Clermont

Suspect Who Fled Crash that Killed Teen Confessed to FHP, According to Report

MONTVERDE, Florida—The man who hit a high school freshman earlier this week was found by his boss using a tracking device and turned over to the Florida Highway Patrol, along with the two occupants who were in the car with him, and the driver confessed to the crime, according to a report.

Owen Wells, 14, a ninth grader at Lake Minneola High School, was killed around 6:20 a.m. Thursday on County Road 455 near Willo Pines Lane when he was struck by a Pontiac G6 being driven by Enrique Ramirez, 57, of Winter Garden. The impact threw the teen into the southbound lane of County Road 455 and Owen was then struck a second time by a Dodge Ram being driven by Jeffrey Bolin, 59, of Ferndale. Bolin stopped after the crash, stayed on scene and gave troopers a statement; Ramirez stopped briefly and then fled the scene, he told troopers.

According to the arrest report, Ramirez said he was “scared” and believed because other people stopped, he did not have to; Ramirez had two of his coworkers in his car when he hit Owen. The trio fled to their boss’ house a few miles away, left the vehicle with the damaged left headlight, picked up a work truck for the landscaping business they work for and went about their day.

Owen Wells and his two younger brothers PHOTO: GoFundMe/Support for the Wells’s Family

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies located the vehicle in front of the home just a few miles from the scene of the crash. Troopers responded and observed damage consistent with the crash and it matched “perfectly” to reflectors and mirror housing parts left on the scene, according to the report. They spoke with Esdras Rivera, owner of the landscaping business, who told them Ramirez and his buddies, Alberto Perez Hernandez and Francisco Javier Zacarias Cononado, were “acting weird” and seemed “very short” when they arrived earlier to pick up the work truck.

Rivera told troopers he had a tracking device on the work truck and could locate Ramirez. The Pontiac was towed by FHP for processing with an FHP sergeant following close behind, according to the report. Rivera located Ramirez, Hernandez and Cononado, picked them up and took the trio to the FHP station on Semoran Boulevard in Orlando where they were questioned, the report states. Attempts to reach Rivera for comment were unsuccessful.

 All three were interviewed by troopers and Ramirez admitted he was driving the Pontiac at about 40 miles per hour northbound on County Road 455 when he saw a person’s shadow on the roadway and swerved to avoid the person. He said he struck the person, and the person was struck by a truck, according to the report.

Enrique Ramirez

Ramirez said he stopped briefly, then left the scene because he was “scared” and “others had stopped so he thought he could leave,” the report states. Ramirez’ passengers, Hernandez and Cononado both admitted they were passengers in the car at the time of the crash and fled the scene. They have not been charged and FHP has turned its findings over to the State Attorney’s Office for review, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi told Inside Lake.

Ramirez was arrested for leaving the scene of a crash involving death and transported to the Lake County Jail. Troopers requested no bond when he was booked into the jail, and the bond has since been lowered to $100,000. Ramirez remained in LCJ at press time.

An account has been set up to help support Owen’s family, to donate, visit Support for the Wells Family

Account Created to Support Family of High School Student Tragically Killed Thursday

MONTVERDE, Florida—A GoFundMe has been created to help provide financial support to the family of  the Lake Minneola High School freshman who was tragically killed in a hit and run crash Thursday.

The account, created by family friend Derek Kelley, describes 14-year-old Owen Wells as “always smiling” and “always on some adventure”

“Owen had a love of God and a love of life,” Kelley wrote. “Owen had a deep love for his parents. And definitely loved the occasional harassment of his two younger brothers.

The funds collected are slated to pay for Owen’s funeral expenses and to give Owen’s parents, Jim and Beth, time to grieve, Kelley said.

