Unincorporated Lake

Umatilla Man Bonds Out On Child Pornography Charges

UMATILLA, Florida—A Umatilla man bonded out of jail just a day after Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) agents arrested him at his Umatilla home for four counts of possession of child pornography Thursday.

Working on a tip from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) FDLE began investigating two images of child pornography that were reportedly found in a DropBox account in July.

User [email protected] uploaded two sexually explicit images of two little girls who appear to be 6 years old and 10 years old with adult men, on July 18, according to a probable cause affidavit.

Through its investigation, FDLE found that the email address belonged to Lewis Blanton III, of West Fifth Avenue in unincorporated Umatilla. FDLE obtained a search warrant for the DropBox account and found that it contained multiple images of Blanton and his girlfriend, in addition to personal information, including copies of Blanton’s driver license, documents for his military disability and photos of his residence, according to the affidavit. Two more exploitative images were also found; one that depicted girls believed to 6 years old and a teenager, and the second depicting two girls, believed to be 12 and 14.

Several of Lewis Blanton’s tattoos. PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Agents also found evidence Blanton, 57, used cryptocurrency to purchase a link to a child pornography site on an anonymous browser. “…Your affiant knows through training an experience that child pornography collectors and those with an interest in child sex abuse material take significant measures to conceal their identities and IP addresses in order to avoid detection from law enforcement. The contents of the DropBox account give your affiant probable cause to believe that Lewis Blanton has dominion and control over the account containing child pornography and that he uses an Onion Router (TOR) and various VPNs to conceal his identity and activity,” the arresting agent stated in the affidavit.

Blanton was taken into custody at his home and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $40,000 bond. 

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Lasting Effects 2 Years After Ambush Attack On Eustis Police Captain

EUSTIS, Florida–Two years ago Sunday, it was a normal Thursday for Gary and Stephenie Winheim; a warm December day, just six days before Christmas. Little did they know, their lives would never be the same.

It is a struggle every day, Stephenie Winheim told Inside Lake earlier this week. One crazy afternoon and their lives forever changed, she said.

Eustis Police Captain Gary Winheim’s uniform shirt after being shot in the neck Dec. 22, 2019. PHOTO: Courtesy of Stephenie Winheim

Below is an exclusive interview with the Winheims and Inside Lake Publisher Marilyn. M. Aciego that previously published on Lake Legal News on Dec. 22, 2019.

Eustis Police Captain Gary Winheim is grateful to be alive and grateful to the community he serves.

“I am humbled by the outpouring of support from the community. [I have] enormous respect for all the fire, medical and law enforcement professionals in the incident. Our community is truly strong.”

Just two days after being shot in the neck by an ex-con with a violent history, Winheim, his wife, Stephenie, and their beloved dog Laike sat down in their home with Lake Legal News for an exclusive interview Saturday. “This is my story,” Winheim said. “And I want my story to be told by me.”

Sporting bandages on his ear, neck and back, Winheim, 49, a 24-year veteran of Eustis Police Department is doing well after having surgery to remove the 9mm bullet that clipped his earlobe, entered his neck and travelled slightly down his back. Doctors at Orlando Regional Medical successfully removed the bullet Friday and he was released from the hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery.

EPD Capt. Gary Winheim speaks with reporter Marilyn M. Aciego just two days after getting shot on Dec, 19, 2019. PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher

Thursday, around noon, Winheim was in full uniform and in his unmarked truck— a truck well-known in the community to be driven by Winheim— at the traffic light at County Road 44 and State Road 19 when he heard gunshots coming from the area of a small mechanic shop, a Shell gas station and a Winn Dixie. Winheim’s wife, Stephenie, a former ICU nurse, was on the phone with him when he heard the shots. “I was not responding to a burglary call or a robbery call. I was not responding to any call. I was minding my own business,” the captain expains to LLN.

The Shell station at 1905 North State Road 19 in Eustis, Florida, was held up by an armed robber Tuesday evening and EPD was working on getting a warrant for the suspect’s arrest Thursday morning. 

