Groveland

Suspect Rams 3 Deputies in Stolen Truck, Flees Across 2 Counties, Carjacks SUV and Crashes into School Bus in Groveland Friday  

GROVELAND, Florida—A man is facing a slew of charges in Lake and Orange counties after stealing a struck, ramming three Lake County Sheriff’s Office patrol cars, carjacking a citizen and crashing into a school bus Friday morning, according to LCSO Lt. Fred Jones.

LCSO received a call from the owner of the truck around 6 a.m. and she said her truck had been stolen in the middle of the night. She provided GPS coordinates to LCSO, and deputies tracked to truck to a gas station near Hartle Road in Clermont, Jones said.

They found Joseph Crawford, 23, of Groveland, pumping gas; he fled when he saw deputies, ramming two patrol cars, disabling one. He was later boxed in at a construction site, where he rammed a third patrol car, Jones said. LCSO successfully deployed stop sticks and Crawford continued into Oakland in Orange County. The truck became disabled and he attempted to carjack a vehicle, but was unsuccessful. He then carjacked a Ford Bronco as the driver was exiting the SUV and then fled back to Lake County.

Joseph Crawford was sentenced to three years in prison for false imprisonment and leaving the scene of a crash. He was released in March 2022. PHOTO: Florida Department of Corrections

 He continued fleeing into Groveland, where he crashed into a school bus carrying three children and two adults. None of the occupants on the bus were injured, according to Jones.

Groveland Police Department took Crawford into custody and he was transported to an Orlando hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. He is facing three counts of aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, fleeing and eluding, grand theft, and resisting in Lake County, Jones said. He is facing additional charges in Orange County.

Crawford’s Lake County booking information and mugshot were not available at press time.

State Attorney Creates Animal Cruelty Task Force

OCALA, Florida—In an effort to streamline delivering justice to those who hurt animals, State Attorney Bill Gladson has created an Animal Cruelty Task Force for the Fifth Judicial Circuit that includes Lake, Citrus, Hernando, Marion and Sumter counties, his office said in a press release last week.

The task force includes the Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC,) county animal services, and local law enforcement agencies and the goal is for law enforcement, animal services and animal protection organizations to work together to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty crimes throughout the circuit, according to the press release.

State Attorney Bill Gladson PHOTO: Florida Bar

“My office is committed to aggressively prosecuting animal cruelty cases, and I am grateful for the team which shares our commitment,” Gladson stated. “The reach of these crimes goes beyond harm to innocent animals; these criminals pose a risk to the entire community.”

Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, nearly 70 percent have criminal records.

Windchills in the 20s and 30s Expected this Weekend, Cold Weather Shelters Activated

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—For the second time in less than a month, Lake County is scheduled to open two cold weather shelter locations in anticipation of this weekend’s near-freezing temperatures.

Both locations open Friday; Trinity Assembly of God, 200 Urick Street, Fruitland Park will open at 5:30 p.m. and remain open through 7 a.m. each day, Friday through Sunday, and LifePointe Church, 3551 East Orange Avenue will be open 5 p.m. through 8 a.m. each day through Sunday, according to Lake County Emergency Management.

A warming shelter will also be open from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Salvation Army, 2605 South Street, Leesburg,  

Lake Xpress will provide free transportation to cold weather shelters for those who need assistance traveling to a shelter. Schedules are available on Lake Xpress’ website. Residents who do not have access to a Lake Xpress fixed route must call 352-742-2612 to arrange transportation.

Friday night, cold temperatures and breezy winds will bring windchills in the upper 20s to lower 30s. A Wind Chill Advisory has been issued for east Central Florida, according to the U.S. National Weather Service, Melbourne.

“Arctic Blast” Arrives Just in Time for Christmas, Cold Weather Shelters to be Activated

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—In anticipation of this weekend’s chilly weather, Lake County will open two cold weather shelter locations Friday afternoon.

Both locations will open at 5:30 p.m. Friday; Trinity Assembly of God, 200 Urick Street, Fruitland Park will stay open 24 hours a day through Tuesday, and LifePointe Church, 3551 East Orange Avenue will be open 5:30 p.m. through 8 a.m. each day until Tuesday, according to Lake County Emergency Management.

A warming shelter will also be open from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday through Tuesday at the Salvation Army, 2605 South Street, Leesburg,  

Lake Xpress will provide free transportation to cold weather shelters for those who need assistance traveling to a shelter Saturday and Sunday. Schedules are available on Lake Xpress’ website.

Residents who do not have access to a Lake Xpress fixed route must call 352-742-2612 by 1 p.m. Friday to arrange transportation. Clermont Police Department will check for those in need at Florida Citrus Tower, 141 South U.S. Highway 27, Clermont between 4:30 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. Friday; if no one is on site, a bus will not be dispatched, according to officials.

