National Safe Boating Week kicks off Saturday

LITTLE LAKE HARRIS, Fla.—The unofficial start to summer is upon us and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding boaters to stay safe during National Safe Boating Week that begins Saturday.

Inside Lake had the opportunity to speak with FWC’s Kristen Turner and Chad Weber, along with Hunter Bland of the National Safe Boating Council Friday about staying safe on the waterways. Florida is the “Boating Capital of the World,” with more than 1 million vessels registered in the state, according to FWC.

Florida does have some requirements for boating but common sense and taking simple precautions can prevent a tragedy. A boating safety course is required for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988; classes are available in classroom setting and also online, FWC-approved courses can be found here.

All vessels are required to have personal flotation device (PFD) for each person onboard and FWC encourages everyone to wear it at all times. In an emergency situation, people often won’t have time to put on a PFD. This reporter and Inside Lake Photographer Bonnie Whicher were required to wear a PFD during a ride-along Friday. The weather cut the ride-along short, but Weber used that opportunity to educate the Inside Lake staff on how to handle changing weather conditions.

FWC Officer Chad Weber PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

“You need to know where you are at. (Bad weather) is one of the hidden dangers (people) overlook,” Weber said. “The best thing to do is get out of the water.”

Bland said often homeowners will let a vessel stay at their dock to ride out a storm and he’s even known people to invite boaters in their home to ride it out.

“There are good people out there,” Bland said.

Filing a “float plan can also save your life, Turner told Inside Lake. Though not required, a float plan is letting someone know where you are going and what time you expect to be back. The United States Coast Guard provides a fillable PDF float plan and suggests you provide it to a reliable person, along with a photo of the vessel. While the information would be extremely helpful in an emergency, Bland stressed that something as simple as a text message letting someone know your plans, would suffice.

FWC Northeast Region Public Information Director Kristen Turner PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Weber also suggested other things to have onboard, such as rain jackets, a cooler with water and a first aid kit; tools and extra fuses can also come in handy, Bland added.

For more boating information from FWC, visit https://myfwc.com/boating/

National Safe Boating Council Program Director Hunter Bland PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

National Safe Boating Week kicks off Saturday Read More »

Lake County Schools high school graduations scheduled for this week and next week

LAKE COUNTY, Fla.—Caps will be flying through the air this week and next as Lake County Schools seniors say goodbye to high school and hello to adulthood. Graduations are scheduled to begin Tuesday with Tavares High School and will end with Lake County Virtual School next week. Schools are listed below in alphabetical order.

East Ridge High School—9 a.m. Wednesday at UCF/Addition Arena

Eustis High School—9 a.m. Saturday, at Eustis High School Panther Stadium

Lake County Virtual School—6 p.m. May 23, at Mount Dora High School Auditorium

Lake Hills School—occurred May 1 at Lake Hills Gymnasium

Lake Minneola High School—7 p.m. Friday at UCF/Addition Arena

Lake Success Academy—3:30 p.m. Friday at Lake Success Academy

Leesburg High School—8 a.m. Saturday at Leesburg High School Stadium

Mount Dora High School—8 p.m. Thursday at Mount Dora High School Stadium

South Lake High School—7:30 p.m. Wednesday at UCF/Addition Arena

Tavares High School—7:30 p.m., Tuesday UCF/Addition Arena

Umatilla High School—7 p.m. Friday Grafton Center Elks Club


Lake County Schools high school graduations scheduled for this week and next week Read More »

5th Annual Lake County Back the Blue and Red Walk

Photos from the 5th Annual Back the Blue and Red Walk. Organizer Shannon Cook has been supporting law enforcement since 2019 with this walk. This year, firefighters were added to the event, and the name was changed. PHOTOS: Bonnie Whicher/Special to Inside Lake

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5th Annual Lake County Back the Blue (and Red) Walk scheduled for Saturday; Firefighters added this year

TAVARES, Florida—For the fifth year in a row, law enforcement and supporters will join forces for the annual Lake County Back the Blue Walk at Wooton Park Saturday morning, and this year firefighters will join the fun. 

