Man, 28, Arrested for Grabbing 81-Year-Old Man Who Ducked his Punch at Eustis Grocery Store

EUSTIS, Florida—A 28-year-old man is being held in the Lake County Jail on $5,000 bond after video surveillance showed him grabbing an elderly man and attempting to punch him at a Eustis grocery store Thursday afternoon., according to an arrest affidavit.

The victim, 81, told Eustis Police Department that a man, later identified as Jason David Payne, of Eustis, came into Winn-Dixie, 1995 North State Road 19 around 5 p.m. Thursday, “acting strange.” Payne was in and out of the store yelling and then threw down a display rack that struck the victim’s wife’s foot, the victim told police.

Jason Payne PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The victim confronted Payne, and Payne grabbed him and swung at him, but the man ducked and Payne struck a counter, cutting his hand, the victim told EPD; the store’s video surveillance backed up the victim’s story. Payne left the store in a tan Honda CRV and a Winn-Dixie employee captured a photo of the license plate, the affidavit states.

The SUV was registered to a woman on Orange Avenue in Eustis and when EPD went to the home they found the vehicle and Payne. He was arrested for battery on a person over 65 and transported to LCJ.

Hours After Alleged Crime, Eustis Attempted Rape Suspect Bitten by LCSO K9 and Taken into Custody Thursday

EUSTIS, Florida—The man accused of attempting to rape a woman at a Eustis massage business was bitten by a Lake County Sheriff’s Office K9 and taken into custody just hours after the crime, according to Eustis Police Department Capt. Dave Carney.

Surveillance video from a nearby business clearly showed the license plate of the vehicle the suspect was driving, and he was quickly identified as Timothy Paul Taylor, 35, by EPD. They went to his last known address in Eustis and neighbors told police he moved to Palmetto Street. Officers arrived at the home he shares with his mother and the vehicle used in the crime was in the driveway, Carney said. Taylor’s mother said he walked off in the woods and Carney called for assistance from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, including a K9 deputy and handler and LCSO’s helicopter, Eagle One. Multiple people called in to EPD and reported seeing Taylor running through several streets.

“He was going through people’s yards, jumping fences. The bird (Eagle One) finally found him,” Carney said.

Taylor was found hiding in heavy vegetation off Selleen Drive and refused to come out when ordered, Carney said, and an LCSO K9 was sent into the brush to apprehend him. Taylor was bitten several times and taken into custody. At press time, he was receiving treatment for the bites at a local hospital.

Taylor is accused of entering the back door of A-1 Massage and Spa, 1316 South Bay Street, and asking for a sex act Thursday morning, Carney said. The female victim told Taylor they did not perform sex acts and he pulled his pants down, grabbed her by the hair, put what police believe may have been a BB gun to her head, pulled his pants down and demanded the sex act. She told him no, he let go and told her he would come back and kill her if she called the police, Carney said.

The victim fled out the front door while Taylor fled out the back door to a black sedan. He popped the hood on the vehicle, closed it and then fled out of the parking lot onto Bay Street, Carney said. Police believe he may have put the gun under the hood of the vehicle before fleeing; a citizen found a BB gun nearby and called EPD; police believe it was the gun used in the crime, Carney said.

Taylor was arrested for attempted aggravated sex battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest. EPD detectives are requesting Taylor be held on no bond, Carney said.

PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

Eustis Police Searching for Armed Suspect Accused of Assaulting and Battering Woman Thursday

EUSTIS, Florida—Eustis Police Department is searching for an armed man, accused of assaulting and battering a woman at massage business Thursday morning.

A “younger” white male, approximately 5 feet 7 inches, wearing tan pants, a black hoodie, a red medical mask and armed with a gun entered the back door of A-1 Massage and Spa, 1316 South Bay Street, Thursday morning, EPD Capt. Dave Carney told Inside Lake.

He pulled his pants down, grabbed a female employee by the hair, put the gun to her head, pushed her head down and demanded a sex act. The woman was able to break free and run out the front door while the suspect ran out the back door to a black sedan. He popped the hood on the vehicle, closed it and then fled out of the parking lot onto Bay Street, Carney said, EPD detectives are interviewing the victim, but there is a language barrier. Surveillance video from a nearby business captured him on camera.

