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.   

Woman Who Ripped Off Clermont Spa for Cosmetic Procedure Picked up on Warrant More than 2 Years Later

TAVARES, Florida—A Clermont woman wanted for grand theft of a cosmetic procedure she received more than two years ago was finally picked up on the warrant in Hillsborough County and transferred to Lake County last week.

In November 2020, The Spa at South Lake, 1900 Don Wickham Drive, Clermont performed a cosmetic procedure on Eboni Nykia Wheeler, 41, and when it was time to pay the $1,098 bill, Wheeler said she did not have her credit card with her and gave The Spa a backup credit card number. Wheeler did not give employees the actual card, a Clermont Police Department detective noted in the probable cause affidavit.

Wheeler, who has several aliases and gave the business the last name Williams, was informed if she did not settle her bill by the following morning, the backup card number would be charged, according to the affidavit. Wheeler said she would go to her mother’s home, retrieve the card and provide the business with the card number that night, but she never called.

The following morning an employee attempted to charge the backup card number Wheeler provided and the card was declined multiple times, the affidavit states. The business contacted Wheeler and she reportedly said her husband would be transferring funds to her backup credit card because her main card was maxed out. Wheeler failed to contact the business and they attempted to charge the card again on Dec. 2, 2020. Wheeler’s husband then contacted the business, angry because he claimed the multiple attempts to charge the card resulted in the card being flagged for fraud.

Eboni Wheeler PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

More than a week later, an employee contacted Williams again and left her a message stating they would call law enforcement if Williams did not contact them by the end of the day.

Seventeen days after the procedure—a CPD detective contacted Wheeler and she admitted to having the procedure done and told the detective she intended to pay as soon as the bank released the hold on her funds and she would call the bank and the detective two days later.

“On December 16, 2020, after getting off the phone with Eboni (Wheeler,) I did some further research on her, and I discovered Williams is one of her aliases. Eboni has been arrested multiple times stemming as far back as 2010, to the point she was sentenced on August 9, 2018, spending one year and eight months, in prison for multiple felonies to include organized fraud, grand theft, worthless checks and obtaining lodging with intent to defraud,” the CPD detective noted in the affidavit.

A warrant was issued for Wheeler in January 2021 and she was picked up in Hillsborough County and transferred to the Lake County Jail Thursday, where she is being held on $2,000 bond.

Tavares Police: Man in Custody After Firing Shots in Tavares Backyard

TAVARES, Florida—A man is in custody after he fired shots in the backyard of a home on Pineway Street, according to Tavares Police Department Public Information Officer Courtney Sullivan.

TPD responded to the 1000 block of Pineway Street around 7 p.m. Friday night on a report of shots fired, Sullivan told Inside Lake. Officers arrived and found the shooting occurred in the backyard of a home and after a foot pursuit, took Craig Austin Campbell, 31, of Weirsdale into custody. No one was injured in the shooting. Campbell complained he had a medical issue and was transported to AdventHealth Waterman in Tavares and will be booked into the Lake County Jail after he is medically cleared, Sullivan said.

Craig Campbell PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Campbell is facing several charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed burglary to an occupied dwelling and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His booking information, including bond, was not available at press time. TPD is still on scene investigating the shooting and is awaiting crime scene investigators to arrive on scene.

According to Lake County Sheriff’s Office online booking records, Campbell was picked up on a warrant in January for grand theft, burglary and petit theft. He was in custody for three days before being released on $9,000 bond.

Armed Robbery Suspect and Nephew Charged in 2022 Tavares Murder

TAVARES, Florida—Last August, only Inside Lake uncovered a man accused of multiple armed robberies across Lake County was suspected in the murder of Alejandro “Alex” Garcia.

On Thursday, Dustin “Chico” Perdue was charged with his murder; and on Monday night his nephew, Octavious Marquis Reed was nabbed by U.S. Marshals and the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Street Crimes Unit, Tavares Police Detective Courtney Sullivan told Inside Lake.

Perdue, 27, and Reed, 23, are accused of shooting Garcia, 29, and Darnell Lester, 31, April 8, 2022 at Caroline Court Apartments, 1000 East Caroline Street in Tavares. Garcia, of Mount Dora, succumbed to his injuries and died and Lester—shot multiple times—attempted to drive himself away from the scene but crashed the bullet-ridden vehicle he was driving, Sullivan told Inside Lake the night of the incident. Sullivan is also TPD’s public information officer (PIO.)