Scheduled for 9 a.m., this is one of many law enforcement events around Lake County held in May during Law Enforcement Appreciation Month and this year, Organizer Shannon Cook wanted to add firefighters to the appreciation walk to coincide with the Lake County Board of County Commissioners proclaiming May 4 “International Firefighters’ Day” in Lake County, she told Inside Lake.

“I figured what better day to honor our heroes in red,” Cook said.

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, Cook said, 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.

Ryan Koester, son of fallen Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wayne Koester, left, and Deputy Koester’s brother Vic, right, at the 2023 Back the Blue Walk PHOTO: Shannon Cook

Cook’s close friend, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wayne Koester, 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. 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, on his birthday.

Participants will meet at 9 a.m. at Wooton Park, 100 East Ruby Street, Tavares. The first stop will be the Lake County Administration Building, then a stop at the Tavares Public Safety Complex and the walk will end at Kalua Beach Bar with lunch, provided by owner Randy Connor; come a little early to enjoy donuts and coffee donated by Greg Wilmore of New Life Baptist Church Leesburg. 


5th Annual Lake County Back the Blue (and Red) Walk scheduled for Saturday; Firefighters added this year Read More »

Teen arrested for killing family cat in dryer Monday

MINNEOLA, Fla.—A teenager is facing a charge of animal cruelty—excessively cruel, after putting the family cat in the dryer and killing it, according to an arrest affidavit.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Monday, Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a home on Plum Lake Drive in Minneola on a report of a suspicious incident. When they arrived, the mother of Cayden Mikkel Williams told a deputy her son had just killed the family cat, named “Mouse” by putting it in the dryer.

She said when she was coming into the neighborhood with her other children, she saw Williams walking and he motioned for her to stop. She rolled the window down and Williams reportedly said, “So Mouse…” She replied, “what?” and Williams responded, “so he was in the dryer,” the affidavit states.

She returned home and found Mouse the cat lying on top of the dryer wrapped in a piece of fabric, dead. Mouse had blood coming from its nose and its ears were burnt and Williams’ clothes were on the floor in front of the dryer. She told the deputy the dryer has a 70-minute timer and there were approximately 30 minutes left on the timer, indicating Mouse was in the dryer for possibly 40 minutes, according to the affidavit, and after a brief argument Williams left.

The deputy observed dried blood all over the inside of dryer, he noted in the affidavit.

Williams’ mother told the deputy they buried Mouse by his favorite bush in the yard and the deputy called LCSO Animal Control and they exhumed Mouse’s remains for evidence, according to the affidavit. Williams, who will turn 17 on Friday, came back home and told the deputy he knew why deputies were speaking to him and he said he put his clothes in the dryer and did not see Mouse or hear him making any sounds or a banging noise after he started the dryer.

Williams also told the deputy he did not want his mother or siblings to be loud after they found out Mouse was dead because he did not want law enforcement to be notified, the affidavit states.

Williams was arrested, transported to the Lake County Jail and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.



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Man apologizes for having sex with minor in recorded phone call, facing 13 charges

MINNEOLA, Fla.— An elementary school custodian was arrested last week after an underage girl told her guardian she had sex with him a few days before, according to an arrest affidavit.

The girl told Lake County Sheriff’s Office detectives James Pacheco, 19, of Minneola, told her he was 17 years old and a student in Groveland after they began communicating in January after meeting on Snapchat. On March 12, the girl, whose age is redacted from the affidavit, went to Pacheco’s Minneola home where they had consensual sex, she said. She said the encounter was painful, but she did not tell him to stop and after they were finished, she spent the night. The next morning when he attempted to touch her again, she said, no, because she was in pain and Pacheco told her to leave. She left using a rideshare company and Pacheco messaged her, told her he wanted to “breakup” and blocked her on his social media accounts, according to the affidavit.

