Fruitland Park

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.

Free Sealing and Expungement Clinic Scheduled for Saturday

TAVARES, Florida—Lake County residents with minor criminal histories have a unique opportunity to quickly and efficiently expunge or seal their record Saturday if they qualify, at the first-ever Sealing and Expungement clinic offered here.

Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida is teaming up with the Lake County Bar Association and Lake Young Lawyers Division to offer this free 4-hour clinic scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lake County Courthouse, 550 West Main Street, Tavares. Lawyers and representatives from numerous government agencies will be on hand to help participants navigate through the process, which often can be difficult to do on their own or expensive to hire a private attorney, said Taylor Tremel, an attorney who will be available on-site Saturday, to help. Lake County Clerk of Court Gary Cooney is waiving certain fees and providing the space for the clinic, Tremel said.

Tremel, who has served as an assistant state attorney and a public defender, is now in private practice with the firm Bowen & Schroth in Eustis and is enthusiastic about being a part of this program. “We saw that there was a need, and I thought it was a worthwhile thing to take on” he told Inside Lake.

“This brings everybody together under one roof to help and answer questions. It’s not very often all these groups get together to do something like this,” Tremel said.

Many crimes are not eligible to be sealed or expunged, including violent offenses, Tremel said. If a person was adjudicated guilty for a crime, they are not eligible either.

Participants’ criminal case must have occurred in Lake County to partake in the event and are asked to pre-register at Clinic Screening (legalserver.org) and those who do, may qualify for assistance with the $75 Florida Department of Law Enforcement application fee. Tremel said participants should not overstate their income or overrepresent how much money they have in the bank.

Tremel is hoping for a large turnout Saturday, “It’s a really awesome event,” he said. “I think it’s something that can be done annually.”

Friends and Colleagues Remember Judge T. Michael Johnson

TAVARES, Florida— “A friend for the ages, for a lot of people.”

That is how retired Public Defender Howard “Skip” Babb describes his longtime best friend and former coworker T. Michael Johnson, who passed away Monday after suffering a heart attack.

Well known and well-respected, Johnson, who served as a circuit judge was appointed to the bench in 1995 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, and served until his retirement in 2011, and was a senior judge at the time of his passing. He presided over many trials in Lake County, including the first murder trial this reporter covered at the beginning of her professional career in 2005. He also presided over the trials of Donte Hall and Dante Hall, identical twins accused of robbery and murder in Eustis in 2006, a case that made national headlines.

Before he was appointed judge, Johnson worked at the Fifth Circuit Public Defender’s Office for 14 years under Babb in numerous roles, including chief assistant. During his time as a public defender, he represented Richard Henyard, who was convicted and later executed for the murders of two young sisters. Henyard was also convicted in the rape and attempted murder of the girls’ mother.

Babb said Johnson was born and raised in Sumter County and began his professional career at Sumter Correctional Institution.

“I was lucky to get him,“ Babb told Inside Lake. You are who you hire, and he was a good hire.”

Mike Graves, Phil Kairalla, T. Michael Johnson, Skip Babb and Mike Lupton tailgating at a Florida State University football game.

“Judge Johnson was a highly regarded, talented and effective defense attorney, who transferred his skills seamlessly to the judiciary. As a judge, he strove to be fair and was always practical in helping the parties come to a resolution. His sense of humor was legendary,” said James Hope, a former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, who has practiced law in Lake County for 35 years.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Michelle Morley, and she currently serves as a circuit judge in Sumter County. Kelly Bagwell, who is a paralegal for Hatfield and Stack in Tavares, credits Johnson and Morley for her decision to become a paralegal. She originally planned to be a nurse and after working for Morley, she changed her career path.

Judge. T. Michael Johnson marrying Kelly and Sterling Bagwell.

“They were so influential in my life,” she told Inside Lake. “He was just amazing.”

Johnson holds another special place in Bagwell’s life—he married her and her husband Sterling, 19 years ago. He recently told her they were the only couple he married that were still together.

Numerous posts and comments could be found about Johnson on social media Monday and Tuesday. “He touched a lot of people,” Babb said. “It’s a sad day.

BREAKING NEWS: Tavares Police Release Body Cam Footage in NFL Player’s Arrest

Publisher’s note: The following video contains explicit language.

