Gas Station Argument Escalates to Stabbing, Victim Airlifted, Suspect Jailed

LEESBURG, Florida—A argument outside a Leesburg gas station Thursday afternoon escalated to a stabbing and landed one man in jail and another in the hospital, according to an arrest affidavit.

Leesburg Police Department responded to a stabbing report at Sunoco, 1200 West Main Street and found the victim responsive, but in a lot of pain and “clearly in need of medical attention,” the affidavit states. He was transported to a local hospital and then airlifted to a trauma center for the stab wound on the top, left side of his rib cage. He was not publicly identified.

A witness told LPD the victim was cursing at “Baxter,” later identified as Baxter Marc Rishell, 61. The pair began to argue, the witness said, and Rishell pulled out a black and green pocketknife and “poked” the victim in the side of his body.  The witness said Rishell, of Leesburg, then threw the knife into the grass near the side of the building; LPD located the knife with “fresh blood” on the blade.

Baxter Mar Rishell PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

A second witness refused to give police a statement and Rishell, who appeared to be heavily intoxicated, told police he was near the incident when it happened and he was “unsure if the suspect was Hispanic or white,” the affidavit states.

Rishell was taken into custody and arrested for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.  He is being held in Lake County Jail on $10,000 bond.

Wrong-Way Crash Just North of Eustis Sends 2 to the Hospital Friday

DONA VISTA, Florida—The Florida Highway Patrol continues to investigate a serious crash that occurred shortly before 10 p.m. Friday night.

A Nissan Versa being driven by a 37-year-old Leesburg man was traveling southbound on State Road 19 in the northbound inside lane, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi told Inside Lake.  

As he approached Orange Avenue, a 36-year-old Umatilla man driving a Ford Taurus southbound on State Road 19 attempted to make a left turn on Orange Avenue and the front of the Nissan struck the left side of the Ford at 9:50 p.m., Crescenzi said.

The Umatilla man was airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical but stable condition and the Leesburg man was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares with serious injuries and admitted. Both drivers were wearing their seatbelts.

“The investigating trooper advised he submitted (the Nissan driver) for a medical reexamination,” Crescenzi said in an email to Inside Lake. The crash remains under investigation.

Leesburg Teen Arrested for Manslaughter in December Death of Sumter County Boy, 15

TAVARES, Florida—A Leesburg teenager was arrested Friday by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies for his role in the death of a Sumter County boy who was found dead in Bushnell in December.

Jontae Solomon Haywood was reported missing around 1:20 a.m. Dec. 16, according to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO.) Deputies received information he may have been shot and he was found dead near County Road 557 in Bushnell later the same day. Haywood, an eighth grade student at South Sumter Prep, was just 15 years old.

Haywood enjoyed football, basketball, and fishing; and dreamed of becoming a professional rapper one day, according to his obituary. He enjoyed spending time with his father, was a “very polite and kind young man,” and showed “extreme compassion” to the elderly.

During its investigation, SCSO, found that Trevon Donte Battle, 16, of Leesburg and Tervaris Eugene Jackson Jr., 15, of Bushnell were negligently handling a firearm and it discharged, striking Haywood and killing him. Bradford Nethercot, 70, was “present during the incident and did not make any attempt to intervene to prevent the death of Jontae Haywood,” SCSO said in a press release.

Battle was arrested Friday by LCSO on the Sumter County warrant for aggravated manslaughter, improper disposal of human remains, possession of a firearm by a person under 18 and failure to report a death. He was booked into the Lake County Jail.

Jackson and Nethercot were both arrested by SCSO and booked into the Sumter County Jail. Jackson is facing the same charges as Battle— aggravated manslaughter, improper disposal of human remains, possession of a firearm by a person under 18 and failure to report a death. Nethercot is facing several charges, including child neglect with great bodily harm, three counts contributing to the delinquency of a minor, possession of marijuana under 20 grams and two counts of possession of drug paraphernalia.

Eustis Head-On Collision Sends Man, 71, to the Hospital

EUSTIS, Florida— Only Inside Lake was on the scene of a head-on crash that injured a 71-year-old man early Thursday morning.

A Dodge Ram being driven by a 19-year-old Leesburg man collided with a black Toyota sedan being driven by a 71-year-old Zellwood man around 6:30 a.m. Thursday. The report was unavailable at press time, it is unknown how the crash occurred, and the drivers’ names were not released.

The Zellwood man was seriously injured and airlifted to a local hospital; he is expected to survive, Eustis Police Department Capt. Jon Fahning told Inside Lake. The driver of the truck suffered minor injuries.

