Tavares

Rivalry Between Juvenile Gangs Responsible For Multiple Shootings, Police Say. Several Law Enforcement Agencies Working Together

EUSTIS, Florida—Tavares Police arrested a teenager last week on a juvenile pickup order for shooting at an apartment with children inside earlier this month while another group of children played basketball just 350 feet away, and Eustis Police say it is just one shooting in a string of violent encounters between two rival gangs that has lasted for more than a year.

Shortly before 6 p.m. Feb. 7, EPD responded to a drive-by shooting in the 1200 block of East Hazzard Avenue, and found a bullet hit a home and a tree, along with four shell casings in the roadway, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Police spoke to witnesses and found that two cars pulled up to the children playing basketball and asked where someone was by their nickname, “Cherry Lake.” “Cherry Lake” is a known gang member, affiliated with the “510 Gang.” Inside Lake is not naming “Cherry Lake” by his real name, because he has not been charged with a crime. The males then got back into one of the vehicles and left; another witness described the same vehicle driving by her apartment and firing shots.

The “4wayy” gang has been investigated for several shootings dating back to November 2020, according to Eustis Police Chief Craig Capri. Police believe there is a rivalry between “510 Gang” that is comprised of mostly juveniles who live in or grew up in Eustis, and “4wayy” that is comprised of mostly juveniles who live in or grew up in Mount Dora. Police are still investigating the motive behind the rivalry; they have received information that it started over stolen guns, a female, drugs, and trash talking, according to an EPD detective working the case.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Mount Dora Police Department and Tavares Police Department have all been working together, gathering intelligence and trading information, Capri told Inside Lake. Capri’s own officers have been working hard to talk to witnesses and gather evidence to make arrests.

“I am very proud of the men and women of Eustis Police Department and the work they have put in on these cases,” Capri said.

This rivalry began more than a year ago and there have been 15 to 20 shootings reported to law enforcement involving these two gangs in a little over a year, and police believe there are more that have been unreported, Capri said, and most were drive-by shootings where no one was injured. The home on Hazzard Avenue has been shot at, at least four times in the last few months, an EPD detective close to the investigation said. Police are still working to figure out exactly what started it, Capri said. Though it is believed to have begun earlier in November 2020, on Nov. 27, 2020, a woman, who was an innocent bystander, was shot in downtown Eustis following the city’s annual “Light Up Eustis” festivities. She was standing in the brick area near Wells Fargo Advisors and Sol De Mexico when she was hit by one of the three shots fired. This reporter was the only media on scene following that incident. Brycen Jacobe Williams, then 17, was arrested less than two months later for the shooting.

In this most recent shooting on Feb. 7, a tipster showed police a Snapchat story posted by Williams that showed EPD cars on the scene with the caption, “Ain’t Nomoee Who Dat, We Shoot Dat.”

Gang members from both sides have utilized social media to brag and get “street credit,” the detective told Inside Lake. Videos and photos were discovered on social media showing the car suspected in the Feb. 7 shooting near the shooting location on the same date. In those videos, a white Dodge Dart, the car suspected in the shooting, can be seen in the photos and videos, according to the affidavit. The photos and videos were recorded just six minutes before the shots were fired.

Eustis Police investigate a shooting at Sunset Island Park on Jan. 22. A 17-year-old boy was shot in what police believe was a random attack. Police are investigating multiple shootings that are due to a gang rivalry. PHOTO: Inside Lake

EPD, LCSO, MDPD and LCSO stepped up patrols in response to this shooting and the following day, Feb. 8, a white Dodge Dart was spotted speeding less than a half of a mile from the shooting scene on Hazzard Avenue around 10:45 p.m. And EPD officer attempted to pull the Dodge over and it fled several blocks. The car suddenly pulled over and at least one passenger bailed out of the car and fled on foot.

The driver, Joseph Antwon Baker, 21, of Tavares was taken into custody and searched. Police found a small bag of marijuana, his wallet, $20, a scale and a Vienna sausage, according to the arrest affidavit. Baker told EPD there were two people in his vehicle who fled from the scene. Baker said once EPD got behind the car, the front seat passenger, Artavious “Kutt” Williams, 16, put a gun to his head and said, “If you stop, I’m going to kill you.”

Editor’s note: Although Brycen Williams, who was arrested for the Light Up Eustis shooting, and Artavious Williams are both said to be gang members and have the same last name, they are not related according to EPD.

Baker was arrested for feeling and eluding, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia. He is being held in the Lake County Jail on $7,000 bond.

