Lady Lake

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.

Orange County Carjacking Suspects Flee Cops, Flip SUV in Clermont

CLERMONT, Florida—Three Lake County men were arrested Sunday morning after a license plate reader alerted deputies that a vehicle involved in an Orange County carjacking was in Clermont, according to several arrest affidavits.

Shortly before 6:30 a.m. Sunday, Lake County Sheriff’s deputies were alerted that a green Kia Soul involved in an early morning carjacking was in the area of U.S. Highway 27 in Clermont. Deputies began searching the area and located the SUV and attempted a traffic stop.

Jason Curtis Marks, 21, of Lady Lake, put the Kia in reverse and “intentionally struck the front push bumper of a marked patrol vehicle,” the arresting deputy stated in the affidavit.

Marks then turned left, drove over a median and began driving southbound on U.S. Highway 27, fleeing multiple LCSO marked units. Marks was speeding and driving “recklessly” near U.S. Highway 27 and Margaux Drive in Clermont and struck another vehicle, flipping the SUV he was driving, according to the affidavit.

LCSO took Marks, and his passengers, Jonathan Joseph Belcher, 22, of Lady Lake and Sheldon Anthony Shields-Wright, 21, of Leesburg into custody. Upon searching the vehicle, LCSO found two handguns, one being stolen out of Lake County and Marks was found with a ski mask and was wearing a black glove; Belcher had blue latex gloves, the affidavit states.

Marks was arrested for grand theft auto, fleeing and eluding, two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon on a law enforcement officer, possession of a stolen firearm, possession of a concealed firearm and resisting an officer without violence; he is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

Belcher was arrested for resisting an officer without violence and possession of a concealed firearm; he is being held in LCJ on no bond.

Shields-Wright was arrested for resisting an officer without violence in this incident, along with armed carjacking in Orange County. He was released from LCJ Tuesday, and it is unclear if he is in custody in Orange County.

Burglar Killed by Resident After Breaking into Lady Lake Home

LADY LAKE, Florida—A burglar is dead after being shot by a resident of a home he broke into, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Ryan Michael Baldasare, 36, of Tampa, crawled through a window of a home on Lakeview Street in Lady Lake and was shot by a resident around 5:30 p.m. Monday. He was pronounced dead at the scene, LCSO Lt. Fred Jones said.

According to the 9-1-1 call, Baldasare forcefully entered the home through the window, where he was confronted by the resident and shot. The resident is cooperating with investigators and the incident appears to be self defense, Jones said. The case remains under investigation.

Baldasare was arrested in Lake County in July for battery, possession of methamphetamine and disorderly intoxication by Lady Lake Police Department. He was also picked up for failure to appear in Hillsborough County for criminal mischief and trespass.

“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

Leesburg Man Arrested in Summer Overdose Death

LADY LAKE, Florida—A Leesburg man has been arrested in the overdose death of a 38-year-old man in Lady Lake over the summer, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Albert Robert Springs, 33, was taken into custody Wednesday after an investigation revealed Springs dealt Harry Cooper the lethal fentanyl that killed him on June 25. Cooper was found dead in a bedroom at a home at 4100 Holly Hill and the medical examiner’s office ruled his death an accidental overdose of fentanyl, LCSO Lt. John Herrell said.

“Detectives worked diligently throughout the course of this investigation,” Herrell said. Phone records and surveillance video helped detectives determine Springs was responsible for dealing the fentanyl to Cooper.

Springs was arrested for death by unlawful distribution of fentanyl and is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

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/

Leesburg Woman Killed, and Man Seriously Injured in Hit-and-Run Crash Sunday, FHP Searching for Vehicle

LADY LAKE, Florida—A 40-year-old woman was killed, and a 31-year-old man was seriously injured when a vehicle, possibly a Jeep Cherokee, struck the pair while they were walking northbound on Rolling Acres Road, south of West Lakeview Street just after 9:45 p.m. Sunday, according to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tara Crescenzi.

The pair, both of Leesburg, were walking on the grass shoulder of Rolling Acres Road, when the vehicle ran of the road and struck them, Crescenzi said in a press release. The vehicle fled the scene.