Winheim, a 12-year SWAT team member, saw a dark-colored SUV leaving the parking lot of the Winn Dixie driving erratically and he began to follow it. Winheim followed the SUV eastbound down County Road 44, when it suddenly pulled over near Trout Lake Nature Center. Winheim pulled over too. At this point, Winheim did not know he was following Jayson Colvin, the man suspected of robbing Shell. “I had no idea who he was,” Winheim said. “No clue.” As captain over the Criminal Investigations Division, Winheim was familiar with the investigation and where that investigation was, but it never entered his mind that he might be following Colvin, he tells LLN. “We firmly believed he had left town.”

“I firmly believe he knew who I was because he has history in this county,” Winheim said. Colvin, who has a criminal history in Lake County dating back to 1998, was arrested by EPD in March for resisting without violence, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia and again in April for resisting without violence. All the charges from the March case were dropped; he was sentenced to probation and given a fine in the April case.

“I was catching up to him and he pulled over,” Winheim relates. He did not know why the SUV stopped because he had not activated his emergency lights. He was not sure if the driver needed assistance, or if he was pulling over for sinister reasons. “All the scenarios that you’re going through—‘Is he hurt, was he just shot at, does he have somebody in the truck who’s hurt, or was just shot at?’” In addition to wondering if the man needed assistance, Winheim also wondered about his own safety. “Is he flagging me down because he needs assistance or does he have bad intent right now? This is how it processes for law enforcement; all of the bad things that could be happening to them that we need to help them with, or all of the bad things that they’re intending to do to us. You have all that processing through your head,” Winheim tells LLN.

“He (Colvin) jumps out, immediately raises the gun and starts firing at me. It’s an ambush,” Winheim recalls thinking. Winheim was still sitting in his truck when he took fire; he never got the chance to get out, or to grab his gun.

Colvin fired multiple shots (the exact number has not been released, as it is part of the still-active investigation) striking Winheim once, through the windshield of his truck.

“So when he jumped out and started shooting at me, I had no idea what was going on at that point. When he started popping off rounds and I got hit in the neck and I knew I was hit in the neck, it stunned me.” Winheim tried to lie down over the seat, but his truck has a large center console and he could not get low enough, “So I caught the round in the neck.”

When asked what was going through his head once he realized he was being shot at, Winheim said he thought to himself, “I’m in a really bad spot.”

“We can train for a whole bunch of tactical scenarios. You cannot train for an ambush. An ambush is an ambush. The only thing about an ambush is you can train to fight through an ambush.”

Colvin fled and Winheim bailed out, ran to the back of his truck and thought to himself, “This is not where I end.” At that point, his main concern was blood loss. A vehicle pulled in behind Winheim during the shooting and Winheim ran to it. The driver rolled down the window and said, “I’m on the phone with 9-1-1.” Winheim responded, “Ma’am, I am 9-1-1. I’ve already called them.” He asked her how bad he was bleeding and she gave him her jacket and put it against his neck and held pressure to his wound. 

EPD Senior Officer Wayne Perry Sr. was the first to arrive and was getting his med kit as EPD Sergeant Dan Post arrived and Winheim said “Dan, give me your med kit,” and  Post replied, “I brought a fire truck.” “Love me some Dan Post,” Winheim says. “He’s awesome.”

Winheim likes to give the fire department a hard time. “I mess with firefighters horribly,” he adds with a grin. “The old police-fire thing. I am ruthless with the fire department.” But Winheim teases them affectionately, “I truly do love those guys and appreciate the job they do.”

A firefighter Winheim has known for many years treated him, and Winheim looked at him and said, “Do not let me die.” And he said, “Oh, I’m not letting you die; you’re not going anywhere.” Winheim responded, “Great! Take care of me. I’m getting through this. I’m not done yet.” The firefighter said, “No, you’re not done yet. You’re getting through this.”

Always the jokester, even in a crisis, Winheim said, “And I want everybody here to know, all those jokes I made, I was just kidding.”

Colvin fled to Umatilla and crashed near Cookie’s Junkyard & Towing, 19813 County Road 450, bailed and ran into a wooded area. More than 500 law enforcement officers responded to the search scene from local, state, and federal agencies, Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell said in a press conference Thursday.

