Minneola

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

Suspect Who Fled Crash that Killed Teen Confessed to FHP, According to Report

MONTVERDE, Florida—The man who hit a high school freshman earlier this week was found by his boss using a tracking device and turned over to the Florida Highway Patrol, along with the two occupants who were in the car with him, and the driver confessed to the crime, according to a report.

Owen Wells, 14, a ninth grader at Lake Minneola High School, was killed around 6:20 a.m. Thursday on County Road 455 near Willo Pines Lane when he was struck by a Pontiac G6 being driven by Enrique Ramirez, 57, of Winter Garden. The impact threw the teen into the southbound lane of County Road 455 and Owen was then struck a second time by a Dodge Ram being driven by Jeffrey Bolin, 59, of Ferndale. Bolin stopped after the crash, stayed on scene and gave troopers a statement; Ramirez stopped briefly and then fled the scene, he told troopers.

According to the arrest report, Ramirez said he was “scared” and believed because other people stopped, he did not have to; Ramirez had two of his coworkers in his car when he hit Owen. The trio fled to their boss’ house a few miles away, left the vehicle with the damaged left headlight, picked up a work truck for the landscaping business they work for and went about their day.

Owen Wells and his two younger brothers PHOTO: GoFundMe/Support for the Wells’s Family

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies located the vehicle in front of the home just a few miles from the scene of the crash. Troopers responded and observed damage consistent with the crash and it matched “perfectly” to reflectors and mirror housing parts left on the scene, according to the report. They spoke with Esdras Rivera, owner of the landscaping business, who told them Ramirez and his buddies, Alberto Perez Hernandez and Francisco Javier Zacarias Cononado, were “acting weird” and seemed “very short” when they arrived earlier to pick up the work truck.

Rivera told troopers he had a tracking device on the work truck and could locate Ramirez. The Pontiac was towed by FHP for processing with an FHP sergeant following close behind, according to the report. Rivera located Ramirez, Hernandez and Cononado, picked them up and took the trio to the FHP station on Semoran Boulevard in Orlando where they were questioned, the report states. Attempts to reach Rivera for comment were unsuccessful.

 All three were interviewed by troopers and Ramirez admitted he was driving the Pontiac at about 40 miles per hour northbound on County Road 455 when he saw a person’s shadow on the roadway and swerved to avoid the person. He said he struck the person, and the person was struck by a truck, according to the report.

Enrique Ramirez

Ramirez said he stopped briefly, then left the scene because he was “scared” and “others had stopped so he thought he could leave,” the report states. Ramirez’ passengers, Hernandez and Cononado both admitted they were passengers in the car at the time of the crash and fled the scene. They have not been charged and FHP has turned its findings over to the State Attorney’s Office for review, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi told Inside Lake.

Ramirez was arrested for leaving the scene of a crash involving death and transported to the Lake County Jail. Troopers requested no bond when he was booked into the jail, and the bond has since been lowered to $100,000. Ramirez remained in LCJ at press time.

An account has been set up to help support Owen’s family, to donate, visit Support for the Wells Family

Account Created to Support Family of High School Student Tragically Killed Thursday

MONTVERDE, Florida—A GoFundMe has been created to help provide financial support to the family of  the Lake Minneola High School freshman who was tragically killed in a hit and run crash Thursday.

The account, created by family friend Derek Kelley, describes 14-year-old Owen Wells as “always smiling” and “always on some adventure”

“Owen had a love of God and a love of life,” Kelley wrote. “Owen had a deep love for his parents. And definitely loved the occasional harassment of his two younger brothers.

The funds collected are slated to pay for Owen’s funeral expenses and to give Owen’s parents, Jim and Beth, time to grieve, Kelley said.

