ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A body found near an Orange County lake Thursday was identified as the father of an 18-year-old man accused of shooting at law enforcement in Mount Dora, Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
Juan Santiago, the father of 18-year-old Jonny Santiago, was deemed missing and endangered by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office after his son led law enforcement on a chase that ended in a shootout in Mount Dora on Monday, according to investigators.
Chitwood said in a tweet that the suspect’s sister and cousin found Juan Santiago’s body while searching the bushes around Lake Avalon in Orange County in an effort to assist detectives. He added the clothing description matched that of the suspect’s father, which allowed deputies to positively identify the body.
In a news conference Thursday evening, Chitwood said the family tracked the movements of the truck Jonny Santiago drove after the incident through a phone app Thursday after discovering a day prior the suspect’s mom had the app installed.
A body that is believed to be missing father Juan Santiago has been located in Lake Avalon in Orange County. Our Major Case detectives are en route. Interesting note: Our suspect’s sister found the body while searching that lake. Please stand by for further details as we confirm.— Mike Chitwood (@SheriffChitwood) July 14, 2022
“They went out and played detective today and started tracking the data points,” he said. “... The other stuff that came back today was DNA. Juan’s DNA. The blood in the driveway was Juan’s. The blood in the back of the pickup truck was Juan’s.”
Chitwood previously said he believed the 18-year-old killed his father and dumped the body somewhere in Deltona.
“It’s sad. It’s really, really, really sad. The son kills the father over car keys,” he said on Thursday.
This comes after deputies said they initially responded to a home in Deltona on Sunday when a woman called to report she had been on the phone with her husband, Juan Santiago, and heard him arguing with their son.
Chitwood said Jonny Santiago’s family was concerned about the way he was acting. Deputies said the suspect’s father flew down from New York on July 10 and went to the home on East Lehigh Drive.
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Juan Santiago tried to get his son to turn over the keys to a white Ford F-150 pickup truck, sparking the argument.
During the phone call, deputies said the woman heard a loud noise and the call disconnected before the sheriff’s office responded to the scene, finding no one home. That’s when investigators began searching for the white pickup truck that Jonny Santiago was known to drive.
After fleeing from law enforcement across several counties, a helicopter spotted Jonny Santiago’s white pickup Monday around 5 p.m. in the area of U.S. Highway 441 and Eudora Avenue in Mount Dora near a Walmart.
When officials attempted to pull him over in Lake County, they said the man drove off, eventually crashing near the intersection of Donnelly Street and 9th Avenue into a synagogue.
Deputies said Jonny Santiago began shooting at police and deputies, causing law enforcement to return fire, injuring the suspect.
After Jonny Santiago was taken to the hospital, he was later booked into the Orange County jail early Thursday. During this time, investigators said they were still searching for Juan Santiago.
Justo Burgos, Jr., Juan Santiago’s cousin (though Burgos referred to him as a “brother”) told News 6 that his son was able to figure out where Juan Santiago’s body was. He also addressed rumors that the family had found the body on a boat, clarifying they instead found it by the lake.
“We were not hiding anything. There was no such thing that we found my brother Juan from an airboat or from a boat,” he said. “We don’t own no boat.”
Juan Santiago’s family said they believe Jonny Santiago may have remembered the location after he and his father had scoped out places to go hunting and fishing.
Burgos also commented on Juan Santiago’s wife, saying her condition is “terrible.”
“She’s had a nervous breakdown. The ambulance had to come here (to) give her oxygen, keep her in the air conditioning. You know, guys, she’s taking it tough. She just lost her husband and her son,” he said.
Juan Santiago’s family said they want his body to be laid to rest in New York. Burgos said he’s going to help Jonny Santiago and support him any way he’s able.
Audio from the dispatch call was provided by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office following the incident.
Jonny Santiago faces charges of attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, discharging a firearm from a vehicle in public and aggravated fleeing and eluding lights and sirens. A judge on Friday ruled that he be held without bond.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also investigating.
This is a developing story. Check back here for updates.
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