The crash backed up traffic for more than an hour on both County 452 and County Road 44 and remains under investigation.

Thief Nabbed After Leesburg Resident Spots Her Walking Off with Groceries

LEESBURG, Florida—A stolen grocery bag containing frozen cauliflower, juice and muffins landed a Leesburg woman in jail Tuesday, according to an arrest affidavit.

The victim called Leesburg Police Department and said she arrived home around 7:20 p.m. to find April Lee Evans, 37, walking off her front porch with groceries that had just been delivered.

The victim parked her car and spotted Evans, along with an unidentified male, walking east on Main Street carrying her groceries. The victim confronted the pair, and they dropped most of the groceries and continued walking, turning on Moss Street, the same street Evans lives on, according to the affidavit.

April Evans PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The victim described Evans to police and told them she was missing at least a 6-pack of juice and a pack of muffins. LPD searched the area and found Evans, who matched the victim’s description, and she told them “Steve” gave the items to her before walking off. Evans said the stolen groceries were in her bag and she was found with three packages of frozen cauliflower, a 6-pack of Ocean Spray juice, and a box of chocolate chip muffins.

Evans was taken into custody and upon searching her and her backpack, officers found 10 used syringes, a cut straw, a metal spoon digital scale, and a baggie, all with methamphetamine residue.

Evans was arrested for petit theft, burglary and possession of drug paraphernalia; she is being held at the Lake County Jail on $7,000 bond.  

Former Police Chief Arrested for Aggravated Stalking of a Child, Facing Child Rape Charges in Sumter

TAVARES, Florida—The former police chief of Center Hill, arrested last month for raping a 14-year-old girl in Sumter County while holding her at gunpoint, is now facing stalking charges in Lake County.

William Ray Pruitt, 56, of Weirsdale, was arrested early Friday morning for stalking and aggravated stalking, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office online booking records. Pruitt served as Center Hill Police chief in 1998 and 1999 and currently owns Pruitt Water in Leesburg, according to his booking information.

Pruitt is accused stalking the girl beginning in October 2021, when she was just 15 years old and continuing for more than a year, according to a probable cause affidavit.

In December 2022, the victim reported an incident that occurred at a local high school after hours to a school resource deputy. The following day, an LCSO detective spoke with the girl’s mother, and she said the girl met Pruitt around March 2020 when she was 14 years old and over time, she began to suspect Pruitt was “grooming” her teenage daughter and possibly having sexual relationship with her.

The victim’s mother said the girl denied the relationship until October 2022 when she disclosed three incidents of sexual battery in 2020 when she was 14, two in Sumter County and one in an unknown location, according to the affidavit.

The girl said she denied the allegations because Pruitt would harass and threaten her, including threatening to kill himself. He told the teen he was an “ex-cop” and he had detective friends who hacked her phone and tracked all her activity for him. She also said he became “controlling and possessive,” the affidavit states.

PHOTO: City of Center Hill

In 2021, the victim’s mom found a note on her tablet that confirmed her suspicions that Pruitt was having a relationship with her daughter. At one point, the girl went to stay with her father to distance herself from Pruitt and a private investigator, believed to be hired by Pruitt, showed up where the girl was. Due to heavy redaction in the affidavit, it is unclear where the private investigator showed up.

In November 2021, the girl saw Pruitt drive by her home in Lake County; she called LCSO and later filed for an injunction. She was granted the injunction but dropped it in February 2022 under the advice of her attorney because she was not being cooperative with the process, according to the affidavit. Sometime after February, the victim turned 16, and any further stalking became a misdemeanor, the detective noted.

In May 2022, a homemade sign appeared at an undisclosed location with “Ray Liberty” on one side and “Libby” on the other. Pruitt is alleged to have told the victim that if he got her pregnant from the sexual battery, he would name their daughter Liberty Ray, after himself and his mother, the affidavit states. In July, another sign with “8” “0” “8” appeared across from the girl’s home. In a forensic interview, the girl said Pruitt would send her “0” and that meant she had to “stay inside the circle” and she could not have any other friends or trust anyone but him.

In August 2022, Pruitt followed the girl from her high school, trying to force her off the road as she made her way to her cousin’s apartment in Eustis. The victim’s mother called Eustis Police Department and Pruitt called LCSO, claiming to be a “father figure” to the girl. Later the same month, one of Pruitt’s employees followed her and attempted to give her a note from Pruitt; the girl pulled into Tavares Police Department and reported the incident. Less than two months later, at an October high school football game, a different employee of Pruitt’s approached the girl and asked, “How’s Libby?’ referring to their hypothetical child.  The girl also reported getting anonymous texts referring to “Will.”

