Lake County

Lake County Firefighter Fighting for his Life After 2 Masses Found on his Brain

PAISLEY, Florida—A Lake County Fire Rescue firefighter is fighting for his life after two masses were found on his brain after being rushed to the hospital earlier this month.

Blake Kocielko, 28, of Deltona, was rushed to Central Florida Regional Medical Center in Sanford after experiencing blurred vision and sudden dizziness while at home on June 19, according to a GoFundMe started by his brother Colton. Colton also works for Lake County Fire Rescue and is currently working on his firefighter certification, he told Inside Lake.

Blake went through testing and two masses were found and one was determined to be a tumor, Colton said. Medical personnel were unable to reach the other mass.

 “The tumors were not excised completely because more testing needs to be done first – but the neurosurgeon feels confident that they are cancerous. This is undoubtedly a devastating blow for Blake, his friends and family, and all of us here at Lake County Fire Rescue,” Lake County Firefighters stated in a Facebook post.

Blake was released from Central Florida Regional Medical Center in Sanford Thursday and is awaiting a second craniotomy at Shands Hospital in Gainesville to remove as much of one of the tumors as possible, Blake wrote in a GoFundMe update Monday.

“I am currently awaiting my second craniotomy procedure at Shands to attempt to remove as much of the tumor attached to my left lobe that they can and from there I will begin a treatment plan and begin the long road to recovery and hopefully return to healthy. I just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you, no words of encouragement or support has gone unnoticed, and I truly couldn’t thank everyone enough,” Blake stated in the update.

Blake is expected to undergo the surgery in the next two weeks, Colton said. “Hopefully, that will relieve some of the symptoms.”

Blake worked for a private ambulance company before joining Lake EMS in 2018, “to work alongside me,” Colton, 30, said of his little brother. He joined Lake County Fire Rescue in 2021 and is currently stationed in Paisley.

Blake and his longtime girlfriend, Jordan, have a rescued Yorkie named Survivor and their pug, Milo, passed away unexpectedly while Blake was in the hospital.

If you would like to donate to Blake to aid in his expenses and recovery, please visit GoFundMe-Blake’s Fight

Tavares Police Searching for 2 Armed Robbers

TAVARES, Florida—Tavares Police Department is investigating an armed robbery that occurred shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday night, TPD Lt. Sarah Coursey told Inside Lake.

TPD patrol officers responded to Sun Foods, 1165 East Alfred Street after a customer reported the robbery, according to a report.

Two black males, with their faces covered, entered the store and demanded money from the clerk, the witness said. The robbers took an undisclosed amount of money from the register and one of the males fired a shot, hitting some canned sodas, and they fled the scene on foot, Coursey said.

A TPD detective responded, along with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office CSI unit and an LCSO K9. The K9 tracked north behind the store and near Caroline Court Apartments; the track was terminated at Caroline Street, the report states.  

If you have information on Saturday night’s robbery, call TPD at 352-343-2101, extension 4.

Man Wanted for Shooting at Man in Feud Over Woman Arrested

EUSTIS, Florida—A man who has been on the run for over a month for a shooting in an apparent feud over a woman in early May was picked up earlier this week on multiple charges stemming from the shooting.

On May 7, Eustis Police Department responded to El Sereno Apartments, 600 North Grove Street on a report of a shooting. The victim told police he was walking to his apartment when he felt like someone was behind him; he turned around and saw a man he recognized as Cameron Deon Blair, 19, pointing a gun at him. Blair fired three or four shots at the victim, and he ran to his apartment, according to a probable cause affidavit.

The victim told police he believed Blair shot at him because when the victim was in jail, Blair had an intimate relationship with the victim’s girlfriend, and he believes Blair is mad because his girlfriend is dating him and not Blair, the affidavit states.

Cameron Blair PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

EPD canvassed the area of the shooting and found two spent .380 shell casings and an impact mark was found on one of the buildings. Police were unable to locate Blair near the scene or at his home in Eustis and a warrant was issued for his arrest the same day.

He was picked up by Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies Monday on several charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, shooting into an occupied dwelling, discharging a firearm in public, improper exhibition of a firearm and two counts of failure to appear for prior charges of burglary and grand theft. He is being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

Umatilla Man Accused of Hugging and Trying to Kiss Girl, 11

UMATILLA, Florida—A Umatilla man has bonded out of jail on child abuse and battery charges after an 11-year-old girl accused him of hugging her, rubbing her legs and trying to kiss her, according to an arrest affidavit.

