Eustis

Lake County Sheriff’s Office Detective Fired Following Internal Investigation into 2 Off-Duty Traffic Stops

TAVARES, Florida—A Lake County Sheriff’s Office detective was fired earlier this month following an internal affairs investigation into two separate traffic stops by Eustis Police Department.

Kejuan Monroe was a backseat passenger in a vehicle pulled over for speeding on Bay Street on Feb. 26, according to the internal affairs report. When the EPD officer activated her emergency lights, the car, being driven by a friend of Monroe’s failed to immediately stop and continued for nearly half of a mile before finally pulling over.

When the EPD officer approached the car, Monroe stuck his LCSO identification card out of the window, “I’m with SIU (Special Investigations Unit) with the SO (Sheriff’s Office,)” and told the officer nothing illegal was in the car and the driver did not have any warrants. “Nothing illegal in the car, nothing like that,” Monroe said. There were two more passengers in the car and one has a criminal record, including trafficking in MDMA, according to the report.

The driver refused the EPD officer’s request to search and an EPD K9 corporal arrived. All of the occupants exited the vehicle, except Monroe, “There’s no need for that,” Monroe told an EPD sergeant. The sergeant stated Monroe was interfering and Monroe stepped out of the vehicle and began openly discussing his undercover work at LCSO in front of the vehicle’s occupants and he identified a Eustis undercover officer, the report states.

After the K9 was deployed, it alerted on the vehicle. Later, in an interview with LCSO, the EPD K9 corporal said Monroe began acting “strangely” when he deployed his dog and Monroe began engaging the corporal “as if to distract him from the search,” the report states.

Upon searching the vehicle, officers found a digital scale with cocaine residue, multiple open containers of alcohol, ammunition and a firearm concealed under a blanket on the floorboard, near Monroe’s feet. All the occupants in the car were given open container citations, and Monroe failed to inform EPD officers the gun was in the car.

“Detective Monroe had ample time throughout the traffic stop to notify officers about the concealed firearm at his feet, but failed to do so,” the investigator noted in the report.

An EPD sergeant called an LCSO sergeant to the scene and she talked to each occupant about Monroe’s involvement and each one gave a different story. Monroe first said he only knew the driver of the vehicle but later admitted he knew all the occupants, including a passenger who has a criminal history, according to the report.

An investigator interviewed Monroe, who said he was out with friends drinking at two different restaurants in Tavares. The friends left when one of them fell ill and Monroe said he did not have a ride home, so he asked his friend he had known since childhood to take him home. “I did have a couple drinks. I will say my judgment was skewed and I should have went home when my homeboy went home,” he told the investigator.

Monroe claimed he did not know what was in the vehicle and the driver began driving slowly when they were lit up by EPD and the passengers were “panicking,” and the firearm “came out of nowhere” and they “tucked it” beside Monroe. Monroe said he panicked and did not know what to do and immediately put his sheriff’s office identification out the window because he knew EPD would find the gun. When the investigator asked why he did not inform the EPD officers about the gun, he said, “Honestly, I wish I could tell you. I was so flabbergasted and so (expletive) off at the fact somebody I trusted would put me in that situation knowing what I do. I was more shocked than anything.” Monroe indicated he was very upset with himself for not alerting the officers to the weapon.

On March 2, Monroe was placed on administrative suspension with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. On March 8, Monroe was pulled over again by Eustis Police Department. Monroe was driving his LCSO unmarked vehicle when he was pulled over for speeding and “unprofessional towards Eustis officers.” His vehicle was taken from him as a result of that traffic stop.

On March 28, Monroe tendered an apology letter to an LCSO captain and took responsibility for his actions and stated the “two occasions were not indicative of my professional and personal character, and I sincerely apologize for that. Please do not give up on me.”

Nearly a month later, on April 25, Monroe was informed the allegations of three policy violations, performing any acts bringing office into disrepute; conduct unbecoming of an officer; and association with known criminals, were sustained. Monroe was fired on May 5.

Lake County Woman Charged with Murder in 2021 Hernando County Jail Overdose Death

HERNANDO COUNTY, Florida—A 28-year-old Lake County woman is locked up in the Hernando County Detention Center on no bond facing several charges, including first degree murder, for providing the fentanyl that killed her cellmate in 2021.

