Mount Dora

Report Reveals Details in Child Neglect Case, Victim’s Mom Speaks Only with Inside Lake

UMATILLA, Florida—The young girl left in a sweltering hot van last summer for 1 hour and 22 minutes beat on the van’s windows and doors and honked the horn until she was rescued, and the adults in charge of her failed to call 9-1-1, according to the girl’s mom and a report obtained by Inside Lake.

The girl, who was three weeks shy of her 7th birthday when the incident occurred in June 2022, fell asleep on a field trip to the Umatilla Public Pool and the adults who were responsible for her care failed to notice she was in the van and failed to count the children when they arrived at the pool to an outside temperature of 90 degrees last summer, according to the report written by Umatilla Police Department.

Inside Lake is not naming the girl or her mother.

According to the report, the child was at a summer camp held by Dance Depot at its Mount Dora location June 22, 2022, when a group of 41 children and seven staff members made the trek to the pool in three different vehicles. Dance Depot Owner Jolene Coates, 51, told UPD when they arrived at the pool, she said they counted the children but did not walk the length of the van due to the back doors being open at the time. Coates said 41 children were in the count and another child that was not in their group must have been counted by accident. Coates was not driving the van the child was trapped in. Another employee—the van’s driver— told police during a later interview that a head count was conducted before they left the studio, but not after they arrived at the pool, contradicting the statement Coates made to police. She told police Coates usually conducts the head counts, but sometimes that can change, and she was just “so busy” that day she did not conduct a count. Inside Lake is not naming the employee because she has not been charged with a crime.

Coates told police in a second interview in July 2022 she did not have any medical training except a recently expired CPR certification and “mom skills.” She said she did everything she would do if it was one of her own children.

The day of the incident, numerous people heard honking coming from outside the pool, Coates went out to investigate and found the girl locked in the van and ran to get the keys to let her out, the report states. Coates told police the girl had been left in the van approximately 40 to 50 minutes, but surveillance video later showed the girl had actually been alone in the locked van for 82 minutes, close to 1.5 hours. The video shows the campers arriving and entering the pool at 1:42 p.m., and just before 3:03 p.m. Coates is seen walking from the pool area to the parking lot. One minute later Coates is seen running back to the pool area to retrieve the keys to the van and at 3:05 p.m. Coates is seen walking back to the pool area with the girl.

The video also showed the girl’s face was “extremely” red and the top half of her shirt was so soaked with sweat, it appeared to be a darker color than the bottom half, an officer noted in the report.

Coates said she removed the child from the van, took her in a bathroom, removed her bathing suit, put cold water on her pulse points and neck. She then had the girl sit in the shade and gave her a popsicle. Three lifeguards told UPD the girl was crying and one of them, a juvenile, said the girl was having trouble breathing.

Coates said about 5 minutes later the girl asked to get in the pool, and she swam with her friends the rest of the time she was at the pool.

Jolene Coates

When Inside Lake broke the story Wednesday, it garnered dozens of comments on social media and opinions and rumors started flying, including a rumor that the girl continued to attend the summer camp following the incident. The girl’s mom spoke to this reporter Thursday to set the record straight.

According to Mom, Coates did not inform her about the incident until she picked her daughter up that afternoon and she was not truthful.

“We were not immediately notified,” she said.

Mom said Coates did apologize and she could tell Coates was “torn about something.” Coates told her they would be working on new training to make sure there was a head count as soon as they got out of the van, and it was a new employee who did not follow procedure.

She said when a UPD officer called her the day after the incident she was shocked to find out her little girl had been in the van much longer than Coates portrayed.

“The thing that caught me off guard…is that the time frame did not match with what was shown on the surveillance video. It seemed like a quick in-and-out thing, not an extended amount of time.”

The girl returned to the camp the next day, but once UPD told Mom how long the girl had actually been trapped in the van, her father immediately went to the studio and picked her up and she never returned, Mom said.

“Because of the conversation we had with Jolene (Coates,) and we had entrusted her, and we knew of her reputation; it was an accident. And then once we got the report from the police and the witness statements, we realized we were lied to, I immediately called my husband, and he promptly went and got her out of there.”

People on social media also questioned why the child did not get out of the van on her own, “She was banging on the doors, she banged on the windows, she couldn’t open the doors, she couldn’t open the windows. Her hands, they were beet red, like the veins on her hands were bloodshot from banging on them and then she was able to get to the horn, thankfully.”