Owen, of Montverde, was the victim of a hit and run crash just before 6:30 a.m. Thursday as he waited for his school bus, according to Kelley.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tara Crescenzi said Owen was crossing the lanes of County Road 455 near Willo Pines Lane when he was struck by a 2007 Pontiac G6 being driven by Enrique Ramirez, 57, of Winter Garden. The impact threw Owen into the southbound lane of County Road 455, where he was struck a second time by a 2006 Dodge Ram being driven by a 59-year-old Ferndale man. Ramirez fled the scene; the driver of the Ram stopped.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies found the Pontiac unoccupied shortly after the crash and FHP investigated and found that Ramirez was the driver. Ramirez was arrested a little over 12 hours after the crash for leaving the scene of a crash involving death. He is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

If you would like to donate to the Wells family, click here Support for the Wells Family

FHP Arrests Man in Hit and Run Death of Teenager

TAVARES, Florida—The man accused of hitting a Lake Minneola High School freshman and leaving the scene shortly before daybreak Thursday has been arrested, the Florida Highway Patrol said Thursday night.

Enrique Ramirez, 57, of Winter Garden was arrested by FHP for leaving the scene of a crash involving death, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said. The boy, whose name was not released, was walking across the lanes of County Road 455 near Willow Pines Lane just before 6:30 a.m. Thursday when he entered the path of a 2007 Pontiac G6 being driven by Ramirez and was struck by the front left of the car. The impact threw the 14-year-old into the southbound lane of County Road 455, where he was struck a second time by a 2006 Dodge Ram being driven by a 59-year-old Ferndale man, Crescenzi said. Ramirez and the driver of the Ram were not injured.

Ramirez fled the scene, and the car was later found by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies. Troopers questioned the registered owner of the car and their investigation led to Ramirez.

Ramirez was was arrested for hit and run resulting in death. He was transported to the Lake County Jail where he is being held on no bond.

High School Freshman Killed in Hit and Run Thursday Morning

MONTVERDE, Florida—A Lake Minneola High School freshman was killed Thursday after he was struck by a car that fled the scene and then struck by a second vehicle as he lay in the southbound lanes of County Road 455, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The boy, whose name has not been released, was walking across the lanes of County Road 455 near Willow Pines Lane just before 6:30 a.m. when he entered the path of a 2007 Pontiac G6 and was struck by the front left of the car. The impact threw the teenager into the southbound lane of County Road 455, where he was struck a second time by a 2006 Dodge Ram being driven by a 59-year-old Ferndale man, FHP Lt Tara Crescenzi said.

The teen was a freshman at Lake Minneola High School, according to Lake County Schools Communications Officer Sherri Owens. The tragedy comes just two days before LCS students go on Thanksgiving break.

“It’s a tough day for all of us, especially those teachers, administrators and classmates who knew him well,” Owens said.

The Pontiac fled the scene and was found unoccupied in an undisclosed location by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies and was taken into evidence, Crescenzi said. Troopers are interviewing the registered owner of the car and investigating who was driving at the time of the deadly crash. The driver of the Dodge remained on scene, and he was not injured.

The crash remains under investigation.

Silver Alert Issued for Minneola Man Diagnosed with Dementia

MINNEOLA, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has issued a silver alert for a man who was recently diagnosed with dementia and has not been seen since early Tuesday night.

Rodger Stambaugh, 69, left his home at 825 Elm Forrest Drive in Minneola around 7:15 p.m. Tuesday and has not been seen or heard from since, LCSO Lt. John Herrell said in an email.

Stambaugh is balding with grey hair, a grey beard and has green eyes; he is 6’1” and should be driving a 2020 black Kia Soul hatchback with temporary tag DGD 5348.

If you have information on Stambaugh’s whereabouts, call LCSO at 352-343-2101.  

Written Threat Places Lake Minneola High School on Lockdown

MINNEOLA, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after a written shooting threat was received at Lake Minneola High School Thursday afternoon, according to Lt. John Herrell.

The threat was received around 1:20 p.m., about 10 minutes before classes change and the school, located at 101 North Hancock Road, was placed on lockdown out of an abundance of caution, Herrell told Inside Lake. The school was checked and deemed safe. No one has been arrested.

The threat delayed dismissal for around 10 minutes and there is a heavy law enforcement presence at the school, Herrell said

A written threat to kill is a felony charge and the names of juveniles arrested for felonies are public record. This is at least the fourth incident in Lake County Schools since the school year began a little more than a month ago.

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/

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