Neither Garcia nor Lester lived at the complex but were known to hang out there and are related to each other, Sullivan said. Lester’s last known is address is Apopka.

TPD is not releasing much information in the case, including a motive and the probable cause affidavits in the case are sealed.

Perdue, who was already in the Lake County Jail on no bond facing 14 charges related to multiple armed robberies in Clermont, Mount Dora, Tavares and unincorporated Mount Dora, has been in LCJ since August 2022, when he was arrested on a traffic stop following an armed robbery in Clermont. His alleged accomplice in the robberies, Patrick Antonio Brown, 22, was also arrested and is being held on no bond. Brown is not a suspect in Garcia’s murder and Lester’s shooting in April, Sullivan said.   

In Garcia’s murder, Perdue and Reed are both facing one count each of first degree murder, attempted murder and discharging a firearm on residential property; Perdue is facing an additional charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. When Reed was taken into custody Monday, he was carrying a concealed firearm and marijuana and is facing two additional charges.

They are both being held in the Lake County Jail on no bond.

State to Seek Death Penalty in Brutal Murders of Elderly Mount Dora Couple

TAVARES, Florida—The woman accused of brutally stabbing an elderly Mount Dora couple in their Waterman Village home may pay for the crimes with her life.

On Thursday morning, Assistant State Attorney Jamie McManus e-filed a “notice of intent to seek the death penalty,” in the case against Vickie Lynn Williams, 50, for the murders of Darryl Getman, 83, and Sharon Getman, 80. The married couple was murdered in their home sometime between the hours of 11 p.m. Dec. 30, 2022, and 2 a.m. Dec. 31.

The Getmans’ bodies were found by Mount Dora Police officers after they received two 9-1-1 calls, with one caller stating two people had been killed, according to Williams’ probable cause affidavit.

Vickie Lynn Williams, 50, made her first appearance in front of Lake County Judge Emily Curington in January.

In a gruesome and bloody scene, numerous bloody footprints and shoe prints were found inside the home on Lake Margaret Circle and in the garage where the Getmans normally kept their green Kia Soul. Police say Williams killed the elderly couple and stole the Kia, travelling first to South Carolina and then to Savannah, where she was apprehended by a Savannah Police officer at an Amtrak station on Jan. 2. She was still in possession of the Kia when she was taken into custody, the affidavit states.

Williams had no known connection to the Getmans or Mount Dora.

Mount Dora Police Interim Chief Michael Gibson, FDLE SAC Lee Massie and Mount Dora Mayor Crissy Stile hold a press conference in January to discuss the murders of a married couple in their 80s found dead Dec. 31. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

Williams was originally arrested just for grand theft auto, and two first-degree murder charges were added later; the cases have since been consolidated; Inside Lake was the first media organization to report the added charges and only Inside Lake discovered Mount Dora Police officers interacted with a woman believed to be Williams at a Mount Dora Hampton Inn just hours before the murder.

A discovery exhibit recently filed by the state contains 10 pages of witnesses’ names and addresses, including one witness with the same address as Hampton Inn, and several of the Getmans’ neighbors.

Williams next plea negotiation conference in scheduled for March 7, but it is common for murder cases, especially death penalty cases, to take more than a year to go to trial. She is represented by John Spivey of the Lake County Public Defender’s Office.

Woman Flees Deputies in Stolen Car, Drives Herself to the Lake County Jail  

TAVARES, Florida—An Astor woman is in the Lake County Jail after fleeing deputies in a stolen car in unincorporated Leesburg and ending her escapade outside the sallyport doors at the jail Saturday night, according to an arrest affidavit.

An LCSO deputy observed a gray car roll the stop sign at Harbor Shores Road and Pine Island Drive and attempted to perform a traffic stop, the affidavit states.

Connie Adams PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The car, being driven by Connie Ellene Adams, 31, passed another deputy who was outside his vehicle and failed to follow his commands to stop, fleeing at a high rate of speed. The car fled to County Road 44 and County Road 452 and through the city limits of Eustis, running numerous traffic lights. Adams continued to drive into Tavares and “came to a rest outside of the Lake County Jail’s sallyport doors,” the affidavit states.