When Mom and Dad spoke with police the day after the incident, they pressed charges that day, Mom said, and the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) had already planned on picking up the charges. She said the SAO told them in August 2022, an arrest could take a long time, as much as a year or more and they could only charge one party and the office felt the owner was the most liable. It was nearly 11 months since the incident when the principal to child neglect warrant was finally issued, and it took another week for her to get arrested. She was arrested and released Monday on $2,000 bond.

The second grader does not have any lasting physical injuries, but the incident has taken an emotional toll on her, Mom said. Her parents have had to reevaluate how they do certain things, and they rearranged their schedules this summer so they can spend the summer with her, rather than enroll her in a summer camp. Mom told Inside Lake she has become a “helicopter mom” and no longer trusts anyone to watch the girl outside of family.

Mom said she would like to see Coates get the maximum punishment and accountability for her actions. “I want the most responsible outcome anyone would expect out of this. If this was their child, like anybody else, if this was their child, how would they feel?”

Owner of Popular Dance Studio Accused of Leaving Girl, 6, in Hot Vehicle Last Summer

UMATILLA, Florida—The owner of a popular dance studio with locations in Umatilla and Mount Dora was arrested at her home in Altoona Monday for child neglect, according to Lake County Clerk of Court Records.

Jolene Amy Coates, 51, owner of Dance Depot was picked up on the warrant by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office stemming from an incident in June 2022. The warrant was a direct file from Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney William “Bill” Gladson’s office May 10.

According to the information filed in the warrant, Coates, “while being responsible for the welfare of the (undisclosed victim)” left a child unsupervised in a hot vehicle with temperatures above 90 degrees. The child’s name is redacted from one copy of the document, and Inside Lake is not releasing her name. It is unclear what relationship Coates had to the girl, who was 6 years old at the time.

Details in the public record are limited and Inside Lake was tipped off to the arrest after business hours Wednesday.

According to Coates’ arrest affidavit, she was arrested at her home in Altoona Monday afternoon and transported to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $2,000 bond.

Dance Depot’s website lists Coates as the owner/director and states she teaches princess classes, combination classes and works with Revolution, the performance company. The studio also offers a summer camp, according to its website.

Substitute Teacher Arrested For Child Abuse After Letting 7th Grader Hit Vape In Class. “I Was Just Trying To Fit In.”

EUSTIS, Florida—A substitute teacher was arrested Friday for child abuse after letting a 7th grade student hit a vape pen, because she was just trying to fit in, according to an arrest affidavit.

The student told the Eustis Police Department school resource officer (SRO) he and his friend were talking in their last class period Tuesday when the friend made a comment about vaping and Jennifer Gaine Hale, 50, of Mount Dora said she had one, the affidavit states; Hale was substituting at Eustis Middle School and in charge of the class.

The boy walked up to her desk and Hale pulled out a multi-colored nicotine vape and asked him if he wanted to “hit it.” Hale told the boy not to tell anyone because she did not want to get into trouble, according to the affidavit. The boy hit the vape once and gave it back to Hale. Hale is alleged to have told him to be careful because there was a salt-like substance on it, but the boy did not know what it was.

Another student reported the incident to the school’s administration and the EMS principal questioned Hale on Wednesday while she was on campus substituting for another class. Hale reportedly admitted the misdeed and told the principal, “I was just trying to fit in.”

The principal escorted Hale off campus and told her not to return and reported the incident to Lake County Schools Human Resources and reported it to the SRO.

The following day, the SRO and the principal met with the boy’s mom, who was “very upset” and told the SRO she wanted to press charges, the affidavit states. Hale was arrested for child abuse at her home in Mount Dora Friday and booked into the Lake County Jail; she was released Sunday on $1,000 bond.

Hale is no longer employed by Lake County Schools, LCS Administrative Coordinator of Communications Sherri Owens told Inside Lake Monday morning.

Fourth Annual Lake County Back the Blue Walk Scheduled for Saturday

TAVARES, Florida—Law enforcement and supporters will join forces for the fourth annual Lake County Back the Blue Walk at Wooton Park Saturday morning.

Scheduled for 9 a.m., this is one of many law enforcement events around Lake County held in May during Law Enforcement Appreciation Month. In its fourth 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. Her 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.

Shannon Cook shows off one of the many gifts she has for the law enforcement officers who attend the walk Saturday. PHOTO: Shannon Cook

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. Usually a one-woman show, Cook has some help this year from Wayne Koester’s brother, Victor Koester, Jolie Fowler, owner of The Car Doctor Automotive Specialist Inc., in Eustis, Lt. Kristin Thompson of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Nina Rosania, who is very active in the community, especially in her efforts helping out small businesses in Lake County.

