Third Annual Back the Blue Walk Scheduled for Saturday

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.

PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

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.

Tavares Man Accused of Trying to Open Patrol Car Door and Take Deputy’s Gun

TAVARES, Florida—A man is being held in the Lake County Jail on $26,000 bond after getting into his neighbor’s vehicle, trying to get into a Lake County Sheriff’s Office patrol car and telling a deputy, “give me your gun, sir,” and trying to fight him for it, according to an arrest affidavit.

LCSO deputies responded to the 12000 block of Lona Street around 6 p.m. Saturday, after receiving a report of a physical altercation. When the first deputy arrived and began to walk to the door of the residence, Jordan Michael Lanier, 32, started actively pulling on the door handle of the deputy’s patrol car. The deputy ordered Lanier to stop, and he ignored his commands, the affidavit states.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The deputy walked toward his vehicle and Lanier walked towards him in an “aggressive manner.”  The deputy ordered Lanier to step back, and he reportedly replied, “Give me your gun, sir,” and lunged for the deputy’s gun and a physical altercation ensued, according to the affidavit.

The deputy then used his taser and Lanier continued to resist; it took three teaser deployments to get him into custody, the deputy noted. Lanier continued to resist on scene and at LCJ and it took multiple officers to restrain him. Lanier is facing several charges, including two counts of grand theft of a motor vehicle, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting an officer with violence and strong arm robbery. 

Former Firefighter Pleads No Contest in DUI Manslaughter Case, Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

TAVARES, Florida—The former Eustis firefighter accused of killing a young woman while he was driving drunk has pleaded no contest to DUI manslaughter.

According to Lake County Clerk of Court online records, Downs was sentenced to six years in prison and must serve at least four years, followed by four years on probation, $2,100 fine, community service, restitution, court costs and he will lose his driver license for the rest of his life.

Downs, who was the deputy chief of the volunteer Umatilla Fire Department, an engineer medic at Eustis Fire Department, and former local paramedic of the year was later terminated from both of his positions.

He was off-duty at the time of the three-vehicle crash on March 19, 2020 and was traveling eastbound in a 2016 Dodge Ram on State Road 44 near Huff Road when he failed to stop and struck the back of a 2017 Nissan Sentra, “propelling” it into the back of a stopped dump truck. The Nissan, being driven by Catherine Eaglin, of DeLand was stopped on State Road 44, facing east, behind a 2020 dump truck being driven by William Gomes, 33, of Orlando, shortly after 11:15 p.m., according to the crash report.

Eaglin, who turned 23 just six days before the crash, was pronounced dead on the scene, and was wearing a seatbelt. Downs, of Eustis, was airlifted to Central Florida Regional Medical Center and he was not wearing a seatbelt. Gomes was transported by Lake EMS to AdventHealth Waterman; he was wearing his seatbelt.

Catherine Eaglin was killed in a crash March 19, 2020, just six days after her 23rd birthday, after her car was struck by a drunk driver. Michael Downs, a former firefighter, pleaded no contest to DUI manslaughter Monday and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Downs was charged with DUI manslaughter, three counts of DUI with property damage and one count of false information on a crash report for falsely claiming he was infected with COVID-19. Downs pleaded no contest to DUI manslaughter and the other four charges were dropped, according to court records.

A Florida Highway Patrol crash report states Downs’ BAC was .155, nearly twice Florida’s legal limit. It is unclear exactly what time the blood was drawn, but it was after Downs was transported by air to Central Florida Regional Medical Center in Sanford.

“FHP had to subpoena medical blood, as Cpl. [Eric] Almeyda was unable to obtain blood from Mr. Downs,” Montes said in an email in 2020. “With the challenge of not being able to obtain a blood sample that night, Cpl. Almeyda immediately subpoenaed the medical blood and completed the investigation before making an arrest.’

Downs also claimed he may have COVID-19. “When Cpl. Almeyda arrived at the hospital to interview and evaluate Mr. Downs, he was told by the nurses that Mr. Downs claimed he may have COVID-19,” Montes said in an email. “The hospital staff placed Cpl. Almeyda in full protective PPE to go in the room to talk with Mr. Downs.”

At the hospital, no routine field sobriety exercises were possible, nor was it possible for traffic homicide investigator Almeyda to get close enough to Downs to determine whether he had physical signs of impairment — such as bloodshot eyes or the odor of alcohol on his breath. “We couldn’t do anything because he was claiming COVID-19,” Montes told this reporter in 2020.

Downs allegedly made the claim just 10 days after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Florida due to COVID-19.

He was taken into custody Monday at the Lake County Courthouse after entering his plea and is being held at the Lake County Jail until he is transferred to state prison.

