Eustis Police Chief Finds Man Suspected of DUI in Grocery Store Parking Lot with Bottle of Vodka Next to Him

EUSTIS, Florida—A man who was apparently stumbling and staggering around a local grocery store and parking lot was busted for DUI Sunday after Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri found him sitting in his car with a bottle of vodka lying next to him.

Capri was in the area Sunday around 8:15 p.m. when he heard a call go out about a possible drunk person stumbling around and trying to leave in a white Dodge Challenger in the Woodland Center plaza, 1930 North State Road 19, which houses Publix, according to an arrest affidavit.

Capri spoke only with Inside Lake about the incident, “Crime doesn’t take a day off, so why should we?’

Capri approached the vehicle and spoke with a man, later identified as Joseph Ciechanowski, 52, who smelled of alcohol. Capri, who was in plain clothes, identified himself as a police officer, and Ciechanowski said Capri was not a police officer and attempted to leave, Capri told Inside Lake.

Capri kept Ciechanowski from leaving until two more EPD officers arrived and when the officers asked for his driver license and registration, he fumbled around while slurring his words, the affidavit states.

Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri

“He was extremely intoxicated; no doubt in my mind he would have killed somebody, or himself,” Capri said.

He refused to exit his car and when EPD opened the door he stumbled out and refused to perform field sobriety exercises. Ciechanowski, of Parrish in Manatee County, was placed under arrest and taken into custody.

Officers spoke with a witness, a manager at Publix, who said Ciechanowski staggered into the men’s restroom at the front of the store and staggered out a short time later. She provided a written statement to officers and Ciechanowski was transported to the Lake County Jail. While at the jail, he refused to provide a breath sample, according to the affidavit.

A check of Ciechanowski’s criminal history revealed a prior arrest for DUI in December 2020 that was eventually pled down to reckless driving, alcohol related on May 21, 2021—exactly two years prior to the incident in Eustis, according to Manatee County Clerk of Court online records.

Ciechanowski is facing three charges in Lake County, including DUI, refusal to submit to a breath test and refusal to sign a criminal citation. He was released Monday morning on $2,000 bond.

Tavares Police Searching for Woman Missing Since Saturday

UPDATE: Celia Schwinden has been found safe.

TAVARES, Florida—Tavares Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance in locating a woman who was last seen at her home in the area of Dora Avenue Saturday.

Celia Schwinden, 67, is known to frequent Tavares, Eustis and Leesburg on foot and may be carrying bags with her. TPD is utilizing the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Real Time Crime Center, bloodhounds and pinged her cellphone with negative results. TPD has also issued a BOLO (be on the lookout) and reached out to surrounding law enforcement agencies, TPD Chief Sarah Coursey told Inside Lake.

“We have all hands on deck,” Coursey said.

Celia Schwinden, 67, is seen here entering her home in the Dora Avenue area Saturday. Tavares Police Department is trying to locate her to check on her well-being.

There has been no activity on Schwinden’s credit or debit cards. She apparently returned to her home Monday and left a note but left her home again. Police did not release what the note said.

“We need to check her well-being,” Coursey said.

TPD officers are canvassing the area and following up on leads, Coursey said, and Schwinden is believed to be wearing the clothing shown in the photos accompanying this article.

If you have information on Schwinden’s whereabouts, call TPD at 352-343-2101 and reference case T23050703.

Person Airlifted After Being Rescued from Fire Sunday Night, Deputy Transported

ALTOONA, Florida—One person was rescued and airlifted for treatment and a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy was transported to the hospital following a structure fire Sunday night, according to Umatilla Fire Department.

Numerous agencies responded to the fire in addition to UFD and LCSO, including Eustis Fire Department, Leesburg Fire Department, Lake County Fire Rescue, Marion County Fire Rescue and Lake EMS, a UFD social media post stated. An exact address for the fire was unavailable at press time, but numerous social media posts and comments said the fire was in the Shockley Heights area.

UFD was first on the scene of the fire that had one person trapped inside. The unidentified person was rescued and airlifted to a local hospital and a deputy was transported to an area hospital to get checked out, according to UFD. The fire was extinguished.

Substitute Teacher Arrested For Child Abuse After Letting 7th Grader Hit Vape In Class. “I Was Just Trying To Fit In.”

EUSTIS, Florida—A substitute teacher was arrested Friday for child abuse after letting a 7th grade student hit a vape pen, because she was just trying to fit in, according to an arrest affidavit.

The student told the Eustis Police Department school resource officer (SRO) he and his friend were talking in their last class period Tuesday when the friend made a comment about vaping and Jennifer Gaine Hale, 50, of Mount Dora said she had one, the affidavit states; Hale was substituting at Eustis Middle School and in charge of the class.

The boy walked up to her desk and Hale pulled out a multi-colored nicotine vape and asked him if he wanted to “hit it.” Hale told the boy not to tell anyone because she did not want to get into trouble, according to the affidavit. The boy hit the vape once and gave it back to Hale. Hale is alleged to have told him to be careful because there was a salt-like substance on it, but the boy did not know what it was.

