The dense woods of Central Florida are an unforgiving environment. Riddled with nature’s obstacles of vines, dense scrub brush and an abundance of hungry insects, let alone larger animals. Those were the daunting surroundings Elizabeth Parker, 98, disappeared into yesterday.
When her daughter Katie Wayne and Katie’s husband Gary arrived home in the early evening, they discovered the elderly woman was nowhere to be found. Parker is frail, doesn’t drive and uses a walker, so the couple immediately called 911.
Lake County Sheriff’s officers and assisting first responders fanned out to scour the nine acres on Lake Joanna with bloodhounds and a helicopter. The intense effort went non-stop until 2:30 a.m., when the search was suspended until daybreak. The family spent an emotional night fearing for Parker’s safety. “It was not a good night, to say the least.” said Gary. Early this morning deputies returned to the property and added divers to the search. Rescuers found Parker, who has no history of dementia, at approximately 10 a.m. this morning, lying under a large palm frond in a densely wooded area with only minor cuts and scrapes.
ABOVE: Parker (center) with Gary Wayne (left).
"The area was so dense, even a gorilla would have a difficult time getting there," said Gary of Parker's location. After spending the night isolated in a precarious environment, Parker was remarkably unshaken by the experience. She exited the woods on her own feet with the help of rescuers and Gary. As she saw her son-in-law cry, Parker responded, “Don’t worry, it all turned out okay.” She was transported to the hospital for closer examination. “The rescuers were very concerned and took it real serious,” said Gary of all the first responders. “I credit them a hundred percent for saving her life. The officers were top notch.” There is no doubt that tomorrow will be a very special Mother’s Day for the Wayne family.
It's not the ending that everyone hoped. Tragically, Justis Garrett, the teen missing from Mount Dora, was found deceased in a remote wooded area about a quarter mile off of Gasline Road in DeLand.
Garret, 16, was dropped off at school in Mount Dora on April 13 and did not return home. She was believed to be in the New Smyrna Beach area at the time.
At about 7:50 p.m. April 18, DeLand Police were dispatched after joggers believed they saw human remains near a running path. Police responded to the area and confirmed the discovery which had appeared to have been in the area for some time, according to DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger.
An autopsy was performed to identify Garrett and help determine the circumstances surrounding her death. Anyone with any information is asked to call DeLand Police Department at 386-626-7400 or leave an anonymous tip at www.volusia.crimewatchflorida.com .
It wasn't exactly a day like any other, even for Florida.
Last week, the peacefulness of a neighborhood in The Villages was interrupted by an welcome visit from a massive alligator. The reptile was discovered laying on a front lawn in the community about 30 miles northwest of Mount Dora. Reportedly, no one was home when the animal, which measured 11 feet, 7 inches, paid its visit.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission representatives 'worked' the spirited animal to tire it out before wrangling it to tape its mouth closed and haul it away.
Alligators are found in all 67 counties in Florida.
Mount Dora Police and Fire Rescue responded to the Lake Emergency Medical Services (Lake EMS) building at approximately 11:30 a.m. today in reference to a white, powdery substance contained in an envelope.
Upon MDPD's arrival, it was determined that the envelope had arrived via the United States Postal Service.
Twelve employees of Lake EMS, located at 2761 West Old Highway 441, were exposed to the unknown substance, but did not suffer any symptoms and were not transported to the hospital.
Lake County Hazmat Unit conducted an on-site test and it was determined the powder was non-toxic. The FBI and Post Master General were advised of the situation and Lake EMS and Tavares Fire Department assisted with the scene. The substance was sent to an FBI lab for further testing.
The scene was cleared around 1:30 p.m. and all employees have returned to work.
The Mount Dora Police Department is currently an armed robbery that occurred on Sunday, February 4. The victim was walking through the orange groves north of Spring Harbor apartment complex enroute to Perkins Restaurant. As he walked by the east side of Walmart, he reported two black males robbed him.
