WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County deputies said they are continuing to search for two men who went disappeared after an incident on Lake Eloise over the weekend.

Saturday afternoon, Orlando Ortiz and Jeffrey Marrero went missing after trying to help Ortiz’s girlfriend, Velcky Velasquez, as she struggled with their rental boat’s anchor, which was not tied to the vessel before she jumped into the lake.

While Velasquez survived, she said she last saw the two men were last seen struggling to stay afloat as their boat floated away, according to Sheriff Grady Judd.

Deputies arrived to rescue Velasquez after one of Marrero’s two children, who remained on the boat, called 911. The children were saved from the boat soon after Velasquez was saved.

“The 10-year-old is, in essence, responsible for us saving the one lady,” Judd said Sunday.

However, the two men are believed to be dead after drowning in the lake’s rough waters, according to the sheriff.

Monday, the Polk County Sheriff’s said “four PCSO watercraft and sonar equipment, two FWC watercraft and sonar equipment, and a Seminole County Sheriff’s Office watercraft and their underwater drone” were deployed to search for the men.

Judd said until the men’s bodies are found, authorities will not leave the lake.

“We don’t allow anyone’s loved one to stay in a lake, and we show up the next morning,” he said Sunday. “We’re there. We’re involved. We’re searching for these two missing gentlemen as if they were our brothers or our children.”

In the meanwhile, Lake Eloise continues to be closed to the public as the search enters its third day, while all other lakes in the area remain open.

“However, anyone launching a boat onto Lake Summit will not be allowed through the canal leading into Lake Eloise,” the sheriff’s office said. “boats being launched at Lake Summit will have to remain on Lake Summit until further notice. The other canals leading into Lake Eloise are also blocked.”

As Reported by WFLA

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — More than 24 hours after two Polk County men are believed to have drowned in Lake Eloise in Winter Haven, officials from various agencies, including the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Seminole County Sheriff’s Office, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are still searching Sunday for the bodies in the water.

“They’re out having an afternoon of pleasure on the water,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at a press conference Sunday.

Winter Haven residents 38-year-old Velcky Velasquez and 32-year-old Orlando Ortiz were celebrating their one year anniversary of dating Saturday and brought along their friend Jeffrey Marrero, of Auburndale, and his two young daughters.

Sheriff Judd said the adults successfully passed a class in order to rent a boat for the day.

“It is a rough day on the water,” Judd said. “The wind’s blowing about 20 miles per hour, there’s a two-foot chop with whitecaps.”

When the group found a spot to relax, Velasquez jumped in the water with the anchor.

“She’s just very inexperienced,” Judd said. “So she thinks you have to get into the water, put the anchor in, and then tie it to the boat.”

When Velasquez resurfaced, police said the boat had floated away. She struggled to swim after it, so the two men jumped in to help her. The boat kept floating away.

“The two gentlemen are told to us to be average swimmers,” Judd explained.

Eventually, Velasquez flipped onto her back and floated, according to the sheriff. The two men swam after the boat with the two girls inside, but are believed to have drowned in the process.

“You never ever want to leave the boat without a life jacket on,” said Dean Haskin.

Haskin is the commander for Division 7 of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

“We recommend people stay in the boat,” Haskin said. “We have a throwable that you can always throw out there with a line to have that person grab onto and pull them back to the boat.”

Haskin said extensive training and education is necessary to be out on the water.

“I think people don’t realized is that you have many forces that act upon the boat,” Haskin elaborated. “You have wind, you have tides, you have currents.”

He said he’s seen this before — it’s even happened to him.

“This isn’t uncommon for somebody to decide they’re going to take a quick dip in the water,” Haskin said. “And all of the sudden the boat starts floating away.”

He said Velasquez made the right move by floating on her back and fighting against any panic setting in.

As of Sunday night, however, the two men are yet to be found, despite officials using helicopters, boats, underwater drones and sonar.

“Our policy at the sheriff’s office is when someone goes into the lake such as this,” Sheriff Judd said. “We never leave until we find them.”

The sheriff said the water in the lake varies from nine to 20 feet deep or so, but the men could be floating anywhere from the bottom to the middle.

“We’re there. We’re involved,” said Judd. “We’re searching for these two missing gentlemen as if they were our brothers or our children.”

As Reported by WFLA

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Two boaters were still missing Sunday morning after an incident at Lake Eloise in Winter Haven, according to officials.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said it has been searching for two men at the lake.

It is not yet known what caused the incident, but the two victims are believed to have drowned, leading to a search and recovery mission.

While the lake is located next to LegoLand, the theme park released a statement saying that the incident did not happen at its attraction:

A boating incident occurred on Lake Eloise yesterday. While the incident did not occur at our attraction and is not connected with us in any way, our staff is providing comfort to the family and the Hotel boardwalk is being utilized as a command center. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time. Please contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office for any further inquiries.