Baker told police Robert “Swag” Sharp Jr. texted him on Feb. 7 to play basketball. He picked Sharp up, and they played at Carver Pak in Eustis and then went home. He denied any shots were fired from his car; however, Baker did identify Sharp from a photo on social media and confirmed Sharp was standing in front of Baker’s Dodge Dart in the photo.

On Feb. 9, in a second interview, Baker admitted he was driving and Williams aka “Kutt” was in the passenger seat while Sharp was in the back. Baker said Williams stood outside the window and fired shots at the apartment of Hazzard Avenue. Two other individuals were also in the backseat, according to Baker, but Inside Lake is not naming them because they have not been charged with a crime at this time.

Williams and Sharp have both been arrested for the Feb. 7 shooting, according to EPD. TPD picked up Sharp and it is unclear when Williams was picked up. They are facing charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, discharging a firearm from a vehicle, improper exhibition of a firearm and possession of a firearm by a minor.

Police also believe the shooting at Sunset Island Park on Jan. 22 involves some “4wayy” members, but the shooting was random, Capri told Inside Lake. Thomas Saliba, 17, was shot in the face during a 3-year-old’s birthday party, but was not targeted, Capri said. It is believed that the individuals involved in that shooting just randomly decided to shoot up a park, he said. One person has been arrested in that case.

LCSO, EPD, MDPD and TPD are continuing to work together, and more arrests are forthcoming, Capri said.

Rivalry Between Juvenile Gangs Responsible For Multiple Shootings, Police Say. Several Law Enforcement Agencies Working Together Read More »

Four Tavares Restaurants Busted Selling Alcohol To Minors

TAVARES, Florida—In an effort to deter a small uptick in minor juvenile crimes downtown, Tavares Police Department performed underage alcohol buys Friday and four of the eight establishments they tried to buy from sold alcohol to minors, according to TPD Lt. Sarah Coursey.

“We were informed there were some issues downtown, so we acted quickly to try to prevent further problems like fights, DUIs and disturbances,” Coursey told Inside Lake. “One of our officers stopped a minor walking downtown with a beer just a few days ago.”

Buster Tubbs, 110 South New Hampshire Avenue, Puddle Jumpers Lakeside Grill & Bar, 111 West Ruby Street; Tavares Dog House, 201 West Ruby Street and Tiki West Raw Bar and Grill all sold alcohol to minors, according to Coursey.

“The buyers showed their IDs at all of the establishments. Some served regardless and others didn’t bother checking,” Coursey said.

Hemingway’s Wine Beer and Cigar Bar, 126 West Ruby Street; Kalua Beach Bar, 181 South Joanna Avenue, O’Keefe’s Irish Pub and Restaurant, 115 S. Rockingham Avenue and Ruby Street Grille, 221 East Ruby Street all denied the minors.

Employees who sold to the minors were given a misdemeanor citation that requires an appearance in court and TPD will be sending its findings to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the agency charged with issuing liquor licenses and regulating alcoholic beverage laws, Coursey said.

Four Tavares Restaurants Busted Selling Alcohol To Minors Read More »

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Domino’s and Delivery Driver In 2020 Death Of Pedestrian

TAVARES, Florida—A lawsuit has been filed in the death of a pedestrian who was killed while walking with her boyfriend down State Road 19 in Umatilla in 2020.

Rebecca “Becky” Lynn Carpenter, 39, was walking northbound along the shoulder of State Road 19 on the south end of Umatilla near the Dollar General that had recently opened with her boyfriend, Russell “Rusty” Gibbons, when she was struck by a sedan, also traveling northbound around 8 p.m. May 30, 2020.  The sedan was being driven by Frederick Martin Cole, of Eustis who was 29 and working for Domino’s, 1936 North State Road 19, Eustis at the time of the crash. Carpenter was pronounced dead on the scene; Gibbons was not hit, the Florida Highway Patrol said in 2020.  

The vehicle that struck Rebecca “Becky” Carpenter in 2020. Courtesy photo

According to the lawsuit filed in Lake County Circuit Court against Cole and ASR Pizza Inc. dba Domino’s Pizza LLC on Monday, Cole was “negligent and careless in the operation of his motor vehicle as to collide with Rebecca Carpenter, a pedestrian. As a direct and proximate result of the negligence of the defendant Frederick Martin Cole, the decedent, Rebecca Carpenter suffered serious and permanent injuries which led to her death.”