Almost exactly a month later, another homemade sign showed up on the side of State Road 19 near County Road 48, that said, “He’s OK!” and “3.” Pruitt had just had shoulder surgery and 3 is his favorite number, according to the affidavit.

William Pruitt PHOTO: Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office

And the stalking still continued.

Thanksgiving weekend, the girl spotted Pruitt driving by her house in a beige jeep that did not belong to him; and on Dec. 1, as the girl parked in her usual spot at her high school, she spotted yet another homemade sign taped in front of her parking spot that read “Liberty 3.” The sign was located and collected by the SRD and the following day, the teen filed for an injunction, and it was granted, according to the affidavit.

On Dec. 7, Sumter County Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant for Pruitt for two counts of sexual battery on a victim 12 or older while utilizing a deadly weapon. According to that probable cause affidavit, Pruitt held a gun to the girl on two separate occasions and raped her in his truck.  

He was arrested Dec. 9 by the U.S. Marshal Caribbean Regional Fugitive Task Force with the assistance of the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office on a traffic stop in Live Oak. According to that probable cause affidavit, agents received information Pruitt may be attempting “suicide by cop,” but he was taken into custody without incident.  Pruitt was held in the Suwannee County Jail until Friday when he was transferred to the Lake County Jail, where he is currently being held, and arrested for stalking and aggravated stalking.

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.

Leesburg Man Dead After Striking Guardrail on SR 429, Eustis Woman Seriously Injured

ORANGE COUNTY, Florida—A Leesburg man is dead after running off the road, striking a guardrail and overturning in the truck he was driving Sunday morning, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The 77-year-old man was driving a 2022 Toyota Tundra southbound on State Road 429, when he lost control for an unknown reason at mile marker 28, shortly before 10:30 a.m. Sunday. He ran off the road, struck a guardrail and overturned, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

He and his 73-year-old passenger, a Eustis woman, were transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where the man was pronounced deceased. The Eustis woman was seriously injured, but is in stable condition, Crescenzi said.

The crash remains under investigation.

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.

Man Accused of Hate Crime and Stalking LGBTQ Couple, Fights Deputies as They Attempt to Arrest Him

LEESBURG, Florida—A Leesburg man is being held in the Lake County Jail on more than $100,000 bond after being accused of stalking his LGBTQ neighbors since at least September, violating an injunction and fighting the deputies who were trying to arrest him Tuesday, according to an arrest affidavit.

Frank Randall Norviel, 57, of the Bassville Park area of Leesburg, is accused of a litany of crimes stemming from his alleged stalking of his neighbors beginning in September when he stood in his yard on Marlette Avenue and repeatedly squeaked a rubber chicken at the victims and screamed, “It’s not Adam and Steve!” the affidavit states.

On Dec. 29, Norviel is alleged to have ridden by the victims on his bicycle screaming out LGBTQ slurs and Jan. 2, he is accused of walking into the victim’s yard screaming slurs again and told one of victim’s minor son he was going to kill their cat and eat it. On Jan. 3, due to the repeated incidents, the two men were granted temporary injunctions for protection, according to Lake County Clerk online records.

Just three days later, Norviel was captured on video hanging a stick with blue underwear on the end over the victims’ driveway, in addition to putting a white cross on the fence facing the victims’ home. The victims told a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy they believed the cross was associated with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK.)

Deputies went to Norviel’s home to talk to hm and found him sitting on the front porch. He stepped away from deputies and stepped into his home and closed the door, keeping the deputies out.

The following week, on Tuesday, an LCSO sergeant was canvassing the area near Norviel’s home and saw a light on and heard noises coming from the backyard. Norviel ran to his door and began fumbling with keys to unlock the door. LCSO ordered him to stop and come to them and he ignored them and kept trying to enter the residence, according to the affidavit.              

The sergeant reached for Norviel, and both fell to the ground; they struggled and Norviel tried to swing at the sergeant, and he was able to get one handcuff on him. Norviel swung his handcuffed hand at deputies, cutting one of them and tried to engage the sergeant again. Norviel was tased and fell down with taser prongs still stuck in him, the affidavit states.

Backup arrived and attempted to place Norviel in handcuffs and he struggled again; a second deputy tased him and he was taken into custody.

Norviel was arrested for aggravated stalking – hate crime, violation of an injunction, resisting with violence, resisting without violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. He is being held in LCJ on $113,000 bond.

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