Tavares Police K9 Bruce Sniffs Out Trafficking Amount of Deadly Drug Early Tuesday Morning

TAVARES, Fla.—Not even a month on the job and Tavares Police Department’s K9 Bruce has his first trafficking arrest under his collar.

Around 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, a TPD road patrol officer was patrolling the area of Burleigh Boulevard (U.S. Highway 441) and Sinclair Avenue when she spotted a black Dodge Challenger and ran a check on the license plate, according to an arrest affidavit.

The license plate came back invalid, and not assigned to a vehicle, giving the officer probable cause for a traffic stop. The officer stopped the car and found the driver, Larry Wallace Taylor, 48, of Apopka, “extremely upset” about the traffic stop,” the arresting officer noted in the affidavit.

Taylor repeatedly told the officer she was incorrect about the tag, and he could provide the paperwork to prove it, but he failed to do so, and also claimed he could not find his wallet. He informed the officer a firearm was in the car and believed his wallet was near the gun and allowed a second officer to safely remove it from the car. Taylor still could not find his wallet and was shaking and “sweating profusely,” even though it was 51 degrees outside, the arresting officer noted.

As Taylor continued to look for his wallet, he told the officer he was nervous, and the officer requested to search the car. He denied her request and as he moved around the car, the officer saw his wallet underneath him and he finally provided his license, according to the affidavit.

Newly-hired K9 Bruce arrived on scene with his handler and performed an exterior sniff of the car. K9 Bruce alerted and upon searching the interior of the car, officers found a “tooter,” a small tube commonly used to snort narcotics, and two bags, one that contained a crystalline rock-like substance and the second, which contained a crystalline substance and a white powder.

PHOTO: Tavares Police Department

The arresting officer tested the rock-like substance that weighed more than 11 grams and it field-tested positive for methamphetamine. Taylor was transported to the Lake County Jail and on the ride to jail, he made a “spontaneous utterance” the drugs were not just methamphetamine. Officers tested both bags at LCJ and they both tested positive for fentanyl, according to the affidavit.

Taylor was arrested for trafficking in fentanyl, possession of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia; he was released on $28,000 bond.


Tavares Police Searching for “Missing and Endangered” Teen

Update: Lindsey Carpenter has been found safe. 

TAVARES, Fla.—Tavares Police Department is searching for a “missing and endangered” teenager who was last seen Wednesday night.

Lindsey Carpenter, 14, was seen leaving her home in the Etowah subdivision off Ann Rou Road around 9:15 p.m. Wednesday; TPD believes she may have gotten in a maroon SUV, possibly a Chevy Tahoe. Carpenter is considered “missing and endangered” due to pre-existing medical conditions and she does not have her medication.

Carpenter is described at a white female, 5 feet, 5 inches tall, 150 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a camouflage shirt, light-colored pants and carrying a grey backpack.

If you have information on Carpenter’s whereabouts, call TPD at 352-343-2101, extension 4.

Tavares Police Investigating After Receiving Multiple Calls of Shots Fired at Rosewood Condos Friday Night

TAVARES, Fla.—Tavares Police Department is investigating after receiving multiple calls about five to six shots being fired around 9 p.m. Friday in a condominium complex that has been the site of several shootings in the past, the latest one just four days ago.

TPD responded to Rosewood Condominiums but did not find any victims or shell casings Friday night, TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake.

Just four days ago, shots were fired in Rosewood Condominiums as schoolchildren were arriving at home on the bus around 3:30 p.m. Monday.

TPD investigates after multiple shots were Monday afternoon as schoolchildren were arriving home on the bus. FILE PHOTO

A short time after Monday’s shooting, a victim with a gunshot wound arrived at AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares. The victim said he was shot in Mount Dora, but no evidence of a shooting was found in Mount Dora, City of Mount Dora Public Information Officer Misty Sommer said Monday. The case is still under investigation, Sullivan said.

If you have information on either incident, call TPD at 352-343-2101, extension 4; or call Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS. Crimeline callers can remain anonymous.

Benefit for LCSO Deputy Diagnosed with Cancer Scheduled for Saturday

EUSTIS, Fla.—An event to benefit a Lake County Sheriff’s Office school resource deputy who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year is scheduled for Saturday.

