Lady Lake

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.

Trio in Car Accused of Trying to Run Deputy Over Facing Litany of Charges

LEESBURG, Florida—The trio accused of being in a car that attempted to run over a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy are facing a litany of charges, according to several booking sheets.

Jeffrey Elijah Gilbert, 20, of Orlando is facing the most serious charge, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a motor vehicle, after being accused of being the driver in Monday’s incident.

According to LCSO, a deputy attempted a traffic stop near Water Oak Country Club Estates on a white Dodge Charger believed to be involved in a shoplifting incident at Walmart, 2501 Citrus Boulevard, Leesburg. Gilbert, along with passengers, Pierre D’Haiti, of Orlando, and Calvin Anthony Williams, of Davenport, both 20, fled the stop in a white Dodge Charger after trying to run the deputy over to “facilitate an escape,” a detective noted in Gilbert’s affidavit.

As the car came towards him, the deputy fired two shots, striking two of the car’s occupants. The Charger fled and the trio abandoned the car near Country Life Mobile Home Park and fled on foot across U.S. Highway 27 into a Dunkin Donuts near the corner of U.S. Highway 27 and County Road 48. When law enforcement arrived, they found Gilbert and D’Haiti in the bathroom, along with scales, a glass jar and two gallon-sized bags of marijuana, the affidavit states.

Gilbert is facing one charge of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, fraudulent use of a credit card and criminal use of personal identification; He is being held on no bond.

 D’Haiti is facing one charge each of, possession of marijuana over 20 grams, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of another person’s identification, illegal use of a credit card and petit theft; he is being held on $9,000 bond.

Williams is facing four petit theft charges, one charge of scheme to defraud, four charges of illegal use of a credit card, four charges ID theft, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, three counts of violation of probation from an Orange County case and a pending charge that was not available at press time; he is being held on no bond.

Two Suspects Shot After Driving Towards LCSO Deputy

LEESBURG, Florida—Two people were shot by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy after the vehicle they were in drove towards him when he was outside of his vehicle, according to LCSO Lt. John Herrell.

LCSO deputies were looking for a suspect vehicle after a stolen credit card was used at Walmart, 2501 Citrus Boulevard, Leesburg. Deputies spotted the vehicle in Lady Lake and attempted a traffic stop, but the vehicle fled, Herrell said in a press release.

“At some point during the chase, the deputy, after getting out of his vehicle, reportedly fired shots at the suspect vehicle as it drove towards him,” Herrell said.

The three suspects fled and abandoned their vehicle at Country Life Mobile Home Park, 3813 Victor Boulevard, Leesburg. Numerous witnesses told Inside Lake the car was a white Dodge Charger, but LCSO has not confirmed that. The trio were apprehended at Dunkin Donuts, near the corner of U.S. Highway 27 and County Road 48.

Two of the suspects were transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center with what appears to be non-life-threatening injuries, Herrell said. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

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.”

Suspected Thief Wanted In 2 Counties Found “Lethargic” In Stolen Vehicle In Lady Lake

LADY LAKE, Florida—A man already wanted in Lake and Marion counties caught a few more charges after he spent several hours in a stolen vehicle in the parking lot of Sam’s Club Friday.

Lady Lake Police Department responded to Sam’s Club, 755 North U.S. Highway 27/441 in reference to a suspicious person who had been in his vehicle for several hours, according to an arrest affidavit.

 LLPD found Earl Lee Dorey, 33, whose address is listed as “Homeless, Summerfield” in the red Chevrolet Equinox that was reported stolen from Sumter County and found that he was “very lethargic” as they removed him from the vehicle.

Dorey told police he did not know where he was or how he got into the SUV and police found he had active warrants from both Lake and Marion counties. Police searched the stolen SUV and found a small amount of methamphetamine and a glass pipe with residue, the affidavit states.

Dorey was arrested for grand theft of a motor vehicle, possession of methamphetamine and possession drug paraphernalia. He is also facing a grand theft charge and burglary stemming from a Leesburg case in December.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Dorey went to Tobacco Planet, 10401 U.S. Highway 441, Suite A5 Leesburg on Dec. 13 to make a purchase. He parked next to employee who left his wallet in his unlocked vehicle and the victim discovered his wallet, which contained his identification, several credit cards, and $600 cash, missing. The victim found that several Cash App transactions had been made in the name of Earl L. Dorey and money had been transferred from his bank account, according to the probable cause affidavit.

The victim then began searching social media and jail records and found a photo of Dorey; he compared the photo to surveillance video from the store and located Dorey on video making a purchase with a Cash App credit and found video of him parking next to the victim’s truck and turned over his finding to Leesburg Police.

Dorey is being held in the Lake County Jail on $29,000 bond. It is unclear what charges he is facing in Marion County.

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.

Villages Man Accused Of Threatening To “Blow His Way In” T-Mobile Store Wednesday

LADY LAKE, Florida—A 73-year-old man from The Villages is facing charges after being accused of trespassing and threatening employees of the Lady Lake T-Mobile store that he would put a bomb in front of the store if they did not help him.

Donald Stuart Brown was trespassed from the store on Dec. 2 and returned around 11:05 a.m. Wednesday, screaming and being verbally abusive towards employees, according to the arrest affidavit. Employees called Lady Lake Police and Brown had already left when police arrived; an employee told LLPD Brown had also been causing disturbances at T-Mobile’s Leesburg store.

