Groveland

Man Dead Following Altercation, Shooting in Daycare Parking Lot

GROVELAND, Florida—A man has died following a shooting at a Groveland daycare Thursday afternoon, according to Groveland Police Department.

Two men got into a physical altercation around 4:15 p.m. in the parking lot of We Are The Future Academy, 207 Groveland Farms Road, which resulted in Stephan Jefferson being shot once, GPD spokesperson Sarah Panko said in a press release.

Jefferson was transported by air to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, and the other man was transported to South Lake Hospital with minor injuries.

“This was an isolated incident with no immediate threat to the community. Crime scene technicians and detectives quickly responded, while officers maintained the integrity of the scene and assisted with student pickup,” Panko said in a statement.

The case remains under investigation. 

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.”

Tragic Easter Weekend: Groveland Child Dies After Being Struck in Driveway

GROVELAND, Florida—A 7-year-old girl has died after being run over in a driveway Easter Sunday afternoon, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

A 70-year-old Groveland woman was parked in a driveway dropping off family members at a home on County Road 48 near County Road 33 at 4:30 p.m. The woman put the van in “drive” and failed to realize her 7-year-old granddaughter was in front of the van, and she was struck, FHP Lt. Kim Montes said in a press release.

The girl, also of Groveland, was transported to UF Health Leesburg, where she later died. The crash remains under investigation.

This is the second tragic traffic incident involving children in Lake County in less than 24 hours. On Saturday, a 2-year-old boy and 4-year-old boy, who were not in car seats, were killed in a head-on crash near Sorrento. A 1-year-old boy in the same crash was airlifted with serious injuries. The three boys, all of Leesburg, have been identified as brothers in numerous social media posts.

Middle School Girl Arrested After Blue Ink Foils Her Plan To Get Another Student In Trouble

GROVELAND, Florida—A 12-year-old Gray Middle School student was arrested Tuesday after blue ink foiled her plan to get another student in trouble.

Administrators at Gray Middle School, 205 E. Magnolia St., Groveland, contacted Groveland Police in reference to a shooting threat, according to an arrest affidavit. A 12-year-old girl told them around 3 p.m. she was informed about threats that were written about her in the girls second floor bathroom. The girl went to the bathroom and took a photo of the blue writing and it reportedly stated, “Imma shoot up this school tmr and (girl’s name) XOXO. Love yall. (Girl’s name) ur a (expletive) the school thot (expletive expletive.)”

Inside Lake is not naming the girl due to her age.

The girl, along with several witnesses, reported the threat to school administrators and she said who she believed wrote the threats, according to the affidavit. She said the student made several threats to shoot her because the student believed the girl had called her friend, “fat,” the affidavit states. The girl said she ran into the student three separate times in the bathroom Tuesday, including when she saw the threat on the wall at 3 p.m.

While speaking with the girl, a GPD detective noticed blue marker ink on the girl’s hand that matched the writing on the bathroom wall. The girl gave the detective consent to search her bag and a notebook was found with handwriting similar to the writing on the wall, the affidavit states. After waiving her right not to speak, the girl began to cry and confessed she wrote the threats because she was upset with the student who bullies her. She apologized and said she has hurtful thoughts, the affidavit states.

She was arrested for written threats to conduct a mass shooting and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice. 

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.

Two People Killed, Road Ranger Vehicle Struck On Turnpike During “Move Over Month”

ORANGE COUNTY, Florida—One fatal crash turned into another fatal crash early Monday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Around 3:20 a.m., a 22-year-old female of Orlando was stopped in a sedan for an unknown reason in the right southbound travel lane of Florida’s Turnpike at mile marker 269 near Winter Garden, according to FHP Lt. Kim Montes. A 22-year-old man of Port Clinton, Ohio was traveling southbound in a pickup truck and failed to see the sedan stopped in the travel lane. The truck struck the rear of the sedan, and the female was killed; the pickup truck driver received minor injuries. Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts.

At approximately 5 a.m., emergency responders were working the crash, with only the left southbound lane open. A Road Ranger was parked in the lane next to the open southbound lane with lights and an arrow board activated, assisting with the crash, Montes said. Cones were also placed in the area directing drivers to the open lane. A 32-year-old woman of Kissimmee driving a sedan, failed to slow for the emergency vehicles, drove through the cones and rear-ended the Road Ranger truck. The Road Ranger, a 28-year-old man of Groveland, sustained minor injuries and the woman was transported to Orlando Health – Health Central Hospital in Ocoee, where she later died. She was wearing a seatbelt. Both crashes remain under investigation, Montes said.

