5th Annual Lake County Back the Blue and Red Walk

Photos from the 5th Annual Back the Blue and Red Walk. Organizer Shannon Cook has been supporting law enforcement since 2019 with this walk. This year, firefighters were added to the event, and the name was changed. PHOTOS: Bonnie Whicher/Special to Inside Lake

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Eustis Store Manager Held at Gunpoint, Store Robbed of Cash Wednesday Night

EUSTIS, Florida—Eustis Police Department is hunting for an armed robber after the manager of a busy gas station was held at gunpoint late Wednesday night as he closed the store.

The manager of Bay Street Food Mart, formerly known as Kars Mart, 1212 South Bay Street, was outside closing up at around 11 p.m. when the robber ran up from the north side of the building, pulled a gun from his jacket pocket and demanded money, EPD said in a press release.

The victim and the suspect went back into the business and the victim opened the cash register. The suspect took an undisclosed amount of cash from the register and left the scene on foot. Video surveillance captured the incident, and the suspect is described as a black male, medium build, approximately 6 feet tall; he was wearing a gray hoodie, black pants, white shoes, a black hat with a bird on it, along with a black mask and sunglasses. He appeared to have several tattoos. Including one on his left hand and possibly a tattoo above his left eye.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, Eagle One and an LCSO K9 assisted with trying to find and apprehend the suspect but were unsuccessful. The K9 tracked to the northwest side of the store and evidence was located west of the business. Police believe the suspect dropped the undisclosed evidence while making his getaway.

If you have information on the robbery, call Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.

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Man Shot Multiple Times in Tavares Tuesday Night, Police Seeking Witnesses

TAVARES, Florida—Tavares Police Department is investigating after a man was shot multiple times Tuesday night.

Shortly after 10 p.m. Tuesday TPD responded to the 1000 block of Maplewood Street after receiving calls about a male being shot, TPD Officer Courtney Sullivan said.

“Residents surrounding the incident location advised officers that a dark midsized passenger car fled the scene following the shooting,” Sullivan said in an email.

The man was shot multiple times and transported to a trauma center where he remains in critical condition. TPD’s Criminal Investigations Division (CID) responded to the scene and are actively investigating the shooting. The man’s name has not been released.

“Detectives are working diligently at collecting as much evidence as possible to assist with the investigation,” Sullivan said.

TPD is asking anyone with information to contact detectives at 352-742-6200.

Man Shot Multiple Times in Tavares Tuesday Night, Police Seeking Witnesses Read More »

Umatilla Teen Driving Mercedes Busted by Off Duty Deputy for Impersonating a Cop

EUSTIS, Florida—A teenager is being held on $6,000 bond after flipping on red and blue lights as he pulled over near a disabled vehicle Tuesday night—in front of a Lake County Sheriff’s Office detention deputy.

Joshua Michael Mazenka, 18, of Umatilla, was driving a black 2011 Mercedes on State Road 19 in Eustis around 10 p.m. Tuesday when he saw a disabled vehicle, turned on his illegal red and blue lights and pulled over, according to an arrest affidavit.

An LCSO detention deputy on his way home, saw the disabled vehicle and as he attempted to pull over, the Mercedes pulled in front of him with the flashing red and blue lights in the windshield, the deputy told Eustis Police. The uniformed deputy stepped out of his vehicle and when Mazenka saw him, he reportedly said, “Oh (expletive,)” and fled the scene in his Mercedes. The deputy called dispatch and began following Mazenka through a neighborhood and eventually Mazenka stopped in the parking lot of Winn Dixie at State Road 19 and County Road 44, the affidavit states.

EPD officers responded and when Mazenka first saw them, he blurted out, “I (expletive) up,” according to the affidavit. Officers observed a light bar in the back window attached with suction cups, in addition to a light bar in the backseat with one suction cup attached, and one still stuck to the windshield. The light bars were very similar to those used in law enforcement vehicles, the arresting officer noted in the affidavit.

Mazenka agreed to speak with officers, and he told them he was traveling north on State Road 19 when he saw a vehicle stopped with its hazard lights on. He turned on his red and blue lights “for safety” and pulled over to help.

“The way he used (the lights) is the same way (police) would use them,” EPD Capt. Jon Fahning told Inside Lake.