The victim described one of the suspects as approximately five feet and eight inches tall to six feet tall. His face was covered by a red and blue bandana. The suspect brandished a black pistol and demanded the victim's property. The suspects then fled the area toward the rear of Walmart.
Anyone with information is asked to call Dectective Pat Thomas at Mount Dora Police Department at 352-735-7133.
It’s perhaps a cautionary tale because the outcome could have been far worse.
A Mount Dora High School student was arrested on January 11 on suspicion of “disruption of a school facility.” The arrest came after the student, Charles Gould, allegedly attempted to obtain a gun to protect himself from bullies.
Two students overheard Gould, 20, on his cell phone saying that he needed a "9 or 45" to “protect himself and his family,” according to the arrest report. That person advised Gould he couldn’t get him a gun.
A third student confronted Gould to ask what he was doing. Gould responded "he was going to get ‘jumped’ and he was going to get a gun to shoot them," the report stated.
According to the same report, Gould waived his rights and told Mount Dora Police officers he was "being bullied by five students and was fearful he was going to be jumped by them."
As word quickly spread of the incident, concerned parents from the high school, as well as Mount Dora Middle School, placed calls to the schools about the welfare of their children, according the MDMS’s School Resource Officer, Mike Garcia.
Rumors that the suspect threatened to "shoot up the school" were not substantiated in the arrest report and there was no incident at the middle school.
The incident has safely passed. However, the teachable moment that comes with it still avails itself. Parents are encouraged to talk with their kids about the options available to students when they feel threatened or bullied at school. The goal is to let kids know help is available and violence isn’t the answer.
Charles Gould, 20
Lake County Public Schools has developed a bullying complaint form for individuals to report such incidents. Optionally, the report can be made anonymously. Students and parents can find the forms here https://www.lake.k12.fl.us/page/1243
If a parent or friend fears a student is in immediate danger, they should contact the school or police immediately. Parents can teach their children to say something if they hear or see anything. Open communication can help the victim, as well as help prevent desperate acts.
The signs of bullying can be observed at home as well as at school, according to LCPS. In order to assist a child that might be a target, parents and teachers need to recognize warning signs.
Reluctance to attend school activities
Unexplained drop in academic performance
Reluctance to walk to or from school
Reluctance to discuss school
Headaches, stomach aches, or other unexplained illnesses
Changes in sleep patterns
Sad or depressed demeanor
Loss of interest in activities formerly enjoyed
Parents of targets can assist their children by:
Encouraging their child to tell an adult
Asking the school for assistance
Explaining the difference between tattling and telling
Encouraging a "buddy" system if a child walks to and/or from school
Turning off a TV program or video game that reinforces the idea of aggression as a way to deal with conflict
The Mount Dora Police Department is currently investigating two recent incidents of theft in downtown's Renaissance Building on Donnelly Street. Both incidents involved thefts from small, family-owned businesses.
The first incident happened on December 12 at approximately 1:30 p.m. when a white female entered Mount Dora Memories gift store located on the first floor of the historic building. The woman allegedly selected several bracelets and a necklace, then concealed them in her purse and left without paying for them.
Anyone with information that can help identify the female in the photos, is asked to contact Detective Daryl McCormick at 352-735-7130. Callers can remain anonymous.
The second incident occurred sometime between 11:00 p.m. on December 16 and 6:30 a.m. on December 17. Unknown suspects stole six custom oak tables from outside a cafe under construction on the second floor of the building.
UPDATE: Two subjects were apprehended by Eustis Police Department on Nov. 6. Jaylen T. Dawkins, 22, of Mount Dora was charged with Grand Theft Auto, Fleeing & Attempting to Elude, and DWLS. Makai S. Budd, 19, of Mount Dora was arrested and charged with loitering and prowling. A third subject is being sought.
At approximately 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, a patron was carjacked at gunpoint after leaving a downtown Mount Dora restaurant. The incident happened on Edgerton Court near the Lawn Bowling Club.