The girl said Pacheco sent her numerous sexual photos and videos while they were communicating between January and March, and in a recorded phone call Pacheco apologized to girl for having sex with her and lying about his age. Detectives then executed a search warrant at Pacheco’s home at 913 White Oak Way, Minneola and found several pieces of evidence, including bed coverings and his phone.

Detectives interviewed Pacheco and he admitted sending sexually explicit videos and photos to the girl and directed detectives to more evidence. He also said he was sorry and knew what he did was wrong, the affidavit states.

Pacheco was arrested for three counts of lewd or lascivious battery and 10 counts of transmission of harmful material to minors. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $35,000 bond.

Pacheco was employed at Minneola Charter School as a custodian, but is no longer employed there, Minneola Charter School Principal Sherry Watts told Inside Lake.

Man apologizes for having sex with minor in recorded phone call, facing 13 charges Read More »

Georgia Man Accused of Shooting Friend as they Travel on the Turnpike near Clermont Sunday Night

CLERMONT, Fla.—A Georgia man is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond after being accused of shooting his friend as they traveled on Florida’s Turnpike late Sunday night.

The Florida Highway Patrol asked for assistance from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office around 10:30 p.m. Sunday in reference to a man stopping vehicles and asking for help. Not long after, LCSO received a 911 call from an unnamed individual stating someone was banging on their door and asking for help in unincorporated Clermont, according to an arrest affidavit.

Deputies responded to the home and found Bounmy Xayavong, who told them he was traveling south on the Turnpike with his longtime friend, a man later identified as Sergio Villanueva. The pair began arguing about an ex-girlfriend and Villanueva shot him in the upper right thigh while he was driving, he told deputies. He stopped the vehicle, got out and began running and asking for help, according to the affidavit.

Villanueva, 26, then drove away and after Xayavong was unable to find help on the Turnpike, he jumped off the roadway and went down a hill to County Road 561 to look for help. Xayavong provided the wrong name and date of birth to deputies and “seemed to be withholding information from deputies,” the arresting deputy noted in the affidavit. Deputies searched him and he was identified by a Georgia Department of Defense paper that had his name on it. They also found a key fob with a plastic tag that had an Oregon license plate number on it. After running the tag, they found it belonged to a Hertz rental car.

Deputies canvassed the Turnpike in search of evidence and a crime scene and came up empty. About three hours later, at 1:30 a.m., the LCSO Communication Center received a 911 call from a male that said, “Oh yeah,” and hung up, Deputies went to the area on Lemongrass Road to canvass the area and found a dark-colored Chevrolet parked toward the back of a home under construction. Deputies called out and Villanueva, lying on his stomach with his arms stretched out, called out from inside the home for deputies to arrest him, according to the affidavit.

They took him into custody and searched him for the gun and he “spontaneously uttered” he threw the gun because he was frightened. He took deputies to the area where he said he threw it, but they were unable to find it, the affidavit states.

Villanueva was arrested for aggravated battery, trespassing on a construction site and tampering with evidence.

Georgia Man Accused of Shooting Friend as they Travel on the Turnpike near Clermont Sunday Night Read More »

Lake County Schools to Follow Wednesday Schedule in Anticipation of Severe Weather Tuesday, After School Activities Canceled

LAKE COUNTY, Fla.—Lake County Schools will follow Wednesday schedules on Tuesday in anticipation of severe weather, according to an LCS spokesperson.

“Severe thunderstorms are in the forecast for tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024) in Lake County, particularly in areas on the northern end. In an effort to get as many students home before the worst of the storm begins, Lake County Schools will follow our Wednesday early dismissal schedule on Tuesday,” LCS Communications Coordinator Sherri Owens said in an email Monday night.

LCS will excuse weather-related absences and all after school outdoor activities are canceled. Extended Learning Centers (ELC) will be open, Owens said.

