Inside Scoop

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. 

Man Arrested for Molestation the Day after Touching Teenage Girl at Local Store

CLERMONT, Florida—A man who smacked a 14-year-old on the buttocks as she walked through a local Walmart with her family was arrested for lewd or lascivious molestation Friday.

The girl’s father told a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy that a man, later identified as Derik Manuel Bonet-Rodriguez, 28, of Clermont, walked past his wife, daughter and an unnamed female and swung his right arm back and “intentionally struck the buttocks of the 14-year-old with an open hand,” at Walmart, 550 U. S. Highway 27, Clermont around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the arrest affidavit states.

The man then left on a bicycle that appeared to have a motor and white front forks; Walmart provided the video of the incident and the defendant leaving, according to the affidavit.

LCSO spotted the bicycle outside a local business Friday night and found Bonet-Rodriguez inside checking out. He was identified as the suspect after a deputy compared him to the video; he was taken into custody and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $5,000 bond.

Mount Dora Motorcyclist Killed after being Rear-Ended, Ejected Saturday Night

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.

Trio in Car Accused of Trying to Run Deputy Over Facing Litany of Charges

LEESBURG, Florida—The trio accused of being in a car that attempted to run over a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy are facing a litany of charges, according to several booking sheets.

Jeffrey Elijah Gilbert, 20, of Orlando is facing the most serious charge, aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a motor vehicle, after being accused of being the driver in Monday’s incident.

According to LCSO, a deputy attempted a traffic stop near Water Oak Country Club Estates on a white Dodge Charger believed to be involved in a shoplifting incident at Walmart, 2501 Citrus Boulevard, Leesburg. Gilbert, along with passengers, Pierre D’Haiti, of Orlando, and Calvin Anthony Williams, of Davenport, both 20, fled the stop in a white Dodge Charger after trying to run the deputy over to “facilitate an escape,” a detective noted in Gilbert’s affidavit.

As the car came towards him, the deputy fired two shots, striking two of the car’s occupants. The Charger fled and the trio abandoned the car near Country Life Mobile Home Park and fled on foot across U.S. Highway 27 into a Dunkin Donuts near the corner of U.S. Highway 27 and County Road 48. When law enforcement arrived, they found Gilbert and D’Haiti in the bathroom, along with scales, a glass jar and two gallon-sized bags of marijuana, the affidavit states.

Gilbert is facing one charge of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, fraudulent use of a credit card and criminal use of personal identification; He is being held on no bond.

 D’Haiti is facing one charge each of, possession of marijuana over 20 grams, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, possession of another person’s identification, illegal use of a credit card and petit theft; he is being held on $9,000 bond.

Williams is facing four petit theft charges, one charge of scheme to defraud, four charges of illegal use of a credit card, four charges ID theft, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, three counts of violation of probation from an Orange County case and a pending charge that was not available at press time; he is being held on no bond.

Naked Stroll through Umatilla Lands Man in Jail

UMATILLA, Florida—A nice leisurely naked stroll through Umatilla resulted in a trip to jail for a Fort Lauderdale man Thursday night.

Stephen Robert Fauteux, 47, was arrested when he was found standing naked in front of Umatilla Police Department around 6: 10 p.m. Thursday. An officer was responding to a naked man walking in the area of State Road 19 and Golden Gem drive and as he left the department to respond, he was flagged down by two off-duty Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies who said the man was standing out front, according to an arrest affidavit.

The officer went to the front and found Fauteux completely nude; he told the officer he left his clothes in a gazebo off State Road 19 and he “liked walking around naked,” the affidavit states. An officer retrieved his belongings from the gazebo, and he was arrested for exposure of sexual organs and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $1,000 bond.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Clermont Woman Arrested and Held on $50K Bond for Shooting Husband in March and Leaving Him in Vegetative State

CLERMONT, Florida—A Clermont woman who shot her husband last month and left him in a vegetative state was arrested on a warrant for attempted murder Wednesday and is being held on $50,000 bond.

Teresa Marie Kemme, 57, stands accused of shooting her husband during an altercation on March 27 at their home on Lake Katherine Circle. According to a probable cause affidavit, a witness told Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies, Kemme’s husband, who is not named, attempted to start a physical fight with Kemme’s son and Kemme walked into the home. The witness then walked the victim into the house to separate them. The son’s age was not available in the affidavit.

As they walked into the home, Kemme approached her husband with a .380 semiautomatic handgun. The witness attempted to disarm Kemme, but she fired the gun, and a shot struck her husband, causing a severe injury that rendered him unresponsive, the affidavit states. The witness took hold of Kemme and took her outside and tried to disarm her again and she refused to release the gun.

Two off-duty law enforcement officers responded to the scene upon hearing the shot, and one of them was able to disarm Kemme, according to the affidavit. The victim was airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center and is currently in a vegetative state; his prognosis is unknown.

Kemme refused to talk to LCSO the day of the incident and requested her attorney. A warrant was issued for her arrest Tuesday, and she was picked up at her home Wednesday. In 2008, Kemme was arrested for throwing a kitchen knife at her husband after an argument. That charge was dropped just two weeks later. 

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.