As the victim got into his car, the door was yanked open and he was told to get on the ground by an unknown man. The victim emptied his pockets and grabbed the barrel of the gun, but quickly complied after realizing there were two additional unknown men behind the suspect. The suspect is believed to be a Hispanic male approximately twenty years old, 5’9” tall with a thin build.
After laying on the ground, the victim heard people flee on foot and then heard his 2007 Volkswagen start and travel north on Donnelly Street. He then returned to Magical Meat Boutique to call the police because he had turned his cell phone over to the suspect.
Later, some property from inside the car was recovered scattered near the roadway and grassy area. Early this morning the car was recovered in Eustis.
“The City, as always, will evaluate the area which could include a change or addition of lighting or even tree trimming to help improve the safety of our citizens and property,” said Robin Hayes, Mount Dora's city manager.
Carjacking is a crime of opportunity, typically occurring when drivers are parked or anywhere they are slowed down. Intersections, parking garages and parking lots, gas stations, ATMs, and driveways are common locations for this type of crime.
Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the risk of being a victim:
Park in a well-lit space.
Avoid isolated parking lots.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Do not park near a dumpster, van, big tree or other obstruction to your vision.
Don’t walk to your car alone.
Be alert, walk tall, with a mission and with your keys in your hand.
Look inside your car before entering.
Do not be distracted or looking at your cell phone while walking to your car.
Beware of any stranger approaching for any reason.
Lock your car doors upon entering and drive away.
At intersections, always leave enough space to maneuver away.
In the rare instance you are faced with an armed carjacking, give up your car freely. Life is much more important.
Main Street Leasing Building on 5th Ave. and Donnelly St. in downtown Mount Dora
Opinions. It seems everyone has one.
In July, an attorney for Main Street Leasing (MSL) and its owner Ken Mazik, a prominent downtown Mount Dora businessman, sent a missive to a local woman demanding a public apology for critical opinions she expressed. The letter dictated that her apology must include arguably demeaning language about herself in order to avoid a defamation lawsuit. The resident, Amber Antonio, refused and was sued on August 16.
Mazik’s attorney’s letter cited comments Antonio made on social media in 2015, as well as remarks made at a 2017 Mount Dora City Council meeting, as defamatory. Antonio’s posted opinions were critical of MSL and Mazik, and her comments at the city council meeting referred to preferential treatment of unnamed Mount Dora property owners without specifically identifying Mazik or MSL.
This month, another local resident, John Sharp, received a similar letter from Mazik’s attorney threatening legal action. Antonio, a Mount Dora High School and University of Central Florida graduate, believes the lawsuit is Mazik’s way of using his money to bully and silence his detractors.
Antonio and Sharp aren’t alone in their rebuke of Mazik’s practices. In addition to local criticism, the businessman has garnered unfavorable regional and national media coverage since 1979. The New York Times published a critical exposé as far back as 1997. Much more recent articles covered everything from downtown Mount Dora’s empty buildings to accusations of abuse at Mazik’s local school for severely disabled children, as well as profiting from a system designed to protect those children.
Mount Dora resident Amber Antonio
The lawsuit asserts that during 2015 and 2016, Antonio posted comments to four articles including one titled “Downtown Property to Change Hands” by Mount Dora Buzz regarding the sale of The Drawer building on Donnelly Street. That property is among several in the city’s downtown core that remain largely vacant since being purchased by Mazik’s company. MSL’s other vacancies include the buildings on the northern side of the 5th Avenue block between Donnelly and Alexander, the historic Princess Theater and the Sears house at 4th and Alexander, among others.
There are always two sides to a story and this one is no different. MSL has made corporate donations to Lake Cares Food Pantry and the City of Mount Dora's Police Department, and has helped sponsor events at Mount Dora Center for the Arts.
In a letter, Antonio’s attorney, James Homich, asserted a successful defamation suit requires Mazik to prove her statements were not merely opinions but actually false. Financial losses and damage to his reputation caused by Antonio must also be substantiated, according to Homich, who believes the decades of unfavorable news articles make that difficult. If the suit makes it to court, a civil trial jury could decide the case.