After nearly seven hours of searching, a helicopter pilot from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Aviation Unit spotted Colvin hiding under a canoe, along the shoreline of a small lake. The pilot saw him take position in an aggressive manner. Colvin refused to comply with deputies’ orders and was shot and killed.

EPD Capt. Gary Winheim is pictured with his wife, Stephenie and their dog, Laike Dec. 21, 2019. PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher

Stephenie Winheim, now a Realtor, was home when she found out her husband was shot and Winheim called her himself. “Damn right, I did, That’s my wife.” He said, “Baby, I want you to know I’m OK. I’ve been shot. And I love you.” Choking back tears, he recalled, “I told her I was not gonna die and I was not leaving her.”

Since they’ve been together, Captain Winheim has been involved in three other shootings prior to Thursday’s shooting, “I definitely didn’t react the same way to this one as I reacted to the first one,” she tells LLN. “I worked in ICU, it’s high stress level. We see a lot of things; we’re good compartmentalizers. You can’t freak out— you have to deal with what’s going on.”

The shooting was just one week after the pair celebrated their seventh anniversary. They were married on December 12, 2012, (12-12-12) and dated for five years prior to getting married. They travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to celebrate their anniversary and returned just three days before the shooting.

The love the two share for each other is obvious. Each one choked back tears several times while talking with LLN. They speak in unison, finish each other’s sentences and complement each other’s personalities. They both told LLN that they are best friends. 

Notably, the couple taught a section at EPD’s in-service training program to help teach spouses how to cope with the aftermath of serious incidents. “Almost 24 years with Eustis, almost 12 years as a SWAT operator; I’m an active shooter instructor, reality-based training. I’ve been really fortunate in my career to have attended a lot of training classes and a lot of firearms-related training classes. I consider myself a tactical guy,” the captain states.

Captain Winheim tells LLN that he thinks law enforcement is excellent at training, and he has seen it get better and better over his career, but there are still some flaws. “We are awesome at training right up to the point of pulling the trigger. We don’t teach our officers what happens afterward. We don’t teach officers about the media coming and asking them questions and getting on their Facebook to find things out,” he explains to LLN.

“There are law enforcement officers who believe, ‘Don’t include your spouse in your work. Don’t burden your spouse with your work. Don’t bring your work home,’” Winheim notes, but he disagrees. “If you don’t inoculate your spouse to what you do, prior to an event like this, how do you expect your spouse to get through an event like this? The body can’t go where the mind hasn’t been.” 

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Fatal Crash Shuts Down SR 44 Monday Morning

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—A Daytona Beach man is dead following a head-on crash Monday morning on State Road 44, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The man, 20, was driving an SUV westbound on State Road 44 near Fentress Lane in the Pine Lakes area, around 6:15 a.m., when he traveled into the eastbound lane, FHP Lt. Kim Montes said in a press release.

The SUV struck a pickup truck being driven by a 20-year-old Webster man head-on, causing the SUV to overturn. The Daytona Beach man was pronounced dead on the scene; it is unknown if he was wearing his seatbelt. The Webster man, who was wearing his seatbelt, was transported to AdventHealth Waterman with serious injuries.

The crash shut State Road 44 down for several hours Monday morning and remains under investigation, Montes said. 

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Scheduled Holiday Closings And Modified Garbage Pickup

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—Many local government offices are scheduled to close this week in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Lake County Government offices will be closed Thursday and Friday and county garbage pickup regularly scheduled for Thursday will be Friday and regularly scheduled pickup for Friday will be Saturday. This includes Altoona, Astor, Ferndale, Grand Island, Okahumpka, Paisley, Sorrento and Yalaha. For more information, visit  https://lakecountyfl.gov/trash-recycling.

Most city government and town halls will be closed Thursday and Friday; this includes Clermont, Eustis, Fruitland Park, Groveland, Howey-In-The-Hills, Leesburg, Mascotte, Mount Dora, Tavares and Umatilla. Astatula, Lady Lake and Minneola are scheduled to close just on Thursday. Aligning with the county garbage pickup modified schedule; garbage pickup for Thursday will be Friday and pickup for Friday will be Saturday for most cities, except Lady Lake, Leesburg and Tavares.