Another student reported the incident to the school’s administration and the EMS principal questioned Hale on Wednesday while she was on campus substituting for another class. Hale reportedly admitted the misdeed and told the principal, “I was just trying to fit in.”

The principal escorted Hale off campus and told her not to return and reported the incident to Lake County Schools Human Resources and reported it to the SRO.

The following day, the SRO and the principal met with the boy’s mom, who was “very upset” and told the SRO she wanted to press charges, the affidavit states. Hale was arrested for child abuse at her home in Mount Dora Friday and booked into the Lake County Jail; she was released Sunday on $1,000 bond.

Hale is no longer employed by Lake County Schools, LCS Administrative Coordinator of Communications Sherri Owens told Inside Lake Monday morning.

Fourth Annual Lake County Back the Blue Walk Scheduled for Saturday

TAVARES, Florida—Law enforcement and supporters will join forces for the fourth annual Lake County Back the Blue Walk at Wooton Park Saturday morning.

Scheduled for 9 a.m., this is one of many law enforcement events around Lake County held in May during Law Enforcement Appreciation Month. In its fourth year, the walk began in 2019 to show support for law enforcement during a time when the “defund the police” movement was making its way across the country, event organizer Shannon Cook told Inside Lake. Representatives from several law enforcement agencies and numerous public officials are expected to be in attendance.

“The good ones needed to know they were appreciated,” Cook said.

Cook has always had respect for law enforcement officers and the job they do, she said. Her close friend, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wayne Koester, was killed in the line of duty Feb. 9, 2005. Koester, who was 33 at the time, and two other deputies were ambushed while responding to a domestic violence call. All three deputies were shot, and Koester succumbed to his injuries; the other two deputies recovered. Jason Wheeler was shot and paralyzed during his capture and convicted in Koester’s death. Cook was also close to Chris Daniels, who was serving as Lake County Sheriff when he was tragically killed in a charity bus race in 2006 on his birthday.

Shannon Cook shows off one of the many gifts she has for the law enforcement officers who attend the walk Saturday. PHOTO: Shannon Cook

Cook told Inside Lake it is important the community show its support for all of the good officers and those who were lost in the line of duty. Usually a one-woman show, Cook has some help this year from Wayne Koester’s brother, Victor Koester, Jolie Fowler, owner of The Car Doctor Automotive Specialist Inc., in Eustis, Lt. Kristin Thompson of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Nina Rosania, who is very active in the community, especially in her efforts helping out small businesses in Lake County.

Participants will meet a 9 a.m. at Wooton Park, 100 East Ruby Street, Tavares. The first stop will be the Lake County Administration Building, then a stop at the Tavares Public Safety Complex and the walk will end at Kalua Beach Bar with lunch. Donuts will be provided before the walk by Lake Tire & Auto in Tavares, and a hot dog lunch will be available at Kalua Beach Bar, provided by the restaurant and Duct-Man Mechanical LLC in Eustis.

Details Released After Fugitive Taken Into Custody Nearly 2 Months After Skipping Out on DUI Manslaughter Trial

MOUNT DORA, Florida— The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has released details about the apprehension of Zachery Waldo Wednesday.

Waldo, 36, was tracked down by the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force that includes a deputy from LCSO, LCSO Lt. Fred Jones told Inside Lake.

He was found at Lakeside Inn, 100 Alexander Street, a popular downtown Mount Dora hotel, shortly before 11 a.m.  

“They boxed him in, in the parking lot,” Jones said.

A $10,000 reward was being offered for information leading to Waldo’s capture, but no one will be getting the reward because the Marshals developed information on their own and found him, Jones said.

Waldo disappeared on a lunch break during his DUI manslaughter trial March 14 where he stood accused of killing three members of the same family in Leesburg in 2019.

On Christmas Eve 2019, Waldo was driving a 2019 Dodge Ram around 8:30 p.m. eastbound on Dixie Avenue approaching Dozier Court, when a 2018 Toyota Corolla being driven by Christopher Smith attempted to make a left turn on Dozier Court from westbound Dixie Avenue, Leesburg Police Capt. Joe Iozzi said following the crash.

The event data recorder (EDR) for the Ram recorded the Ram’s speed at 84.5 mph one tenth of a second from the time of impact, but just 2 seconds before the Ram was traveling at 96.3 mph, according to the report. The posted speed limit is 35 mph, and a witness told LPD the Ram did not slow down, and the brake lights did not illuminate. A witness also put Waldo behind the wheel just before the crash and DNA confirmed, Iozzi told Inside Lake.

The front of the Ram struck right side of the Toyota, killing Smith, 44, and his wife, Jessica Smith, 35, both of Eustis. They were pronounced dead on the scene. The couple’s two children,11-year-old Hunter and 13-year-old Hailey, who were passengers in the Toyota, were taken to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children for treatment. Hailey succumbed to her injuries and died on Christmas Day.