Free Sealing and Expungement Clinic Scheduled for Saturday

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.”

Third Annual Lake County Back the Blue Walk

The third annual Back the Blue Walk will be held on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at 9 am. Walkers will begin at Wooton Park with stops at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and Tavares Public Safety Complex and back to Wooton Park for lunch. Come honor all law enforcement and wear blue. Signs will be on site for anyone needing one but bring your own if you would like. Flags are also welcome. Event host Shannon Cook said “Lets show our LEO’s some love for all they do!!!”

PHOTO: Lake County Back the Blue Facebook Event Page

For more information contact event host Shannon Cook on the Lake County Back the Blue Walk Event Facebook Page. https://www.facebook.com/events/396124532073108?ref=newsfeed

Eustis Man “Surprises” Sister with Stolen Trailer Tracked from Polk County, Arrested for Grand Theft

TAVARES, Florida—A man who “surprised” his sister with a stolen trailer was arrested Monday after the Polk County victim pinpointed the trailer in Tavares using a tracking device.

Tavares Police responded to a construction site near Camp Street and Mansfield Road and found the trailer attached to a Ford truck. The officer ran the trailer’s license plate and confirmed it was stolen out of Polk County, then he ran the license plate of the truck it was attached to and found the registered owner was on site, according to an arrest affidavit.

When TPD spoke to the truck’s owner, she said her brother, Kenneth Ray Hutchinson, 44, had borrowed her truck Sunday to go to Lakeland and returned Monday morning with the truck and the trailer. She said she had previously told her brother she wanted a trailer and he “surprised” her with the trailer that day. When she asked him where he got it, he told her “from a friend,” the affidavit states.

Hutchinson, of Eustis, was arrested for grand theft and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $2,000 bond.

Tavares Police Release Shooting Victim’s Names, Urging Witnesses to Come Forward

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.”

PHOTO: Tavares Police Department

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.

Two People Shot, One Killed in Tavares Friday Night

TAVARES, Florida—Tavares Police Department is searching for a suspect who shot two people Friday night at an apartment complex, killing one of them, TPD Det. Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake.

TPD responded to a report of a shooting at Caroline Court Apartments, 1000 E. Caroline Street shortly after 8 p.m. The suspect fled the scene and had not been apprehended at press time. One person was killed and the second person was airlifted to a local hospital.

The names of the victims are not being released pending notification of next of kin, Sullivan said. TPD detectives are asking anyone with information to call 352-343-2101, then press 4.

Woman Busted By Eustis Police With 4 lbs. of Marijuana In January Pleads No Contest

TAVARES, Florida—A woman busted by Eustis Police early this year with nearly 4 pounds of marijuana, scales, THC oil, chocolate bars containing hallucinogenic mushrooms and two concealed guns pleaded no contest to several of the charges Monday and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, with a credit of three days. Her legal woes are not over, however, she is still facing numerous charges in Orange County.

Miranda April Mauck, 30, of Okahumpka, pleaded no contest to three charges Monday, possession of marijuana with intent to sell and two counts of carrying a concealed firearm, according to Lake County Clerk of Court online records. Mauck was originally arrested for those charges in addition to possession of THC oil, possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms and possession of drug paraphernalia. The possession of THC oil and possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms charges were dropped, the disposition of the paraphernalia charge is unclear. Mauck was pulled over for speeding 17 miles over the posted limit by Eustis Police on Jan. 3 and the smell of marijuana was emitting from her vehicle, the arresting officer noted in the arrest affidavit.

A K9 alerted to drugs in her vehicle and upon searching, officers found marijuana in a backpack in plain view on the front passenger floorboard, more than $2,000 cash, a Glock 9mm, a Ruger .380, scales, marijuana packaging, THC oil, vape bars and 10 chocolate bars containing Psilocybin mushrooms. Mauck was arrested and released on $14,000 bond. Less than three weeks later, on Jan. 23, Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies learned of an illegal “Cannabis Exhibition” in a room at Point Hotel & Suites, 7389 Universal Boulevard, Orlando. The cannabis party was advertised on the Instagram account ”LadyNugsOfficial,” deputies later identified the account holder as Mauck, according to an Orange County probable cause affidavit.