Lady Lake’s and Leesburg’s garbage pickup will resume Monday and Tavares will resume Tuesday. 

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Single Dad And 4 Boys Lose Everything To House Fire

PAISLEY, Florida—A single dad and his four boys are trying to find a new place to live after the home they lived in burned to the ground just eight days before Thanksgiving.

Jon Wilson, 36, and three of his sons were sleeping around 12:30 a.m. Wednesday when the mobile home they have lived in for nine years caught fire, he told Inside Lake. The electrical fire is believed to have started from a faulty outlet in Wilson’s room.

Wilson and his twin 14-year-old boys and 15-year-old-son escaped the blaze on Palm Street, along with their dog and two cats, but the home and everything in it was a total loss. Wilson’s 6-year-old son was with his mom at the time of the fire. It only took about 15 minutes for the home to burn down, Wilson said.

“The whole house was up in flames. Not even anything we found in the rubble was salvageable,” Wilson said Friday.

Wilson was renting the home and does not have renter’s insurance, he said. The Red Cross offered immediate assistance and Wilson is staying with his girlfriend for the time being. The boys are staying with family members and having a little bit of fun while Wilson deals with the aftermath of the fire.

“It’s just a big stressful situation for everybody,” Wilson said.

Many people have donated clothes and furniture to Wilson and his boys, so much in fact he has rented a storage unit, and he has started a GoFundMe to help replace necessities and to raise money for a new place to live. He is looking for a home with at least three bedrooms and said right now that is the most important thing. An account for donations has also been set up at United Southern Bank; if you’d like to donate you may stop by any branch or send your donation by mail to PO Drawer 29, Umatilla, FL 32784. 

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Former LCSO Sheriff Gary Borders Dies After Cancer Battle

TAVARES, Florida—Former Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders has died following a battle with cancer.

Borders was appointed sheriff in 2006, by then-Governor Jeb Bush following the tragic death of Sheriff Chris Daniels during a charity bus race in Volusia County. When appointed, he was serving as a major over the Corrections Operations Division, and before working for Lake County, he began his career at the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office in 1980.

PHOTO CREDIT: Inside Lake/Bonnie Whicher

He was elected in 2008 and 2012 and filed to run in 2016, but later withdrew and retired after 36 years in law enforcement in January 2017. Current Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, who was elected in 2016, served as Borders’ chief deputy.

Borders lived in Howey-in-the-Hills and passed away peacefully Tuesday morning, LCSO Lt. John Herrell said in a press release.

Arrangements will be announced once they are solidified, LCSO said in a Facebook post. 

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Groveland Woman Heartbroken After Horse Shot To Death

GROVELAND, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating after a horse was found shot to death Sunday morning near Groveland.

Jackie the horse was found by her owner, Tonya Sanders when Sanders went to feed her Sunday morning on the 13-acre property she owns with her husband, she told Inside Lake.

Sanders found 15-year-old Jackie dead from a gunshot wound around 9 a.m. in her pasture on Indianhouse Lane near State Road 19 in unincorporated Groveland, according to an LCSO report.  Sanders and her husband told LCSO that between 10 and 11 p.m. Saturday they heard two loud booms they believed to be gunshots from inside their home, and their dogs continued to make an excessive amount of noise for several hours. Sanders said they often hear loud noises like tires blowing out in the rural area just outside of Groveland and the dogs bark if they see small animals like possums.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tonya Sanders

When they found Jackie, valued at $10,000, they pulled her out of the pasture, saw blood coming from her nose, and found a small gunshot wound near her kidney and called LCSO.

There were tire tracks near Sanders’ fence and the ground was disturbed inside the pasture; Sanders said it is possible the person responsible coaxed Jackie to the fence and then shot her but does not understand the motive.  She said her “dogs were going bonkers” and they may have spooked the shooter.

The responding deputy found no exit wound on Jackie and noted the horse appeared to have run around the pasture for “some time” before she succumbed to her wound.  As she choked back tears, Sanders told Inside Lake the bullet traveled around inside Jackie’s abdomen and she eventually bled to death.