The suspect is facing multiple charges, Carney said,

This is a developing story.

Man Accused of Killing Family in 2019 DUI Christmas Eve Crash Leaves Trial for Lunch and Never Comes Back, Found Guilty in Absentia

TAVARES, Florida—A man on trial this week for killing three members of the same family on Christmas Eve 2019 is on the run after leaving his trial during a lunch break and never coming back—and was convicted the same day, according to Lake County Clerk of Court docket information.

Zachery Maurice Waldo, 36, is accused of killing Christopher Smith, 44, his wife, Jessica Smith,35, and their daughter Hailey Smith, 13, all of Eustis. Their son Hunter, just 11 years old, was the sole survivor in the vehicle his family was riding in. Christopher and Jessica died on the scene of the Christmas Eve 2019 crash and Hailey died on Christmas Day 2019.

Waldo was driving a 2019 Dodge Ram eastbound on Dixie Avenue, approaching Dozier Court when a 2018 Toyota Corolla being driven Christopher Smith attempted to make a left turn on Dozier Court. The front of the Ram struck the right side of the Corolla, killing the couple and injuring Hailey and Hunter, Leesburg Police Capt. Joe Iozzi said in 2019.

The event data recorder (EDR) for the Ram recorded the Ram’s speed at 84.5 mph one tenth of a second from the time of impact, but just 2 seconds before, the Ram was traveling at 96.3 mph, according to a report. The posted speed limit is 35 mph, and a witness told LPD the Ram did not slow down, and the brake lights did not illuminate. A witness also put Waldo behind the wheel just before the crash and DNA confirmed, Iozzi said.

Waldo and his passenger, Kevin Cunningham, 33 at the time, were taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center for their injuries. LPD obtained hospital records and Waldo was found to have an alcohol level twice the legal limit, along with amphetamines and benzos in his system, according to the report.

Upon searching the Ram, LPD found a loaded Ruger .40 caliber handgun stolen from Mount Dora, six sandwich bags containing 157.8 grams of marijuana and six cell phones, according to the report.

Lake County Courthouse PHOTO: Inside Lake

LPD obtained a warrant for Waldo’s arrest in August 2020 and he was nabbed by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies and the U.S. Marshals. They were performing surveillance and spied Waldo get into a black Dodge SUV. Waldo drove out of a neighborhood on Chain O Lakes Road and rolled a stop sign at County Road 44, according to an arrest affidavit. An LCSO deputy attempted a traffic stop and Waldo sped off, running other vehicles off the road. Multiple USMS and LCSO units attempted to stop Waldo and he struck an LCSO patrol car and crashed through a fence on Tall Oak Court, the affidavit states.

Waldo fled on foot and hid in the bushes of a home on Grand Island Oaks Circle and asked for a ride from a man returning home from work. The man denied him the ride and Waldo took off again and jumped over a fence to Laurel Crest Court. He was found lying on the ground wearing nothing but underwear, the affidavit states.  

He was charged with a litany of offenses from the crash and his apprehension and was taken to the Lake County where he was released three days later on $148,000 bond.

He disappeared Tuesday, on the second day of his trial and he was tried and found guilty in absentia. If you have information on Waldo’s whereabouts, call Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.   

Man Swerves to Avoid Vehicle Sunday morning, Crashes Through Eustis Guardrail

EUSTIS, Florida—Eustis Police Department is investigating a crash that sent a vehicle into a ditch near David Walker Drive and U.S. Highway 441 Sunday morning.

Yash Patel told Eustis Police Department he was traveling down U.S. Highway 441 when a vehicle pulled out in front of him from the 7-Eleven/Dunkin Donuts exit, and he swerved to avoid it. He lost control, crashed through the guardrail and went down the embankment. He was not injured.

He told EPD the other vehicle fled towards Tavares, and a description of the vehicle was not available. If you have information on Sunday’s crash, call EPD at 352-357-4121.

A man told Eustis Police Department he swerved to avoid a vehicle that pulled out on front of him and crashed through a guardrail in Eustis Sunday morning. PHOTO: Shannon Cook

Deputies Shut Down State Road 44 After Tragic Incident Monday Afternoon

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the incident happened on Tuesday; the incident happened on Monday and the story has been corrected.

