Tavares Police and LCSO Join Forces for Operation Aware

Operation Aware will provide wristbands and a database for first responders and the special needs community.

TAVARES, Florida—Two law enforcement agencies have joined forces to provide a new tool to the community that will give first responders valuable information when responding to calls for service in the special needs community.

Nearly a year in the making, Tavares Police Department began its Operation Aware initiative in November 2021 and has since teamed up with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to provide wristbands to members of the community that may require a different response from law enforcement.

“We are big on community policing,” TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake last year. “There are always ways we can be better,” she said, “and there are always opportunities for the community to teach us how to better serve them.”

Operation Aware is a “total approach” to the issues facing the special needs community and will provide education, outreach and follow up,” Sullivan said.

Newly-appointed Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey worked with Sullivan to get this program up and running. “Operation Aware is near and dear to my heart; it gives us the opportunity to serve our community in a unique way when our response requires a different approach,” Coursey told Inside Lake.

The wristbands are available for community members who have intellectual and developmental disorders, including, but not limited to, autism, dementia. PTSD and Alzheimer’s, according to Sullivan. Loved ones and caregivers are encouraged to reach out to TPD or LCSO and register special needs individuals to get them a wristband and enter them into the database.  

The bright blue wristbands will immediately let law enforcement officers know they are interacting with an individual with special needs, and provide them with vital information including names, addresses, emergency contacts and medical conditions. Officers and dispatchers will have access to the information and individual addresses will be flagged so the officer is aware of any special circumstances before they arrive to the call. Officers will know if the individual is non-verbal, has a sensitivity to lights and sirens and any other pertinent information that would be helpful to officers. They will also help reunification by giving officers and deputies information immediately that can be shared with media outlets and on social media, Sullivan said.  

The wristbands will also be a tool for the public; they will have a number and a QR code that can be scanned and will inform the public to call 9-1-1. The wristband never needs to be charged.    To register, please visit or

2 Students Arrested for Making Threats Monday in Separate Incidents

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—A little more than a month into the new school year and two more Lake County Schools students have been arrested for threats, according to two arrest affidavits.

Christopher Joseph Wallace, 17, of East Ridge High School and Braedyn A. Auker, 16, of Tavares High School are each facing a felony charge of written threats to kill after they were arrested in separate incidents Monday.

A student came forward Monday morning at East Ridge High School in Clermont about some concerning texts Wallace had allegedly sent Friday, according to the affidavit. The student said Wallace sent texts that stated, “Because I know I can’t control myself; I’d hurt or possibly kill one of you, spread the message” in addition to, “…there isn’t a remorseful feeling in my body anymore and when I say kill, I mean beat one of you to the point of death; all of you having me feeling betrayed and just debating how I should handle it or leave it be and calm down, but I physically can’t mentally either.”

Wallace was questioned by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office school resource deputy (SRD) and members of administration, and he admitted he made “some statements” based on his “angry behavior” and does not always realize or remember what he said.

Wallace, who is already on probation, was arrested and transported to the Lake County Jail for booking.

Also on Monday, an assistant principal at Tavares High School brought some Snapchat posts to the attention of the SRD. The posts were threatening in nature and stated, “If you go to THS just know I didn’t give up. I’m coming back and when someone fuels the fire I won’t just sit there your (sic) gonna end up with Ur brains out on the school campus and ur momma pleading for doctors to keep you alive,” the affidavit states. “Yk (you know) who you are and I’m coming after u.”

The SRD investigated and identified the poster as Auker, based on another post that references dropping out of school; Auker and his mother met with school officials Thursday to discuss Auker dropping out, according to the affidavit. Auker was also identified in a photo on one of the posts, by an assistant principal. Auker was questioned and admitted making the threats; he said he was upset due to ongoing issues with friends and an ex-girlfriend. Auker arrested for written threats to kill and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

This is the second Tavares High School student arrested this school year for threats.   

Man, 28, Killed Walking Across Turnpike Earlier This Month

CLERMONT, Florida—A 28-year-old Orlando man was killed earlier this month after he crashed vehicle on County Road 455 and walked across several lanes of Florida’s Turnpike, where he was struck by an SUV.