According to a Hernando County Sheriff’s Office probable cause affidavit, Lauren Ann Moon, 28, concealed pills in her vagina when she was booked into the Hernando County Jail on Sept. 27, 2021, for two counts of failure to appear. Moon was not given a body cavity search because she falsely claimed to be pregnant, “This was a deliberate act to bypass the body scanner due to the defendant being in unlawful possession of an unknown amount of narcotics,” a HCSO detective noted in the affidavit. Moon was then assigned to a cell due to being held on no bond.

The following morning, Moon, who uses a Eustis address and a Sorrento address, and her cellmate talked about their charges and choice of narcotics and Moon told the victim she had what she purported to be Xanax and asked the victim if she wanted some. Moon told an HCSO detective she removed the pills from her vagina and took one and a half bars and gave a half of a bar to the victim. Less than 20 minutes later, the victim fell unconscious and she was transported to Bayfront Health Brooksville, where she later died.

Lauren Ann Moon on her Hernando County Jail booking photo on Sept. 27, 2021. PHOTO: Hernando County Detention Center

The victim’s cause of death was later determined to be a fentanyl overdose.

Moon was released on the failure to appear charges on Oct. 22, 2021, and a warrant was issued for her arrest in her cellmate’s death on April 5. She was picked up in Lake County on April 6 and transferred to Hernando County on May 11. She is facing three charges, including possession of a controlled substance, introduction of contraband into a detention facility and first degree murder. 

Man Dropped Off at Hospital with Multiple Gunshot Wounds Lied About His Identity, Police Say

EUSTIS, Florida—The man who was dropped off at AdventHealth Waterman Hospital early Sunday lied to police about who he was and where the shooting happened, Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri said late Monday.

Sherrod Lequan Whiley, 30, gave police a different name after they responded to AdventHealth Waterman Hospital in the early morning hours Sunday. Two females dropped Whiley off after he suffered a beating and four gunshot wounds, Capri told Inside Lake. The incident caused the hospital to be placed on lockdown for nearly an hour, Tavares Police Department Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake Sunday.

Whiley, of Eustis, first told EPD investigators he was walking down County Road 44 near Alee Academy when two vehicles stopped, and an individual got out and shot him. Witnesses later came forward and said Whiley attempted to buy drugs with counterfeit money, and he was beaten and shot in a different location several miles away. The crime is believed to have happened in the Lake County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction and Whiley’s untruthfulness hampered the investigation, Capri said.

“He continued to lie and mislead investigators,” Capri said.

Whiley apparently gave a false name because he had a warrant for criminal traffic violations, Capri said. Whiley was arrested by Mount Dora Police Department in January for giving a false name to law enforcement.

If you have information on the shooting, call LCSO at 352-343-2101.

Man Dropped Off at Hospital with Multiple Gunshot Wounds, Expected to Survive

TAVARES, Florida—A man was shot multiple times early Sunday, causing AdventHealth Waterman Hospital to be placed on lockdown, according to Tavares Police Department.

Marcus McGowan, 28, was dropped off by two females at the hospital with four gunshot wounds to his arms and legs, Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri told Inside Lake.  He is expected to survive. Police have identified the females who dropped him off, an EPD detective close to the investigation told Inside Lake.

The shooting caused AdventHealth Waterman Hospital to be placed on lockdown, TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake. Lockdowns are a precautionary measure, commonly used following shootings and other violent crimes.

The lockdown began shortly before 3:30 a.m. and lasted less than an hour, Sullivan said.   

EPD is investigating the shooting, and McGowan is not being very cooperative, Capri said. He told detectives he was walking down County Road 44 near Alee Academy when two cars, a Ford Taurus and a black Chevrolet Camaro stopped, an individual jumped out and shot him.

Police are asking anyone with information to call EPD detectives at 352-357-4121.

Teenager Arrested for Bomb Threat at Eustis Wendy’s Last Month

EUSTIS, Florida—A prank phone call turned into a felony charge for a 14-year-old Tavares boy Tuesday when he was arrested for making a false bomb threat last month.

Inside Lake is not naming the boy due to his age and the nature of the charge.

