TAVARES, Fla.—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of five people Monday who are accused of traveling with the intent to have sex with a juvenile earlier this month.
“After unknowingly talking online with an undercover detective, the subjects traveled to a predetermined location with the intent to have sex with a child. All suspects were taken into custody upon arrival,” LCSO said in a statement.
The suspects are:
Musa Sawaneh, 25, who traveled from Temple Terrace.
Jason Spencer, 40, who traveled from Tavares.
Kahlil Amilivia Rodriguez, 25, who traveled from Groveland.
Bhaveshkuma Vekaria, 45, who traveled from Orlando.
Nahuel Benjamin Hurtado Humeres, 20, who traveled from Dundee. Humeres is a Chilean citizen and is being for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
LEESBURG, Fla.—The Lake-Sumter State College Foundation honored its Distinguished Alumni and Hall of Fame recipients Tuesday night in a ceremony held at the Everett A. Kelly Convocation Center at the college’s Leesburg campus.
Nine individuals and a community organization were recognized for their achievements and contributions to the community in front of a large crowd that enjoyed a three-course dinner and video testimonials from the recipients.
Each year, the LSSC Foundation Board of Directors select the recipients from nominations made by the public to receive distinguished alumni awards. For the first time its 12-year history, two people were awarded the prestigious Professional Achievement Award, and one of the recipients was Inside Lake’s Publisher Marilyn Aciego.
Aciego discovered her passion for journalism at Lake-Sumter State College after taking a media class and later became editor of both The Angler and The Odyssey, LSSC’s student publications. She was hired by the Daily Commercial while she was still a student at LSSC and worked her way up to the lead cops and courts reporter. She covered numerous stories that gained national interest, including the death of beloved Sheriff Chris Daniels, a murder committed by identical twins and the disappearance of Trenton Duckett. Aciego’s coverage of these stories lead to appearances on Nancy Grace dozens of times and an episode of Evil Twins on Investigation Discovery.
She left the Daily Commercial in 2009 and began working for an international media organization in an entry-level position and was named Florida bureau chief just three years later. In 2010, she joined recently-retired attorney James Hope to write local stories for Hope’s Lake Legal News magazine, rising to editor-in-chief and then partnering with Hope to start the online edition that focused on breaking crime and public safety news.
In 2021, Aciego and Hope dissolved their partnership and Aciego rebranded Lake Legal News to Inside Lake and began covering general news along with crime news.
“Lake County was becoming a news desert,” Aciego said. “I knew it was time to start Inside Lake.”
It was these achievements that earned Aciego the prestigious Professional Achievement Award and Tuesday night she shared that honor with Sandra Wilson, a 1989 graduate of LSSC.
Lake-Sumter State College Foundation Distinguished Alumni and Hall of Fame 2023
Marilyn Aciego—Distinguished Alumni, Professional Achievement Award
Sandra Wilson— Distinguished Alumni, Professional Achievement Award
Pat Atley— Distinguished Alumni, Scholar Award
Christine Boodhoo— Distinguished Alumni, Valor Award
Juliana Green— Distinguished Alumni, Community Engagement Award
Andrew LoFaro—Distinguished Alumni, Graduate of the Last Decade Award
Toni Upchurch— Hall of Fame, Faculty Award
Kevin Yurasek— Hall of Fame, Staff Award
Patrick Ryan— Hall of Fame, Athletics Award
The Live Well Foundation of South Lake— Hall of Fame, Community Partner Award
LAKE COUNTY, Fla.—The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has launched a public reporting tool to help in its research on a virus that is killing Florida freshwater turtles.
FWC has been studying turtle fraservirus (TFV1) since 2018 and is now asking the public to report any sick or dead turtles to help them combat and understand this deadly virus. TFV1 has been found in Lake County, in addition to several other counties in Central Florida, but it could be present throughout the state, FWC warns; it has been identified in softshells, cooters, sliders and snapping turtles.
Signs a turtle could be infected:
Appears sluggish, unresponsive or reluctant to flee.
Stays in shallow water or beached on banks for prolonged periods of time.
Head and neck outstretched flat along the ground.
Sunken, swollen crusty and/or cloudy eyes.
Reddened skin on head, neck, limbs or bottom of shell.
