Bodies of missing boaters recovered at Winter Haven lake

The search for two missing boaters ended after officials said their bodies were found near the bottom of a Winter Haven lake.

Monday, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Jeffrey Marrero and Orlando Ortiz were found about 150 yards apart in Lake Eloise.

According to the agency, Ortiz and his girlfriend, 38-year-old Velcky Velasquez, were celebrating their one-year anniversary as a couple. Marrero and his daughters, ages 8 and 10, were invited on the 16-foot Tahoe ski boat.

However, investigators said they were inexperienced on the water as they faced rough, choppy conditions, including 20 mph winds. They said, according to Velasquez, she jumped into the lake with the anchor.

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"Miss Velazquez takes the anchor and jumps into the water. The anchor rope is not tied to the boat," Judd stated. "She's just very inexperienced, so she thinks that you have to get into the water, put the anchor in, and then tie it to the boat. The engine is off, and the boat starts to float away."  

Velazquez and Ortiz jumped into Lake Eloise to save her but struggled themselves. Sheriff Judd said Velasquez was a better swimmer and began floating on her back.

"Ultimately, they sunk," he explained. "They went down pretty close to each other, but they were found 150 yards apart because of the movement of the lake."


The rented boat, provided by PCSO

The 10-year-old on the boat called 911. Two Polk County deputies heard the call and raced to Lake Summit, borrowing a fisherman's boat to get to the scene. Lake Eloise is surrounded by Legoland and private property, and the only way to the scene was through a canal from Lake Summit.

"We live two doors down from the boat ramp, and we started noticing cop cars coming by really fast, and then next thing you know, it was fire trucks, EMTs, and then we saw the rescue boats, and my husband said that it was probably something really bad," shared Aimee Brunson, who saw the response efforts unfold from her yard.

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Deputies were able to rescue Velasquez. The children remained on the boat, which ended up stuck in high weeds, the sheriff said.

The search for Marrero and Ortiz continued through Monday. Around 4:30 p.m., the sheriff announced both bodies were found that day, mainly due to sonar technology used by the Florida Fish and Wildlife. An underwater drone used by the Seminole County Sheriff's Office helped locate the men.

A class was required in order for the group to rent the boat. Sheriff Judd said detectives are still investigating the details of the course.

"Once again, when you get into the water and the wind is blowing 20 mph and it’s choppy, it’s not a failure on the boat," the sheriff said Monday. "The only question that we have is why wasn’t the rope already secured onto the boat?"