MOUNT DORA, Florida—An Ocoee man is being held in the Lake County Jail on $37,000 bond for several charges after allegedly driving recklessly through a construction zone, fleeing a Florida Highway Patrol trooper and ramming the trooper’s car, according to an arrest affidavit.
Around 10: 30 p.m. Sunday, a trooper was on Wolfbranch Road approaching U.S. Highway 441 when he spotted a Chevrolet pickup truck run the northbound red light on U.S. Highway 441.
“It appeared as though the driver (later identified as Benton Wesley Smith) ‘stabbed’ the throttle intentionally and the rear end of the pickup broke traction,” the arresting trooped stated in the affidavit. The truck began to spin and entered the shoulder, where construction workers were present, of U.S. Highway 441 just north of Wolfbranch Road.
The trooped activated his emergency lights and the truck skidded into the parking lot of 7-Eleven at the corner of U.S. Highway 441 and Wolfbranch Road and the trooper pulled in behind Smith. Smith floored the accelerator, fishtailed and entered Wolfbranch Road with FHP in pursuit.
Smith, 54, “stabbed” the throttle again, according to the affidavit, and it caused the truck to turn counterclockwise and become “nose-to-nose” with the trooper’s car. Smith accelerated and struck the trooper’s car and backed up and attempted to drive away again. The trooper then used his car to strike the truck and push it into a culvert.
The trooper “challenged the driver at gunpoint,” and Smith put his hands up and said several things to the effect of “shoot me,” the affidavit states. Smith resisted as FHP walked him to a patrol car and failed to get onto the back seat; he told the arresting trooper he would, “shoot (him) in the head, right between (his) eyes,” the affidavit states.
Smith was arrested for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, fleeing and eluding, threats against a public servant, reckless driving and resisting an officer without violence.
MOUNT DORA, Florida—A man who allegedly has been harassing his uncle for about four months was arrested for several charges after being accused of driving a truck into a fence at his uncle’s home Monday morning and intimidating his uncle and his wife Monday evening.
Around 7:15 a.m. David Dwayne Johnson, 45, is alleged to have driven his truck into his uncle and aunt’s fence on 11th Avenue, destroying about 20 feet of the fence, according to an arrest affidavit. The couple called Mount Dora Police Department to respond and told an officer Johnson had been harassing them for around four months because Johnson’s uncle was Johnson’s father’s power of attorney.
They said Johnson constantly calls and texts making vague threats against their family and his behavior had intensified over the last few days, including driving by several times over the weekend, honking and yelling. The couple played a voicemail Johnson left that morning and provided video of the fence incident, the affidavit states.
Around 6:20 p.m. Monday, MDPD again responded to the couple’s home. The couple reported they left their home and Johnson pulled his vehicle “really close,” almost striking their truck. The female victim picked up a .38 caliber handgun and pointed it toward the roof to “show Johnson” the gun.
Both vehicles moved forward, and the female victim exited the truck with the gun and Johnson allegedly “quickly reversed the vehicle in her direction,” the affidavit states. The female victim pointed the gun at Johnson’s truck and fired, striking the driver’s side window and the windshield.
Johnson reported he had been shot at to an Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputy and MDPD responded and asked Johnson to accompany them to the police department. After interviewing Johnson, he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, criminal mischief and stalking. He is being held at the Lake County Jail on $16,000 bond.
TAVARES, Florida—Hundreds of people are expected to attend the third annual Lake County Backs the Blue Walk scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Tavares’ Wooton Park.
In its third 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. She grew up and was close friends with Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wayne Koester who 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.
“Almost the entire time my son played baseball; Chris Daniels was his coach.” Cook said.
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. She is hoping for a large turnout Saturday, last year’s efforts were hampered by unusually cold weather and it was held Easter weekend.
Saturday’s walk is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Wooton Park, 100 E. Ruby Street; donuts and coffee are being provided by Ralph Smith of Lake Tire & Auto before the event. Walkers will travel down Ruby Street to LCSO and then onto the Tavares Public Safety Complex before returning to Wooten Park for a hot dog lunch provided by Pamela O’Donnell and Vic Donahey of Vic’s Embers Catering.
Cook suggests participants use street parking in downtown Tavares, or park in the Tavares Parking Garage, 200 North Sinclair Avenue.