Leesburg Mother Charged with Neglect after Volusia Deputies Find 2 Children Unrestrained in Car Pulled Over for Speeding

DeLAND, Florida—A little more than a week after a devastating crash that killed two unrestrained Leesburg children; two more Leesburg children were found unrestrained in a car that was reportedly speeding in DeLand at nearly 100 miles per hour.

Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Monday, two Volusia Sheriff’s Office deputies spotted a white Chevy Impala traveling 57 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone. VSO started to apprehend the car and its speed increased to 70 miles per hour before turning onto International Speedway Boulevard and accelerating to 91 miles per hour in a 50 miles per hour zone, according to a VSO report.

As deputies approached the car, they saw two small children, a 3-year-old girl lying in the front seat, unrestrained, and a 2-year-old boy in the backseat also unrestrained. There were no car seats in the car, according to the report.

VSO spoke with the driver, Carolyn Poitier, 25 of Leesburg, the mother of the children, who said she was headed to Daytona Beach to pick up her boyfriend, the father of the two tots. One of the deputies began to speak with Poitier on the dangers of having her children unrestrained and Poitier, “had complete lack of emotion or concern for her children’s own well-being,” the deputy noted in the report. She also got her children’s ages wrong.

Carolyn Poitier

Poitier said she does own car seats but took the vehicle without the seats because she did not want to strap in her sleeping children; she said always drives in the same manner and “did not seem concerned with the speed.” When asked what would happen if she were involved in a crash, she reportedly said she did not plan to get in a crash.

VSO told her to arrange for her children to be picked up with car seats and “contact was made” with her boyfriend, the children’s father. She was then taken into custody for child neglect and due to a strong odor of burnt marijuana, her car was searched. VSO found three loose pills, identified as Tramadol, a prescription pain killer. She was arrested for possession, in addition to child neglect and issued traffic citations for speeding, careless driving and three seatbelt tickets. A copy of the report was faxed to the Department of Children and Families for review.

The children’s father arrived on scene with car seats and took the children and Poitier was transported to the Volusia County Branch Jail, where she was released on $5,000 bond.

This incident comes just 10 days after an Easter Eve crash that killed two toddlers. Two Leesburg boys aged 4 and 2 were unrestrained in a Kia sedan when the Kia was involved in a head-on crash with a Toyota pickup truck. The crash killed both boys and one was ejected, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. A 1-year-old boy was airlifted to a local hospital in serious condition. It is unknown if he was in a car seat.

Two Suspects Shot After Driving Towards LCSO Deputy

LEESBURG, Florida—Two people were shot by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy after the vehicle they were in drove towards him when he was outside of his vehicle, according to LCSO Lt. John Herrell.

LCSO deputies were looking for a suspect vehicle after a stolen credit card was used at Walmart, 2501 Citrus Boulevard, Leesburg. Deputies spotted the vehicle in Lady Lake and attempted a traffic stop, but the vehicle fled, Herrell said in a press release.

“At some point during the chase, the deputy, after getting out of his vehicle, reportedly fired shots at the suspect vehicle as it drove towards him,” Herrell said.

The three suspects fled and abandoned their vehicle at Country Life Mobile Home Park, 3813 Victor Boulevard, Leesburg. Numerous witnesses told Inside Lake the car was a white Dodge Charger, but LCSO has not confirmed that. The trio were apprehended at Dunkin Donuts, near the corner of U.S. Highway 27 and County Road 48.

Two of the suspects were transported to Orlando Regional Medical Center with what appears to be non-life-threatening injuries, Herrell said. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

Sorrento Woman Killed in Eustis Motorcycle Crash

EUSTIS, Florida—A weekend that saw many motorcycles on the roads, especially in Eustis and Leesburg ended tragically Sunday afternoon with the death of a 28-year-old Sorrento woman.

Rebekah Jo Towner was the passenger on 2006 Harley Davidson being ridden by 64-year-old Edgar Wesley Tello, of Umatilla, northbound on Grove Street, when he struck a construction sign near Pendleton Avenue, a Eustis Police spokesperson told Inside Lake—the only media on the scene.

The impact threw Tello and Towner from the motorcycle and she slid with the motorcycle more than 100 feet, coming to rest at a fence in front of a home. Towner was pronounced dead on the scene, EPD said.

A witness who asked not to be named, heard and witnessed the 4:40 p.m. crash, “I heard a squeal, like it hit the curb and then there were two booms,” he said. “He was going faster than 30 (mile pers hour.”)

A Eustis Police traffic homicide investigator is seen investigating a fatal motorcycle crash near a mangled sign Sunday afternoon. A Sorrento woman was killed.
PHOTO: Inside Lake

The speed limit in that area is 30 miles per hour and there is an electronic speed monitor reminding motorists of their speed and to slow down.

Tello was airlifted to a local hospital and is in serious condition. The crash closed two blocks of North Grove Street for several hours and traffic was diverted to North Eustis Street. It is unclear if either one was wearing a helmet, police said.

The crash comes at the conclusion of two popular events that were held over the weekend, Eustis Music Fest and Leesburg Bikefest. It is unknown where the pair were coming from and the crash remains under investigation.

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