TAVARES, Florida—Body cam footage has been released in the arrest of Jacksonville Jaguars’ player Lerentee’ Zavonne McCray, 31.

Tavares Police Department released the footage Wednesday morning in the Jan. 16 arrest of McCray.  The video shows McCray pulling into the parking lot 7-Eleven at the corner of U.S. Highway 441 and Banning Beach Road in Tavares playing very loud music. Officers from TPD were arresting an individual for drug possession following a traffic stop and were being assisted by a sergeant from Astatula Police Department, according to a TPD report.  

In the video, McCray attempts to put gas in a TPD patrol car and says, “I just need you to take care of my son.” An officer tries to stop him, and he struggles with McCray over the gas nozzle. McCray then asks the officer to take him home and says, “I thought I seen something I didn’t see,” and the officer tells him to walk away.

 McCray then went to the back of his truck and removed a child’s bicycle and placed it on the hood of the truck and began “talking in circles.” McCray then laid on the ground as if he wanted to be handcuffed, the officer noted in the report.

Earlier that morning, McCray, 31, fled from Fruitland Park Police Department when an officer attempted to pull him over for speeding, according to an arrest affidavit. An officer spotted a white Dodge Ram traveling on County Road 25 at a “high rate of speed” and utilized her radar to find the truck was going 88 mph. The officer attempted to stop the Ram at C.R. 25 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by activating her lights and sirens and the driver, later identified as McCray, put his left arm out of the window and flipped his middle finger at the officer, according to the affidavit.

About 15 minutes later after fleeing FPPD, McCray pulled into the gas station in Tavares and was eventually arrested.

McCray was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares, where he was arrested by FPPD after he was medically cleared. TPD conducted an inventory of McCray’s truck and found a small bag of marijuana and a Benelli SuperNova shotgun.

McCray is facing a charge of fleeing and eluding and was released from the Lake County Jail on $5,000 bond. McCray played for the University of Florida from 2008 to 2012 and has been a Jacksonville Jaguar since 2017.  

Umatilla Man Busted For Buying Vehicles With Bum Checks in 2021, Tries Again With Stolen Credit Card

CLERMONT, Florida— A man arrested last year for scamming two local automobile dealerships has been arrested again for attempting a similar scam.

Prestin S. Carroll, 20, of Umatilla was arrested on warrant issued by Clermont Police Department Wednesday after a man complained his credit card was used fraudulently to charge $2,500 towards the purchase of a new vehicle, at Napleton Clermont Chrysler Jeep Dodge RAM , 15859 State Road 50, Clermont, according to a probable cause affidavit.

CPD investigated and found that Carroll, who was employed at the dealership as a detailer, was captured on video using the card to charge $2,000 and $500 in two separate transactions towards the purchase of a 2022 Jeep Compass, the affidavit states.

A warrant was issued for his arrest Tuesday, and he was booked into the Lake County Jail on one count of credit card fraud and one count of grand theft Wednesday and released on $4,000 bond.

2022 Jeep Compass PHOTO: Jeep.com

In April 2021, Carroll was arrested for two counts of grand theft auto and four counts of fraud stemming from scamming two dealerships in Eustis; he was unsuccessful in scamming two more. Eustis Police Department responded to Advantage Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM, 18311 U.S. Highway 441, Mount Dora on a report Carroll had purchased a 2021 Jeep Wrangler with a check written for $48,940.35 four days earlier. The check was returned the next day for insufficient funds and the manager contacted the bank and found the account the check was written on had been closed.  The manager requested Carroll bring in a cashier’s check or return the Jeep by the end of the day and Carroll agreed, according to that probable cause affidavit.

Just a week later, on April 23, another EPD officer responded to Danny Len Buick GMC, 17605 U.S. Highway 441, also on a fraud complaint. An employee told EPD Carroll came to the dealership on April 17— the same day the Jeep was returned— and wrote a $5,000 check to hold a 2013 Ford F150. On April 19, Carroll returned to the dealership and finished paperwork and wrote a check for the remaining balance on the truck— $14,857.78. The checks were returned as unpaid four days later and the employee attempted to contact Carroll to no avail and then called police.

Carroll told police he “must have accidently written checks from the wrong account,” the affidavit states; he later returned the truck. Carroll also attempted to purchase a Ford F150 Platinum worth $74,000 from Prestige Ford, 17701 U.S. Highway 441, Eustis but was unsuccessful. Carroll was also unsuccessful at Phillips Buick GMC, 2160 U.S. 441/27, Fruitland Park.