MOUNT DORA, Florida—A motorcyclist died Saturday night after he was rear-ended and thrown from his bike, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
A 64-year-old Mount Dora man was riding a 2021 Harley Davidson motorcycle eastbound on Old U.S. Highway 441 when he slowed to make a left turn onto Holly Drive around 8:45 p.m., FHP Lt. Kim Montes said in a press release.
A 2018 Hyundai being driven by a 34-year-old Mount Dora woman failed to slow and struck the back of the motorcycle as it approached the intersection, ejecting the rider. He was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares, where he succumbed to his injuries; he was wearing a helmet.
The woman was wearing her seatbelt and she was not injured. The crash remains under investigation, Montes said.
MOUNT DORA, Florida—A registered sex offender is facing a litany of sex-related charges after Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents searched his phone and found numerous files of sexually exploited children—some of them infants.
Christopher Michael Kinney, 35, of Leesburg, was originally arrested on Tuesday for possession of child pornography and failure to register as a sex offender and was released on $10,000 bond the following day. At the time of his arrest, his phone was seized, and agents found 20 more photos containing male and female children ranging from infants to 13 years old and arrested him again Thursday at his job in downtown Mount Dora, according to an arrest affidavit.
Kinney is now facing 22 counts of possession of child pornography, four counts of distribution of child pornography, two counts of failure to register an online identifier, two counts of distribution of harmful material to a minor and solicitation of a minor. Kinney is being held in the Lake County Jail on $76,000 bond and may be facing more charges.
“It should be noted a brief review of the results of the full forensic examination revealed there are potentially hundreds of additional files depicting child pornography,” the arresting FDLE agent noted in the affidavit.
The initial examination of the phone revealed Kinney using the chat app Wik-r with the username tdrifter69. He communicated with at least two individuals, one he believed to be a bisexual 15-year-old boy. He sent that individual a picture of a sexual organ and said, “I’m 35 bi into young and incest,” the affidavit states. Kinney also had a Grindr account with the username host fwb, but agents were unable to determine if he communicated with minors because of the way the app stores data.
In 2017, Kinney pleaded no contest to traveling to meet a minor for illegal sexual conduct, possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia. In that case, Kinney thought he was communicating with the father of a 13-year-old girl. He admitted to a Lake County Sheriff’s Office detective he sent a message that said, “bend her over the bed and break her in nice and slow.” Kinney was sentenced to 21 months in prison, followed by two years probation. He served 17 months of his sentence. It is unclear if he completed his probation term.
EUSTIS, Florida—A Eustis Police officer has resigned following an internal investigation that resulted in a five-day suspension, for what EPD Chief Craig Capri called an “egregious policy violation.”
Austin Williams, a four-year veteran of the department, resigned earlier this month after an internal investigation showed he violated the department’s pursuit policy, by pursuing a vehicle for a minor traffic violation and reaching speeds of up to 113 miles per hour. The vehicle he was pursuing crashed outside EPD’s jurisdiction, according to the internal affairs report.
“Once we were made aware of the egregious policy violation, we investigated and took corrective action,” Capri told Inside Lake. “Our agency is very transparent, and we have zero tolerance for (violations of this nature.)”
Around 10:45 p.m. March 13, Williams attempted to pull over a vehicle that failed to stop before the stop bar at a stop sign at West Stevens Avenue and South Bay Street. The white Ford sedan made a quick turn into a nearby gas station and quickly exited the parking lot when Williams activated his emergency lights on his unmarked patrol car.
The car accelerated and Williams activated his sirens and the car fled; Williams pursued the vehicle on Bay Street, speeding as fast as 93 miles per hour, according to the report. Williams turned off his lights and sirens around Bay Street and Chesley Avenue and notified Eustis dispatch the vehicle was going to run the light at Bay Street and Ardice Avenue and he was Code 4 (terminating the stop)—but he did not terminate the pursuit.
Williams continued to pursue the vehicle south on Bay Street (State Road 19) and ran a solid red light at RaceTrac gas station at 36 miles per hour, traveling at 80 miles per hour by the time he reached Long John Silvers, 2880 South Bay Street. When he came to the next light at Bay Street and the southbound ramp to U.S. Highway 441, he was traveling at 108 miles per hour. A vehicle pulled out in front of Williams, causing him to change lanes and decrease his speed to just under 100 miles per hour. His body camera captured him saying an expletive as the vehicle pulls out.