According to the U.S. National Weather Service Melbourne, temperatures are expected to be at or below freezing with the wind chill in the 20s in Lake County. Officials are urging residents to make sure pets have a warm place to stay with plenty of food and water, cover exposed pipes, and cover or in bring in sensitive plants.

GRAPHIC: U.S. National Weather Service Melbourne

Man Gave False Name and Reeked of Marijuana When He Attempted to Pick Up High School Girl After She was Arrested, Police Say

EUSTIS, Florida—A man not only lied about his name when he went to pick up a female Eustis High School student who was arrested Thursday, he also reeked of marijuana and had more than an ounce of it in his car when he went to pick her up, according to an arrest affidavit.

Brandon Alex Mitchell-Sanchez, 23, of Groveland went to the Eustis High School Curtright Campus, 1801 East Bates Avenue pick up a juvenile female who was arrested in a separate incident around noon Thursday, the affidavit states. The juvenile’s name and charges were not available at press time.

As he reeked of marijuana, he identified himself as the girl’s uncle to the school resource officer, a Eustis Police officer, and gave a false name. After running his name and not finding it, he then said he had a Michigan driver license and he could not be found in Michigan either, according to the affidavit. The man was acting nervous and since his story was not adding up, the SRO said he needed to see the man’s identification because he was creating a safety issue.

Brandon Mitchell-Sanchez PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Mitchell-Sanchez said he need to go to his car for paperwork and the SRO followed him and when Mitchell-Sanchez opened the car door, a strong odor of marijuana emitted from the vehicle, the SRO noted. Mitchell-Sanchez could not find the paperwork he was allegedly looking for and told the SRO he could get it from his house around the corner; Mitchell-Sanchez’ listed address is Groveland, more than 24 miles away. He again gave a false name and then admitted his real name and was placed under arrest.

Mitchell-Sanchez requested a supervisor and admitted to the supervisor he was not the girl’s uncle and was just a friend she texted to come pick her up from school. Officers searched the vehicle and found a Crown Royal bag that contained several bags of marijuana weighing a total of 32.7 grams.

Mitchell-Sanchez was arrested for false name to a law enforcement officer, possession of marijuana more than 20 grams, possession of drug paraphernalia and trespassing on school grounds. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released shortly after midnight Friday on $6,000 bond.

2 Killed in Turnpike Crash Early Thursday, Including Tow Truck Driver

ORANGE COUNTY, Florida—A Groveland man and a tow truck driver are both dead following a crash on Florida’s Turnpike early Thursday morning as Hurricane Nicole made its way across Orange County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

An FHP trooper and a tow truck were working a single-vehicle crash, facing southbound on the inside shoulder, around 5:45 a.m. Thursday; the tow truck, being driven by a 42-year-old Poinciana man, was parked in front of the marked cruiser and both vehicles had their emergency lights activated, near mile marker 266, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

A Groveland man, 53, was driving 2000 Isuzu Hombre southbound on Florida’s Turnpike when he lost control and swerved for an unknown reason near the original crash scene. The Hombre struck the right rear of the tow truck and then struck the tow truck driver, who was standing outside truck, killing him, Crescenzi said. The driver of the Hombre was also pronounced dead on the scene.

A passenger in the Hombre, a 51-year-old Clermont man, was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.

The crash remains under investigation.

Groveland Woman Found in Cardiac Arrest Following 4-Vehicle Crash Wednesday

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Florida—A 73-year-old Groveland woman found in cardiac arrest following a crash Wednesday, failed to stop on an Interstate 4 exit ramp and caused the chain-reaction crash, according to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Channing Taylor.  

The woman was driving a sedan when she failed to stop for traffic on the exit ramp at I4 and State 436 in Altamonte Springs at 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, Taylor said in a press release. The woman’s car struck a sedan being driven by a 48-year-old Apopka man, pushing his sedan into another sedan being driven by a 52-year-old Longwood man and pushing that sedan into a pickup truck being driven by a 70-year-old North Carolina man.

The Groveland woman was found in cardiac arrest and efforts were made to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at Altamonte Hospital, Taylor said. The Apopka man suffered minor injuries.

Tavares Police and LCSO Join Forces for Operation Aware

Operation Aware will provide wristbands and a database for first responders and the special needs community.

TAVARES, Florida—Two law enforcement agencies have joined forces to provide a new tool to the community that will give first responders valuable information when responding to calls for service in the special needs community.

Nearly a year in the making, Tavares Police Department began its Operation Aware initiative in November 2021 and has since teamed up with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to provide wristbands to members of the community that may require a different response from law enforcement.