Around 5:45 p.m. April 9, Eustis Police Department responded to Wendy’s, 2827 South Bay Street on a report of a bomb threat. Officers evacuated the building and parking lot and spoke with the manager who said he received a call on the restaurant’s main line around 5:30 p.m.; the caller asked, “Is this Wendy’s?” and when the manager responded, “yes” the caller reportedly said, “You better get out, It’s about to blow up,” according to a juvenile pickup order. The manager wrote down the phone number the threat was made from.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Squad responded and conducted a sweep of the restaurant and parking lot and did not find any explosives, according to the pickup order.

On April 11, and EPD detective began investigating the case and linked the phone number back to the 14-year-old suspect. EPD interviewed the boy at Tavares Middle School, and he told detectives he made some prank phone calls with his stepbrother, including a call to Wendy’s. Police interviewed the boy’s stepbrother who also admitted making the call. It is unclear whether he is facing charges.

The boy was picked up Tuesday and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

Third Annual Back the Blue Walk Scheduled for Saturday

TAVARES, Florida—Hundreds of people are expected to attend the third annual Lake County Backs the Blue Walk scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Tavares’ Wooton Park.

In its third 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. She grew up and was close friends with Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wayne Koester who 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.

PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

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.

“Almost the entire time my son played baseball; Chris Daniels was his coach.” Cook said.

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. She is hoping for a large turnout Saturday, last year’s efforts were hampered by unusually cold weather and it was held Easter weekend.

Saturday’s walk is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Wooton Park, 100 E. Ruby Street; donuts and coffee are being provided by Ralph Smith of Lake Tire & Auto before the event. Walkers will travel down Ruby Street to LCSO and then onto the Tavares Public Safety Complex before returning to Wooten Park for a hot dog lunch provided by Pamela O’Donnell and Vic Donahey of Vic’s Embers Catering.

Cook suggests participants use street parking in downtown Tavares, or park in the Tavares Parking Garage, 200 North Sinclair Avenue.

Former Firefighter Pleads No Contest in DUI Manslaughter Case, Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

TAVARES, Florida—The former Eustis firefighter accused of killing a young woman while he was driving drunk has pleaded no contest to DUI manslaughter.

According to Lake County Clerk of Court online records, Downs was sentenced to six years in prison and must serve at least four years, followed by four years on probation, $2,100 fine, community service, restitution, court costs and he will lose his driver license for the rest of his life.

Downs, who was the deputy chief of the volunteer Umatilla Fire Department, an engineer medic at Eustis Fire Department, and former local paramedic of the year was later terminated from both of his positions.

He was off-duty at the time of the three-vehicle crash on March 19, 2020 and was traveling eastbound in a 2016 Dodge Ram on State Road 44 near Huff Road when he failed to stop and struck the back of a 2017 Nissan Sentra, “propelling” it into the back of a stopped dump truck. The Nissan, being driven by Catherine Eaglin, of DeLand was stopped on State Road 44, facing east, behind a 2020 dump truck being driven by William Gomes, 33, of Orlando, shortly after 11:15 p.m., according to the crash report.

Eaglin, who turned 23 just six days before the crash, was pronounced dead on the scene, and was wearing a seatbelt. Downs, of Eustis, was airlifted to Central Florida Regional Medical Center and he was not wearing a seatbelt. Gomes was transported by Lake EMS to AdventHealth Waterman; he was wearing his seatbelt.

Catherine Eaglin was killed in a crash March 19, 2020, just six days after her 23rd birthday, after her car was struck by a drunk driver. Michael Downs, a former firefighter, pleaded no contest to DUI manslaughter Monday and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Downs was charged with DUI manslaughter, three counts of DUI with property damage and one count of false information on a crash report for falsely claiming he was infected with COVID-19. Downs pleaded no contest to DUI manslaughter and the other four charges were dropped, according to court records.

A Florida Highway Patrol crash report states Downs’ BAC was .155, nearly twice Florida’s legal limit. It is unclear exactly what time the blood was drawn, but it was after Downs was transported by air to Central Florida Regional Medical Center in Sanford.

“FHP had to subpoena medical blood, as Cpl. [Eric] Almeyda was unable to obtain blood from Mr. Downs,” Montes said in an email in 2020. “With the challenge of not being able to obtain a blood sample that night, Cpl. Almeyda immediately subpoenaed the medical blood and completed the investigation before making an arrest.’