Umatilla Police Department responded to a home Monday after the girl reported to her parents Hector Laguna-Ruiz, 47, touched her. She said Laguna-Ruiz hugged her and tried to kiss her several times and she pushed him away and told him to leave, when he came into her room around 1 a.m., the affidavit states. She said Laguna-Ruiz left and returned 20 minutes later and asked if he could hug her. She said, “no,” and went into the bathroom and Laguna-Ruiz continued to ask her through the door. Then she went to her bed; he sat down and began rubbing her legs and knees and she repeatedly told him to leave.

Laguna-Ruiz told the girl not to tell her parents and he left.

UPD questioned Laguna-Ruiz, who was sleeping on a hammock on the property, and he said he did hug the girl, give her jewelry and money, but did not touch her. He also told police he lets her keep his wallet and money for safekeeping, but the girl said she never did that before now, the affidavit states.

Laguna-Ruiz was taken into custody and transported to LCJ, where he was released on $6,000 bond.

Witness Tells FHP Bicyclist was Struck by at Least 1 Vehicle after Hit and Run Crash

FOUR CORNERS, Florida—A 35-year-old Lakeland man was killed in the early morning hours Friday as the result of a hit and run and at least one vehicle running him over, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The man was riding a bicycle southbound at 4:45 a.m. on U.S. Highway 27 near U.S. Highway 192 in the bicycle lane when an unknown vehicle failed to maintain the outside lane and struck the bicyclist, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

The impact ejected the bicyclist and he landed in the outside lane, where a witness saw at least one vehicle, possibly two, strike the man and continue traveling southbound on U.S. Highway 27. The bicyclist was pronounced dead on the scene, Crescenzi said.

Troopers believe the vehicle that initially struck the man may be a semi, due to tire marks, Crescenzi said. Anyone with information is asked to call FHP at 407-737-2213 or Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.

The crash remains under investigation.

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.

Teenager Arrested for Crashing into Patrol Car while Trying to Flee Deputies

CLERMONT, Florida—A teenager is facing four criminal charges after crashing a stolen car into the back of a Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputy’s patrol car while trying to flee around 4 a.m. Tuesday, according to an arrest affidavit.

LCSO received information a stolen white Dodge Dart was entering Lake County and located it around State Road 50 and East Avenue and several deputies attempted a rolling roadblock. The 16-year-old driver veered across State Road 50 and crashed into a deputy’s marked cruiser, according to the affidavit. The Orlando boy fled into a nearby parking lot and performed a U-turn and entered the westbound lane of State Road 50 traveling eastbound.

Inside Lake is not naming the boy due to his age and the nature of the charges.

The Dart then turned onto Autoplex Lane, a dead-end street, near a Toyota dealership and LCSO performed a felony traffic stop and took the boy into custody. He was arrested for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer, grand theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing to elude and no driver license, never had one.

He was evaluated on scene by Lake EMS and transported to a local hospital where he was medically cleared. He was taken to the Lake County Jail and the Department of Juvenile Justice was contacted, the affidavit states.

Man Arrested more than a Dozen Times since 2016 Accused of Fleeing Tavares Police

TAVARES, Florida—A man who is no stranger to the law has been arrested again—his 15th felony arrest in Lake County since 2016, according to Lake County Clerk of Court online records.

Austin Dean Chaudoin, 26, of Astatula is accused of fleeing Tavares Police officers Saturday and having drugs on him when a detective caught up with him Sunday, an arrest affidavit states.

A TPD detective was getting gas Saturday around 1 a.m. when he spotted Chaudoin pull up to a nearby gas pump. The detective recognized Chaudoin from past involvements and found the tag was expired on the white Dodge Durango Chaudoin was driving. A marked unit attempted to pull Chaudoin over on U.S. Highway 441 and Palm Gardens Street and he failed to yield and took off speeding, according to the affidavit.

Officers deactivated their emergency lights and sirens and terminated the traffic stop, driving the opposite way of Chaudoin.

The TPD detective went back to the gas station and Chaudoin was identified by the clerk and on video surveillance later that day. Around 3 a.m. Sunday, the detective was attempting to locate Chaudoin, and found him and the Durango at Rosewood Condominiums. Chaudoin was taken into custody and searched. TPD found a glass pipe, syringe and bag of white powder in his left front pocket and a small bag containing methamphetamine in his right pocket.

The detective asked Chaudoin if the white powder was “fetty,” a street term for fentanyl and he nodded his head, the affidavit states.