Mazenka said he saw the detention deputy behind him and he “knew he was in trouble” so he fled the scene. Then he decided it was best to stop and he pulled over at Winn Dixie, he told police. He also said LCSO had pulled him over recently; in that incident in September, he was pulled over for driving recklessly in Leesburg and the deputy observed red and blue lights in the front and back, along with lights in the grill. The deputy told Mazenka to remove the lights and he was given a ticket for following too closely.

Mazenka told officers he bought the lights on Amazon.

He was arrested for impersonating a police officer and having red and blue lights on a vehicle and was transported to the Lake County Jail. The Mercedes was towed and when the car when inventoried, an airsoft pistol was found that was an exact replica of a Glock 17, in addition to a pellet rifle.

When officers returned to the original scene to help the disabled vehicle and its occupants, it had already been towed, according to the affidavit.

Umatilla Teen Driving Mercedes Busted by Off Duty Deputy for Impersonating a Cop Read More »

Meet A Public Information Officer: Lauren Brown

The following story was previously published on Lake Legal News.

As a young boy watching airplanes at North Perry Airport in Pembroke Pines in South Florida, Eustis Police Officer Lauren Brown imagined one day he would be flying one of those planes, but happening upon a vehicle crash changed everything.

Born in Jamaica, Brown, 35, moved to Fort Lauderdale when he was only 10 years old. “My parents wanted to get out of there. [They] wanted to give me a better life,” Brown tells Lake Legal News. He had a love of airplanes and wanted to be a pilot, even building model airplanes as a child. Being a law enforcement officer was not something he planned on. “That was not really on my radar at all.”

Brown was studying aerospace around 2007 and was driving home when he drove up on the wreck. “I was looking at this wreck and [I wanted] to help,” Brown explains to LLN. “That urge to help people is what drives me.” It was after that he switched from aerospace to criminal justice and received a degree from Broward College.

His urge to help people and charming personality make him a great fit for two roles at the Eustis Police Department — community relations officer and public information officer (PIO.) “I wear two hats,” Brown said, “community relations and public information officer.”

As community relations officer, Brown is out in the community at different events and gets to know the residents he serves. “People get to interact with a uniformed officer,” he said, “I get out of the car and shake their hands; I want to hear their stories. That’s one of the big benefits.” Brown feels his position has repaired old friendships between the department and the community and created new ones. “It’s created a lot of bridges.”

Brown is also the man behind the department’s Facebook page. He posts many different things from suspect photos to public service announcements. In January, he began posting as his alter ego, Major Trooper, donning a Star Wars’ storm trooper mask— a recent gift from his younger sister. Major Trooper has different rules when Chief Gary Calhoun is out of town, including Rule No. 4: “The only donuts that will be allowed are glazed and sprinkled. Sprinkles are for winners.” The department’s Facebook followers seem to be having fun being silly with Brown. Many of the Major Trooper posts have dozens of comments and shares.

In his role as PIO, Brown is the liaison between the media and the police department. He has to prepare press releases, answer the tough questions asked of him by the media and sometimes get in front of a live camera. He was thrust in front of several print media outlets and numerous television cameras for a major press conference when Capt. Gary Winheim was shot in December 2019. “I’ve always known at some point I’d have to get in front of the cameras—can’t hide behind press releases forever,” he tells LLN.

Brown believes his different roles both in law enforcement and working with law enforcement have helped him. He began his career at the Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) as a community service officer, a civilian position that entailed taking reports, crime scene investigation and crash reports. “Nothing in progress,” Brown explains to LLN, ”just after-the-fact stuff.”

After a new sheriff (the infamous Scott Israel) was elected in 2012, BCSO suffered numerous cutbacks and Brown was laid off. He put in applications at several agencies and was hired at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office as a crime scene investigator. He worked there for four years and during that time attended the law enforcement academy. He went to school at night while working days and completed his training.

He was hired by the Eustis Police Department five years ago. Brown said his CSI experience helps him a lot as an officer. He can collect his own evidence and dust for prints; having both the patrolman’s point of view and seeing the importance of the evidence gives him a complete advantage, Brown notes.