Downs also claimed he may have COVID-19. “When Cpl. Almeyda arrived at the hospital to interview and evaluate Mr. Downs, he was told by the nurses that Mr. Downs claimed he may have COVID-19,” Montes said in an email. “The hospital staff placed Cpl. Almeyda in full protective PPE to go in the room to talk with Mr. Downs.”

At the hospital, no routine field sobriety exercises were possible, nor was it possible for traffic homicide investigator Almeyda to get close enough to Downs to determine whether he had physical signs of impairment — such as bloodshot eyes or the odor of alcohol on his breath. “We couldn’t do anything because he was claiming COVID-19,” Montes told this reporter in 2020.

Downs allegedly made the claim just 10 days after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Florida due to COVID-19.

He was taken into custody Monday at the Lake County Courthouse after entering his plea and is being held at the Lake County Jail until he is transferred to state prison.

Sorrento Woman Killed in Eustis Motorcycle Crash

EUSTIS, Florida—A weekend that saw many motorcycles on the roads, especially in Eustis and Leesburg ended tragically Sunday afternoon with the death of a 28-year-old Sorrento woman.

Rebekah Jo Towner was the passenger on 2006 Harley Davidson being ridden by 64-year-old Edgar Wesley Tello, of Umatilla, northbound on Grove Street, when he struck a construction sign near Pendleton Avenue, a Eustis Police spokesperson told Inside Lake—the only media on the scene.

The impact threw Tello and Towner from the motorcycle and she slid with the motorcycle more than 100 feet, coming to rest at a fence in front of a home. Towner was pronounced dead on the scene, EPD said.

A witness who asked not to be named, heard and witnessed the 4:40 p.m. crash, “I heard a squeal, like it hit the curb and then there were two booms,” he said. “He was going faster than 30 (mile pers hour.”)

A Eustis Police traffic homicide investigator is seen investigating a fatal motorcycle crash near a mangled sign Sunday afternoon. A Sorrento woman was killed.
PHOTO: Inside Lake

The speed limit in that area is 30 miles per hour and there is an electronic speed monitor reminding motorists of their speed and to slow down.

Tello was airlifted to a local hospital and is in serious condition. The crash closed two blocks of North Grove Street for several hours and traffic was diverted to North Eustis Street. It is unclear if either one was wearing a helmet, police said.

The crash comes at the conclusion of two popular events that were held over the weekend, Eustis Music Fest and Leesburg Bikefest. It is unknown where the pair were coming from and the crash remains under investigation.

Eustis Woman Busted with Funny Money, Meth, Laptops and Printers; Secret Service Notified

EUSTIS, Florida—A traffic stop for a missing tag landed a Eustis woman in jail Tuesday night after Eustis Police found 50 counterfeit bills, several smoking devices, printers, laptops and methamphetamine in her car, according to an arrest affidavit.

Kimberley Renee Rappoccio, 40, was pulled over near her home in Eustis around 9: 30 p.m. because the car she was driving did not have a tag. Rappoccio told EPD she had bought the car two months prior and was returning home from trying to sell the car. She was able to provide a title signed by the seller, according to the affidavit.

EPD asked to search the vehicle and called a K9 officer to the scene when Rappoccio said no. K9 Mya performed an open-air sniff of the car and alerted near the passenger side of the vehicle. While searching, police found two smoking devices with residue in a sock in addition to an “abundance of counterfeit currency in denominations of $1, $5, $10, $20 and $100,” the arresting officer stated in the affidavit. Police also found paper used for counterfeiting, three printers, two laptops and a tablet. A black box containing methamphetamine and additional smoking devices were also found.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Rappoccio claimed she did not know what was in the car and the only things she took ownership of were her purse, phone and the tablet. EPD seized the counterfeit money, printers, laptops, tablet and phone for a pending search warrant and notified the Secret Service. The Secret Service asked EPD to record all the serial numbers on the fake bills and keep them apprised of the investigation.

Rappoccio was arrested for possession methamphetamine, possession of counterfeit bills, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to register a motor vehicle. She was transported to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $5,500 bond.

Eustis Police Officer Resigns Following “Egregious Policy Violation”

EUSTIS, Florida—A Eustis Police officer has resigned following an internal investigation that resulted in a five-day suspension, for what EPD Chief Craig Capri called an “egregious policy violation.”

