New charges filed against Ruckel Middle School coach accused of sex with a student

Tom McLaughlin
Northwest Florida Daily News

NICEVILLE — Two new charges have been added to those previously filed against a Ruckel Middle School educator arrested in February for engaging in sex with a student.

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The latest allegations against Hayley Close-Hallmark stem from a sexual encounter she and the victim in the case had while attending a school dance team event in Osceola County, according to Assistant State Attorney Christine Bosau.

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Hayley Close-Hallmark

Single counts of lewd and lascivious battery against a child between the ages of 12-16 and sexual assault on a minor were added in March, court records show.

Close-Hallmark, 35, Destin, was already facing single counts of each of those charges as well as a charge of soliciting or engaging in lewd conduct with a student while acting in a position of authority.

Bosau, who will prosecute the case against Close-Hallmark, said Osceola County criminal investigators had uncovered sufficient evidence to allow for the filing of the latest charges.

Bosau said the events from which the latest charges stem took place during the same time frame that sexual encounters were occurring in Okaloosa County.

"Numerous sexual acts" happened at Ruckel Middle School when the victim, a ninth-grader at the time, was assisting Close-Hallmark in coaching the school's soccer team, an arrest report filed in February said.

Close-Hallmark was coaching the Ruckel dance team as well as the soccer team, according to Bosau.

The arrest report filed in February states the relationship between Close-Hallmark and the student grew out of text exchanges that occurred when Close-Hallmark was the girl's soccer coach at Ruckel during the 2017-18 school year.

The victim told Okaloosa County sheriff's investigators that the texting turned to "sexting" after she had moved on to high school in August of 2018 and became physical at about the same time.

Investigators discovered evidence of "an inappropriate relationship" in text and SnapChat messages downloaded from the victim's phone, the arrest report said.   

Close-Hallmark has pleaded not guilty to the three second-degree felony charges she faces. No trial date has been set, but a pre-trial conference is scheduled for June 14.

Per school policy, Close-Hallmark has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case.