Meet A Public Information Officer: Lauren Brown Read More »

Exclusive: Wounded Eustis Police Captain Says, “I Want My Story To Be Told By Me.”

The following story was previously published on Lake Legal News.

EUSTIS, Florida — Eustis Police Captain Gary Winheim is grateful to be alive and grateful to the community he serves.

“I am humbled by the outpouring of support from the community. [I have] enormous respect for all the fire, medical and law enforcement professionals in the incident. Our community is truly strong.”

Just two days after being shot in the neck by an ex-con with a violent history, Winheim, his wife, Stephenie, and their beloved dog Laike sat down in their home with Lake Legal News for an exclusive interview Saturday. “This is my story,” Winheim said. “And I want my story to be told by me.”

Sporting bandages on his ear, neck and back, Winheim, 49, a 24-year veteran of Eustis Police Department is doing well after having surgery to remove the 9mm bullet that clipped his earlobe, entered his neck and travelled slightly down his back. Doctors at Orlando Regional Medical successfully removed the bullet Friday and he was released from the hospital. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Thursday, around noon, Winheim was in full uniform and in his unmarked truck— a truck well-known in the community to be driven by Winheim— at the traffic light at County Road 44 and State Road 19 when he heard gunshots coming from the area of a small mechanic shop, a Shell gas station and a Winn Dixie. Winheim’s wife, Stephenie, a former ICU nurse, was on the phone with him when he heard the shots. “I was not responding to a burglary call or a robbery call. I was not responding to any call. I was minding my own business,” the captain explains to LLN.

The Shell station at 1905 North State Road 19 in Eustis, Florida, was held up by an armed robber Tuesday evening and EPD was working on getting a warrant for the suspect’s arrest Thursday morning. 

Winheim, a 12-year SWAT team member, saw a dark-colored SUV leaving the parking lot of the Winn Dixie driving erratically and he began to follow it. Winheim followed the SUV eastbound down County Road 44, when it suddenly pulled over near Trout Lake Nature Center. Winheim pulled over too. At this point, Winheim did not know he was following Jayson Colvin, the man suspected of robbing Shell. “I had no idea who he was,” Winheim said. “No clue.” As captain over the Criminal Investigations Division, Winheim was familiar with the investigation and where that investigation was, but it never entered his mind that he might be following Colvin, he tells LLN. “We firmly believed he had left town.”

“I firmly believe he knew who I was because he has history in this county,” Winheim said. Colvin, who has a criminal history in Lake County dating back to 1998, was arrested by EPD in March for resisting without violence, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia and again in April for resisting without violence. All the charges from the March case were dropped; he was sentenced to probation and given a fine in the April case.

“I was catching up to him and he pulled over,” Winheim relates. He did not know why the SUV stopped because he had not activated his emergency lights. He was not sure if the driver needed assistance, or if he was pulling over for sinister reasons. “All the scenarios that you’re going through—‘Is he hurt, was he just shot at, does he have somebody in the truck who’s hurt, or was just shot at?’” In addition to wondering if the man needed assistance, Winheim also wondered about his own safety. “Is he flagging me down because he needs assistance or does he have bad intent right now? This is how it processes for law enforcement; all of the bad things that could be happening to them that we need to help them with, or all of the bad things that they’re intending to do to us. You have all that processing through your head,” Winheim tells LLN.

“He (Colvin) jumps out, immediately raises the gun and starts firing at me. It’s an ambush,” Winheim recalls thinking. Winheim was still sitting in his truck when he took fire; he never got the chance to get out, or to grab his gun.

Colvin fired multiple shots (the exact number has not been released, as it is part of the still-active investigation) striking Winheim once, through the windshield of his truck.

“So when he jumped out and started shooting at me, I had no idea what was going on at that point. When he started popping off rounds and I got hit in the neck and I knew I was hit in the neck, it stunned me.” Winheim tried to lie down over the seat, but his truck has a large center console and he could not get low enough, “So I caught the round in the neck.”

When asked what was going through his head once he realized he was being shot at, Winheim said he thought to himself, “I’m in a really bad spot.”

“We can train for a whole bunch of tactical scenarios. You cannot train for an ambush. An ambush is an ambush. The only thing about an ambush is you can train to fight through an ambush.”