According to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tara Crescenzi, the man, whose name is not being released due to Marsy’s Law, crashed his 2015 Acura into an embankment on County Road 455. He exited the vehicle and walked across the southbound lanes of Florida’s Turnpike, crossed the concrete median and entered the northbound inside lane near mile marker 276, where he was struck by a 2020 Kia Soul around 9:45 p.m. on Sept. 8.  

The driver of the Kia, a 24-year-old Gainesville woman, was not injured. She remained on the scene and the man was pronounced deceased on the scene.

Both crashes remain under investigation.

LCSO Negotiating with Barricaded Subject in RV, U.S. Highway 27 Shut Down in Both Directions at Lake Louisa State Park

8 a.m. Update: One northbound lane of U.S. Highway 27 is shut down; the remaining lanes are open.

CLERMONT, Florida— At least one barricaded subject in an RV has shut down U.S. Highway 27 in both directions early Wednesday morning.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies attempted to pull over an RV stolen out of Flagler County and had to utilize stop sticks on U.S. Highway 27 near Lake Louisa State Park, according to LCSO Lt. Fred Jones. After the RV stopped the blinds were closed and it is unknown how many occupants are in the vehicle.

This is a developing story.

Name of Man Killed in Armed Confrontation with LCSO Released

CLERMONT, Florida—The name of the man killed in an armed confrontation with deputies Sunday has been released.

James Edward Vought, 49, died Sunday after confronting a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy armed with a rifle, according to LCSO Lt. John Herrell.  LCSO responded to 10630 Reagans Run Drive, Clermont just after 5 p.m. Sunday on a report of a suicidal man armed with a rifle. A deputy encountered Vought and during the confrontation, the man was fatally shot by the deputy, Herrell said. 

The shooting is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and deputy has been placed on administrative leave, standard procedure in a deputy-involved shooting.

James Vought was arrested last month for aggravated battery after a video showed him charging someone with a knife and kicking them. PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Vought was arrested in August for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after being accused of charging someone with a knife, according to an arrest affidavit. Vought was at a home on Kipling Court in Clermont when he apparently got upset about something. He took a knife from behind his back and charged the victim with it and began kicking him, and it was captured on video.

Another man came to the victim’s defense and all three fell to the ground and Vought was struck multiple times in the face.  Vought was taken into custody and after he was medically cleared, he was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $2,000 bond.

Suicidal Man Armed with Rifle Fatally Shot By LCSO During Confrontation, Deputies Say

CLERMONT, Florida—A man is dead following an armed confrontation with a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy Sunday afternoon, according to LCSO Lt. John Herrell.

LCSO responded to 10630 Reagans Run Drive, Clermont just after 5 p.m. on a report of a suicidal man armed with a rifle. A deputy encountered the 49-year-old man and during the confrontation, the man was fatally shot by the deputy, Herrell said. 

The man’s name is not being released at this time.   

The shooting is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and deputy has been placed on administrative leave, standard procedure in a deputy-involved shooting.

Violent End to August as LCSO Investigates 5 Homicides in 6 Days

LAKE COUNTY, Florida— It was a bloody and violent end to August in Lake County, as the sheriff’s office continues to investigate five homicides that occurred in just six days from one end of the county to the other. Numerous sources have told Inside Lake there was yet another homicide in unincorporated Fruitland Park Saturday, but LCSO did not respond to an email or a text all day Sunday to confirm.

Altoona, Aug. 25

Around 9 p.m. Aug. 25, Shane Eugene Clements, 41, of Altoona, and David Thomas Mikell, 34, of Umatilla were found dead at a home at 45918 Pennsylvania Road in Altoona. The two men were shot, and deputies were looking for two persons of interest, Roger Myles Gilbert, 35, and Samantha Butler, age unknown, both of Alabama.

The following day Gilbert and Butler fled from Ormond Beach Police and crashed in a KFC parking lot. Butler was found dead in the wrecked white Volvo and Gilbert fled on foot. OBPD does not believe Butler died from injuries sustained in the crash but has not released a manner or cause of death.

Gilbert was apprehended in a nearby Dollar Tree and is being held in the Volusia County Jail on a variety of charges, including possessing the stolen gun that was found in his waistband.  