Participants will meet a 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. Donuts will be provided before the walk by Lake Tire & Auto in Tavares, and a hot dog lunch will be available at Kalua Beach Bar, provided by the restaurant and Duct-Man Mechanical LLC in Eustis.

CNA Admits to Abusing Elderly Woman and Posting it to Social Media to Get “Likes”

MOUNT DORA—A Leesburg woman was arrested Wednesday after an anonymous email was sent to her place of employment advising she was abusing an elderly patient and posting it on social media, according to an arrest affidavit.

Mount Dora Police Department responded to an assisted living facility in the city after an employee reported receiving the email that included a video posted to TikTok showing Gabriel V. Woods, 34, wearing a green work shirt and black pants, with “extremely distinct” gold and silver bracelets dancing to a song. The video was captioned “Nurse: The resident fell out of bed…Me: but this song hit I’ll pick her up in a min.”

The name of the facility is redacted from the affidavit.

The email also included a photo posted on Facebook of an arm with the same bracelets grabbing and twisting the lips of an 88-year-old dementia patient, according to the affidavit. The photo is captioned, “Twisting my Resident Lip Because Uon (Expletive) Before Shift Change.”

When Woods arrived at work Wednesday, MDPD questioned her and she admitted she was in the video and photo and the social media accounts belonged to her, the affidavit states. She said the video was not real and a there was no patient in need of assistance. She did admit to touching the woman in the photo, but said it was not forceful. She also told MDPD there no reason to touch the dementia patient’s mouth other than to make a post to gain social media likes.

Woods was arrested for abuse, aggravated abuse and neglect of an elderly person. She was transported to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $2,000 bond.

Details Released After Fugitive Taken Into Custody Nearly 2 Months After Skipping Out on DUI Manslaughter Trial

MOUNT DORA, Florida— The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has released details about the apprehension of Zachery Waldo Wednesday.

Waldo, 36, was tracked down by the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force that includes a deputy from LCSO, LCSO Lt. Fred Jones told Inside Lake.

He was found at Lakeside Inn, 100 Alexander Street, a popular downtown Mount Dora hotel, shortly before 11 a.m.  

“They boxed him in, in the parking lot,” Jones said.

A $10,000 reward was being offered for information leading to Waldo’s capture, but no one will be getting the reward because the Marshals developed information on their own and found him, Jones said.

Waldo disappeared on a lunch break during his DUI manslaughter trial March 14 where he stood accused of killing three members of the same family in Leesburg in 2019.

On Christmas Eve 2019, Waldo was driving a 2019 Dodge Ram around 8:30 p.m. eastbound on Dixie Avenue approaching Dozier Court, when a 2018 Toyota Corolla being driven by Christopher Smith attempted to make a left turn on Dozier Court from westbound Dixie Avenue, Leesburg Police Capt. Joe Iozzi said following the crash.

The event data recorder (EDR) for the Ram recorded the Ram’s speed at 84.5 mph one tenth of a second from the time of impact, but just 2 seconds before the Ram was traveling at 96.3 mph, according to the report. The posted speed limit is 35 mph, and a witness told LPD the Ram did not slow down, and the brake lights did not illuminate. A witness also put Waldo behind the wheel just before the crash and DNA confirmed, Iozzi told Inside Lake.

The front of the Ram struck right side of the Toyota, killing Smith, 44, and his wife, Jessica Smith, 35, both of Eustis. They were pronounced dead on the scene. The couple’s two children,11-year-old Hunter and 13-year-old Hailey, who were passengers in the Toyota, were taken to Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children for treatment. Hailey succumbed to her injuries and died on Christmas Day.

Waldo and his passenger, Kevin Cunningham, 33, were taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center for their injuries. LPD obtained hospital records and Waldo was found to have an alcohol level twice the legal limit, along with amphetamines and benzos in his system, according to the report.

Upon searching the Ram, LPD found a loaded Ruger .40 caliber handgun stolen from Mount Dora, six sandwich bags containing 157.8 grams of marijuana and six cell phones, according to the report.  

A warrant was issued for Waldo’s arrest in 2020 and in August of that year, LCSO deputies and U.S. Marshals were conducting surveillance and spied Waldo getting into a black Dodge SUV. Waldo drove out of a neighborhood on Chain O Lakes Road near Grand Island and rolled a stop sign at County Road 44, according to an arrest affidavit. An LCSO deputy attempted a traffic stop and Waldo sped off, running other vehicles off the road. Multiple units attempted to stop Waldo and he struck an LCSO patrol car and crashed through a fence on Tall Oak Court, the affidavit states.