As Williams left Eustis city limits, he was traveling 108 miles per hour; he turned onto to Bay Road at 78 miles per hour and ran the stop sign at Bay Road and Dodson Cutoff, near the now-defunct Roll-Air skating rink.
He then requested dispatch notify Mount Dora Police Department the vehicle was entering its jurisdiction at about 80 miles per hour and Williams continued to follow the car outside the City of Eustis, without any further communication of his location, the report states.
Williams then approached Old U.S. Highway 441 and applied his brakes but ran the red light at the intersection and states, “I’m losing my (expletive) brakes, I’m gonna lose my (expletive) job if I don’t stop.”
Later, in an interview, Williams said he made that statement because he then realized he had violated EPD’s pursuit policy and admitted he had put other uninvolved parties in harm’s way.
Williams continued down Bay Road until it dead-ends at Lakeshore Drive and made a left turn, he then manually turned his body camera off. His dash camera was on and captured him increasing his speed from 12 miles per hour to 76 miles per hour until he spotted the vehicle crashed, upside down and on fire in front of a home, located in Lake County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction. Williams exited his unmarked patrol car, drew his gun, and began giving the driver continuous verbal commands to show his hands and exit the vehicle. EPD Dispatch asked Williams’ location, and he responded, “38 Eustis (Williams ID) I don’t know my cross, I’m on Lakeshore Drive in Mount Dora, the car is on fire and on its roof.”
Williams attempted to open the passenger door was only able to partially open it and he continued to give the driver loud verbal commands. The driver replied, “Help me,” in a soft, gentle voice, the report states. Williams yelled “Get out of the car,” and the driver stated, “I can’t move.”
Williams continued to give verbal commands to the driver and again pointed his weapon at the driver and made no further efforts to assist the driver while continuing to give him verbal commands, according to the report.
A second EPD officer arrived on scene and Williams holsters his weapon and tells the second officer to grab a fire extinguisher. Williams then pulled the driver from the car and the driver denied committing the original traffic violation. Multiple agencies arrived and began assisting and the driver was transported to the hospital for medical treatment. From the time Williams called in the traffic stop to the time of the crash was only 3 minutes 33 seconds, according to the report.
An EPD road patrol sergeant arrived soon after and Williams reportedly said, “I was not 10-31, I know that’s the first question you’re gonna ask;” 10-31 is code for “in pursuit.” Williams was later questioned during the investigation and said he did not believe he was pursuing the vehicle, he believed he was trying to “locate the vehicle.”
EPD found that Williams did violate policy and he was given a five-day suspension without pay. Williams served the suspension and resigned the following day.
TAVARES, Florida—Lake County residents with minor criminal histories have a unique opportunity to quickly and efficiently expunge or seal their record Saturday if they qualify, at the first-ever Sealing and Expungement clinic offered here.
Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida is teaming up with the Lake County Bar Association and Lake Young Lawyers Division to offer this free 4-hour clinic scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lake County Courthouse, 550 West Main Street, Tavares. Lawyers and representatives from numerous government agencies will be on hand to help participants navigate through the process, which often can be difficult to do on their own or expensive to hire a private attorney, said Taylor Tremel, an attorney who will be available on-site Saturday, to help. Lake County Clerk of Court Gary Cooney is waiving certain fees and providing the space for the clinic, Tremel said.
Tremel, who has served as an assistant state attorney and a public defender, is now in private practice with the firm Bowen & Schroth in Eustis and is enthusiastic about being a part of this program. “We saw that there was a need, and I thought it was a worthwhile thing to take on” he told Inside Lake.
“This brings everybody together under one roof to help and answer questions. It’s not very often all these groups get together to do something like this,” Tremel said.
Many crimes are not eligible to be sealed or expunged, including violent offenses, Tremel said. If a person was adjudicated guilty for a crime, they are not eligible either.
Participants’ criminal case must have occurred in Lake County to partake in the event and are asked to pre-register at Clinic Screening (legalserver.org) and those who do, may qualify for assistance with the $75 Florida Department of Law Enforcement application fee. Tremel said participants should not overstate their income or overrepresent how much money they have in the bank.
Tremel is hoping for a large turnout Saturday, “It’s a really awesome event,” he said. “I think it’s something that can be done annually.”
