Fruitland Park

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/

Woman Turns Herself In for Killing Relative, Held on No Bond

FRUITLAND PARK, Florida—A woman is being held in the Lake County Jail on a charge of second-degree murder after killing a male relative, due to a “longstanding grudge,” according to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Jesse James McParlin, 39, was walking down Pine Street in unincorporated Fruitland Park around 10:20 a.m. Saturday, when the woman saw him, according to LCSO Lt. John Herrell.

She began yelling at him and chased him down the street and shot him with a handgun, witnesses told LCSO. Detectives later learned there was a longstanding grudge between the two, Herrell said.

McParlin went to his home on Pine Street to get help and an unidentified male attempted to take him to the hospital, but he died near Calvary Baptist Church on Eagles Nest Road.

The shooter turned herself in to LCJ Saturday night and is being held on no bond. Her name is not being released because she may be the victim of a sex crime.

The is the sixth homicide in Lake County since Aug. 25.

Man Accused of Battering Pregnant Woman and Her Grandma During Argument Over Air Mattress

FRUITLAND PARK, Florida—An argument over an air mattress that led to a man allegedly battering a pregnant woman and her elderly grandmother landed the Fruitland Park man in jail early Thursday morning, according to an arrest affidavit.

Fruitland Park Police responded to an apartment shortly before 2 a.m. on Urick Street on a report of a domestic disturbance. When the officer arrived, Charles Levi Brown Jr., 36, was throwing an inflatable mattress outside of the home, while two women, one in her third trimester of pregnancy and the other, 65 years old, were trying to obtain the mattress.

Brown, who is on crutches due to being shot earlier this year in Orlando, was secured and the pregnant victim told police she came to the home to pick up a child she shares with Brown. She was getting her belongings together, which included the air mattress, when Brown became very upset, ran to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and stabbed the mattress to deflate it, according to the affidavit.

The victim said she told Brown the mattress could be deflated outside, and Brown declined and tried to throw the mattress out. The woman tried to pull it back inside and Brown began to hit her and her 65-year-old grandmother. Brown also took the pregnant victim’s keys and threw them. They were later found damaged across the street.

The pregnant victim had a small bruise on her arm consistent with being grabbed; the elderly woman did not have any bruises, the officer noted in the affidavit.

Brown told police the pregnant victim hit him, and he had injuries, but the officer could not find any. He said it was two against one and he was trying to escape the grasp of the two women, but when the officer arrived neither woman was holding onto him, according to the affidavit.

Brown was arrested for aggravated battery on a pregnant woman and battery on a person 65 or older. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $7,000 bond.

Back to School Events Around Lake County

LAKE COUNTY, Florida—The first day of school, scheduled for Aug. 10 for Lake County Schools, is fast approaching and with increased prices for gas, food and many other essential items, many families are in need of back-to-school supplies or some fun to have with the kiddos before they hit the books.

We have compiled of list of events around Lake County that include supply giveaways and fun and informative events for the kids. Cities are listed in alphabetical order, scroll down until you find an event near you.

Clermont

Saturday, July 30, 9 a.m. to noon. Project Kid Connect presented by Lake County Sheriff’s Office Charities. Backpack and school supply giveaway, food, drinks, rock climb, dunk-a-deputy and more. Location: South Lake District Office,15855 State Road 50, Clermont.

Eustis

Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Back to School Bash presented by the City of Eustis. Free food, school supplies and boy’s haircuts while supplies and spaces last. Free pool admission, bounce house and firetrucks and police cars on scene. Battle of the Badges Blood Drive, donors receive $20 eGift card and first responder t-shirt. Location: Ferran Park, 250 Ferran Park Drive, Eustis

Fruitland Park

Friday, July 29, 10 a.m. to noon. Back to School Bash presented by Fruitland Park Library. Free hot dog lunches, school supplies, bicycle helmets and face painting, while supplies last. Free vision and hearing screenings also available. Location: Fruitland Park Library, 604 W. Berckman Street, Fruitland Park.

Groveland

Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. Back 2 School Backpack Bash presented by the City of Groveland. Free backpacks for grades K-8, adult and child must be present to receive a backpack while supplies last, vendors and a kids zone. Location: Nathaniel Community Gymnasium, 13806 State Road 33, Groveland.