What started as chest pain in 2022 turned into a terrifying diagnosis last summer for LCSO Cpl. Adam Tytler. In November 2022, Tytler went to a cardiologist for ongoing chest pain, and after a EKG showed his heart was in good shape, the cardiologist told him the pain was likely gastrointestinal. The next month, on Christmas Eve, Tytler discovered a swollen lymph node on his neck and by February the lymph node had not gotten any better. He was also suffering from a sinus infection at the time and went to his primary care doctor for treatment and mentioned the lymph node. The doctor chalked it up to the infection, but during the spring Tytler’s chest pain continued and had also moved to his back, and then he began to find swollen lymph nodes on his chest.

Tytler went through a battery of tests and upon reviewing the results, his doctor said it was likely cancer. Tytler sought a second opinion from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and his fears were confirmed when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma in June 2023.

Tytler, his wife Tiffany, and two daughters, Shay 17, Lily, 14, are currently splitting their time between Mount Dora and Tampa for treatment and it is taking a financial toll on the family while already dealing with an emotional roller coaster. Tytler said he came forward with his struggle because cancer affects millions of people and often they go through it alone.

“I would have given up if it weren’t for my faith, my family and the support from the school resource deputy unit,” Tytler said. “I only wanted for those who are struggling to know they are not alone. Not now. Not ever and to never give up.”

Tytler’s struggle inspired Shannon Cook, organizer of Lake County’s annual Back the Blue Walk, and LCSO Lt. Kristin Thompson to create the benefit scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at That Place, 925 North Bay Street, Eustis.

Dinners will be available for purchase, along with an auction of numerous items, including a Back the Blue basket with items from multiple Lake County law enforcement agencies, tickets to various events, like New Kids on the Block concert tickets and Richard Petty Driving Experience, along with a Yeti cooler packed with alcohol, various craft items made by local residents, a high-end fishing pole and numerous other items. A poker scramble is also scheduled to start at 9 a.m. at Gator Harley-Davidson, 1745 U.S. Highway 441, Leesburg, and will include five stops, ending at That Place, Cook told Inside Lake.

Tytler has spent nearly his entire adult life at LCSO, and most recently worked as a corporal in the school resource deputy unit. He prevented a shooting on the Eustis High School campus during the 2018-2019 school year and was awarded the Lake County Officer of the Year in 2019 for his efforts.

He said he is excited he has only one treatment left, and it has been a difficult journey. “Truthfully, it’s been challenging and difficult treatment-wise, not just for me but my family also,” Tytler said.

He will have to wait until after the new year to find out if he is cancer-free, he said.

Tytler told Inside Lake saying thank you to all those who have helped him, and contributed to the benefit will never be enough.

“My family and I are so appreciative and overwhelmed of the outpouring of love and support from everyone. Especially from people I’ve never met,” he said.

For more information on the benefit, visit Corporal Adam Tytler Benefit.

Man Pleads Guilty to 2022 Murder of Leesburg Girlfriend

TAVARES, Fla.—In an unexpected twist Monday, a Leesburg man accused of gunning down his girlfriend last year pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon the same day jury selection for his trial was set to begin.

Alphonza Bryant, 41, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for killing Melissa Keonna Smith, 37, in the laundry room of her Leesburg home on Aug. 8, 2022.

Bryant was captured on video approaching Smith’s home, brandishing a firearm, and “engaging in a verbal altercation off-camera that culminated in a single gunshot,” Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney William “Bill” Gladson’s office stated in a press release.

A witness told Leesburg Police Department Bryant tried to force his way in the laundry room while armed and the witness was, “compelled to leave the scene.” Bryant fired a single shot, killing Smith, fled the scene and dropped a gun.

Bryant was arrested two days after the murder for a violation of probation in a prior case and later charged with Smith’s murder after an “exhaustive investigation by Leesburg Police Department.”

“We hope these charges allow for some level of healing and relief for the family and friends of Ms. Smith,” LPD Capt. Joe Iozzi said after Bryant’s arrest last year. “We would especially like to thank our community for their assistance with this investigation.”

Bryant is currently in the Lake County Jail and will remain there until he is transferred to the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections.

“Eyewitness testimony serves as a crucial pillar in prosecuting any case, let alone a murder case. Bryant knew the evidence stacked against him would weave the narrative of truth for jurors to convict him,” Gladson said in a statement. “Acknowledging this grim reality, we are pleased the defendant was sentenced to 45 years in prison. We hope this helps to bring closure to the tragic loss suffered by Melissa Keonna Smith’s family.”

Multiple Shots Fired at Tavares Condo Complex, Police Searching for Witnesses

TAVARES, Fla.—Tavares Police Department is investigating after multiple shots were fired at Rosewood Condominiums Monday afternoon.