Austin Williams, a four-year veteran of the department, resigned earlier this month after an internal investigation showed he violated the department’s pursuit policy, by pursuing a vehicle for a minor traffic violation and reaching speeds of up to 113 miles per hour. The vehicle he was pursuing crashed outside EPD’s jurisdiction, according to the internal affairs report.

“Once we were made aware of the egregious policy violation, we investigated and took corrective action,” Capri told Inside Lake. “Our agency is very transparent, and we have zero tolerance for (violations of this nature.)”

Around 10:45 p.m. March 13, Williams attempted to pull over a vehicle that failed to stop before the stop bar at a stop sign at West Stevens Avenue and South Bay Street. The white Ford sedan made a quick turn into a nearby gas station and quickly exited the parking lot when Williams activated his emergency lights on his unmarked patrol car.

The car accelerated and Williams activated his sirens and the car fled; Williams pursued the vehicle on Bay Street, speeding as fast as 93 miles per hour, according to the report. Williams turned off his lights and sirens around Bay Street and Chesley Avenue and notified Eustis dispatch the vehicle was going to run the light at Bay Street and Ardice Avenue and he was Code 4 (terminating the stop)—but he did not terminate the pursuit.

Williams continued to pursue the vehicle south on Bay Street (State Road 19) and ran a solid red light at RaceTrac gas station at 36 miles per hour, traveling at 80 miles per hour by the time he reached Long John Silvers, 2880 South Bay Street. When he came to the next light at Bay Street and the southbound ramp to U.S. Highway 441, he was traveling at 108 miles per hour. A vehicle pulled out in front of Williams, causing him to change lanes and decrease his speed to just under 100 miles per hour. His body camera captured him saying an expletive as the vehicle pulls out.

As Williams left Eustis city limits, he was traveling 108 miles per hour; he turned onto to Bay Road at 78 miles per hour and ran the stop sign at Bay Road and Dodson Cutoff, near the now-defunct Roll-Air skating rink.

Austin Williams

He then requested dispatch notify Mount Dora Police Department the vehicle was entering its jurisdiction at about 80 miles per hour and Williams continued to follow the car outside the City of Eustis, without any further communication of his location, the report states.

Williams then approached Old U.S. Highway 441 and applied his brakes but ran the red light at the intersection and states, “I’m losing my (expletive) brakes, I’m gonna lose my (expletive) job if I don’t stop.”  

Later, in an interview, Williams said he made that statement because he then realized he had violated EPD’s pursuit policy and admitted he had put other uninvolved parties in harm’s way.

Williams continued down Bay Road until it dead-ends at Lakeshore Drive and made a left turn, he then manually turned his body camera off. His dash camera was on and captured him increasing his speed from 12 miles per hour to 76 miles per hour until he spotted the vehicle crashed, upside down and on fire in front of a home, located in Lake County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. Williams exited his unmarked patrol car, drew his gun, and began giving the driver continuous verbal commands to show his hands and exit the vehicle. EPD Dispatch asked Williams’ location, and he responded, “38 Eustis (Williams ID) I don’t know my cross, I’m on Lakeshore Drive in Mount Dora, the car is on fire and on its roof.”

Williams attempted to open the passenger door was only able to partially open it and he continued to give the driver loud verbal commands. The driver replied, “Help me,” in a soft, gentle voice, the report states. Williams yelled “Get out of the car,” and the driver stated, “I can’t move.”

Williams continued to give verbal commands to the driver and again pointed his weapon at the driver and made no further efforts to assist the driver while continuing to give him verbal commands, according to the report.

A second EPD officer arrived on scene and Williams holsters his weapon and tells the second officer to grab a fire extinguisher. Williams then pulled the driver from the car and the driver denied committing the original traffic violation. Multiple agencies arrived and began assisting and the driver was transported to the hospital for medical treatment. From the time Williams called in the traffic stop to the time of the crash was only 3 minutes 33 seconds, according to the report.

An EPD road patrol sergeant arrived soon after and Williams reportedly said, “I was not 10-31, I know that’s the first question you’re gonna ask;” 10-31 is code for “in pursuit.” Williams was later questioned during the investigation and said he did not believe he was pursuing the vehicle, he believed he was trying to “locate the vehicle.”

EPD found that Williams did violate policy and he was given a five-day suspension without pay. Williams served the suspension and resigned the following day.

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