Adams was taken into custody and the car was found to be stolen from Marion County. Adams, who has multiple driver license suspensions, was arrested for fleeing and eluding, driving while license suspended, grand theft auto and attaching tag not assigned. She was walked into LCJ, where she is being held on $9,000 bond.

Memorial Planned for Well-Known Homeless Man Who Passed Away Last Month

EUSTIS, Florida—A memorial has been set for a well-known homeless man who passed away last month.

Clyde “Eddie” Brooks, a loyal Dallas Cowboys fan, was found unresponsive Jan. 10 in Tavares by a mail carrier and transported to AdventHealth Waterman, where he died from an apparent medical episode. Known to most as “Clyde” he was well-liked and an earlier story about his death was shared more than 100 times and dozens of people commented and shared personal stories about Clyde.

“There were many people who touched his life, and he touched ours,” Jan Glessner told Inside Lake.

Glessner was a longtime friend and called him, “Eddie.” He stayed overnight at her home and spent some Thanksgivings with her as well. Other times she would put him in a motel during the holidays. “He was my buddy,” she told Inside Lake.

Pastor Kenneth Harley of DeBary will lead the service and was Clyde’s emergency contact. He has his cremains and will put them in a plot in Mount Dora, Glessner said.

The memorial is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, at Life Community Church, 2910 Dillard Road, Eustis. The public is welcome to attend and share their memories.

Restaurant Manager Locked Up for Stealing $1,300 Cash from Elderly Customer’s Purse and $180 from her Job

TAVARES, Florida—The general manager of a Tavares sub shop is in the Lake County Jail accused of stealing cash from an elderly customer’s purse, she mistakenly left behind.

Tavares Police Department responded to Jimmy John’s, 458 East Burleigh Boulevard shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday on a report of a missing purse, according to an arrest affidavit.

The victim told TPD she stopped in the restaurant on her way home at approximately 7 p.m. Friday and when she arrived home, she realized she had left her purse at the restaurant. She called Jimmy John’s and was told the purse would be held in the safe for her to pick up on Saturday.

The victim arrived at the restaurant Saturday and was informed the general manager, Tonya Lynne White, of Tavares, had removed the purse from the safe and dropped it off at Tavares Police Department, however, officers did not receive any calls in reference to a purse, according to the affidavit.

The on-duty manager told an officer she found the purse shortly after the victim left and she and another coworker looked inside the purse attempting to find identification. They found a white envelope that contained a large amount of cash – $1,200 all in $100 denominations— in addition to $120 in a separate pocket, and the manager said she counted it for documentation purposes. She then placed it in the safe that is only accessible by managers, the affidavit states.

The on-duty manager arrived at work on Saturday, along with general manager, White, 48, and she informed White of the found purse. White told her she was going to take the purse to Tavares Police Department because of the large amount of cash, and “liability purposes.”

The manager provided text messages to TPD backing up her story.

Tonya White PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

A second officer contacted White by phone, and she told the officer she dropped the purse off at TPD. The officer told White no one had collected a purse, nor did they receive any calls for service in regard to a purse. White was “adamant” she dropped the purse off and created a story about a fictitious elderly woman in a flowered dress that flagged her down from the double doors of the public safety complex. Video surveillance showed White was never there.

White agreed to meet officers at the public safety complex and upon meeting, she provided a sworn written statement recounting her version of the story. She signed the statement was warned that fabricating a police report was a crime and would result in a criminal charge.

One of the officers began questioning White about inconsistencies in her initial story and her written statement and she ultimately confessed she took the elderly woman’s purse. She said she had $1,300 cash on her but threw the purse away at a gas station in Apopka, the affidavit states.

She removed $1,300 cash from her phone case, bra and purse and gave it to officers. Her purse was searched and a large amount a cash was found; White said most of it was her paycheck, but $180 was taken from the Jimmy John’s store. She claimed she took that money to trade it for smaller denominations, the affidavit states.

White was arrested for petit theft, grand theft, providing false information to law enforcement, tampering with evidence and theft from a person over 65.  She was booked into LCJ, where she remains on $8,000 bond.

