Umatilla

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.

Man Accused of Pointing Gun at Trio, “I’m Going to Cap All 3 of Y’all!”

UMATILLA, Florida—A man who allegedly threatened a group of people with a gun scaring a woman so much she urinated on herself, is being held in the Lake County Jail on $26,000 bond.

Jeremy Forest Mitchell, 29, is accused of accosting the woman about some money she allegedly owed him Saturday, according to an arrest affidavit.

The woman told a Lake County Sheriff’s deputy she was riding her bicycle with her friend on State Road 19 Saturday night when Mitchell came up on his skateboard asking about the money. Her boyfriend apparently saw the altercation, approached Mitchell, and asked, “Why are you talking to my girl?” the affidavit states.

Mitchell, of Yalaha, is then alleged to have pulled a gun from his waistband and pointed it at the trio and said, “I’m going to cap all three of y’all!”

The group backed up and the woman urinated on herself out of fear, she told LCSO. She pulled out her phone and told Mitchell she was going to call law enforcement and Mitchell put the gun away, grabbed his skateboard and fled the area.

Deputies located Mitchell and the victim positively identified him as the perpetrator, according to the affidavit. Mitchell denied the accusations against him and denied talking to anyone that evening. He was taken into custody and found with a small amount of marijuana; deputies did not find a gun.

Mitchell was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of marijuana.

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

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.

Motorcyclist Killed in Umatilla Saturday Morning

UMATILLA, Florida—A 64-year-old DeLand man was killed when he failed to negotiate a curve on County Road 450 Saturday morning, the Florida Highway patrol said Saturday.

Shortly before 10:45 a.m., the man was traveling eastbound on a 2006 Harley Davidson motorcycle when he failed the negotiate a curve on County Road 450, also known as East Collins Street, near 9th Avenue, FHP Lt. Tara Crescenzi said in a press release.

The motorcycle left the roadway and overturned; the man was pronounced dead on the scene. He was not wearing a helmet.

The crash remains under investigation.

Umatilla Man Nabbed for Admittedly Smashing ATM

UMATILLA, Florida—A man who inconvenienced numerous people in Umatilla last month by admittedly breaking a Bank of America ATM, was picked up on a warrant for the crime Thursday, according to jail records.

Several witnesses told Umatilla Police Department, a man, later identified as Michael Allen Connell, 31, punched and used pliers to hit the ATM located in the shopping center that includes Pizza Hut and Save-A-Lot on Central Avenue May 25. Connell broke the machine and caused more than $4,600 worth of damage, before he rode away on his bicycle, according to an arrest affidavit.

Connell went to a nearby convenience store following the crime and made a remark about robbing the store and he “hopes no one uses the Bank of America ATM,” the affidavit states. UPD officers caught up with Connell at another nearby store and questioned him about the incident, according to the affidavit.

Connell told an officer he punched the ATM and hit it with pliers because it took his trust card. Connell was detained and the pliers were taken into evidence, along with a credit card that did not belong to Connell. UPD was unable to reach a representative from Bank of America to ascertain whether the company wanted to press charges, according to the affidavit, and Connell was released on the scene.

The following day a Bank of America representative contacted UPD and said the company wanted to pursue charges and a felony criminal mischief warrant was issued for Connell’s arrest May 26. He was picked up by UPD Thursday and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $2,000 bond.

Ray Bryant Jr., Community Leader and Volunteer, Passes Away Unexpectedly

UMATILLA, Florida—A well-known and well-loved community leader unexpectedly passed away last week.

Social media posts began flooding Facebook, just a few hours after Ray “Ray Ray” Bryant, 55, died Wednesday. Bryant, of Altoona, was the owner and sensei of Central Florida Karate in Umatilla for more than 30 years and later, Central Florida Karate 2 in Mount Dora, according to his obituary.

He impacted hundreds of children’s lives in the community through karate and founded Alee Academy in Eustis.

Katie Mansfield, of Eustis, who trained with Bryant for five years when she was a child, told Inside Lake she was devastated when she found out, “Sensei saved my life at such a young age. He brought me from the pits of hell and showed me how to keep my head on straight and protect myself,” she said. “I will forever be grateful for the life lessons he taught me. There are not enough words to express my gratitude and the countless memories I have inside his dojo. He will forever be missed.”

Katie Mansfield, right, trained with Ray Bryant Jr. for five years. PHOTO: Submitted

Bryant was a state, national and world kickboxing champion and was an ambassador and U.S. coach for the International Sport Kickboxing Association, a member of the Masonic Lodge and a member of the Lake County Airboat Club.

Bryant loved the outdoors and volunteered with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team since 2007, LCSO Sgt. Matt Farner told Inside Lake. Farner, who is the sergeant in the Agriculture and Marine Unit said Bryant was a critical component to the Search and Rescue Team and volunteered his time, equipment and gas to the rescue efforts.

”Ray was an asset and very valuable to the community,” Farner said. “He was our go-to guy and was always willing to donate his time.”  

Bryant and his father, Ray Bryant Sr., both volunteered before their passings, “They really were our main guys,” Farner said.

Bryant most recently helped in the search and rescue of Davidson Anjab, 39, who went missing during a canoe trip at Alexander Springs in April. Anjab was found safe after two days of searching.