Deputies canvassed the area for shell casings and were unable to find any. No other shooting incidents were reported in the area to LCSO or neighboring Groveland Police Department, according to the report. The Sanders’ told LCSO they had no suspects in mind.

Other animals are located on the property, but none of them were hurt. Sanders has owned Jackie for about eight years, and they competed in the National Barrel Horse Association for the past year. Sanders was thrown from another horse several years ago and broke her ankle and took some time off.  Jackie was docile and was patient and gentle with Sanders.

PHOTO CREDIT: Tonya Sanders

“I just started back last year, and she took care of me,” Sanders said.

Sanders said a neighboring rancher has offered $2,500 for information leading to the arrest of conviction of Jackie’s killer. Sanders’ sister is matching the donation to bring the total reward to $5,000.

If you have information, call LCSO at 352-343-2101. 

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Clermont Teenager Accused of Killing Family Dog With Sword

CLERMONT, Florida—A 17-year-old boy with a “history of violence” is accused of killing the family dog with a sword Saturday and leaving it in the woods near his house.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a home in unincorporated Clermont over the weekend on a report that Avery Featherston, 17, had killed the family dog with a sword and buried it in the woods. Deputies found a sword in the boy’s bedroom that still had animal hair on it, according to an arrest affidavit.  The boy’s stepfather showed deputies where he believed the dog may be and they found the dog dead approximately 20 to 30 yards into the woods.

The dog appeared to have been tied to a tree and had multiple lacerations; the dog was also missing part of its face, the affidavit states. “The body of the dog showed it was a very cruel and inhumane death,” the arresting deputy noted.

The boy’s family members told LCSO the boy has a history of violence and they were scared for the safety of other animals and small children in the home.  

Featherton was arrested on a charge of animal cruelty. 

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Man Arrested After Bragging He Shot At His Neighbor

LEESBURG, Florida—A warrant was issued for a man Monday after he bragged about a shooting incident involving his neighbor last month, according to a probable cause affidavit.  

Charles Derek Fueri, 49, is alleged to have driven his Dodge Ram and followed his neighbor as he rode his bicycle down the street on Oct. 28 in Bassville Park near Leesburg. Fueri passed the man and parked; as the man neared his home, Fueri turned his headlights on and accelerated toward the victim. As Fueri approached the victim, he reportedly yelled, “Do you want to die tonight,” displayed a gun and fired one round. The victim ran and called 9-1-1.

The shot missed the victim, but the following day he found the bullet lodged in a vehicle that was parked in front of his home. A Lake County Sheriff’s Office detective narrowed down a list of suspects for a photo line-up, but the victim was unable to identify Fueri, according to the affidavit.

On Sunday, a witness told LCSO Fueri told him he fired a shot at the victim from a .357 Magnum in retaliation for the victim allegedly looking over his fence and, in his vehicles, the same night. The witness also provided LCSO with a video showing Fueri aggressively following the victim and a short time later a gunshot can be heard, the affidavit states.

Fueri was picked up on the warrant Monday by Eustis Police Department and transported to the Lake County Jail. He is facing charges of discharging a firearm in public, shooting into an unoccupied vehicle and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He is being held on $13,000 bond. 

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Eustis Woman Slaps Child Over Drink, Arrested For Child Abuse

DeLAND, Florida—An altercation between a group of children and adults over a drink landed a Eustis woman in jail on a child abuse charge Tuesday night.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a report of a gun complaint around 6:30 p.m. on Beech Avenue in the DeLand area of Lake County, according to an arrest affidavit. The complainant told deputies approximately 20 people were outside his home and they went back to their residence nearby. He said the argument was over a drink and when they went to check the mail, the altercation began. No gun was found.

Deputies spoke with a male witness who said a juvenile had been jumped by two other children and slapped in the face but an adult, identified as Samantha Gandy, 33. The witness provided the deputy with a video that showed Gandy slapping the child, the affidavit states.

A female witness told LCSO she lives near the incident location and also saw Gandy slap the child.  Gandy was taken to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $5,000 bond. 

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