Gilbert remains a person of interest in the deaths of Mikell and Clements but has not been charged. LCSO has not revealed a motive for the slayings.

Roger Gilbert and Samantha Butler were named as persons of interest in the killings of David Mikell and Shane Clements in Altoona Aug. 25. Gilbert was arrested in Volusia County in a separate incident and Butler was found dead in the crash the couple crashed while fleeing police. PHOTO: Samantha Butler/Facebook

Unincorporated Clermont, Aug. 31

A man was arrested Wednesday after a young woman reported he raped her repeatedly and killed his own stepson at 244 Jewelfish Lane in the Thousand Trails RV Resort in unincorporated Clermont. The woman told LCSO she heard screaming and found Justin Jones, 41, on top of his stepson, Ty Finister, 17, striking him.

She screamed for Jones to stop, and he slammed her to the ground, duct-taped her ankles, wrists, mouth and eyes and raped her repeatedly. Eventually she was able to escape and call for help. LCSO responded and found Finister dead, along with his mother, Sandra Gaudino, 38. The rape victim’s relationship to both murder victims and Jones is not being released because she is the victim of a sex crime.

Jones was apprehended walking southbound near a Publix, 4351 U.S. Highway 27, Clermont. Earlier this week LCSO released body cam showing Jones being taken into custody.

He was arrested for two counts of domestic first-degree murder, domestic false imprisonment and domestic sexual battery. Jones, of Michigan, confessed to the crimes and told detectives he beat both murder victims with a mallet and raped the young woman.

Jones is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrest Justin Jones of Michigan, who confessed to killing his wife and stepson and raping another woman. VIDEO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Unincorporated Leesburg, Aug. 31

A man reported missing Wednesday was found dead in Marion County and a man known as “Maniac” is responsible, according to LCSO.

Casey Dean’s body was found near the home of a friend of Matthew “Maniac” Luke Allen, 26, and a woman Allen met on the dating app “Plenty of Fish,” told LCSO Allen shot him and disposed of his body, according to an arrest affidavit.

She told deputies Allen was standing across from Dean Sunday afternoon yelling about a gun on a coffee table that was believed to be inoperable. She said she heard Allen yell, “Why would you pull a gun on people that doesn’t work?” followed by a gunshot. Dean succumbed to his neck wound on a couch and Allen and another man are alleged to have rolled Dean’s body up in a rug and put him in the back of a Dodge Ram. Allen then forced the unidentified woman to help him dispose of the body. Two children also witnessed the killing.

The pair stayed at an undisclosed location and the woman, who feared Allen was going to kill her, convinced him to let her go home Wednesday to retrieve clothes. Allen, who allegedly planned on fleeing the state Thursday, allowed to woman to leave in a borrowed car. She dumped the car at a Marion County convenience store and escaped by calling a friend to come get her.

When she arrived home, she cooperated with LCSO and gave them information on the killing and where Allen dumped the body.

Allen was picked up in Marion County on outstanding Sumter County warrants and arrested for manslaughter, kidnapping. tampering with evidence, unlawful transportation of human remains, grand theft auto and child neglect. He is being held in the Marion County Jail on no bond.

Matthew “Maniac” Allen is accused of shooting Casey Dean in the neck and dumping his body in Marion County. PHOTO: Marion County Sheriff’s Office

Florida Woman Arrested for Stabbing Uncle after Argument and Spraying Each Other with Kitchen Faucet

CLERMONT, Florida—An 18-year-old woman apparently mad at her uncle for being drunk and sleeping on the floor stabbed him with a kitchen knife, grazing his liver, an injury serious enough to require him to be transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) as a trauma alert, according to an arrest affidavit.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to Lake Ridge Circle in unincorporated Clermont after South Lake Hospital reported the victim of a stabbing left the emergency room without receiving treatment early Wednesday morning. When deputies arrived at the home, they found the victim sitting in a recliner sweating profusely and covered with a white sheet. He was very pale and continually stated he needed rest, the arresting deputy noted in the affidavit.

Lake EMS responded and found the wound was several inches deep and actively bleeding; the victim was transported to ORMC as a trauma alert.