“It (his passing) was shock to all of us,” Farner said. “He was a huge asset and a friend. We all loved the guy.”

Bryant is survived by his wife, Catherine “Mouse” Millner; three sons, Dalton, Dakota and Doron; his daughter, Madeline; his brother, George; his aunt, Jennie Louer; his nephew, Cody and his niece, Bella.

A celebration of life is scheduled for 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bryant Compound, 45445 State Road 19, Altoona. Harden/Pauli Funeral Home in Eustis is handling the arrangements.

Jewelry Store Employee Who Admitted Stealing Nearly $2,000 in Merchandise said She Took it Home By Accident

LEESBURG, Florida—A woman who wore stolen jewelry to work at the place she stole it from turned herself into Leesburg Police Department Thursday afternoon, according to an arrest affidavit.

Payton Elaine Alexander, 25, of the Marion County portion of unincorporated Umatilla, stands accused of stealing jewelry from Piercing Pagoda, located inside Lake Square Mall, while she worked there from November 2021 through February, when the thefts were discovered.

In February, Piercing Pagoda’s Senior Manager of Loss Prevention emailed a Leesburg Police Department detective and asked if there were any pawn hits on Alexander and there were none. The manager sent a second email on March 7 and said he discovered around 40 pieces of jewelry were missing since August 2021. The manager interviewed Alexander two days later and she admitted to stealing 26 pieces of jewelry valued at nearly $2,000 beginning in November 2021, according to the affidavit.

Alexander left the interview, recovered 25 pieces of jewelry and returned them. Alexander said she had one more piece at home and would return it later, according to the affidavit.

PHOTO: Lake Square Mall

LPD responded to the kiosk and the store manager said the loss prevention manager told her to file a police report. The store manager told police she received in anonymous tip in early February advising Alexander had been stealing jewelry. The store manager and loss prevention manager launched an investigation and found that more than $2,000 in jewelry was missing and Alexander had been observed at work wearing the jewelry, the affidavit states. The manager signed an intent to prosecute for the thefts.

Three days later, the loss prevention manager called the LPD detective and said Alexander returned the final piece of jewelry on March 9 and she was fired.

On Thursday, the LPD detective went to Alexander’s Marion County home, spoke with her roommate, and said Alexander needed to turn herself in. Alexander did turn herself in and stated she took the jewelry home by accident after wearing it during work to show it off to customers.

Alexander was arrested for grand theft and transported to the Lake County Jail, where she was released on $2,000 bond.

Third Annual Back the Blue Walk Scheduled for Saturday

TAVARES, Florida—Hundreds of people are expected to attend the third annual Lake County Backs the Blue Walk scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at Tavares’ Wooton Park.

In its third year, the walk began in 2019 to show support for law enforcement during a time when the “defund the police” movement was making its way across the country, event organizer Shannon Cook told Inside Lake. Representatives from several law enforcement agencies and numerous public officials are expected to be in attendance.

“The good ones needed to know they were appreciated,” Cook said.

Cook has always had respect for law enforcement officers and the job they do, she said. She grew up and was close friends with Lake County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Wayne Koester who was killed in the line of duty Feb. 9, 2005. Koester, who was 33 at the time, and two other deputies were ambushed while responding to a domestic violence call. All three deputies were shot, and Koester succumbed to his injuries; the other two deputies recovered. Jason Wheeler was shot and paralyzed during his capture and convicted in Koester’s death.

PHOTO: Bonnie Whicher/Inside Lake

Cook was also close to Chris Daniels, who was serving as Lake County Sheriff when he was tragically killed in a charity bus race in 2006.

“Almost the entire time my son played baseball; Chris Daniels was his coach.” Cook said.

Cook told Inside Lake it is important the community show its support for all of the good officers and those who were lost in the line of duty. She is hoping for a large turnout Saturday, last year’s efforts were hampered by unusually cold weather and it was held Easter weekend.

Saturday’s walk is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Wooton Park, 100 E. Ruby Street; donuts and coffee are being provided by Ralph Smith of Lake Tire & Auto before the event. Walkers will travel down Ruby Street to LCSO and then onto the Tavares Public Safety Complex before returning to Wooten Park for a hot dog lunch provided by Pamela O’Donnell and Vic Donahey of Vic’s Embers Catering.

Cook suggests participants use street parking in downtown Tavares, or park in the Tavares Parking Garage, 200 North Sinclair Avenue.

Naked Stroll through Umatilla Lands Man in Jail

UMATILLA, Florida—A nice leisurely naked stroll through Umatilla resulted in a trip to jail for a Fort Lauderdale man Thursday night.

Stephen Robert Fauteux, 47, was arrested when he was found standing naked in front of Umatilla Police Department around 6: 10 p.m. Thursday. An officer was responding to a naked man walking in the area of State Road 19 and Golden Gem drive and as he left the department to respond, he was flagged down by two off-duty Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies who said the man was standing out front, according to an arrest affidavit.

The officer went to the front and found Fauteux completely nude; he told the officer he left his clothes in a gazebo off State Road 19 and he “liked walking around naked,” the affidavit states. An officer retrieved his belongings from the gazebo, and he was arrested for exposure of sexual organs and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he is being held on $1,000 bond.

PHOTO: Lake County Sheriff’s Office

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