Waldo and his passenger, Kevin Cunningham, 33, were taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center for their injuries. LPD obtained hospital records and Waldo was found to have an alcohol level twice the legal limit, along with amphetamines and benzos in his system, according to the report.

Upon searching the Ram, LPD found a loaded Ruger .40 caliber handgun stolen from Mount Dora, six sandwich bags containing 157.8 grams of marijuana and six cell phones, according to the report.  

A warrant was issued for Waldo’s arrest in 2020 and in August of that year, LCSO deputies and U.S. Marshals were conducting surveillance and spied Waldo getting into a black Dodge SUV. Waldo drove out of a neighborhood on Chain O Lakes Road near Grand Island and rolled a stop sign at County Road 44, according to an arrest affidavit. An LCSO deputy attempted a traffic stop and Waldo sped off, running other vehicles off the road. Multiple units attempted to stop Waldo and he struck an LCSO patrol car and crashed through a fence on Tall Oak Court, the affidavit states.

Waldo fled on foot and hid in the bushes of a home on Grand Island Oaks Circle and asked for a ride from a man returning home from work. The man denied him the ride and Waldo took off again and jumped over a fence to Laurel Crest Court. He was found lying on the ground wearing nothing but underwear, the affidavit states.  

Three days later, he posted a $148,000 bond and was released from LCJ.

Waldo stood trial in March 2023 for the crimes. He was still out on bond and not in custody, so he was allowed to leave the courthouse during a lunch break He never came back from that break on the second day of his trial. LPD, LCSO and U.S. Marshals began searching for him immediately and he was found guilty in absentia by a jury the same day.

A little more than a month ago, Waldo’s girlfriend, Melinesia Shauntel Jones, 32,  was arrested for her part in helping him elude capture. Jones was charged in March with principal to failure to appear, accessory after the fact to DUI manslaughter, false information to law enforcement in a felony investigation, and accessory after the fact to DUI with serious bodily injury. Her home on East Street in Leesburg was searched by U.S. Marshals and LPD, but Waldo was not there. Jones was arrested and held for a month at the Lake County Jail, before being released Thursday on $13,000 bond.

Waldo, now charged with failure to appear, is being held on no bond.

Lady Lake Names New Police Chief

LADY LAKE, Florida—The Town of Lady Lake has named a new police chief after former Chief Robert Tempesta returned to his former rank of lieutenant, according to Lady Lake Director of Communications Elisha Pappacoda.

Steven W. Hunt will officially begin as his role as interim police chief Monday, according to a press release. Hunt, of Eustis, has more than 35 years of law enforcement experience and most recently served as a detective for the State of Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Investigative & Forensic Services, Bureau of Insurance.

Hunt began his career in law enforcement at 18 years old in Veazie, Maine, his hometown and later joined the Bangor, Maine Police Department, where he worked his way up to the rank of lieutenant, the press release stated. In Bangor, he supervised 12 patrol officers and two sergeants and during his time in Bangor, he was assigned to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency for a decade.

Lady Lake Interim Police Chief Steven Hunt PHOTO: Town of Lady Lake

He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and the IACP Leadership in Police Organizations. Hunt is married, has three children and one grandchild and enjoys the outdoors.

Hunt says his strongest attributes are compassion and building relationships.

 “I have a passion to mentor officers and campaign the positive aspects of law enforcement by building relationships, one person at a time,” he said. “I look forward to making a positive impact within the community of Lady Lake.”

Rollover Crash Kills Eustis Man Friday Morning

UMATILLA, Florida—A rollover crash killed a Eustis man just before daylight Friday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The 41-year-old man was driving a 1997 Chevy GMT-400 northbound on State Road 19 near Baker Road just outside of Umatilla, when he lost control for an unknown reason while negotiating a lefthand curve around 6:35 a.m., FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

The Eustis man overcorrected, causing the truck to overturn multiple times and come to a final rest on the west shoulder of State Road 19, Crescenzi said. He was pronounced deceased on the scene. The crash remains under investigation.

Man Attempts to Drive Himself to the Hospital Following Shooting Thursday Afternoon

EUSTIS, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a shooting that occurred Thursday, according to LCSO Lt. Fred Jones.

A male was shot at a home on Southland Road in unincorporated Mount Dora around 4:15 p.m. Thursday during a dispute, Jones said.

The man attempted to drive himself to the hospital and had two small children in his vehicle, Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri told Inside Lake. His vehicle came to a rest in the parking lot of Golden Corral, 15810 U.S. Highway 441, Eustis and EPD officers responded and rendered aid, Capri said. The male was later airlifted to an Orlando hospital, Jones said.

This is a developing story.

A man was shot in unincorporated Mount Dora Thursday and attempted to drive himself to the hospital. He came to a stop in the parking lot of the Golden Corral in Eustis. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

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