Minneola

Thursday, July 28, 6:30 p.m. Back-to-School Safety Meet-and-Greet with speakers, Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay and Lake County Schools Supervisor of Safety and Security Joseph Mabry. Speakers will discuss how LCSO and LCS are keeping students safe. Location: Minneola City Hall, 800 North Highway 27, Minneola.

Mount Dora

Sunday, Aug. 7, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Whimsy Market’s Back to School Market Mount Dora. More than 30 vendors, character meet and greet with Elsa, sweet treats and food trucks. Location: Essential Therapies Spa, 1518 North Donnelly Street, Mount Dora.

Umatilla

Saturday, July 30, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Whimsy Market’s Back to School Market Umatilla. More than 40 vendors, character meet and greet with Elsa, carnival games, live music, bounce houses and food trucks. Location: Sunsational Farms, 40541 Roger Giles Road, Umatilla.

EXCLUSIVE: Fiancé of Man Killed Last Month Says, “My Father was No Hero.”

LEESBURG, Florida—“It feels like I’m in hell.”

Lauren Carlton spoke exclusively to Inside Lake this week about the death of her fiancé, Austin Graham, at the hands of her father, James Carlton last month.

Carlton was accused of shooting Austin in the head and killing him after Austin stopped to talk to Carlton in the middle of Whitney Road in unincorporated Leesburg June 22. Austin, 26, recognized Carlton’s truck, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Fred Jones said last month, and stopped to talk to the grandfather of his children. After a brief conversation, Carlton, who was known to carry a gun, shot Austin and fled the area. Carlton called his wife, who he had recently reunited with, after being estranged for more than a decade.

Lauren, 26, was on the phone with her mom when Carlton called her and moments later, she called Lauren back to tell her that her father had shot Austin. Not long after, Carlton texted Lauren, “I’m sorry.”

Carlton was arrested for Austin’s murder at a Marion County bar, near the Lake County Line. Lauren said her dad was drunk when he was arrested. “Whiskey turns him into the devil. That’s the best way I can say it.”  

Carlton died of a heart attack a little over a week later.

Lauren reached out to Inside Lake to clear Austin’s name and dispel rumors that have been spreading on social media following Austin’s death.

Together five years and engaged for 4.5 of those years, Lauren met Austin through his sister, one of Lauren’s close friends. Austin’s sister Ronni was taking Lauren to get a tattoo and they stopped by Austin’s house. Lauren had a word tattooed on her neck and that word would later become their daughter’s name. Lauren did not want to name her children for this article. They shared two children, a 3-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy and had decided to have a third baby just before he was murdered.

“Austin never once put his hands on me. Never.”

Lauren said LCSO detectives immediately asked her if Austin abused her and she very clearly told them, “no.” Lauren does not have social media pages, but people close to her have told that numerous comments have been made that her dad killed Austin because he was abusive. Lauren said that just is not true. “My dad knew Austin never put his hands on me,” she told Inside Lake.

She does not know exactly what set Carlton off that day but was extremely candid about his battles with alcohol throughout the years. Lauren said Carlton gave up drinking for the first time in her life when she got pregnant with her daughter but had recently started again due to pressure in his personal life.

“My dad, my entire life, was an abusive alcoholic. Honestly, I don’t really feel like it was about Austin. I don’t know. It was my dad’s hate for himself.”

Carlton had recently reunited with Lauren’s mom and Lauren believes the pressure of responsibilities got to him. Austin and Carlton had not argued recently and there was no indication this was going to happen other than Carlton had started drinking again.

“The pressure. My dad, my whole life could never handle the pressure of being a father, or having a wife, or doing what was right. I feel like he snapped.”

Lauren said she remembers when she was younger, she would know what kind of day it was going to be by the way Carlton’s truck was parked.

“I used to get off the bus and I could see the way his truck was parked, and I wouldn’t want to get off the bus because I knew he was (extremely drunk.)”

Lauren said Carlton beat her mom several times, “It was a bad childhood.”

Lauren feels like Carlton was looking for Austin that day; Lauren and Austin frequented a property off Whitney Road and several people with video surveillance have since told her Carlton’s truck drove up and down the road several times before the murder.

Lauren is trying to heal and stay strong for her babies, but she is having a tough time, “I just never knew anything could hurt this much. I want everybody to know how good Austin was.”

