Florida searches for boaters missing in lake near Legoland

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (AP) — Authorities launched a search Sunday for two boaters who went missing and are believed to have drowned in an accident on a lake in central Florida near Legoland theme park.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a press conference that two men jumped into Lake Eloise to save the third person in their group, a woman who was wrestling in the water. They broke away from the boat and have not appeared since Saturday evening.

A third person, Velky Velasquez, 38, was rescued by sheriff’s deputies who were called when a 10-year-old girl on a boat dialed 911 on her cell phone. According to Judd, this child and an 8-year-old girl remained on the boat while it drifted and were safely rescued by police officers who confiscated the fishing boat, whose owner was assisting.

The lake adjacent to the Legoland theme park in Winter Haven was rough on Saturday with 20 mph (32 km/h) winds and some whitecaps, Judd said. He added that the weather problems were exacerbated by the inexperience of the boatmen who rented a boat for a trip that day.

According to the sheriff, the problems began when Velasquez jumped into the water with an anchor.

“She’s just very inexperienced, so she thinks she should go into the water, anchor and tie it to the boat,” Judd said.

The missing men have been identified as Orlando Ortiz, 32, Velasquez’s boyfriend, and Jeffrey Marrero, 34, the father of two girls. Judd said the search would continue using sonar and underwater drones until they were found.

“We don’t allow anyone close to us to stay in the lake. We’ll find them,” Judd said.

Winter Haven is about 50 miles (80 km) east of Tampa.

On Saturday, Legoland released a statement saying the incident was “in no way connected to us” but added that the boardwalk at its hotel was being used as a command center by officials.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this difficult time,” the statement said.

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