The victim’s mother, who was in the home, first said her son was putting dishes away and accidently dropped a knife into his own stomach, she later confessed to lying after another relative said he heard the victim and Cori Lynne Ralston, 18, arguing.

That witness said he heard the two arguing in the kitchen and things “escalated.” He said Ralston yelled at the victim and then told Ralston’s mother she needed to tend to the victim’s heavy intoxication. He said he heard “what sounded like Cori throwing the kitchen knife at (the victim.)” When asked by a deputy if he saw anything happen, the witness would not give a straightforward answer, the affidavit states.

Deputies questioned Ralston, and she said she tripped over her uncle sleeping on the living room floor when she got up to make something to eat. She began yelling at him to get up and he began arguing with her. She said he walked over to her in the kitchen, and she began spraying him with the kitchen faucet. The victim grabbed the faucet from her and started spraying Ralston and she said she grabbed the knife and began waving it around. Ralston said it may have hit him while she was waving it around, according to the affidavit.

“Based on the severity of the puncture wound, it can be inferred that there had to be substantial force behind the knife in order to have it enter (the victim’s) body to the point where the knife is grazing (the victim’s) liver,” the deputy noted in the affidavit.

Ralston was arrested for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and transported to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $10,000 bond.

Man Confesses to Killing Wife, Stepson and Raping Female in Travel Trailer Wednesday

CLERMONT, Florida—The man accused of killing his wife and stepson and raping another female confessed his crimes to a Lake County Sheriff’s Office detective, according to an arrest affidavit.

The female rape victim told LCSO that between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. Wednesday, she heard Ty Finister, 17, screaming and found Justin Lamar Jones—his stepfather— on top of him striking him with either a hammer or a knife. She screamed for Jones, 41, to stop and he slammed her to the ground, according to the affidavit.

She told deputies Jones, of Michigan, then duct taped her ankles, wrists, mouth, and eyes and dragged her to a bed, where he tore her clothes off and raped her repeatedly and placed a zip tie around her neck. Jones told her to “relax” because it would be “more enjoyable.” She asked to get dressed at one point and he did untie her and allow her to put clothes on, the affidavit states.

The rape victim tried to leave, and he blocked her and tied her up again with zip ties. She asked to watch television and removed the ties and blindfold but placed another zip tie around her neck while she watched television. She asked to use the restroom and escaped and called for help, according to the affidavit.

Law enforcement saturated the area and found Jones’ SUV with Michigan tags in the Publix parking lot at 4351 U.S. Highway 27 and Jones was spotted walking southbound on U.S. Highway 27. He was taken into custody and transported to the LCSO South Lake District Office in Clermont.

While detectives were investigating, they found a second body, identified as Jones’ wife, Sandra Gaudino 38.

Detectives interviewed Jones and he admitted killing his wife with a mallet and putting her in a trash bag underneath the travel trailer at 244 Jewelfish Road, in unincorporated Clermont, he then beat Finister, his stepson, to death with the mallet and placed a plastic bag over his head. He also confessed to raping the female in the home.

Jones was arrested for two counts of domestic first degree murder, one count of domestic sexual battery and domestic false imprisonment. He is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

Man Accused of Murdering His Stepson and Unidentified Person, and Raping Female Repeatedly Wednesday at RV Resort

CLERMONT, Florida—A man has been arrested for killing his stepson, and a second unidentified person and he is accused of kidnapping and raping a female in his home.

Justin Lamar Jones, 41, is accused of murdering his stepson at 244 Jewelfish Lane in unincorporated Clermont in a travel trailer Wednesday morning. Jones then tied up a female and raped her throughout the day until she was able to escape, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Herrell.

The female’s identity and relationship to Jones and the murder victims will not be released because she is the victim of a sex crime.

Jones’s SUV was later spotted in the parking lot of Publix at the corner of U.S. Highway 27 and Hartwood Marsh Road in Clermont, and he was seen running on foot at a nearby Walgreens. He was apprehended and taken into custody and was being interviewed at press time.  

During their investigation, detectives found a second body in the travel trailer at Thousand Trails Resort off U.S. Highway 27, according to Herrell. The identity of that person and Jones’ stepson have not been confirmed by LCSO.

Jones is facing two first degree murder charges, along with kidnapping and sexual battery, Herrell said.

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