The suit, filed on behalf of Carpenter’s minor daughter, states ASR Pizza Inc. dba Domino’s Pizza LLC is vicariously liable for Cole’s actions. The plaintiff, who is represented by George Anderson III of Dan Newlin Injury Attorneys, is seeking more than $30,000 in damages.    

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Domino’s and Delivery Driver In 2020 Death Of Pedestrian Read More »

Friends and Colleagues Remember Judge T. Michael Johnson

TAVARES, Florida— “A friend for the ages, for a lot of people.”

That is how retired Public Defender Howard “Skip” Babb describes his longtime best friend and former coworker T. Michael Johnson, who passed away Monday after suffering a heart attack.

Well known and well-respected, Johnson, who served as a circuit judge was appointed to the bench in 1995 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, and served until his retirement in 2011, and was a senior judge at the time of his passing. He presided over many trials in Lake County, including the first murder trial this reporter covered at the beginning of her professional career in 2005. He also presided over the trials of Donte Hall and Dante Hall, identical twins accused of robbery and murder in Eustis in 2006, a case that made national headlines.

Before he was appointed judge, Johnson worked at the Fifth Circuit Public Defender’s Office for 14 years under Babb in numerous roles, including chief assistant. During his time as a public defender, he represented Richard Henyard, who was convicted and later executed for the murders of two young sisters. Henyard was also convicted in the rape and attempted murder of the girls’ mother.

Babb said Johnson was born and raised in Sumter County and began his professional career at Sumter Correctional Institution.

“I was lucky to get him,“ Babb told Inside Lake. You are who you hire, and he was a good hire.”

Mike Graves, Phil Kairalla, T. Michael Johnson, Skip Babb and Mike Lupton tailgating at a Florida State University football game.

“Judge Johnson was a highly regarded, talented and effective defense attorney, who transferred his skills seamlessly to the judiciary. As a judge, he strove to be fair and was always practical in helping the parties come to a resolution. His sense of humor was legendary,” said James Hope, a former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney, who has practiced law in Lake County for 35 years.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Michelle Morley, and she currently serves as a circuit judge in Sumter County. Kelly Bagwell, who is a paralegal for Hatfield and Stack in Tavares, credits Johnson and Morley for her decision to become a paralegal. She originally planned to be a nurse and after working for Morley, she changed her career path.

Judge. T. Michael Johnson marrying Kelly and Sterling Bagwell.

“They were so influential in my life,” she told Inside Lake. “He was just amazing.”

Johnson holds another special place in Bagwell’s life—he married her and her husband Sterling, 19 years ago. He recently told her they were the only couple he married that were still together.

Numerous posts and comments could be found about Johnson on social media Monday and Tuesday. “He touched a lot of people,” Babb said. “It’s a sad day.

Friends and Colleagues Remember Judge T. Michael Johnson Read More »

BREAKING NEWS: Tavares Police Release Body Cam Footage in NFL Player’s Arrest

Publisher’s note: The following video contains explicit language.

TAVARES, Florida—Body cam footage has been released in the arrest of Jacksonville Jaguars’ player Lerentee’ Zavonne McCray, 31.

Tavares Police Department released the footage Wednesday morning in the Jan. 16 arrest of McCray.  The video shows McCray pulling into the parking lot 7-Eleven at the corner of U.S. Highway 441 and Banning Beach Road in Tavares playing very loud music. Officers from TPD were arresting an individual for drug possession following a traffic stop and were being assisted by a sergeant from Astatula Police Department, according to a TPD report.  

In the video, McCray attempts to put gas in a TPD patrol car and says, “I just need you to take care of my son.” An officer tries to stop him, and he struggles with McCray over the gas nozzle. McCray then asks the officer to take him home and says, “I thought I seen something I didn’t see,” and the officer tells him to walk away.

 McCray then went to the back of his truck and removed a child’s bicycle and placed it on the hood of the truck and began “talking in circles.” McCray then laid on the ground as if he wanted to be handcuffed, the officer noted in the report.

Earlier that morning, McCray, 31, fled from Fruitland Park Police Department when an officer attempted to pull him over for speeding, according to an arrest affidavit. An officer spotted a white Dodge Ram traveling on County Road 25 at a “high rate of speed” and utilized her radar to find the truck was going 88 mph. The officer attempted to stop the Ram at C.R. 25 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by activating her lights and sirens and the driver, later identified as McCray, put his left arm out of the window and flipped his middle finger at the officer, according to the affidavit.

About 15 minutes later after fleeing FPPD, McCray pulled into the gas station in Tavares and was eventually arrested.