TPD officers responded to the call just after 3:30 p.m. when children were playing outside and a busload full of children were pulling into the parking lot, TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake.

“This occurred during a time frame when children were being dropped off,” Sullivan said. “This is a residential neighborhood.”

Police were searching for a victim and evidence, and a short time after the shots were fired, a victim with a gunshot wound arrived at AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares; his condition was not released.  The victim said he was shot in Mount Dora, but no evidence of a shooting was found in Mount Dora at press time, City of Mount Dora Public Information Officer Misty Sommer said.

“We are assisting Tavares Police Department in the investigation,” Sommer told Inside Lake.

Detectives and crime scene investigators are on scene and the investigation is still active. TPD is asking residents to check their cameras and come forward with any information they may have. Witnesses can remain anonymous, Sullivan said.

If you have information, call TPD at 352-343-2101, extension 4.

Motorcyclist Killed in Tavares Crash Friday Identified

TAVARES, Fla.—The motorcyclist killed in an early morning crash Friday has been publicly identified.

Russell Pratt, 42, of Leesburg, was riding a 2019 Harley-Davidson northbound on U.S. Highway 441 and police believe he lost control of the bike west of Lakeshore Boulevard just before 1:45 a.m. Friday. The crash remains under investigation by Tavares Police Department.

Pratt was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares, where he was pronounced deceased, TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan said. The crash closed the northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 441 for several hours and did not involve any other vehicles.

Numerous people shared their sorrow for the loss of Pratt, a father of three, on social media Friday. He was a graduate of Tavares High School.

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Leesburg Motorcyclist Killed in Early Morning Tavares Crash

Leesburg Motorcyclist Killed in Early Morning Tavares Crash

TAVARES, Fla.—Tavares Police Department is investigating a crash that killed a motorcyclist early Friday morning.

A 42-year-old Leesburg man riding a 2019 Harley-Davidson crashed shortly before 1:45 a.m. on U.S. Highway 441, west of Lakeshore Boulevard. The man was transported to an area hospital where he later he died; he was not wearing a helmet.

The crash closed the northbound lanes of U.S. Highway 441 for several hours and did not involve any other vehicles. Details of how the crash occurred are still under investigation, but police believe the man was riding northbound on U.S. Highway 441 when he lost control of the bike and crashed, TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan said.

This is a developing story.

Legal Troubles Escalate for Accused Mount Dora Child Abuser

TAVARES, Fla.—A man first arrested nearly two years ago for breaking his 8-month-old daughter’s leg is back in the Lake County Jail for failing to appear at a mandatory court date, according to documents in the case against him.

Dominic Ralston’s new legal troubles began in July when Circuit Judge James Baxley ordered him to appear in court Aug. 28. On Aug. 27, his attorney, Jaimie Washo Spivey, filed a motion to withdraw from his case stating in part, “The undersigned attorney has reached out via text to the Defendant numerous times since January 2023 and has not received any response.”

Baxley granted Washo Spivey’s request, forfeited his bond and issued a warrant for his arrest for failure to appear on Aug. 28 when he did not show for court, according to Lake County Clerk of Court online records.

Ralston, 24, was surrendered to LCJ by his bondsman Tuesday and is now being held on no bond. Ralston was arrested in November 2021 after it was discovered his daughter had a broken leg and bruised ribs after being alone with him. Ralston was interviewed by Mount Dora Police Department, and he denied knowing how she broke her leg and attempted to explain away the bruising, telling a detective she was accident prone. He refused to take a Controlled Voice Stress Analysis Test and was arrested for aggravated child abuse. He posted $10,000 bond, was released and retained Washo Spivey within days of his arrest. His next plea negotiation conference is scheduled for Dec. 12.

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Names of Tavares Weekend Crash Victims Released

TAVARES, Fla.—Tavares Police Department has released the names of the two men involved in a deadly single-car crash early Saturday morning.

TPD believes Anthony Petchonka Jr., 24, of Tavares was driving a 2003 black Acura coupe when he crashed shortly before 2:30 a.m. near the intersection of Dead River Road and Baytree Boulevard. The impact ejected Petchonka Jr., and his passenger Jordan Debitetto, 22, of Astatula.

Inside Lake originally reported Debitetto was from Apopka, as listed on his driver license, but TPD has since discovered he lives in Astatula, TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan said. Petchonka Jr. was pronounced deceased on the scene and Debitetto was transported to an area hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

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Single-Car Crash Kills Tavares Man and Sends Apopka Man to the Hospital Early Saturday

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