Woman in Stable Condition After Umatilla Crash Tuesday Night

UMATILLA—For the second time in less than a week, the Florida Highway Patrol is investigating a crash that resulted in serious injuries near Umatilla.

There was little information available Wednesday morning, including how the crash occurred. A 55-year-old Sorrento woman was driving a white 2016 Chevrolet Cruze shortly before 8 p.m. Tuesday when she crashed for an unknown reason, striking a stop sign, street signs and a concrete pillar at State Road19 and Beach Street in front of Silver Beach Heights.

The woman was airlifted to HCA Florida Lake Monroe Hospital in Sanford, formerly Central Florida Regional Medical Center, in critical condition as a trauma alert, but is now in stable condition, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi told Inside Lake.

A concrete pillar is seen here after being hit by a Chevy Cruze Tuesday night near Umatilla. The driver, a 55-year-old Sorrento woman, is in stable condition. Courtesy photo

On Friday night, a 37-year-old Leesburg man was traveling southbound in the northbound inside lane on State Road 19, near Orange Avenue just north of the Eustis city limits in a Nissan Versa.

The Nissan struck a Ford Taurus traveling southbound and attempting to turn left on Orange Avenue. Both drivers were transported to local hospitals.

FHP continues to investigate both crashes.  

Tavares Woman Arrested for Child Neglect and Animal Cruelty After Home Found Covered in Roaches, Feces and Urine

TAVARES, Florida—An allegation of poor living conditions to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) led to the arrest of a Tavares woman last week, according to an arrest affidavit.

Tavares Police responded to a home on Hunterwood Lane in reference to a DCF call alleging poor living conditions, including animal feces and a roach infestation on Jan. 14. As the arresting officer approached the home, she could “smell the strong odor of rotten meat and cat urine emitting through the closed garage door,” the arresting officer noted in the affidavit.

Melody Anne Sargent, 45, met DCF and TPD at the home and “immediately became hysterical” when she found out the reason for the visit. Sargent told them she was “trying to fix the issue” and was currently in the process of moving out because she could not control the cockroach infestation. She said she had a temporary place to stay while she moves her belongings into a storage unit, and she had been moving things for the past week, but later admitted that was a lie. She also said a juvenile in the home had been staying somewhere else, but later admitted that was a lie too.

She warned the officer and the investigator of the infestation inside the home and said her 1-year-old Husky had diarrhea and had been defecating throughout the home, along with three cats that have a litter box, but one was urinating and defecating throughout the home as well. She also said there was rotten meat inside an unplugged freezer in the garage that had been there about a month, the affidavit states.

Melody Sargent PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

The following was taken directly from Sargent’s arrest affidavit.

“As we entered the residence, the house appeared in disarray as items were throughout the living room area. The items were covered in cockroaches as well as the doors and walls as they were crawling throughout the home. The strong odor of rotten meat and cat urine was strong enough that l had to remove myself from the home multiple times/ (TPD) Officer walked through the residence with DCF observing multiple piles of feces throughout the floor. The feces and cat urine had been piled throughout the home as it was dry and had cockroaches on top. This continues through the dining room area and into the kitchen. The kitchen appeared to be unusable as there were items stacked all over the counter with a large number of cockroaches crawling in/on everything. We located what appeared to be two dog food containers which had cockroaches and maggots crawling in and around them, The food bowls were also covered in dry urine along with the majority of the floor, per (TPD) Officer. (TPD) Officer also located the above-mentioned Husky in a cage in the back room. The dog appeared to be underweight per (TPD) officer and was locked inside a cage with dried urine and feces in/around it. The dog had no direct access to any food or water as everything was covered in cockroaches or urine. “

DCF spoke with all the occupants in the home and one of them said the roach infestation began about a year ago and they attempted to control it with bug spray, but it got worse over time. Another occupant said they commonly stepped in dog feces and urine while trying to walk through the home.

Sargent admitted knowing the conditions were not suitable for any person or animal to live in and she was arrested for child neglect and animal cruelty. She was taken to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $3,000 bond.

The child/children were placed in someone else’s care and the animals were turned over to Lake County Animal Services.

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