Swims irregularly (sideways, in circles or is unable to submerge)
In 2021, FWC enacted an executive order prohibiting unpermitted taking and transporting of softshell turtles and yellow-bellied sliders to reduce the spread of TFV1, Turtles should not be captured and transported to a new location even if they seem healthy.
TAVARES, Fla.—Three more victims have come forward with accusations against a school safety officer arrested for child rape last month.
James Wolfe, 50, has been behind bars since his arrest Aug. 18 after the Department of Children and Families reported allegations of sexual abuse to Groveland Police Department.
“After a thorough investigation, Groveland Police detectives were able to confirm elements of the allegation and 50-year-old James Wolfe was arrested and charged with sexual battery, engaging in sexual battery with a child under 18 years of age and giving obscene material to a minor,” GPD spokesperson Sarah Panko said in an email last month.
Wolfe was employed as a school safety officer at Mount Dora High School at the time of his arrest and is a former Altamonte Springs police officer.
Following the investigation and Wolfe’s arrest, GPD began working with Altamonte Springs Police Department to identify more victims and three more victims came forward, Panko told Inside Lake.
Wolfe’s abuse of children may have spanned several years, and he is facing a total of 31 charges in Lake County, including 10 counts of sexual battery of a child, 10 counts of sexual battery, eight counts of lewd or lascivious molestation, and one count of giving obscene material to a minor. He continues to be held at the Lake County Jail on no bond.
GROVELAND, Florida—A Lake County Schools school safety officer assigned to Mount Dora High School has been arrested for multiple sex offenses involving a child, according to Groveland Police Department.
James William Wolfe, 50, of Groveland, was arrested Friday after the Department of Children and Families (DCF) reported allegations of sexual abuse to GPD, said Sarah Panko, spokesperson for GPD.
“After a thorough investigation, Groveland Police detectives were able to confirm elements of the allegation and 50-year-old James Wolfe was arrested and charged with sexual battery, engaging in sexual battery with a child under 18 years of age and giving obscene material to a minor,” Panko said in an email.
The abuse may have spanned for several years and similar crimes may have occurred in Altamonte Springs and GPD is working with Altamonte Springs Police Department to identify more victims, according to Panko.
“Allegations of this kind are deeply disturbing, and officers acted swiftly to make an arrest,” Panko said.
Wolfe was hired by Lake County Schools (LCS) in August 2021 and worked as a custodian at Seminole Springs Elementary School and later at Pine Ridge Elementary. On Aug. 9, of this year, he began working as a school safety officer at Mount Dora High School, according to LCS.
Wolfe is facing 10 counts of engaging in sexual battery with a child over 12 and under 18, 10 counts of sexual battery and one count each of giving obscene material to a minor and lewd or lascivious touching of a minor.
GPD is asking anyone with information about Wolfe to call them at 352-429-4166 or Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.
GROVELAND, Florida—A Groveland man is behind bars accused of DUI for the second time in a week and the fourth time since 2021.
Shortly before 5 p.m. Saturday, Groveland Police Department responded to the area of State Road 50 and State Road 33 on a report of man leaving a residence drunk. The complainant told GPD what the man was driving and that he had been arrested the week before for DUI. An officer spotted the red Hyundai Daniel Joseph Smrekar, 59, was driving leaving a nearby gas station and began following it.
The Hyundai had faulty brake lights and was missing its front bumper; when GPD ran the tag, the officer found Smrekar, the registered owner, had a suspended driver license and was wanted for a bond revocation, according to an arrest affidavit.
GPD initiated a traffic stop near Michigan Avenue and Beach Street and Smrekar came to a final stop in the driveway of his home on Beach Street. Smrekar, who had glassy, watery, bloodshot eyes, agreed to field sobriety exercises and was unsteady on his feet, the arresting officer noted. The officer believed Smrekar was drunk, and he was arrested and taken to the police department where he refused to submit to a breath test.
This was Smrekar’s second arrest for DUI in a week and fourth since 2021. He was arrested for DUI on July 23 and in August 2022 by GPD, and in 2021 by Clermont Police Department.
He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on no bond due to the bond revocation for the 2022 DUI.