Owen, of Montverde, was the victim of a hit and run crash just before 6:30 a.m. Thursday as he waited for his school bus, according to Kelley.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Tara Crescenzi said Owen was crossing the lanes of County Road 455 near Willo Pines Lane when he was struck by a 2007 Pontiac G6 being driven by Enrique Ramirez, 57, of Winter Garden. The impact threw Owen into the southbound lane of County Road 455, where he was struck a second time by a 2006 Dodge Ram being driven by a 59-year-old Ferndale man. Ramirez fled the scene; the driver of the Ram stopped.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies found the Pontiac unoccupied shortly after the crash and FHP investigated and found that Ramirez was the driver. Ramirez was arrested a little over 12 hours after the crash for leaving the scene of a crash involving death. He is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

If you would like to donate to the Wells family, click here Support for the Wells Family

2 Killed in Turnpike Crash Early Thursday, Including Tow Truck Driver

ORANGE COUNTY, Florida—A Groveland man and a tow truck driver are both dead following a crash on Florida’s Turnpike early Thursday morning as Hurricane Nicole made its way across Orange County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

An FHP trooper and a tow truck were working a single-vehicle crash, facing southbound on the inside shoulder, around 5:45 a.m. Thursday; the tow truck, being driven by a 42-year-old Poinciana man, was parked in front of the marked cruiser and both vehicles had their emergency lights activated, near mile marker 266, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

A Groveland man, 53, was driving 2000 Isuzu Hombre southbound on Florida’s Turnpike when he lost control and swerved for an unknown reason near the original crash scene. The Hombre struck the right rear of the tow truck and then struck the tow truck driver, who was standing outside truck, killing him, Crescenzi said. The driver of the Hombre was also pronounced dead on the scene.

A passenger in the Hombre, a 51-year-old Clermont man, was transported to a local hospital with minor injuries.

The crash remains under investigation.

Incident Involving Man Who Told Boy to Get in His SUV Near Clermont Bus Stop Last Week was a Misunderstanding, Deputies Say

CLERMONT, Florida—Lake County Sheriff’s Office detectives have located a man who approached a 12-year-old boy last week near County Road 455 and 3rd Avenue in unincorporated Clermont and they say it was a misunderstanding and not an attempt to kidnap the boy.

The East Ridge Middle School student was walking to his bus stop around 8:30 a.m. Thursday when an older white male driving a silver SUV with tinted windows approached him.

“According to the student, the driver knew his name and instructed the student to get in his car, to which the student refused. The student stated he then called his mother and fled to a nearby home, where he waited until the bus arrived,” LCSO Sgt. Jim Vachon said in an email last week.

After locating the man and investigating the incident, detectives found that the man was a Lyft driver and was trying to find his customer. In an interesting twist, the customer has the same name as the middle school student, LCSO Lt. John Herrell said Tuesday.

“The Lyft driver approached the young man, verified his name, and told him he was there to pick him up. As mentioned in the press release last week, the young man then called his mother and fled to a nearby home,” Herrell said. “The Lyft driver has been completely cooperative. Detectives were able to verify the information he provided concerning the customer he was looking for in the immediate vicinity of that bus stop.”

Deputies Step Up Patrols After Unidentified Man Told Tween Boy to Get in His SUV at Bus Stop Thursday Morning

CLERMONT, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has stepped up patrols at bus stops around County Road 455 and 3rd Avenue in unincorporated Clermont after a 12-year-old boy said a stranger called him by name and told him to get in his SUV, according to LCSO Sgt. Jim Vachon.

The East Ridge Middle School student was walking to his bus stop around 8:30 a.m. Thursday when an older white male driving a silver SUV  with tinted windows approached him.

“According to the student, the driver knew his name and instructed the student to get in his car, to which the student refused. The student stated he then called his mother and fled to a nearby home, where he waited until the bus arrived,” Vachon said in an email.

A witness confirmed the SUV was in the area and interacting with the boy and saw the boy run away, Vachon said.  

The suspect is described as an older white male, with white hair and a white beard and he was wearing a black shirt. Detectives are working to identify the man and are asking anyone with information to call LCSO at 352-343-2101.