Publisher’s Note: The following story contains details about an incident involving a suicide on State Road 44 Tuesday afternoon. Inside Lake determines if we will cover a suicide on a case-by-case basis. Generally, we only cover a suicide if it is in a public place, as in this case. We also want to share resources that are available to our readers if they need help. Locally, the M.I.K.E. Endowment is available, visit and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available by calling or texting 988.

EUSTIS, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a tragic incident that shut down State Road 44 Tuesday afternoon.

Around 3:30 p.m. Monday, LCSO received a call reporting a woman, identified in a report only as a female, was making suicidal threats and firing a gun outside of a home in a neighborhood off State Road 44 in unincorporated Eustis. As a deputy responded to the scene, he observed a car pulling out of the driveway of the location where the call was made, according to the report. The woman’s family invoked their rights under Marsy’s Law, according to LCSO Lt. Fred Jones, and most of her identifying information is redacted from the report.

The deputy activated the vehicle’s lights and sirens and the woman drove around the deputy and eventually made her way through the neighborhood and onto State Road 44. The woman called LCSO and threatened to harm herself if deputies continued to follow her and they backed off, according to the report.

Shortly after, the car the woman was driving crashed and deputies immediately attempted to render aid, but the woman had taken her own life. LCSO shut down State Road 44 in both directions to conduct its investigation.

Resources for depression and other mental health issues are available locally and nationally. The M.I.K.E. Endowment is a Lake County organization that provides financial assistance for immediate mental health counseling. For more information, visit Nationally, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988, by phone or text.

Hundreds of People Come Out for Eustis African American Heritage Celebration

EUSTIS, Florida—The crowds were large Saturday and the weather was beautiful for the 28th Annual Eustis African American Heritage Celebration.

Beginning with a parade of nearly 150 entries, paradegoers were treated to candy and appearances by Parade Marshal Verma Evans, the Eustis African American Heritage Festival Committee, Eustis Junior Panthers players and cheerleaders, Magic Boyz, along with Eustis City Commissioners, Eustis Police Department, Eustis Fire Department and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. For the second year running, Inside Lake participated in the parade.

PHOTO: City of Eustis

The fragrance of all the scrumptious food available at the festival wafted through the air during the parade enticing festivalgoers. Turkey wings, BBQ ribs, chicken, macaroni and cheese, collards and baked beans were being served up at many of the food tents and food trucks set up at the festival.

PHOTO: City of Eustis

There was a bounce house and snow cones for the kids and signups were available for Eustis Junior Panthers football and merchandise from numerous vendors was available for purchase. Darius Kerrison, organizer of the House of Laughter was out promoting his Eustis Hometown Comedy & Music Festival scheduled for April 1 in Ferran Park. Free tickets are available and VIP tickets are available for $25; for information and tickets, visit Eustis Hometown Comedy & Music Festival

Numerous vendors were at the Eustis African American Heritage Celebration Saturday. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

The Eustis African-American Heritage Celebration began in 1995 as UNITY—United Neighbors In Touch with the Youth, founded by Vivian “Carla” Mitchell, Patricia Wright and Kimberly Kelly Cameron in the wake of the tragic kidnappings and shootings of Dorothy Lewis and her daughters, Jamilya, 7 and Jasmine, 3. Dorothy survived her horrific injuries, the two sisters did not. Last month marked 30 years since one of Lake County’s most horrific crimes.

The tragic event shook the community to its core, Mitchell, who serves as president, told Inside Lake in 2022. “Our whole world stood still. The leaves weren’t even blowing on the trees. The community just stood still; we were in a state of shock.”

The trio of ladies came together and formed UNITY which included a parade down Bates Avenue and ended with a festival, celebrating the achievements of African-American residents of Eustis and nearly 30 years later, the core values and core events of the celebration are still in place today. In 1995, the celebration committee members began holding a banquet to commemorate the honorees and provide youth with the opportunity to attend a banquet. The youth ticket comes at a price, however, Mitchell said. Each child who wanted to attend the banquet is required to attend an etiquette class at Mitchell’s home.

Mitchell, who has lived all of her 79 years in Eustis, still carries the inspiring words her great-grandmother gave to her many years ago, “Be Strong, be educated and be a part of the decision-making process. I try to live up to that.”