Chaudoin was arrested for fleeing and eluding, possession of methamphetamine, possession of fentanyl and possession of paraphernalia. He was transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was released on $17,000 bond.

Correction: Due to a typo, the original headline was incorrect and did not match information contained in the story. The current headline reflects the correction.

Gift Card Scheme Lands Longtime Police Department Employee in Hot Water

EUSTIS, Florida—A police support coordinator accused of defrauding Eustis Police Department of $6,665 worth of gift cards, abruptly resigned and she is facing a criminal charge, according to an internal investigation obtained only by Inside Lake.

Pam Gordon, who has worked at EPD for 19 years, is alleged to have altered invoices submitted to the City of Eustis finance department to hide complimentary gift cards from a marketing company, the report states.

In early May, an EPD sergeant opened a package containing promotional materials for EPD and found an envelope containing nine $25 Amazon gift cards. The sergeant thought it was odd and reported her findings to a captain. The captain told the sergeant to contact the company to ensure the cards were not sent in error. During the call, the department’s sales representative told the sergeant the company had been sending gift cards to the police department “for years” to reward officers or recognize people for good deeds. The sergeant asked if some specific items they had in storage were from the company and the representative reportedly said, “Pam and (I) have been friends for 18 years and she would never cheat on (me,)” according to the report.

The sergeant and captain have been employed with EPD for a combined 35 years and neither had ever received any of the gift cards to give to officers they supervised, the report states. The information they found was given to the Office of Professional Standards for review.

The internal affairs investigator contacted the marketing company and the city’s finance department to request copies of the invoices submitted by Gordon so he could compare them, and he found numerous invoices were altered.

According to the report, the city provided invoices from late 2018 through January 2022 and invoices that should have contained gift cards had been altered. The investigator found that numerous gift cards were sent in $25 and $10 increments for Amazon, Bath & Body Works, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse, Target, and Walmart. Most of the cards were in $25 increments and sometimes as many as 14 cards were sent in a package. A total of $6,665 worth of gift cards were sent to the police department since 2009.

The investigator interviewed two past police chiefs and an interim chief and none of them had knowledge of Gordon receiving the gift cards.

On June 1, the investigator informed Chief Craig Capri of his findings and Capri requested he begin an internal investigation and Gordon was placed on administrative leave. Gordon was notified of the investigation the same day and immediately said the gift cards were for her. When the investigator told Gordon how they found the gift cards, Gordon “immediately became accusatory toward (the sergeant) due to personal differences and alleging (the sergeant) won,” the report states.

Gordon was informed the investigator found invoices altered to hide the gift cards and Gordon said, “(I) altered the invoices so finance would not question the receipt of the gift cards. Can you imagine the (expletive) we would have gotten from them if they saw the gift cards?” she reportedly told the investigator.

Gordon said she used the Amazon gift cards to order things for the department, but the investigator did not find any evidence of gift cards on the department’s account. Gordon became very upset, according to the report, and resigned immediately. She initially refused to sign the notification of the investigation, but later signed it after Capri read it to her. She continued to blame the sergeant who found the gift cards in May and said she did nothing wrong; she removed some personal items from her office and left, the report states.

On June 6, the investigator spoke with the department’s sales representative, and she changed her story from what she told the sergeant in May. She told the investigator the gift cards were sent to Gordon for her to choose how to use them and the cards did not have a specific purpose. She went on to explain there is a point system where a gift card is awarded for every 900 points earned by purchasing merchandise. “This conversation is different from the conversation (she) had with (the sergeant) when (the sergeant) contacted her back in May,” the investigator noted in the report.

The investigator called her back a few minutes later and asked if she talked to Gordon; she paused and said it was the last time an order was placed, which was a while ago, according to the report.

The following day Capri contacted Gordon about not receiving a resignation letter and Gordon accused the investigator of not contacting the sales representative. Gordon said no one contacted the sales representative as of the weekend of June 4 and June 5 because she called the representative and asked if anyone spoke to her. “This is the direct opposite of what (the sales representative) had just told me the day before,” the investigator noted in the report.

The investigator concluded that Gordon had violated two department policies, conduct unbecoming and conformance to laws and he recommended termination. A probable cause affidavit for scheme to defraud was turned over to the State Attorney’s Office about two weeks ago.

“Charges have been filed,” Jonathan Olson, State Attorney’s Office felony division supervisor, told Inside Lake. Gordon was not arrested, Olson said. She was sent a summons to appear, and her arraignment is scheduled for June 27. 

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