McCray was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares, where he was arrested by FPPD after he was medically cleared. TPD conducted an inventory of McCray’s truck and found a small bag of marijuana and a Benelli SuperNova shotgun.

McCray is facing a charge of fleeing and eluding and was released from the Lake County Jail on $5,000 bond. McCray played for the University of Florida from 2008 to 2012 and has been a Jacksonville Jaguar since 2017.  

BREAKING NEWS: Tavares Police Release Body Cam Footage in NFL Player’s Arrest Read More »

NFL Player Flees Fruitland Park Police, Attempts To Pump Gas In Tavares Police Car, Taken To Hospital For Erratic Behavior

TAVARES, Florida—A Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end was arrested in Tavares early Sunday morning after fleeing Fruitland Park Police.

Lerentee’ Zavonne McCray, 31, fled from FPPD when an officer attempted to pull him over for speeding, according to an arrest affidavit. An officer spotted a white Dodge Ram traveling on County Road 25 at a “high rate of speed” and utilized her radar to find the truck was going 88 mph. The officer attempted to stop the Ram at C.R. 25 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by activating her lights and sirens and the driver, later identified as McCray, put his left arm out of the window and flipped his middle finger at the officer, according to the affidavit.

The officer began to chase McCray and an FPPD sergeant joined in, reaching speeds up to 100 mph, the affidavit states. McCray was driving in “an extremely reckless manner,” swerving across all three southbound lanes of traffic and FPPD terminated the stop.

About 15 minutes later, McCray pulled into 7-Eleven at the corner of U.S. Highway 441 and Banning Beach Road in Tavares. Officers from Tavares Police Department were arresting an individual for drug possession following a traffic stop and were being assisted by a sergeant from Astatula Police Department, according to a TPD report.

PHOTO: NFL

McCray, who appeared to know the APD sergeant, gave him a fist bump and then retrieved his wallet. McCray then walked over to a TPD officer’s car, opened the fuel door and walked over to the pump attempting to buy some gas, according to the report. The officer told McCray that was not necessary and closed the fuel door. McCray opened the door again and inserted the fuel nozzle into the patrol car. The officer attempted to take the nozzle from McCray, and he forcefully grabbed the officer’s wrist, and the officer pushed him back, the report states.

McCray then went to the back of his truck and removed a child’s bicycle and placed it on the hood of the truck and began “talking in circles.” McCray then laid on the ground as if he wanted to be handcuffed, the officer noted in the report.

McCray was handcuffed due to his erratic behavior and was not making sense when he spoke. The TPD officer allowed McCray to lean on his knee as they spoke, and McCray fell asleep. Officer called Lake EMS to the scene and as McCray was placed on a stretcher, FPPD informed TPD they had charges for McCray due to him fleeing the earlier traffic stop.

McCray was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares, where he was arrested by FPPD after he was medically cleared. TPD conducted an inventory of McCray’s truck and found a small bag of marijuana and a Benelli SuperNova shotgun.

McCray is facing a charge of fleeing and eluding he was released from the Lake County Jail on $5,000 bond.  McCray played for the University of Florida from 2008 to 2012 and has been a Jacksonville Jaguar since 2017.  

NFL Player Flees Fruitland Park Police, Attempts To Pump Gas In Tavares Police Car, Taken To Hospital For Erratic Behavior Read More »

Tavares Woman Injured In Crash That Killed Apopka Motorcyclist

ORANGE COUNTY, Florida—A Tavares woman received minor injuries in a crash that killed a motorcyclist from Apopka Saturday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

A 19-year-old Apopka woman was northbound in a sedan on Orange Blossom Trail at Jones Avenue in the Zellwood area around 8:45 p.m. Saturday. A 51-year-old man, also of Apopka, was riding a motorcycle southbound on Orange Blossom Trail and a Tavares woman, 59, in a sedan was stopped on Jones Avenue at the intersection of Orange Blossom Trail, FHP Lt. Kim Montes said in a press release.

The Apopka woman attempted to make a left turn on to Jones Avenue and turned into the path of the motorcycle. The motorcycle struck the side of the Apopka woman’s sedan and the sedan struck the car the Tavares woman was driving. The motorcyclist, who was wearing a helmet, was pronounced dead on the scene.

The Apopka woman and the Tavares woman sustained minor injuries and the crash remains under investigation.

Tavares Woman Injured In Crash That Killed Apopka Motorcyclist Read More »

Man, 20, Shot In Tavares Drive-By Shooting, Police Investigating

TAVARES. Florida— A 20-year-old man suffered at least one gunshot wound during a drive-by shooting in Tavares late Saturday night.