Waldo fled on foot and hid in the bushes of a home on Grand Island Oaks Circle and asked for a ride from a man returning home from work. The man denied him the ride and Waldo took off again and jumped over a fence to Laurel Crest Court. He was found lying on the ground wearing nothing but underwear, the affidavit states.  

Three days later, he posted a $148,000 bond and was released from LCJ.

Waldo stood trial in March 2023 for the crimes. He was still out on bond and not in custody, so he was allowed to leave the courthouse during a lunch break He never came back from that break on the second day of his trial. LPD, LCSO and U.S. Marshals began searching for him immediately and he was found guilty in absentia by a jury the same day.

A little more than a month ago, Waldo’s girlfriend, Melinesia Shauntel Jones, 32,  was arrested for her part in helping him elude capture. Jones was charged in March with principal to failure to appear, accessory after the fact to DUI manslaughter, false information to law enforcement in a felony investigation, and accessory after the fact to DUI with serious bodily injury. Her home on East Street in Leesburg was searched by U.S. Marshals and LPD, but Waldo was not there. Jones was arrested and held for a month at the Lake County Jail, before being released Thursday on $13,000 bond.

Waldo, now charged with failure to appear, is being held on no bond.

Where’s Waldo? In the Lake County Jail. Man Who Skipped Out on DUI Manslaughter Trial Apprehended Wednesday

MOUNT DORA, Florida— The man who left for lunch during his DUI manslaughter trial in March was taken into custody Wednesday morning.

Zachery Maurice Waldo, 36, was on trial for killing Christopher Smith, 44, his wife, Jessica Smith, 35, and their daughter Hailey Smith, 13, all of Eustis, more than three years ago. Their son Hunter, just 11 years old at the time, was the sole survivor in the vehicle his family was riding in. Christopher and Jessica died on the scene of the Christmas Eve 2019 crash and Hailey died on Christmas Day 2019.

As his trial was underway on March 14, Waldo left the Lake County Courthouse on a lunch break and never came back; Waldo was out on bond for the crimes and that is why he was allowed to leave the courthouse during the break. Leesburg Police Department, LCSO and U.S. Marshals began searching for him immediately and he was found guilty in absentia by a jury the same day.

He was found in Mount Dora Wednesday morning and taken to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on no bond, according to online booking records. Inside Lake is working to get details on his apprehension.

2 Tavares Middle School Students Arrested Thursday for Threatening School Shooting

TAVARES, Florida—Two 13-year-old girls were arrested Thursday after Tavares Middle School (TMS) students reported finding a threat written on a mirror in one of the girls’ bathrooms on campus, according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

The TMS school resource deputy (SRD) quickly identified two female students who might be responsible from video surveillance at the school and deputies searched their backpacks and found markers that matched the writing on the mirror, LCSO said. Grace Edge, of Mount Dora admitted to writing part of the threat and said her friend Amiya Walker, wrote the second half of the message. Walker denied her involvement, according to an arrest affidavit.

Both girls were arrested for written threats to kill and disruption of a school function, transported to the Lake County Jail and then turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

This is the second incident in a Tavares school this week. On Monday, Freddy Adams, 16 was arrested at Tavares High School after being found with a 9mm handgun in his backpack.  

Man Attempts to Drive Himself to the Hospital Following Shooting Thursday Afternoon

EUSTIS, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a shooting that occurred Thursday, according to LCSO Lt. Fred Jones.

A male was shot at a home on Southland Road in unincorporated Mount Dora around 4:15 p.m. Thursday during a dispute, Jones said.

The man attempted to drive himself to the hospital and had two small children in his vehicle, Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri told Inside Lake. His vehicle came to a rest in the parking lot of Golden Corral, 15810 U.S. Highway 441, Eustis and EPD officers responded and rendered aid, Capri said. The male was later airlifted to an Orlando hospital, Jones said.

This is a developing story.

A man was shot in unincorporated Mount Dora Thursday and attempted to drive himself to the hospital. He came to a stop in the parking lot of the Golden Corral in Eustis. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

Mount Dora Man Killed in Marion County Crash

MARION COUNTY, Florida—The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a crash that killed a 41-year-old Mount Dora man near Ocala Saturday afternoon.

 The man was driving a pickup truck at a high rate of speed southbound on U.S. Highway 441 approaching Northwest 77th Street, when he failed to slow and rear-ended a tractor-trailer, just after 3:15 p.m. Saturday, troopers said.

The Mount Dora man was trapped inside the truck and later pronounced deceased on the scene by Marion County Fire Rescue. The driver of the tractor-trailer, a 32-year-old Jacksonville woman, suffered minor injuries, according to FHP.

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