January is Move Over Month, a campaign to remind drivers they are required to move over a lane or slow down if they cannot safely move over for emergency and service vehicles. In 2021, there were 191 crashes and more than 14,000 citations written for failure to move over, according to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT.) “We remind drivers that they need to pay attention at crash scenes, as we are having more emergency vehicles struck, while actively assisting at another crash,’ Montes said.

Neighbor Accused Of Shooting, Killing Dog Because It was In His Trash

GROVELAND, Florida—A man is facing a charge of aggravated animal cruelty after allegedly shooting and killing his neighbor’s dog.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a home on Sandcastle Drive in unincorporated Groveland around 10 a.m.  Jan. 10, according to an arrest affidavit. When they arrived, they found a couple covered in blood who told them their dog had been shot by the neighbor. The man left to take the dog to the emergency vet and the woman told LCSO she walked out to call her dogs and heard a single gunshot.

She observed her older dog limping and noticed it was unable to get through the fence. She told her husband she believed the neighbor shot the dog and when they went to question the neighbor, they found Curtis Aaron Jones, 58, who lives with their neighbor, according to the arrest affidavit. When questioned if he shot the dog, Jones allegedly admitted it and said he shot the dog because it was in his garbage can. The woman told Jones she was going to call law enforcement and when they arrived, they spoke with Jones.

He said he saw two dogs in his trash, yelled and grabbed his shotgun. He told LCSO he did not mean to hurt the dog, he just wanted to shoot next to it and scare it. Deputies spoke to the emergency vet, who said the numerous pellet holes in the dog were consistent with someone shooting directly at the dog, not to miss or scare the dog, the affidavit states. X-rays showed the dog suffered more than 80 pellet wounds from the bird shot and died less than two hours after arriving at the vet.

Jones admitted the dogs were not posing a threat to him at the time he fired the weapon. He was arrested for aggravated animal cruelty and is being held at the Lake County Jail in $5,000 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. 

Groveland Woman Heartbroken After Horse Shot To Death

GROVELAND, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after a horse was found shot to death Sunday morning near Groveland.

Jackie the horse was found by her owner, Tonya Sanders when Sanders went to feed her Sunday morning on the 13-acre property she owns with her husband, she told Inside Lake.

Sanders found 15-year-old Jackie dead from a gunshot wound around 9 a.m. in her pasture on Indianhouse Lane near State Road 19 in unincorporated Groveland, according to an LCSO report.  Sanders and her husband told LCSO that between 10 and 11 p.m. Saturday they heard two loud booms they believed to be gunshots from inside their home, and their dogs continued to make an excessive amount of noise for several hours. Sanders said they often hear loud noises like tires blowing out in the rural area just outside of Groveland and the dogs bark if they see small animals like possums.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tonya Sanders

When they found Jackie, valued at $10,000, they pulled her out of the pasture, saw blood coming from her nose, and found a small gunshot wound near her kidney and called LCSO.

There were tire tracks near Sanders’ fence and the ground was disturbed inside the pasture; Sanders said it is possible the person responsible coaxed Jackie to the fence and then shot her but does not understand the motive.  She said her “dogs were going bonkers” and they may have spooked the shooter.

The responding deputy found no exit wound on Jackie and noted the horse appeared to have run around the pasture for “some time” before she succumbed to her wound.  As she choked back tears, Sanders told Inside Lake the bullet traveled around inside Jackie’s abdomen and she eventually bled to death.

Deputies canvassed the area for shell casings and were unable to find any. No other shooting incidents were reported in the area to LCSO or neighboring Groveland Police Department, according to the report. The Sanders’ told LCSO they had no suspects in mind.

Other animals are located on the property, but none of them were hurt. Sanders has owned Jackie for about eight years, and they competed in the National Barrel Horse Association for the past year. Sanders was thrown from another horse several years ago and broke her ankle and took some time off.  Jackie was docile and was patient and gentle with Sanders.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tonya Sanders

“I just started back last year, and she took care of me,” Sanders said.

Sanders said a neighboring rancher has offered $2,500 for information leading to the arrest of conviction of Jackie’s killer. Sanders’ sister is matching the donation to bring the total reward to $5,000.

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

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