The woman was pronounced dead, and the man was airlifted to Ocala Regional Medical Center with serious injuries. FHP traffic homicide investigators found vehicle parts on the scene and believe they may be from a 2014 to 2018 Jeep Cherokee. The vehicle should be missing a passenger side mirror and have right front headlight damage, Crescenzi said.

If you have information about this crash, call FHP at 407-737-2213 or Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.   

Forensic Analysis Reveals 10 Kiddie Porn Images on Lady Lake Man’s Electronic Devices

LADY LAKE, Florida—A Lady Lake man has bonded out of the Lake County Jail on $20,000 bond after a search warrant at his home revealed at least 10 images of child pornography containing male and female children as young as 1 year old, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Acting on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) began investigating images that that were uploaded to from IP address that belongs to Michael Pollitt, 61, of Lady Lake, the affidavit states.

On Wednesday, FDLE served a search warrant at Pollitt’s home on First Avenue and recovered two laptops and a phone belonging to Pollitt. The devices underwent a forensic analysis and at least 10 images were found depicting boys and girls, some as young as 1 year old and wearing diapers, according to the affidavit. The descriptions of the children are extremely graphic.

Pollitt, who has a juvenile living in his home, was arrested Tuesday for 10 counts of possession of sexual performance by a child. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 19.  

LCSO Sergeant Paid Prostitute $80 for Trysts, Unsealed Court Documents Reveal

TAVARES, Florida—A Lake County Sheriff’s Office sergeant arrested last month for soliciting prostitution paid the person $80 per encounter, according to a probable cause affidavit unsealed by County Judge Sarah Jones earlier this month.

LCSO was tipped off to Sgt. Scott Stone’s activities by a woman who told an LCSO captain and a detective her friend of four years confided in her that a “Sgt. Stone” with LCSO was paying the friend to have sex with him in public places. The friend is not named in the affidavit and is referred to as he/she or “the source” throughout the affidavit. Inside Lake will be referring to this person as “the source” for the remainder of this article.

After conducting surveillance on the source, the captain and detective approached the source at a store and conducted an interview. The source said the pair met on a domestic dispute call and exchanged numbers in June 2021. Within two days Stone sent the source a photo of him standing in front of a mirror completely nude, according to the affidavit.

The source did not send a return photo and said about a day later Stone contacted the source to hang out. The source agreed and Stone picked the source up in his personal vehicle. Stone asked the source if they were interested in sex and the source agreed. The source asked where at Stone reportedly replied Home Depot and they stopped at Circle K at the corner of County Road 44 and County Road 473 and Stone made a withdrawal from the ATM.  

The couple went to Home Depot and proceeded to have unprotected oral sex and intercourse, according to the affidavit. Stone then paid the source $80.

In January Stone again contacted the source and the pair met at Walgreens, 11101 U.S. Highway 441 and attempted intercourse. Again, Stone paid $80. Later in January, Stone met the source at an abandoned home in Leesburg while on duty; the home was outside his assigned sector. The source said Stone was in full uniform and parked his marked patrol unit behind the home. The pair touched each other, and Stone did not remove his uniform, and told the source he was nervous because he was on duty.

Stone was interviewed in late April and admitted having sex with the source but denied paying for it. He was asked if he had phone conversations with any known criminals or prostitutes and he reportedly said, “to his knowledge nothing he wouldn’t be afraid Jesus would see.” Investigators found text messages between Stone and the source.

Stone: When is the last time you had sex?

Source: Last night.

Stone: That’s really hot!! For pay?

Source: I have not showered yet but was gonna bath (sic) but I can wait just for you.

Source: Yes.

Source: I have bills.

Stone: Ugh. That’s SO SO HOT!!

A warrant was issued for Stone’s arrest in July and Stone, a 17-year veteran of LCSO turned himself in to the Lake County Jail, LCSO Lt. John Herrell said in a press release last month. He was released from LCJ on $1,000 bond. His next court date is scheduled for Sept. 12.

Stone is currently under internal investigation and is suspended without pay, LCSO Lt. Fred Jones said.  

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