Around 4 p.m. the same day, LLPD responded back to the Lady Lake store in response to a false report of a bomb. Brown is alleged to have called from his T-Mobile phone shortly before 3 p.m., and told an employee, “If they did not help him, he would put a bomb in front of the store and blow his way in,” the affidavit states.  

LLPD contacted Brown and told him to return to the store, where he was arrested for false report of planting a bomb and trespassing. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $6,000 bond. 

Mom Of Man Missing 3 Years Wants Answers

LADY LAKE, Florida—It has been three years since Mariann Decker heard her son, Danny’s voice.

December is an extra hard month for her; her son’s birthday is Dec. 6, the anniversary of his disappearance is Dec. 15 and of course, Christmas.

“It’s not a great time of year,” she said.

Daniel “Danny” Decker, who was 34 at the time of his disappearance, has not been seen or heard from since the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2018, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Detective Clay Watkins told Inside Lake earlier this week.

Double D, as Decker was affectionately known, literally gave a homeless man the shirt off his back one cold night and was a fun person who liked to bust people’s chops, his mom said. “Danny had a sense of humor from the day he was born. I can’t explain how funny he was.”

He loved his dad, and they were joined at the hip, Mariann Decker said. He always wanted to go to work with him, you could separate them.

On Dec. 14, 2018, Decker was at a friend’s house in Carlton Village when he and another friend borrowed a car and went to Sumter County to play fish games at an arcade and then later returned.

“We know he was at a friend’s house, (and) we know he was looking for a ride away,” Watkins said.

The friend wanted his car back and Danny and another friend left to meet the owner and return the car.

“They believed they were being followed,” Watkins said, and Decker called his mother at 2:11 a.m. and told her he thought they were being pursued. Decker had some prior minor run-ins with the law.

“He wasn’t an angel,” Mariann Decker said. “He was his own worst enemy sometimes, he trusted everybody.”  

Mariann Decker said she will never forget that last phone call from her oldest son. She remembers his tone and everything he said.

“Ma, they’re chasing me,” he told her. She asked who was chasing him and he said, “I don’t know, the cops. Somebody is chasing me.”  

Danny Decker PHOTO: Courtesy of Mariann Decker

It was not law enforcement chasing him, Watkins said, but it still unknown who was chasing him. Decker sped up and drove down Eleanor Lane, a small dirt road off Marion County Road, abandoned the car and fled the scene.  Mariann Decker does not believe it happened that way. “My son would never a vehicle because it’s his last line of defense.”

Decker’s friend said he ran one way and Decker ran another and, “Danny was never seen again,” Watkins said.

A neighbor found the abandoned car and after LCSO received the case, it was processed at the tow yard, “No physical evidence; nothing inside the car that would indicate a crime,” Watkins said.  The keys to the car were never found.

Originally a Lady Lake Police Department case, it was turned over to LCSO and LCSO utilized helicopters and K-9s in the area that is mostly rural cow pastures, wooded and includes several lakes, but nothing was ever found. “We canvassed the area, and nobody saw anything,” Watkins said.    

Watkins believes Decker is likely dead since so much time has passed, and no one has heard from him. He is asking anyone with information on Decker’s location to come forward and give Decker’s family some closure. Mariann Decker agrees her son is no longer here. Her mother’s instinct told her he was gone before he was officially missing. About five hours after receiving his last phone call, she went looking for him and was drawn to Marion County Road. She said she felt pulled in a northwestern direction and still feels his body is in that area.   

“He wouldn’t go a day (without) talking to me,” she told Inside Lake. Choking back tears, she said he would hug her and kiss her cheek every day. “I miss him very much.”

Danny Decker
PHOTO: Courtesy of Mariann Decker

There have been numerous rumors and tips over the years; some plausible, and some extremely far-fetched, but Watkins chases them all down.  

“Mariann deserves to bury her son and know what happened to her son,” Watkins said, “They want to put him to rest.”

If you have information on Decker’s disappearance, call Watkins at 352-343-2101. 

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. 

Drug Trafficker Pleads Guilty, Sentenced To 25 Years In Federal Prison

OCALA, Florida— The head of a major drug trafficking organization who was busted earlier this year was sentenced this week to 25 years in federal prison, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Devonne L. Walker, 36, of Lady Lake pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance a little over a month after being arrested in Leesburg by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies on June 25, 2021. He was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Roy B. Dalton Jr. in Ocala federal court.

At the time of his arrest, Walker was found to be in possession of a stolen firearm, more than 260 grams of methamphetamine, more than 80 grams of fentanyl and a small amount of cocaine and marijuana.  

The evidence presented at Walker’s sentencing showed he was the leader and organizer of a Lake County drug conspiracy that imported more than 100 kilograms of methamphetamine, 50 kilograms of both marijuana and cocaine and 1 kilogram of heroin between 2018 and 2019. Walker organized his accomplices in Phoenix, Arizona to ship the drugs to Florida and Walker would then distribute the dope to other dealers in Central Florida.

Two of Walker’s co-conspirators have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting their sentences. A third person has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial January 2022.

The investigation was conducted by numerous agencies, including LCSO, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA,) the U.S. Postal Service Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and prosecuted by Assistant United State Attorney Michael P. Felicetta. 

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