Man Arrested for Sexual Battery, Traveling to Meet 13-year-old Boy, Released on $29,000 bond

CLERMONT, Florida—A doorbell camera that alerted a woman to a suspicious vehicle in front of her house helped nab a man who picked up a boy for sex acts after meeting the boy on a social media app earlier this month, according to an arrest affidavit.

On Oct. 2, Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a home in Clermont after the woman called about someone walking back and forth to the suspicious white dually pickup truck in front of her home. The street address is redacted because the incident involves the victim of a sex crime.   

When deputies arrived, they found Bermon Edward Pritt, 53, with a 13-year-old boy. Pritt, whose listed address is Avon Park in Highlands County, told deputies he had been staying at Thousand Trails RV Resort in unincorporated Clermont. Less than six weeks ago, in a separate case, a man was arrested for murdering his wife and stepson and raping a young woman while they were living at the same RV resort; Justin Jones, 41, is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.    

According to Pritt’s affidavit, when deputies arrived, they found Pritt with his head in the boy’s lap and believed Pritt was performing a sex act on the boy and the boy confirmed their suspicions when being questioned. The boy refused to talk to deputies in the beginning and was “visibly distraught. He later told another deputy he met Pritt via the social media app Grindr; Grindr touts itself as, “The world’s largest social media app for LGBTQ people.” The boy said they discussed Pritt performing sex acts and he told Pritt his name and age.

Deputies questioned Pritt and he said the boy’s profile on Grindr stated he was 19 and Pritt allowed deputies to view the messages between him and the boy. After seeing the photo the boy used on his profile, “it is very apparent (the boy) looks very young and is not 18 years old,” the arresting deputy noted in the affidavit.  

 Pritt admitted his intention was to perform sex acts on the boy and he was arrested for sexual battery on a victim over 12, lewd or lascivious battery on a victim under 16, lewd or lascivious molestation on a victim under 16, solicitation of a child and traveling to meet a minor to commit an unlawful sex act.

Pritt, whose listed occupation is boat operator at 6000 Universal Boulevard, Orlando— Universal Orlando Resort’s address—was released from LCJ on $29,000 bond; his arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 31.

Tavares Police and LCSO Join Forces for Operation Aware

Operation Aware will provide wristbands and a database for first responders and the special needs community.

TAVARES, Florida—Two law enforcement agencies have joined forces to provide a new tool to the community that will give first responders valuable information when responding to calls for service in the special needs community.

Nearly a year in the making, Tavares Police Department began its Operation Aware initiative in November 2021 and has since teamed up with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office to provide wristbands to members of the community that may require a different response from law enforcement.

“We are big on community policing,” TPD Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake last year. “There are always ways we can be better,” she said, “and there are always opportunities for the community to teach us how to better serve them.”

Operation Aware is a “total approach” to the issues facing the special needs community and will provide education, outreach and follow up,” Sullivan said.

Newly-appointed Tavares Police Chief Sarah Coursey worked with Sullivan to get this program up and running. “Operation Aware is near and dear to my heart; it gives us the opportunity to serve our community in a unique way when our response requires a different approach,” Coursey told Inside Lake.

The wristbands are available for community members who have intellectual and developmental disorders, including, but not limited to, autism, dementia. PTSD and Alzheimer’s, according to Sullivan. Loved ones and caregivers are encouraged to reach out to TPD or LCSO and register special needs individuals to get them a wristband and enter them into the database.  

The bright blue wristbands will immediately let law enforcement officers know they are interacting with an individual with special needs, and provide them with vital information including names, addresses, emergency contacts and medical conditions. Officers and dispatchers will have access to the information and individual addresses will be flagged so the officer is aware of any special circumstances before they arrive to the call. Officers will know if the individual is non-verbal, has a sensitivity to lights and sirens and any other pertinent information that would be helpful to officers. They will also help reunification by giving officers and deputies information immediately that can be shared with media outlets and on social media, Sullivan said.  