“We are big on community policing,” TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake last year. “There are always ways we can be better,” she said, “and there are always opportunities for the community to teach us how to better serve them.”

Operation Aware is a “total approach” to the issues facing the special needs community and will provide education, outreach and follow up,” Sullivan said.

Newly-appointed Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey worked with Sullivan to get this program up and running. “Operation Aware is near and dear to my heart; it gives us the opportunity to serve our community in a unique way when our response requires a different approach,” Coursey told Inside Lake.

The wristbands are available for community members who have intellectual and developmental disorders, including, but not limited to, autism, dementia. PTSD and Alzheimer’s, according to Sullivan. Loved ones and caregivers are encouraged to reach out to TPD or LCSO and register special needs individuals to get them a wristband and enter them into the database.  

The bright blue wristbands will immediately let law enforcement officers know they are interacting with an individual with special needs, and provide them with vital information including names, addresses, emergency contacts and medical conditions. Officers and dispatchers will have access to the information and individual addresses will be flagged so the officer is aware of any special circumstances before they arrive to the call. Officers will know if the individual is non-verbal, has a sensitivity to lights and sirens and any other pertinent information that would be helpful to officers. They will also help reunification by giving officers and deputies information immediately that can be shared with media outlets and on social media, Sullivan said.  

The wristbands will also be a tool for the public; they will have a number and a QR code that can be scanned and will inform the public to call 9-1-1. The wristband never needs to be charged.    To register, please visit https://tavares.org/1327/Operation-Aware or https://lcso.org/oa/

Back to School Events Around Lake County

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—The first day of school, scheduled for Aug. 10 for Lake County Schools, is fast approaching and with increased prices for gas, food and many other essential items, many families are in need of back-to-school supplies or some fun to have with the kiddos before they hit the books.

We have compiled of list of events around Lake County that include supply giveaways and fun and informative events for the kids. Cities are listed in alphabetical order, scroll down until you find an event near you.

Clermont

Saturday, July 30, 9 a.m. to noon. Project Kid Connect presented by Lake County Sheriff’s Office Charities. Backpack and school supply giveaway, food, drinks, rock climb, dunk-a-deputy and more. Location: South Lake District Office,15855 State Road 50, Clermont.

Eustis

Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Back to School Bash presented by the City of Eustis. Free food, school supplies and boy’s haircuts while supplies and spaces last. Free pool admission, bounce house and firetrucks and police cars on scene. Battle of the Badges Blood Drive, donors receive $20 eGift card and first responder t-shirt. Location: Ferran Park, 250 Ferran Park Drive, Eustis

Fruitland Park

Friday, July 29, 10 a.m. to noon. Back to School Bash presented by Fruitland Park Library. Free hot dog lunches, school supplies, bicycle helmets and face painting, while supplies last. Free vision and hearing screenings also available. Location: Fruitland Park Library, 604 W. Berckman Street, Fruitland Park.

Groveland

Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. Back 2 School Backpack Bash presented by the City of Groveland. Free backpacks for grades K-8, adult and child must be present to receive a backpack while supplies last, vendors and a kids zone. Location: Nathaniel Community Gymnasium, 13806 State Road 33, Groveland.

Minneola

Thursday, July 28, 6:30 p.m. Back-to-School Safety Meet-and-Greet with speakers, Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay and Lake County Schools Supervisor of Safety and Security Joseph Mabry. Speakers will discuss how LCSO and LCS are keeping students safe. Location: Minneola City Hall, 800 North Highway 27, Minneola.

Mount Dora

Sunday, Aug. 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Whimsy Market’s Back to School Market Mount Dora. More than 30 vendors, character meet and greet with Elsa, sweet treats and food trucks. Location: Essential Therapies Spa, 1518 North Donnelly Street, Mount Dora.

Umatilla

Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Whimsy Market’s Back to School Market Umatilla. More than 40 vendors, character meet and greet with Elsa, carnival games, live music, bounce houses and food trucks. Location: Sunsational Farms, 40541 Roger Giles Road, Umatilla.

Crash Claims Life of Groveland Man, CR 33 Remains Closed Friday Night

UPDATE 9:36 p.m.: County 33 has reopened.

GROVELAND, FLORIDA—The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a single-car crash that killed a Groveland man Friday afternoon.

The 23-year-old man was southbound on County Road 33 around 5:30 p.m. near Odom Lane when he ran off for the road for unknown reasons, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

The 2004 Monte Carlo he was driving collided with a utility pole and he was transported to Blue Cedar Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was wearing a seatbelt.

County Road 33 remained closed at 9 p.m. Friday between Simon Brown Road and Bridges Road, Crescenzi said.

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