The March election: Mayor Pam Triolo and District 1 City Commissioner Scott Maxwell will face challengers in the upcoming election. Triolo will face Drew Martin and Maxwell will square off against Sarah Malega. District 2 City Commissioner Andy Amoroso did not draw a challenger.

2. More artwork: Mysterious paintings have been appearing on sides of buildings after Lake Worth’s CANVAS Outdoor Museum Show recently took place in the city. Bornstein expects more paintings next year.

3. Pothole work moves forward: Lake Worth continues to make potholes disappear in its $40 million, four-year project. The work continues for another three years.

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