Search on for Florida boaters missing in lake near Legoland
Mar 19, 2023, 11:14 AM | Updated: 11:56 am
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) — Authorities searched Sunday for two boaters who were missing and believed drowned in an accident on a central Florida lake near the Legoland theme park.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference that the two men had jumped into Lake Eloise to save a third person from their group, a woman, who was struggling in the water. The men became separated from the boat and have not been seen since Saturday evening.
The third person, 38-year-old Velcky Velazques, was rescued by sheriff’s deputies who had been summoned when a 10-year-old girl on the boat dialed 911 on a cellphone. That child and an 8-year-old girl remained on the boat as it drifted and were rescued safely by the deputies, who had commandeered a fishing boat whose owner cooperated in the effort, Judd said.
The lake, adjacent to Legoland in Winter Haven, was rough on Saturday with 20 mph (32 kph) winds and some whitecaps, Judd said. He added that the weather issues were compounded by inexperience on the part of the boaters, who had rented the vessel for an outing that day.
The problems began when the Velazques jumped into the water with an anchor, the sheriff said.
“She’s just very inexperienced, so she thinks you’re supposed to get into the water, put the anchor in and then tie it to the boat,” Judd said.
The missing men were identified as Orlando Ortiz, 32, who is Velazques’s boyfriend, and Jeffrey Marrero, 34, who is the father of the two girls. Judd said the search will continue using sonar and underwater drones until they are found.
“We don’t allow anyone’s loved one to stay in the lake. We will find them,” Judd said.
Winter Haven is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) east of Tampa.
Legoland put out a statement Saturday saying the incident “is not connected with us in any way.” It added that a boardwalk at its hotel was being used by officials as a command center.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time,” the statement said.