Carroll’s criminal history showed a prior arrest in Winter Haven and EPD contacted Winter Haven Police Department and found that Carroll had purchased a 2019 Chevrolet Camaro from a dealership in Winter Haven, with a worthless check in the amount of $28,379.59 The report in that case mentioned a similar case in Pasco County and EPD contacted Pasco County Sheriff’s office and found that Carroll had purchased a 2020 Toyota Tacoma from a dealership there and then traded it in on a 2021 Jeep Rubicon. He is alleged to have written two checks for those vehicles totaling nearly $75,000.

In the 2021 Lake County cases, Carroll agreed to a pre-trial intervention (PTI) program, according to Lake County Clerk of Court online records. One of Carroll’s requirements is, “The defendant agrees to refrain from any violations of law.” It is unclear how Carroll’s new charges will affect his prior cases.

NFL Player Flees Fruitland Park Police, Attempts To Pump Gas In Tavares Police Car, Taken To Hospital For Erratic Behavior

TAVARES, Florida—A Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end was arrested in Tavares early Sunday morning after fleeing Fruitland Park Police.

Lerentee’ Zavonne McCray, 31, fled from FPPD when an officer attempted to pull him over for speeding, according to an arrest affidavit. An officer spotted a white Dodge Ram traveling on County Road 25 at a “high rate of speed” and utilized her radar to find the truck was going 88 mph. The officer attempted to stop the Ram at C.R. 25 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by activating her lights and sirens and the driver, later identified as McCray, put his left arm out of the window and flipped his middle finger at the officer, according to the affidavit.

The officer began to chase McCray and an FPPD sergeant joined in, reaching speeds up to 100 mph, the affidavit states. McCray was driving in “an extremely reckless manner,” swerving across all three southbound lanes of traffic and FPPD terminated the stop.

About 15 minutes later, McCray pulled into 7-Eleven at the corner of U.S. Highway 441 and Banning Beach Road in Tavares. Officers from Tavares Police Department were arresting an individual for drug possession following a traffic stop and were being assisted by a sergeant from Astatula Police Department, according to a TPD report.

PHOTO: NFL

McCray, who appeared to know the APD sergeant, gave him a fist bump and then retrieved his wallet. McCray then walked over to a TPD officer’s car, opened the fuel door and walked over to the pump attempting to buy some gas, according to the report. The officer told McCray that was not necessary and closed the fuel door. McCray opened the door again and inserted the fuel nozzle into the patrol car. The officer attempted to take the nozzle from McCray, and he forcefully grabbed the officer’s wrist, and the officer pushed him back, the report states.

McCray then went to the back of his truck and removed a child’s bicycle and placed it on the hood of the truck and began “talking in circles.” McCray then laid on the ground as if he wanted to be handcuffed, the officer noted in the report.

McCray was handcuffed due to his erratic behavior and was not making sense when he spoke. The TPD officer allowed McCray to lean on his knee as they spoke, and McCray fell asleep. Officer called Lake EMS to the scene and as McCray was placed on a stretcher, FPPD informed TPD they had charges for McCray due to him fleeing the earlier traffic stop.

McCray was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares, where he was arrested by FPPD after he was medically cleared. TPD conducted an inventory of McCray’s truck and found a small bag of marijuana and a Benelli SuperNova shotgun.

McCray is facing a charge of fleeing and eluding he was released from the Lake County Jail on $5,000 bond.  McCray played for the University of Florida from 2008 to 2012 and has been a Jacksonville Jaguar since 2017.  

Speeding Delivery Driver Busted With Meth On The Job

FRUITLAND PARK, Florida—A DoorDash delivery driver dashed his way to the Lake County Jail early Monday morning after he was pulled over for speeding and a K-9 officer alerted to methamphetamine in his truck.

A Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy noticed a small truck that appeared to be speeding around 12:35 a.m. Monday on Picciola Road, near Riverview Drive. After using his radar, the deputy found the truck was traveling 53 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to the arrest affidavit.

LCSO performed a traffic stop and the driver, Michael James Hamilton, 32, of Summerfield, told the deputy he was a DoorDash driver and on his way to deliver food. The deputy asked if there was anything illegal in the truck and asked for consent to search.