Lake County Schools to Follow Wednesday Schedule in Anticipation of Severe Weather Tuesday, After School Activities Canceled Read More »

BREAKING NEWS: Santa Claus is Coming to Town

LAKE COUNTY, Fla.—At press time Christmas Eve, the jolly fellow best known as Santa Claus was last spotted in Greenland and had delivered more than 5 billion gifts, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD.)

Little boys and girls (who should be in bed) can track the big guy’s movements online as he makes his way across the world with his trusty reindeer crew, by visiting NORAD Tracks Santa.

NORAD began tracking Santa in 1958 after taking over the duty from the U.S. Air Force.

BREAKING NEWS: Santa Claus is Coming to Town Read More »

Lake-Sumter State College Foundation Honors Hall of Fame Recipients and Distinguished Alumni Tuesday Night, Including Inside Lake’s Own Marilyn Aciego

LEESBURG, Fla.—The Lake-Sumter State College Foundation honored its Distinguished Alumni and Hall of Fame recipients Tuesday night in a ceremony held at the Everett A. Kelly Convocation Center at the college’s Leesburg campus.

Nine individuals and a community organization were recognized for their achievements and contributions to the community in front of a large crowd that enjoyed a three-course dinner and video testimonials from the recipients.

Each year, the LSSC Foundation Board of Directors select the recipients from nominations made by the public to receive distinguished alumni awards. For the first time its 12-year history, two people were awarded the prestigious Professional Achievement Award, and one of the recipients was Inside Lake’s Publisher Marilyn Aciego.

Aciego discovered her passion for journalism at Lake-Sumter State College after taking a media class and later became editor of both The Angler and The Odyssey, LSSC’s student publications. She was hired by the Daily Commercial while she was still a student at LSSC and worked her way up to the lead cops and courts reporter. She covered numerous stories that gained national interest, including the death of beloved Sheriff Chris Daniels, a murder committed by identical twins and the disappearance of Trenton Duckett. Aciego’s coverage of these stories lead to appearances on Nancy Grace dozens of times and an episode of Evil Twins on Investigation Discovery.

Lake-Sumter State College Foundation 2023 Hall of Fame recipient Toni Upchurch and Distinguished Alumni recipient Marilyn Aciego.

She left the Daily Commercial in 2009 and began working for an international media organization in an entry-level position and was named Florida bureau chief just three years later. In 2010, she joined recently-retired attorney James Hope to write local stories for Hope’s Lake Legal News magazine, rising to editor-in-chief and then partnering with Hope to start the online edition that focused on breaking crime and public safety news.

In 2021, Aciego and Hope dissolved their partnership and Aciego rebranded Lake Legal News to Inside Lake and began covering general news along with crime news.

“Lake County was becoming a news desert,” Aciego said. “I knew it was time to start Inside Lake.

It was these achievements that earned Aciego the prestigious Professional Achievement Award and Tuesday night she shared that honor with Sandra Wilson, a 1989 graduate of LSSC.


Lake-Sumter State College Foundation Distinguished Alumni and Hall of Fame 2023

  • Marilyn Aciego—Distinguished Alumni, Professional Achievement Award
  • Sandra Wilson— Distinguished Alumni, Professional Achievement Award
  • Pat Atley— Distinguished Alumni, Scholar Award
  • Christine Boodhoo— Distinguished Alumni, Valor Award
  • Juliana Green— Distinguished Alumni, Community Engagement Award
  • Andrew LoFaro—Distinguished Alumni, Graduate of the Last Decade Award
  • Toni Upchurch— Hall of Fame, Faculty Award
  • Kevin Yurasek— Hall of Fame, Staff Award
  • Patrick Ryan— Hall of Fame, Athletics Award
  • The Live Well Foundation of South Lake— Hall of Fame, Community Partner Award

Lake-Sumter State College Foundation Honors Hall of Fame Recipients and Distinguished Alumni Tuesday Night, Including Inside Lake’s Own Marilyn Aciego Read More »

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