Residents mourn loss of Orange Park tow truck operator, local teen killed on I-295
ORANGE PARK – Friends and family pleaded with motorists to move over during a roadside emergency after a 30-year-old tow truck operator and a driver were struck and killed on Interstate 295 on Sunday, May 30, morning.
Carlos Bentancourt, 30, of Orange Park, was helping a stranded motorist at the near the northbound exit at Blanding Boulevard when he was struck by an SUV at 2:40 a.m. Bentancourt, owner of Zoom Zoom Towing in Orange Park, died at the scene, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, and the 19-year-old driver from Orange Park of the stranded vehicle died later at the hospital.
FHP doesn’t release names of people involved in accidents.
The 23-year-old woman from Jacksonville who hit them wasn’t injured.
Bentancourt’s two truck was partially in the left lane as he tried to help the driver of a stranded car.
Drivers are required to change lanes when approaching emergency vehicles or tow trucks, according to the state’s move-over law. If that’s not possible, drivers are supposed to drive 20 mph slower than the posted speed limit.
A post from July 19, 2019, on Zoom Zoom’s Facebook page reminded drivers to be aware of vehicle emergencies.
Enraged man burns down his house in dispute with wife
MIDDLEBURG – A man who suspected his wife of cheating on him was arrested on May 30 for setting his Mallard Road house on fire.
Joseph DeWayne Parker, 54, of Middleburg, was charged with second-degree arson after Clay County Sheriff’s Office and Fire and Rescue responded to a house fire at 6:30 p.m. When they arrived, they found the home “fully engulfed in flames.” Firefighters soon found a second burning structure at the back of the property.
A detective with the Department of Financial Service’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services determined the fires were “incendiary.”
According to the arrest report, the wife left the home to buy groceries. When she returned, her house was on fire. Deputies conducted a search of the surrounding area and found her husband, Joseph Parker, laying in the back of a pickup truck near the second burning structure. After he was detained, he told deputies “I burnt it all down” to make sure his wife didn’t get anything, CCSO said.
CCSO K-9 Shay-ley sniffed Parker and alerted deputies to the likely presence of an accelerant.
Parker was released from the Clay County Jail after posting a $35,003 bond. He also was ordered to not have any contact with his wife or to be within 2,500 feet of her residence.
Three stopped for expired tag, then busted for drugs
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – A license tag that expired four months ago led to a traffic stop on Commercial Drive and the eventual arrest of three for illegal narcotics.
The three arrested by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office included: Austin Arthur Elias Haw Smith, 32, of Starke, was charged with possession of methamphetamine; Zachary Dustin Hurt, 20, of Keystone Heights, was charged with possession of fentanyl; and, Jessica Ann Widner, 30, of Keystone Heights, was charged with possession of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.
According to the arrest report, a CCSO deputy noticed a Hyundai Sonata with an expiration sticker of January. During the traffic stop, the deputy noticed a “loaded syringe” on the driver’s side floorboard. All four passengers were ordered out of the car, and during the search, Smith was caught with two grams of meth in a bookbag; Hurt had a plastic bag with .3 grams of fentanyl in his pants; and, Widner had four syringes with methamphetamine and two grams of meth in a makeup bag on the passenger side floorboard, according to CCSO.
Smith, who also had an outstanding warrant in Bradford County, was being held on a $50,003 bond, while Hurt’s bond was set at $25,003 and Widner’s was $10,755.
The driver of the car wasn’t arrested and given a written warning for the expired tag.
The drugs, needles and Widner’s makeup purse were taken into evidence.
Speeding ticket leads to drug charges for two Jacksonville men
ORANGE PARK – The driver and passenger of a speeding car on Wells Road got more than a ticket from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office on May 27.
Leon Eric Brooks Jr., 29, and Devon A. Hacker, 37, both of Jacksonville, were arrested after deputies found methamphetamine in the car.
According to the arrest report, Brooks was stopped after he was clocked going 48 in a 30 mph zone. When the deputy approached the car, he detected the smell of marijuana smoke and he saw a plastic bag with a marijuana leaf imprinted on it with the words “Cannabis Flower” to the gear shifter.
Both passengers were removed from the car. CCSO found a bag containing meth in Hacker’s pocket. They also found larger quantities of meth, cocaine, marijuana and drug paraphernalia on Brooks. In addition to being charged with possession, the amounts of drugs also led to trafficking charges for the methamphetamine, and criminal intent to sell, manufacture or distribute charges for the methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.
Brooks, whose bond was set at $410,765, was charged with providing a false name to deputies and driving without a valid license. He also got a speeding ticket.
Hacker’s bond was set at $10,755.
Keystone Heights man charged with escaping from halfway house
JACKSONVILLE – Acting U.S. Attorney Karin Hoppmann announced the return by a grand jury of an indictment charging Derrick S. McCullough, 31, of Keystone Heights, with an escape from federal custody. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of an additional five years in federal prison.
According to the indictment, on March 29, 2021, McCullough escaped from custody at Keeton Corrections Residential Reentry Center, a halfway house in Jacksonville. McCullough was confined to Keeton while serving the final portion of a sentence imposed in connection with a federal conviction for possessing a firearm as a convicted felon.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed one or more violations of federal criminal law, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
Man headed to prison for stealing identities, ripping off Navy Federal Credit Union
JACKSONVILLE – U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis has sentenced Charles Cornelius Smith, 35, of Jacksonville, to five years in federal prison for aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. The court also ordered Smith to pay restitution to the victims he had defrauded.
Smith had pleaded guilty on Feb. 2.
According to court documents, Smith obtained the personal identification information, including the name, date of birth, and Social Security number of a victim. Using this information, Smith provided his co-defendant, Zipporan Carmel Peters, with a counterfeit South Carolina driver license using the name and identity of the victim, but with Peters’ photo on it. Smith then drove Peters to different branches of the Navy Federal Credit Union in Clay and Duval Counties. Using the victim’s identity, Peters made various fraudulent transactions involving the withdrawal of large amounts of cash and the purchase of multiple $500 gift cards, utilizing the victim’s account. Smith and Peters also visited multiple cellphone stores in Clay and Duval counties and used the victim’s identity to obtain several thousand dollars’ worth of cellphones and accompanying merchandise.
Zipporan Carmel Peters is scheduled for trial on July 6.
“Technology has forever changed the way we do business, making every day financial transactions a prime target for fraud. This case should serve as a strong deterrent to those considering exploiting the identities of others to enrich themselves through fraud,” said Special Agent in Charge, Glen M. Kessler of the U.S. Secret Service - Jacksonville Field Office.
The case was investigated by U.S. Secret Service’s Jacksonville Field Office, the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the Orange Park Police Department. It was prosecuted by Asst. U.S. Attorney Kevin C. Frein.