Hamilton denied the deputy consent and a Fruitland Park K-9 responded to the scene to do an open-air sniff of the truck. The K-9 alerted and LCSO requested Hamilton step out of the truck, the affidavit states. Hamilton told LCSO there was an empty bag of methamphetamine in the driver’s door. When the deputy removed Hamilton from the truck, he found the baggie in plain view with a crystal-like residue that field-tested positive for methamphetamine.

Hamilton was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $3,000 bond. 

Miami Man Busted With 5 Catalytic Converters at Closed Fruitland Park Business

FRUITLAND PARK. Florida—A Miami man was busted with five catalytic converters and methamphetamine late Wednesday night after a business owner noticed him driving in and walking around the closed business on his security cameras.

Fruitland Park Police responded to Serenity Surfaces, 2860 U.S. Highway 27/441 just before 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after the owner spotted a vehicle driving into the business with no headlights. Elieser Rodriguez, 21, exited the vehicle and began walking around several vehicles on the property, according to the arrest affidavit.

FPPD found Rodriguez, who was wearing a black hoodie and black pants, on the premises walking away from a wooded area not normally used for business traffic. Officers searched the exterior of the truck Rodriguez was driving and found two catalytic converters that appeared to be freshly cut from vehicles, the affidavit states. Officers also found a vehicle jack, battery-operated saw, manual pipe cutter and bolt cutters; Rodriguez said those items belonged to his friend, the owner of the truck.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Rodriguez said he was on his way from Miami to his uncle’s home in Clermont and stopped at the business because the truck was overheating. Rodriguez passed an open convenience store before he stopped at the business and Fruitland Park is not “within any direct route from Miami to Clermont,” the arresting officer noted. When Rodriguez was asked for his uncle’s address, he opened his phone and it displayed a satellite map of Serenity Surfaces, not an address in Clermont.

Rodriguez was placed under arrest and upon searching the truck, police found a glass pipe that field tested positive for methamphetamine and three additional catalytic converters, along with a black face mask, gloves and a drill.

Rodriguez is facing several charges, including possession of methamphetamine, possession of burglary tools, possession of drug paraphernalia, driving while license suspended and loitering and prowling. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released Friday on $100,000 bond.  

Scheduled Holiday Closings And Modified Garbage Pickup

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—Many local government offices are scheduled to close this week in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Lake County Government offices will be closed Thursday and Friday and county garbage pickup regularly scheduled for Thursday will be Friday and regularly scheduled pickup for Friday will be Saturday. This includes Altoona, Astor, Ferndale, Grand Island, Okahumpka, Paisley, Sorrento and Yalaha. For more information, visit  https://lakecountyfl.gov/trash-recycling.

Most city government and town halls will be closed Thursday and Friday; this includes Clermont, Eustis, Fruitland Park, Groveland, Howey-In-The-Hills, Leesburg, Mascotte, Mount Dora, Tavares and Umatilla. Astatula, Lady Lake and Minneola are scheduled to close just on Thursday. Aligning with the county garbage pickup modified schedule; garbage pickup for Thursday will be Friday and pickup for Friday will be Saturday for most cities, except Lady Lake, Leesburg and Tavares.

Lady Lake’s and Leesburg’s garbage pickup will resume Monday and Tavares will resume Tuesday. 

Fruitland Park Man Facing Molestation Charge After Girl Comes Forward

LEESBURG, Florida—A Fruitland Park man was arrested on a warrant for lewd and lascivious molestation Friday after a girl came forward and told about the abuse she suffered more than three years ago, according to a probable cause affidavit.

In early October, the victim told a Leesburg Police Officer, David Carl Hall, 50, put his hands between her legs while she shared a bed with him and two other people whose names are redacted from the affidavit, 3.5 years ago.  The victim, whose exact age is also redacted, was under 12 when the molestation is alleged to have occurred. She told police she would wake up with Hall’s hands between her legs and he would tell her he was checking to see if she urinated, the affidavit states. The victim asked her mom when she stopped “peeing in the bed” and was told she never had that problem, the victim told police.

The victim said she felt very uncomfortable on the numerous occasions Hall is alleged to have touched her and had thoughts of suicide due to the trauma, feelings of frustration and issues with girls at school.

A warrant was issued for Hall’s arrest Oct. 22 and he was picked up Friday by Fruitland Park Police Department. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $10,000 bond. 

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