LegoLand Florida Resort

The PCSO Marine Unit is getting help from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in the search for the men’s bodies.

Sheriff Grady Judd will give a press conference at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the search’s progress. We will stream it here once it begins.

As Reported by WFLA

CYPRESS GARDENS, Fla. (WFLA) — Officials are searching a lake in Polk County for two people who are believed to have drowned on Saturday.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said their marine unit is searching Lake Eloise in Cypress Gardens for two adults. Lake Eloise is the lake next to LEGOLAND.

Authorities are asking people to avoid the area of Lake Eloise, Lake Summit and the Lake Summit boat ramp until further notice.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is assisting deputies with the search.

This is a developing story. Stay up to date on the latest from News Channel 8 on-air and on the go with the free WFLA News Channel 8 mobile app.

As Reported by WFLA

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo are expected to speak in Winter Haven Thursday morning.

The event topic was not disclosed, but a scheduling announcement from the governor’s office said it was set to begin at 10 a.m.

This is a developing story. Stay up to date on the latest from News Channel 8 on-air and on the go with the free WFLA News Channel 8 mobile app.

As Reported by WFLA

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A federal judge in Washington D.C. found two Tampa Bay area men guilty of felony offenses during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Joshua Doolin, 25, of Polk City and Michael Perkins, 39, of Plant City were convicted of disorderly conduct and entering restricted grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.

The judge also found Perkins guilty of assaulting a federal officer.

The sentencing date for Doolin and Perkins is set for July 13.

While they await their sentencing, the government is trying to locate three suspects accused of traveling with Doolins and Perkins from Florida to take part in the riot. They are siblings Olivia and Jonathan Pollock and Joseph Hutchinson of Georiga. The Pollock siblings are Doolin’s cousins.

Doolin, Perkins, Olivia Pollock and Hutchinson were arrested on June 30, 2021. Siblings Olivia and Jonathan Pollock and Hutchinson are being sought by law enforcement officers.

Body camera footage shows Jonathan Pollock assaulting officers on the steps of the Capitol. However, he has never been arrested.

Just days before the trial in D.C., Olivia Pollock also became a fugitive. The court learned she and Hutchinson removed or tampered with their GPS ankle monitors.

On Wednesday, the judge in Doolin and Perkins’ case warned them that there would be consequences if they flee like their co-defendants.

So far, more than 100 Floridians have faced charges from the investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.

As Reported by WFLA

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Crews are working to contain a chlorine leak at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Polk County Wednesday. morning

An official with the City of Auburndale told News Channel 8 that crews were called to the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. at 705 Main Street South in Auburndale where a 20,000-pound chlorine container is actively leaking.

All employees were evacuated from the building. No injuries were reported.

Polk County Fire is assisting with the operation.

This is a developing story. Stay up to date on the latest from News Channel 8 on-air and on the go with the free WFLA News Channel 8 mobile app.

As Reported by WFLA

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd could feel his phone going off in his pocket but he ignored it. He was in the middle of delivering a sermon at Green Pond Baptist Church in Polk City on Sunday.

“Little did I know my staff was trying to say, ‘Hey there’s a guy with a murder warrant in there with you’,” Judd said.

Polk County deputies had tracked 56-year-old John Skeen all the way to the church using “investigative information” the sheriff said.

Skeen was wanted in Hillsborough County, accused of killing a man in Ruskin at a home they were staying at during a fishing trip.

“They told the Major, ‘we have the church surrounded.’ It’s like ‘chill out, it’s OK. I’m watching everybody. I’ve got a gun. I’ll keep this under control,’” Judd added.

Deputies first called Skeen’s brother who was also in the church. They asked him to come outside, which he did. Deputies then asked him to go back and get his brother, the suspect.

When the suspect came out, the sheriff said he asked if he could go back inside and listen to the rest of the sermon before getting arrested.

“Sgt. Evans, who had already delivered a baby earlier, said ‘No you can’t do that, but I’m a Christian and I’ll pray with you outside the church’,” Judd said.

Skeen is a longtime member of the Green Pond Baptist Church, according to its pastor.

“We’re all in shock. We’ve been in shock. We still are. I’ve had a couple restless nights. I’ve not been able to sleep,” said Pastor David Cheek.

Pastor Cheek said he was standing next to Sheriff Judd, praying with him, when the sheriff showed him the messages on his phone about an arrest.

“You cannot make this up. You can’t write this. Just surreal. Like wow, and I don’t know if anybody will believe us!” said Pastor Cheek.

Skeen is in the process of being extradited to Hillsborough County on a second-degree murder charge.

As Reported by WFLA