The wristbands will also be a tool for the public; they will have a number and a QR code that can be scanned and will inform the public to call 9-1-1. The wristband never needs to be charged.    To register, please visit https://tavares.org/1327/Operation-Aware or https://lcso.org/oa/

2 Students Arrested for Making Threats Monday in Separate Incidents

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—A little more than a month into the new school year and two more Lake County Schools students have been arrested for threats, according to two arrest affidavits.

Christopher Joseph Wallace, 17, of East Ridge High School and Braedyn A. Auker, 16, of Tavares High School are each facing a felony charge of written threats to kill after they were arrested in separate incidents Monday.

A student came forward Monday morning at East Ridge High School in Clermont about some concerning texts Wallace had allegedly sent Friday, according to the affidavit. The student said Wallace sent texts that stated, “Because I know I can’t control myself; I’d hurt or possibly kill one of you, spread the message” in addition to, “…there isn’t a remorseful feeling in my body anymore and when I say kill, I mean beat one of you to the point of death; all of you having me feeling betrayed and just debating how I should handle it or leave it be and calm down, but I physically can’t mentally either.”

Wallace was questioned by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office school resource deputy (SRD) and members of administration, and he admitted he made “some statements” based on his “angry behavior” and does not always realize or remember what he said.

Wallace, who is already on probation, was arrested and transported to the Lake County Jail for booking.

Also on Monday, an assistant principal at Tavares High School brought some Snapchat posts to the attention of the SRD. The posts were threatening in nature and stated, “If you go to THS just know I didn’t give up. I’m coming back and when someone fuels the fire I won’t just sit there your (sic) gonna end up with Ur brains out on the school campus and ur momma pleading for doctors to keep you alive,” the affidavit states. “Yk (you know) who you are and I’m coming after u.”

The SRD investigated and identified the poster as Auker, based on another post that references dropping out of school; Auker and his mother met with school officials Thursday to discuss Auker dropping out, according to the affidavit. Auker was also identified in a photo on one of the posts, by an assistant principal. Auker was questioned and admitted making the threats; he said he was upset due to ongoing issues with friends and an ex-girlfriend. Auker arrested for written threats to kill and turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice.

This is the second Tavares High School student arrested this school year for threats.   

LCSO Negotiating with Barricaded Subject in RV, U.S. Highway 27 Shut Down in Both Directions at Lake Louisa State Park

8 a.m. Update: One northbound lane of U.S. Highway 27 is shut down; the remaining lanes are open.

CLERMONT, Florida— At least one barricaded subject in an RV has shut down U.S. Highway 27 in both directions early Wednesday morning.

Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies attempted to pull over an RV stolen out of Flagler County and had to utilize stop sticks on U.S. Highway 27 near Lake Louisa State Park, according to LCSO Lt. Fred Jones. After the RV stopped the blinds were closed and it is unknown how many occupants are in the vehicle.

This is a developing story.

Name of Man Killed in Armed Confrontation with LCSO Released

CLERMONT, Florida—The name of the man killed in an armed confrontation with deputies Sunday has been released.

James Edward Vought, 49, died Sunday after confronting a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy armed with a rifle, according to LCSO Lt. John Herrell.  LCSO responded to 10630 Reagans Run Drive, Clermont just after 5 p.m. Sunday on a report of a suicidal man armed with a rifle. A deputy encountered Vought and during the confrontation, the man was fatally shot by the deputy, Herrell said. 

The shooting is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and deputy has been placed on administrative leave, standard procedure in a deputy-involved shooting.

James Vought was arrested last month for aggravated battery after a video showed him charging someone with a knife and kicking them. PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Vought was arrested in August for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon after being accused of charging someone with a knife, according to an arrest affidavit. Vought was at a home on Kipling Court in Clermont when he apparently got upset about something. He took a knife from behind his back and charged the victim with it and began kicking him, and it was captured on video.

Another man came to the victim’s defense and all three fell to the ground and Vought was struck multiple times in the face.  Vought was taken into custody and after he was medically cleared, he was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $2,000 bond.

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