OCSO drove to the hotel and began surveilling the property. They found a white Toyota registered to Mauck and observed two white males who appeared to be acting as “lookouts,” according to the affidavit. They left a short time later in an SUV and were pulled over. Though, deputies could smell a strong odor of marijuana, none was found during a search. The driver, Christopher Bordoy, was released on scene, along with his passenger. Mauck then left the hotel in her Toyota and was also pulled over. Again, deputies smelled a strong odor of marijuana and searched the vehicle. They found 17 grams of marijuana in a pill bottle and Mauck was taken into custody. OCSO found a room key during the search and after taking to the manager, they found the room was registered to Bordoy. OCSO and the manager went to the room where they found a bag of food in front of the door with Mauck’s name, a deputy noted in the affidavit.

PHOTO: Eustis Police Department

They entered the room and found cannabis residue and multiple suitcases and after securing a search warrant, they searched the room. They found multiple bags of cannabis and edibles and more than $7,500 in cash. The cannabis weighed 25.2 pounds and the edibles weighed 52 pounds, according to the affidavit. OCSO has since filed forfeiture proceedings against Mauck and Bordoy on the cash, according to Orange County Clerk of Court online records.

Mauck’s Instagram name, “LadyNugsOfficial” appeared on multiple cannabis bags, a CashApp card and paperwork, the affidavit states. A warrant was issued for trafficking in a controlled substance, trafficking in cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia on Jan. 27. On Feb. 13, a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy spotted a grey Audi and found the registered owner, Mauck, had an Orange County warrant. Mauck was pulled over and arrested on the warrant. LCSO searched her vehicle and found more than 20 grams of marijuana in multiple packages and THC oil. She was arrested on those charges as well as the Orange County warrant, but the Lake County charges were later dropped.

Nearly 10 years ago, Mauck witnessed her boyfriend get shot by an LCSO deputy. On July 15, 2012, Mauck’s boyfriend, Andrew Lee “Drew” Scott, 26, was killed when a deputy came to his door—the wrong door—looking for a battery suspect. A lawsuit filed in 2013 by Mauck and Scott’s parents against then-Sheriff Gary borders and Deputy Richard Sylvester claimed, Sylvester, “banged on the door” of Mauck’s apartment in Leesburg in the early morning, “in such a manner to bewilder or frighten the residents and foreseeably place said residents in a defense posture.”

Mauck and Scott were watching TV in apartment 114 at Blueberry Hill Apartments in Leesburg and Scott, fearing for their safety, retrieved his legally owned handgun and opened the door. Sylvester fired six shots, striking Scott at least three times and killing him. Mauck was struck by glass and debris. Sylvester did not announce himself as law enforcement and was not criminally charged. In response to the lawsuit, defendants Borders and Sylvester filed a motion for a summary judgment and the court granted Sylvester qualified immunity and denied Mauck’s and Scott’s parent’s claims. They appealed the ruling and Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling.

Homeless Man Accused of Threatening Worker in Tavares with Realistic BB Gun Because Leaf Blower Disturbed His Sleep

TAVARES, Florida—A homeless man was arrested Wednesday after he pulled a realistic-looking BB gun on lawn maintenance worker because his leaf blower was disturbing the man’s sleep.

The worker called Tavares Police around 7:30 a.m. and said he got into a confrontation with two homeless subjects, one later identified as William Ray Turner, 35. Inside Lake is not naming the second subject because he was not charged with a crime. The victim said he was working on a property on Classique Lane when Turner and the second man confronted him. He said Turner pulled a pistol from his pants and pointed at him and then ran towards U.S. Highway 441 and Mount Homer Road, according to the arrest affidavit.

TPD responded and quickly located Turner and found he had a realistic looking BB gun near him on the ground and Turner was questioned, the affidavit states.

PHOTO: Tavares Police Department

The victim told police Turner came out of his “sleeping quarters” while he was blowing leaves and lifted his shirt to show the victim he had a gun tucked into his waistband. “The Co2 BB gun that was recovered from (Turner) is a replica-like gun that identically resembles a real firearm both in appearance and weight,” a TPD detective noted in the affidavit.

The victim said Turner removed the gun from his waist, pointed at the victim and “racked a round in the chamber,” and told the victim to “stop working,” The second subject also told the victim to stop working, but did not make any threats and walked away in the opposite direction, the affidavit states.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Turner told TPD every morning the workers use blowers and near where he sleeps, and it makes him “angry.” He said he came out of his “sleeping quarters” and told them to stop. He said he never pulled the BB gun out, but the workers may have seen it in his waist, according to the affidavit.

TPD searched Turner’s bag and found two small pieces of methamphetamine in an empty cigarette pack. Turner claimed he found the bag and he believed the substance was salt.

Turner was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of methamphetamine and is being held in the Lake County Jail on $4,000 bond. This is Turner’s seventh arrest in Lake County since 2019; he has been accused of a variety of crimes, including domestic battery, criminal mischief and violating a no-contact order.

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