‘We are totally devastated’: Polk County sheriff gives update on missing boaters

POLK COUNTY, Fla. — Sheriff Grady Judd released new details on the recovery effort regarding two men believed to have drowned in Winter Haven.

Judd held a news conference Saturday morning providing new information on the two men suspected of drowning in Lake Eloise yesterday.

During the press conference, Judd described the incident as a heartbreaking boat trip gone wrong.

The sheriff said a couple was out celebrating their anniversary and brought a family friend and his daughters along for the ride.


Orlando Ortiz and his girlfriend, Velky Velasquez rented a boat to celebrate their anniversary and brought along their friend Jeffery Merarro to join them on a day on the water.

Merraro also brought his daughters along for the trip.

Judd said the incident happened, in part, as a result of inexperience for those on board.

When the occupants attempted to anchor the boat - “Melky, due to inexperience, jumped in the water with the anchor,” Judd said.

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Judd went on to say that when the woman started going under the two men jumped in the water to save her.

“When they can’t catch the boat - Velasquez tries to float - boat floats away – 10-year-old girl starts to dial 911,” Judd added.

Rescue crews were able to catch up with the woman, and the two girls on the boat, with the help of a local fisherman.

The men disappeared underwater and have not reappeared.

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“We have every expectation they perished in the water,” Judd said. “We are totally devastated, and our hearts break for them.”

Judd believes part of the reason Velasquez was able to be rescued was that the ten-year-old acted quickly to call 911.

Polk County deputies will continue their search with the help of FWC and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office.

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