“I feel like God gave me Austin and my dad took him away.”

Man Accused of Murdering Daughter’s Boyfriend Dies of Suspected Medical Issue Thursday

TAVARES, Florida—The man accused of killing his daughter’s boyfriend last month has died.

James M. Carlton, 57, was accused of shooting Austin Graham, 26, in the head and killing him on June 22 after the pair stopped to talk to each other on Whitney Road in unincorporated Leesburg. Graham was Carlton’s daughter’s boyfriend, Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Fred Jones told Inside Lake.

Carlton, of Fruitland Park, fled the scene and was arrested for murder later that day at a bar in Marion County and held in the Marion County Jail until he was transferred to the Lake County Jail on Monday.

On Thursday night, Carlton was having a “medical issue” and after being evaluated by a nurse at the jail, he was transported to a local hospital, where he passed away, Jones said.

There was no use of force, and no foul play is suspected, Jones said.

Submitted photo

Team Effort in Operation Sneak-A-Peek Nets Largest Fentanyl Haul in County History

TAVARES, Florida—Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell has a message for those dealing drugs in Lake County…to be continued.

Announcing the largest fentanyl haul in Lake County history at a press conference Thursday, Grinnell spoke to members of the media about a 4-month operation that resulted in 27 people facing drug-related charges after detectives with multiple agencies targeted three high-level drug traffickers and their associates across the county.

Cliff “Sneak” Johnson, 40, Andrew “Smurf” Woodruff, 37, and Charles, “Cuz” Carter, 50, who have collectively been arrested 75 times for felonies, were the main targets of “Operation Sneak-A-Peek” Grinnell told reporters Thursday afternoon.

“Mr. Johnson goes by the street name, “Sneak,” and our detectives took a peek and what Mr. Sneak was up to; hence, the name of this operation,” Grinnell said.

Detectives from LCSO, Clermont Police Department, Eustis Police Department, Leesburg Police Department and Mount Dora Police Department, DEA, FBI, Homeland Security and the Fifth Circuit State Attorney’s Office investigated the trio and found that fentanyl was coming from Mexico into California and Texas and making its way to Lake County, either by shipping methods or transported by vehicle, Grinnell said.

“This was truly a team effort,” Grinnell said.

PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Detectives traveled to Georgia and throughout Florida to crack the case, according to the sheriff.

Detectives recovered a large amount of drugs, including 3.1 pounds of fentanyl, 1.11 ounces of fentanyl pills, 22 pounds of methamphetamine, 2 pounds of cocaine, 1.2 ounces of crack cocaine, 5.7 ounces of heroin, 10 ounces of MDMA and 15 pounds of marijuana. Thirteen guns were recovered, three of which were stolen, in addition to $12,000 in cash, four vehicles and three pill presses. The drugs have a wholesale street value of nearly $300,000 Grinnell said.

Johnson, of Leesburg, is being held in the Sumter County Jail on no bond and is facing 23 charges, including trafficking, conspiracy to commit trafficking, unlawful use of a two-way communication device and possession of numerous different drugs; Woodruff, of Mount Dora, is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond and is facing four charges, racketeering, conspiracy to commit trafficking in fentanyl  and methamphetamine and, unlawful use of a two-way communication device. Carter, of Leesburg, is charged with conspiracy to commit trafficking in fentanyl and cocaine, and conspiracy to commit racketeering. He is also being held in LCJ on no bond.

The operation also revealed the suspects were dealing Isotonitazene, commonly known as ISO, a synthetic opioid that can be 20 to 100 times more potent than fentanyl, Grinnell said.

Seventeen suspects have been arrested and cops are still looking for nine more.

Grinnell had a message for those he calls “pushers of poison.”

“Operations like these save lives and put the pushers of poison behind bars. So here in Lake County, I say, to be continued.”

State Attorney Bill Gladson said some of the charges carry minimum mandatory prison sentences of at least 15 years.

Several documents in each of the suspects’ cases have been sealed and many details of the undercover operation are not available. 

PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Man Accused of Killing Daughter’s Boyfriend Wednesday Held on No Bond

LEESBURG, Florida—The Lake County Sheriff’s Office has released the name of the man killed in Leesburg Wednesday afternoon.

