POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Sunday held a news conference to provide new details in the search for two men who went missing on Lake Eloise the day prior and are presumed dead, as well as the circumstances that led to their disappearance.
Judd described what began as an “afternoon of pleasure on the water” for Velcky Velasquez, 38, and her boyfriend Orlando Ortiz, 32 — who were celebrating their one-year anniversary — a friend of theirs named Jeffrey Marrero and his two daughters, ages 8 and 10. Judd said the group of five had rented a 16-foot boat and taken it out on the lake during choppy conditions.
“It is a rough day on the water, the wind’s blowing about 20 miles an hour, there’s a two-foot chop with white caps and it’s a breezy afternoon,” Judd said. “They decide, however, that they’ll anchor out in the middle of Lake Eloise.”
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That anchor was not tied to the boat, in what Judd attributed to Velasquez’s lack of boating experience as she tried to drop it.
“So, she thinks you have to get into the water, put the anchor in and then tie it to the boat. Immediately, the engine’s off and the boat starts to float away. At that point in time they see she is struggling, so the two gentlemen jump into the lake in order to save her, and when they jump into the lake, then the boat is continuing to move away, so they start to swim toward the boat,” Judd said.
Velasquez reported seeing Ortiz and Marrero struggling, herself opting to float on her back until help arrived. Meanwhile in the boat, the 10-year-old girl dialed 911, according to Judd.
“I give a great deal of credit to the 10 year old who had the wherewithal to take one of the cell phones on board and immediately dial 911 and we responded, so the 10 year old in essence is responsible for us saving the one lady, with that 911 call,” Judd said.
Arriving deputies commandeered a fishing boat from a man putting in — who was reportedly happy to help — and raced to the scene, rescuing Velasquezzquez.
“The boat in the meantime continues and has now pushed all the way across the lake into the swamp area with the children on board. Now, they can’t get to the children, so Deputy Munoz strips off his equipment, jumps in and swims to the boat, which is hung up in the weeds, to get to the children. He fires up the boat and drives it around to a dock which is on the backside of Legoland,” Judd said, adding that while Legoland had nothing to do with the event, it “could not have been a better community partner” in allowing law enforcement to use its facilities.
Search and recovery operations from the water to the air are ongoing with help from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, whose sheriff intends to assist in part by deploying an underwater drone to look for the men, according to Judd.
“We’re searching for these two missing gentlemen as if they were our brothers or our children, and we’ll continue to look for them,” he said. “...We still don’t know where the two gentlemen are, and certainly we have every expectation that they perished in the water by drowning. The investigation is ongoing.”
Deputies have asked the public to avoid the Lake Summit boat ramp, Lake Summit and Lake Eloise until further notice.
Watch the news conference in the media player below:
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