MOUNT DORA, Florida—A Groveland Police Department officer is under internal investigation and on paid administrative leave after he was arrested last week for felony domestic battery by strangulation.
Joshua Allen Somers, 48, a six-year veteran of GPD and a school resource officer at South Lake High School, was arrested after an altercation with his wife that was captured on surveillance video at a popular restaurant and bar in Mount Dora. The video captured him grabbing her by the hair, striking her head against a wooden guardrail and putting his hand around her neck, according to an arrest affidavit.
On July 18, MDPD responded to Frogger’s Bar and Grill, 4931 Lake Park Court after a report of a fight. The manager said at around 6:25 p.m. he was made aware of a fight on the patio and when he walked out, no one was fighting but there was a lot of yelling between a customer he knew as Joshua and someone else whose name is redacted from the affidavit. Although the victim’s name is redacted from the affidavit due to Marsy’s Law, it does state she later told MDPD officers she has been married to Somers for about 10 years. The pair left before the manager could talk to them about what happened, but the video confirmed the allegations and the manager told employees to call police, according to the affidavit.
Somers was identified by full name through his credit card receipt and officers found he worked for GPD during a social media search. Officers then confirmed his employment with GPD.
MDPD spoke to several witnesses and also viewed the video that showed the victim sitting on the patio, near wooden guardrails. In the video, Somers, who appeared to be angry, approached the victim and had what police believe was a brief conversation with her; the video did not capture audio from the incident. Somers then walks toward the side entrance, abruptly stops and walks back over to the victim, the affidavit states.
Somers is seen placing his ear directly in front of the victim’s mouth “in an apparent attempt to intimidate her from speaking,” he then grabs her hair and forcibly hits her head against the railing and finally places his hand around her neck “in a fashion consistent with strangulation,” the arresting officer wrote in the affidavit.
MDPD found that Somers lives in Eustis and contacted the Eustis Police Department road patrol sergeant on duty who approved MDPD to respond to the home. Accompanied by EPD officers, MDPD spoke with Somers, who said he was at Frogger’s with the victim and said he was in an argument with her but was “adamant” he had “simply” grabbed her hair and not battered her in any other manner. “During this conversation it was evident that Joshua was heavily intoxicated and likely not going to provide any further pertinent information regarding the investigation,” the arresting officer noted in the affidavit.
Police spoke with the victim, who was also heavily intoxicated and “extremely hesitant” to speak to them about the incident but did say he grabbed her by the hair. Officers explained they had watched a video of the altercation and she became upset and stopped providing information to the officers who observed minor redness around her neck. Somers was arrested for battery by strangulation and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was later released on $2,000 bond.
Inside Lake reached out to GPD to ask about the arrest and status of Somers’ employment.
“On Wednesday, July 19, 2023, the Groveland Police Department was informed that one of our officers had been arrested for a domestic violence-related offense. The charges are concerning and do not reflect our values or the high level of service and conduct to which we hold our employees, both on and off-duty. Per department policy, the officer was immediately placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal investigation to be conducted by Mount Dora Police Department and any subsequent internal administrative investigation to be concluded by members of the Groveland Police Department. All charges against our employees – especially those of this nature – are taken very seriously and every member of our team will be held accountable for their actions,” GPD said in a statement.
Somers has not had any previous disciplinary actions during his employment at GPD.
TAVARES, Florida—The Lake Amateur Radio Association (LARA) hosted its annual Ham Radio Field Day event June 24 and 25 at the Lake County Institute of Public Safety, drawing enthusiasts from far and wide. The event, captured in a captivating photo, featured the club’s president, Glenn Casselman, and his spouse, Laura, who is also a Ham radio enthusiast. The picturesque location provided the perfect backdrop for a day filled with showcasing mobile command vehicles from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Fire Rescue, and, of course, the Lake Amateur Radio Association.
Established in 1952 by a group of Lake County/City radio amateurs, LARA has steadily grown over the years and now boasts a membership of more than 130 dedicated individuals. Not only do they own their own property, but they have also constructed a state-of-the-art clubhouse onsite. LARA’s primary focus lies in the fun hobby of Ham radio and service to the community. Furthermore, the club’s three VHF repeaters and three UHF repeaters, some of which are linked to Echolink, DMR and the IRLP network, enable worldwide communications, amplifying the club’s impact and reach.