Austin Graham, 26, was shot in the head by James Carlton, 57, of Fruitland Park. Graham was Carlton’s daughter’s boyfriend, LCSO Lt. Fred Jones told Inside Lake.

Shortly before 3 p.m. Wednesday, Graham and a witness were driving down Whitney Road near State Road 44, when the victim recognized Carlton’s vehicle. The two vehicles stopped, and Graham got out to greet Carlton and had a short conversation with him, the witness told LCSO.

After the brief conversation, Carlton shot Graham and fled the scene; Graham was transported to UF Health Leesburg, where he was pronounced dead, Jones said. Carlton was found at a bar in Marion County and multiple law enforcement agencies responded and took him into custody without incident, Jones said.

Carlton was arrested for first degree murder and transported to the Marion County Jail, where he is being held no bond.

Jones said detectives are still investigating the case and have not released a motive.

Man Shot in the Head in the Middle of the Road by a Man he Stopped to Greet; Suspect Flees and is Arrested at Marion County Bar

LEESBURG, Florida—A man was shot in the head and left on the side of the road in unincorporated Leesburg Wednesday, and the suspect fled to a Marion County bar, according to Lake County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Fred Jones.

At 2:50 p.m., the 26-year-old victim and a witness were driving down Whitney Road near State Road 44, when the victim recognized James Carlton’s vehicle. The two vehicles stopped, and the victim got out to greet Carlton and had a short conversation with him, the witness told LCSO. Inside Lake

After the brief conversation, Carlton 57, shot the victim and fled the scene. The victim was transported to UF Health Leesburg, where he was pronounced dead, Jones said in a press release.  Carlton was found at a bar in Marion County and multiple law enforcement agencies responded and took him into custody without incident.

Carlton, of Fruitland Park, was arrested for murder and transported to the Marion County Jail. His booking information and mugshot were not available at press time.

LCSO has not released a motive for the shooting or the relationship between the victim and Carlton.

No Tag Light Leads to Trafficking Arrest, Woman Held on $82K Bond

FRUITLAND PARK, Florida—A woman who was at a known drug house and driving around with no taillights was arrested for a variety of drug offenses early Tuesday, including two trafficking charges, according to an arrest affidavit.

A Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy was patrolling the area of Palm Street in Fruitland Park early Tuesday morning when he spotted a red car in the driveway of a “known narcotics house,” around 1:30 a.m. “Due to my familiarity with the residence being heavily involved with narcotics users, I remained in the area even after the red car left the residence,” the deputy stated in the affidavit.

About 30 minutes later LCSO spotted the same red car nearby and noticed it did not have a working tag light. The deputy attempted to catch up to the car and it quickly pulled into a driveway on Eagles Nest Road, according to the affidavit.

The deputy lit the car up with a spotlight and saw a female in the driver’s seat, a male in the passenger seat and a large dog in the backseat. Both the male and female reclined their seats and attempted to conceal themselves, the deputy noted in the affidavit.

The female, identified as Stephanie Shannon Kilby, 36, got out the car, followed by the male who quickly walked away from the scene. Inside Lake is not naming the man because he was not charged with a crime. Kilby told the deputy she was visiting her friend at the home, but when another deputy spoke to the homeowner, he said he was asleep, not expecting any guests and did not know Kilby, according to the affidavit.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Kilby was found to have a suspended license and taken into custody; as the deputy approached the car, he saw a blue glasses case on the floorboard with a “bubble protruding from the case,” he stated in the affidavit. A “bubble” is a pipe commonly used to smoke methamphetamines. LCSO requested Kilby contact the man who left the scene earlier to come retrieve the large dog from the backseat and after numerous calls, he finally answered and returned to the scene for the dog, according to the affidavit.

LCSO searched the car and found a black zippered case that contained approximately 50 grams of methamphetamine, nearly four grams of heroin, along with seven Xanax pills and two Adderall pills. Four cell phones were found in the glove compartment, according to the affidavit.

Kilby, who is listed as homeless, was arrested for trafficking in methamphetamine, trafficking in heroin, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug equipment and driving while license suspended. She was transported to the Lake County Jail, where she is being held on $82,000 bond.

An earlier version of this story stated Kilby was pulled over for inoperable taillights. Kilby was pulled over for an inoperable tag light.

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