Colvin fled and Winheim bailed out, ran to the back of his truck and thought to himself, “This is not where I end.” At that point, his main concern was blood loss. A vehicle pulled in behind Winheim during the shooting and Winheim ran to it. The driver rolled down the window and said, “I’m on the phone with 9-1-1.” Winheim responded, “Ma’am, I am 9-1-1. I’ve already called them.” He asked her how bad he was bleeding and she gave him her jacket and put it against his neck and held pressure to his wound. 

EPD Senior Officer Wayne Perry Sr. was the first to arrive and was getting his med kit as EPD Sergeant Dan Post arrived and Winheim said “Dan, give me your med kit,” and  Post replied, “I brought a fire truck.” “Love me some Dan Post,” Winheim says. “He’s awesome.”

Winheim likes to give the fire department a hard time. “I mess with firefighters horribly,” he adds with a grin. “The old police-fire thing. I am ruthless with the fire department.” But Winheim teases them affectionately, “I truly do love those guys and appreciate the job they do.”

A firefighter Winheim has known for many years treated him, and Winheim looked at him and said, “Do not let me die.” And he said, “Oh, I’m not letting you die; you’re not going anywhere.” Winheim responded, “Great! Take care of me. I’m getting through this. I’m not done yet.” The firefighter said, “No, you’re not done yet. You’re getting through this.”

Always the jokester, even in a crisis, Winheim said, “And I want everybody here to know, all those jokes I made, I was just kidding.”

Colvin fled to Umatilla and crashed near Cookie’s Junkyard & Towing, 19813 County Road 450, bailed and ran into a wooded area. More than 500 law enforcement officers responded to the search scene from local, state, and federal agencies, Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell said in a press conference Thursday.

After nearly seven hours of searching, a helicopter pilot from the Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) Aviation Unit spotted Colvin hiding under a canoe, along the shoreline of a small lake. The pilot saw him take position in an aggressive manner. Colvin refused to comply with deputies’ orders and was shot and killed.

Stephenie Winheim, now a Realtor, was home when she found out her husband was shot and Winheim called her himself. “Damn right, I did, That’s my wife.” He said, “Baby, I want you to know I’m OK. I’ve been shot. And I love you.” Choking back tears, he recalled, “I told her I was not gonna die and I was not leaving her.”

Since they’ve been together, Captain Winheim has been involved in three other shootings prior to Thursday’s shooting, “I definitely didn’t react the same way to this one as I reacted to the first one,” she tells LLN. “I worked in ICU, it’s high stress level. We see a lot of things; we’re good compartmentalizers. You can’t freak out— you have to deal with what’s going on.”

The shooting was just one week after the pair celebrated their seventh anniversary. They were married on December 12, 2012, (12-12-12) and dated for five years prior to getting married. They travelled to Nashville, Tennessee, to celebrate their anniversary and returned just three days before the shooting.

The love the two share for each other is obvious. Each one choked back tears several times while talking with LLN. They speak in unison, finish each other’s sentences and complement each other’s personalities. They both told LLN that they are best friends. 

Notably, the couple taught a section at EPD’s in-service training program to help teach spouses how to cope with the aftermath of serious incidents. “Almost 24 years with Eustis, almost 12 years as a SWAT operator; I’m an active shooter instructor, reality-based training. I’ve been really fortunate in my career to have attended a lot of training classes and a lot of firearms-related training classes. I consider myself a tactical guy,” the captain states.

Captain Winheim tells LLN that he thinks law enforcement is excellent at training, and he has seen it get better and better over his career, but there are still some flaws. “We are awesome at training right up to the point of pulling the trigger. We don’t teach our officers what happens afterward. We don’t teach officers about the media coming and asking them questions and getting on their Facebook to find things out,” he explains to LLN.

“There are law enforcement officers who believe, ‘Don’t include your spouse in your work. Don’t burden your spouse with your work. Don’t bring your work home,’” Winheim notes, but he disagrees. “If you don’t inoculate your spouse to what you do, prior to an event like this, how do you expect your spouse to get through an event like this? The body can’t go where the mind hasn’t been.” 

Exclusive: Wounded Eustis Police Captain Says, “I Want My Story To Be Told By Me.” Read More »

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