TAVARES, Florida—Tavares Police Department has released the names of two people shot Friday, but the suspect is still on the run.
Alejandro “Alex” Garcia Jr., 29, was killed around 8 p.m. Friday night at Caroline Court Apartments, 1000 E. Caroline Street, and Darnell Lester, 31, was shot numerous times and appeared to attempt to leave the scene himself and get help, but crashed the vehicle he was driving, TPD Det. Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake. He was removed from the vehicle and airlifted to a local hospital. The vehicle contained several bullet holes, Sullivan said.
“It’s still unclear how many gunshot wounds he (Lester) suffered,” Sullivan said. ”Somewhere between three and six times. He is stable, but unable to talk.”
Garcia, of Mount Dora, was pronounced dead on the scene and TPD has received information there was a fight immediately before the shooting but are working to determine a clear motive; it is unknown how many people were targeted. Witnesses have given police very little information and they do not have a suspect or vehicle description, said Sullivan, who is the lead detective on the case, and the department’s public information officer.
Neither Garcia nor Lester lived at the complex but were known to hang out there and are related to each other, Sullivan said. Lester’s last known is address is Apopka.
TPD is urging witnesses to come forward and plan to offer a reward through Crimeline. Crimeline callers can remain anonymous. If you have information, call 1-800-423-TIPS.
MOUNT DORA, Florida—Two employees of a local marijuana dispensary were arrested Monday after an anonymous caller tipped their employer off to ongoing thefts according to their arrest affidavits.
Hector Alexander Valle Roman, 24, and Danielle Caitlynn Eiler, also 24, were both arrested by Lake County Sheriff’s Office detectives after the security manager of Curaleaf Dispensary, 4149 Britt Road, Mount Dora reported multiple thefts of “flower.” Flower is a term for marijuana in its natural bud form.
The security manager told LCSO the security manager at their Gainesville location received a call from an anonymous tipster alleging that three people at the Mount Dora location were stealing 1 to 3 pounds of “flower” each night and posting photos on SnapChat. The tipster later said Roman, who worked as a lead and Eiler, a supervisor, would fill a machine and then say it was clogged, so they would empty it. Roman and Eiler both worked night shift, along with a third employee who was in on the scheme. That employee is not named in either affidavit.
The security manager reviewed surveillance and found that on Nov. 24. 2021, Eiler, of Tavares, filled three bags with “flower” and then took them to the manager’s office; five days later she filled seven bags with an unnamed coworker and took those bags into the office and on Dec. 1, 2021, the pair filled two bags and took them into the office concealed under paper.
On Feb. 14, 2022, Roman, of Orlando, and Eiler filled a total of 11 bags with “flower” on three separate occasions and took them to the office and 18 bags on the following day. The duo stole eight more bags that week, according to the affidavit. On Feb. 24, security installed a camera in the manager’s office that Eiler ultimately discovered, and the thefts ceased.
In total, Eiler, who was employed with Curaleaf for more than two years, stole 49 bags of “flower” weighing almost 11 pounds and worth nearly $50,000, the affidavit states. Eiler was questioned and admitted stealing about 50 bags of “flower.” She said she would sell it to her friend “Jose” who lives in Orlando for $100 an ounce and she would give Roman a cut. Roman was taken into custody and refused to answer questions, according to the affidavit.
Both Eiler and Roman were arrested for grand theft and transported to the Lake County Jail, where they were released on $5,000 bond.
VOLUSIA COUNTY, Florida— A man and woman are dead, and two men are recovering from injuries after a car hit two motorcycles Saturday night near DeLand and a third man suffered minor injuries when he laid his motorcycle down to avoid the crash.
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. a 41-year-old male of Orlando was eastbound on State Road 44 near Eau Claire Avenue in a Toyota Corolla, when he traveled into the westbound lane for an unknown reason, according to Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Kim Montes.
The Corolla struck two motorcycles, one being ridden by a 38-year-old Mount Dora man, and the second being ridden by 36-year-old man of Titusville. The crash killed the Titusville man and his passenger, a 46-year-old woman of Wisconsin. The driver of the Corolla and the Mount Dora man were seriously injured. None of the motorcyclists were wearing their helmets.
A 41-year-old Sorrento man, who was wearing a helmet, laid his motorcycle down and received minor injuries. This crash comes on just the second day of Daytona Bike week, scheduled through March 13.