Inside Lake participated in the Eustis African American Heritage Festival parade Saturday. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

Fundraiser Created for Man, 71, Left Paralyzed from January Head-On Crash

ORLANDO, Florida—A fundraiser has been created for the elderly man who was airlifted following a head-on collision in January at a Eustis intersection notorious for crashes.

Bernard Perry was left paralyzed after a head-on crash in Eustis in January. PHOTO: Damion Perry/gofundme

A 19-year-old Leesburg man was driving a Dodge Ram south on County Road 452 when he attempted to make a left turn on County Road 44 and turned into the path of a black Toyota sedan being driven by Bernard Perry, 71, of Zellwood around 6:30 a.m. Jan. 19. The front of the truck struck the front of the sedan, seriously injuring Perry and he was airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center, Eustis Police Department Capt. Jon Fahning told Inside Lake in January.

The driver of the Dodge told EPD he believed he had a green arrow when he made the turn, but a witness said it was a solid green light and the witness did not believe the driver of the Dodge had enough time to make the turn.

According to a gofundme organized by Perry’s son, Damion Perry, the crash left Bernard Perry paralyzed from the shoulders down.

First responders work a head-on crash in this photo from Jan.19. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

“Our family has created this page to raise funds to help support Bernard in his journey to rehabilitation. The funds raised from this page will help him receive additional medical, rehabilitation and other supports. Our family’s goal is to ultimately relocate my father back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he will be able to receive the more immediate attention of our family’s support,” Damion Perry stated on the fundraising page.

The fundraiser had collected more than $2,600 of its $75,000 goal at press time; to donate visit Bernard Perry Car Accident Medical

Sorrento Woman Killed, Eustis Man Seriously Injured in Volusia County Crash

De LEON SPRINGS— A Sorrento woman was killed Thursday afternoon after the car she was riding in rear-ended a Ford F-350 on U.S. Highway 17 in Volusia County, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

A 2013 Hyundai Elantra being driven by a 41-year-old Eustis man, was traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 17 approaching West Davis Street near De Leon Springs in Volusia County, when he failed to slow for a Ford F-350 pickup truck shortly after 5:30 p.m. Thursday. The Hyundai rear-ended the Ford, seriously injuring the Eustis man. His passenger, a 40-year-old woman from Sorrento, was transported to AdventHealth DeLand, where she was pronounced dead.  The driver was airlifted to Halifax Health Medical Center in Daytona Beach with serious injuries. Neither occupant was wearing a seatbelt, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said.

The two men in the Ford, both 22, one of Jacksonville and one of Orange Park, suffered minor injuries and were not transported. They were both wearing seatbelts, Crescenzi said.

The crash remains under investigation.

Leesburg Man Arrested After Fleeing Eustis Valentine’s Day Crash and Critically Injuring Man in Second Crash  

EUSTIS, Florida—A man without a license who police say fled a chain-reaction crash he caused, ran two stop signs and then slammed into the side of a Ford Focus on Valentine’s Day is facing three charges related to the crashes, according to an arrest affidavit.

Gustavo Miguel Garcia, 29, of Leesburg was driving a white Ford flatbed pickup truck when he rear-ended a black Dodge SUV at Grove Street and Floral Avenue and fled the scene just before 6:20 p.m. Tuesday, witnesses told Eustis Police Department.

Gustavo Garcia PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The witnesses followed Garcia and he turned onto Wilt Avenue, and ran the stop sign at Eustis Street and then ran a second stop sign at Wilt Avenue and Bay Street, also known as State Road 19. When Garcia ran the second stop sign, he slammed into a silver Ford Focus being driven by David Thomas Cook. The crash critically injured Cook and he was airlifted to Orlando Regional Medical Center. Cook’s condition was unknown at press time.

Garcia was found to have a suspended license and was taken into custody. He was arrested for reckless driving with serious bodily injury, driving with a suspended license causing serious bodily injury and leaving the scene of a crash. He was transported to the Lake County Jail and jail medical staff would not accept him until he was medically cleared. He was taken to AdventHealth Waterman, where he was cleared and transported back to LCJ. He was released Wednesday on $10,500 bond.

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