Joshua Williams II was outside of a home on West Maud Street when the shooting occurred, according to Tavares Police Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan.

“Mr. Williams was transported to a local hospital and is being treated for his injuries that he sustained from the incident,” Sullivan said.  

Police are investigating the motive behind the shooting and expect to release more information once it is available. If you have information on Saturday’s drive-by shooting, call TPD at 352-343-2101.

Man, 20, Shot In Tavares Drive-By Shooting, Police Investigating Read More »

Family Of Murdered Mom Celebrates Her Birthday With Balloon Release Monday

EUSTIS, Florida—Melissa Nease would have turned 30 Monday.

Instead of celebrating this milestone birthday, Nease’ children and their father Shane Jenkins, her big sister Amy Harris, her mom Lisa Nease, best friend Abby Henderson and more than three dozen loved ones, sang “Happy Birthday” and released more than 100 balloons at her gravesite at Greenwood Cemetery Monday afternoon, many wearing memorial pink—Nease’ favorite color—shirts.

Nease’ mom, had a special “#1” balloon to signify a long-running family joke. Nease always made cracks about being Lisa’s number one daughter, Harris said with a smile.

Several of Nease’ loved ones held back tears as they spoke about her to Inside Lake. Henderson, who was her best friend for four years, said they instantly became best friends when they met and went through a lot of ups and downs together. Monday was a way to honor Nease and her birthday, but she misses her terribly and wants justice for her friend.

“It’s not any kind of relief,” Henderson said. “It won’t bring the peace we’re waiting for.”

Nease will be remembered for heart, Henderson said. “She was always so loving to everybody.”

Shane Jenkins and his daughter kneel next the Melissa Nease’ grave Monday, Monday would have been Nease’ 30th birthday.
PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Nearly 10 months ago, Nease, 29, was found murdered in her secluded Ocklawaha home in Marion County the afternoon of Feb. 28, by a family friend.

The 2010 graduate of Tavares High School, was home alone while Jenkins and their three children were out of town when she was shot; Marion County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the case. MCSO has released little information in the case—just two short video clips showing two assailants running away from her home following the murder.

PHOTO: Melissa Nease/Facebook

Jenkins choked back tears as he spoke to Inside Lake Monday night. He said he spends his time focused on his children; he shared two daughters and a son with Nease, and they visit her grave each week. Jenkins’ mom, Stacey Miller, passed away in 2019 and Nease is buried right next to her.  

He tries to keep his children entertained and busy, “I do everything for them,” he said. “I’m with my kids 24/7.”

Shane Jenkins stands next to the grave of his murdered girlfriend Monday afternoon. PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Jenkins theory on Nease’ murder is a burglary gone bad. He thinks the perpetrators believed the whole family was out of town and Nease surprised them and they killed her.

“It eats at me every day,” he said. “We want this person caught more than anybody.’

Jenkins moved out of the home where the murder happened because it was just too hard for him. He had to clean up the home after her murder and the pain was obvious in his face as he spoke. “We moved out of there as soon as we could.”

Unidentified suspect In Melissa’s Nease’ murder. PHOTO: Marion County Sheriff’s Office

Harris vows to never let up until her sister’s killers are caught.

“I’m not stopping,” Harris said. “Marion County needs to know, I’m coming.”

If you have information on the murder of Nease, call MCSO Det. Daniel Pinder at (352) 368-3508 or if you wish to remain anonymous, call Marion County Crime Stoppers at (352) 368-STOP (7867) and reference 21-20 in your call.

Family Of Murdered Mom Celebrates Her Birthday With Balloon Release Monday Read More »

Man Drives Off Top Floor Of Tavares Parking Garage Monday

TAVARES, Florida—Tavares Police are investigating after a man drove off the top floor of the parking garage in downtown Tavares Monday afternoon, according to TPD Lt. Sarah Coursey. 

Around 3:30 p.m. Jewell Sartin, of Tavares, drove a Ford Mustang off the top floor and landed in a fenced in area between the parking garage and BB&T Bank. Sartin fled the scene on foot and was apprehended a short time later, Coursey told Inside Lake. He is being treated at a local hospital for his injuries. 

“The safety cables did play a role and slow the vehicle down,” Coursey said. 

Photo: Tavares Police Department

Units were still on scene at press time and a crane will have to be utilized to remove the Mustang, Coursey said. The vehicle was not reported stolen and police are investigating Sartin’s motive, Coursey said. 

Photo: Tavares Police Department

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