The Ham Radio Field Day event at the Lake County Institute of Public Safety serves as a testament to LARA’s commitment to promoting the invaluable role of amateur radio in emergency situations. The event not only highlighted the association’s advanced communication capabilities but also fostered a sense of camaraderie among radio enthusiasts and local public safety agencies. As LARA continues to expand its membership and community involvement, their dedication to serving as a vital link during times of crisis remains unwavering. For more information, visit www.k4fc.org
GROVELAND, Florida—An Orange County deputy sheriff has been fired after getting arrested by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy Wednesday.
Juan Alberto Morales-Padilla, 44, of Groveland, was arrested after fleeing an LCSO deputy when the deputy attempted to stop him on his yellow motorcycle on State Road 50 in Clermont, around 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to an arrest affidavit.
The deputy was behind the motorcycle when it passed a vehicle in the median and the deputy attempted a traffic stop. Padilla failed to slow down, and the deputy activated his sirens and Morales-Padilla turned around and looked at him and sped off, he noted in the affidavit.
The deputy went to Morales-Padilla’s home in Groveland, knocked on his door several times and finally went around to the back of the home where he could see Padilla standing by a door with a phone in his hand. Padilla, who was wearing the same clothes, walked to the rear of the home and the deputy shined his flashlight on him. Morales-Padilla reportedly waved at the deputy and walked down a hallway, emerging soon after with different clothes on, according to the affidavit.
Morales-Padilla then opened the front door, came outside and began actively resisting a second deputy. He was secured and as they walked to a patrol unit, an LCSO deputy asked Morales-Padilla if he was a law enforcement officer.
“You wanna run?”
“Seriously? Are you a cop? Are you a cop?
“I, uh, yeah.”
“Yes? So, you know better.”
Morales-Padilla also told deputies he made a “bad choice.” He was arrested for fleeing and eluding and resisting arrest without violence. He was later released from the Lake County Jail on $3,000 bond.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina fired Morales-Padilla, who worked for OCSO for less than one year.
“These are serious allegations, and I have been clear that there will be no tolerance for criminal behavior involving deputies,” Mina said in a statement. “At the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, we hold our deputies to the highest ethical standards whether they are on duty or off duty.”
MASCOTTE, Florida—A teeneger suspected of firing multiple shots at a Mascotte residence and shooting a man in the foot earlier this month was arrested Friday, according to an arrest affidavit.
Shortly before 10:45 p.m. June 8, Mascotte Police Department responded to the 300 block of Betty Lane on a report of a shooting. When officers arrived, they found a man suffering from a gunshot wound to the foot and multiple witnesses came forward and identified the shooter as Luis Antonio Lopez, 19, of Groveland, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The investigation revealed a fight occurred between multiple people and as the fight was ending, Lopez went to a silver Nissan Altima, retrieved a gun, and fired it multiple times at the home. The victim began running from the scene, tripped and fell to the ground. While on the ground, the victim heard another gunshot and felt a bullet strike his foot. It is unclear what started the altercation.
Video backed up the victim’s claims and showed Lopez firing two shots from outside the Altima and entering the passenger seat. As the Altima accelerated on Betty Lane, Lopez fired multiple shots and an unidentified person began shooting at the Altima as it fled the scene. At least one bullet struck a home on Betty Lane, entering through the garage and eventually stopping in the master bedroom, where a man was sleeping. The homeowner was also inside the residence watching a movie with her daughter, according to the affidavit. The people inside the home were not injured.
Lopez was picked up Friday in Mascotte on the warrant for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, shooting into an occupied dwelling and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; he was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $60,000 bond.
This is the second time in 18 months Lopez has been charged in a shooting. In November 2021, Lopez was accused of shooting at another home in Mascotte; a shot grazed one man, and another struck a juvenile male in the lower calf. The juvenile told MPD that shooting was over a girl and possibly a fight between older family members. One of the victims positively identified Lopez as the shooter and he was charged a few days later with attempted felony murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm in public. In another case in November 2022, Lopez was arrested for four counts of tampering with or harassing a witness and one count of assault in a separate case, all the charges in both cases were later dropped.