Sheriff Dennis Lemma: Seminole County a safe place to live, but 'there's always the exception to the rule'

Headline Surfer photo and video by Henry Frederick / Seminole Country Sheriff Dennis Lemma is shown in an interview in his office regarding his approach to keeping this Central Florida County a safe place despite the proliferation of guns and the opioid crisis, the latter of which has reached crisis proportions in overdose deaths in neighboring Orange County (Orlando) to the west and and Volusia County (Daytona Beach) to the east along the I-4 corridor.
 
By HENRY FREDERICK
Headline Surfer

SANFORD, Fla. -- Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma smiled when asked a blanket statement: "How Safe Are We."

That's because Seminole County is among the least violent of the I-4 corridor counties stretching from Disney to the rolling surf of the World's Most Famous Beach in Daytona, according to crime statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But Lemma's winning smile was replaced with a grimace when interviewed in his Sanford-based Sheriff's Office headquarters and the name Henry Brown was brought up by a reporter. 

"There's always the exception to the rule," said Lemma, elected sheriff in 2016 without opposition, when asked about Brown specifically.

Lemma recalled the night of April 17 and early morning hours of April 18, of that year like it was yesterday. It was the worst-case of deadly domestic violence where "the entire family was wiped off the face of the earth in a few short hours" that Lemma said he could recall in his 20-plus years in law enforcement, all with Seminole County Sheriff's Office. Nearly eight months later, Lemma was officially sworn in as sheriff.

Lemma recalled the night of April 17 and early morning hours of April 18, of that year like it was yesterday. It was the worst-case of deadly domestic violence where "the entire family was wiped off the face of the earth in a few short hours" that Lemma said he could recall in his 20-plus years in law enforcement, all with Seminole County Sheriff's Office. Nearly eight months later, Lemma was officially sworn in as sheriff.

Here is a synopsis of events that occurred that night as described by Lemma's PIOs: At approximately 10 p.m., Chericia Brown, 31, was attacked and seriously injured by her estranged husband, Henry Ramone Brown, 30, in the parking lot of Chili’s in Lake Mary.

Henry Brown waited in the trunk of Brown’s car for her to come out of the restaurant before stabbing her and running off. Brown returned a few minutes later in his own car and intentionally ran her over. Two other individuals described as "good samaritans" outside the Chilis who were attempting to render aid to Chericia Brown were also hit by the etranged husband's vehicle before he sped off.

The critically-injured wife was transported to Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford where she succumbed to her injuries. But Brown was not aware of her fate. Henry Brown arrived at an apartment complex in Altamonte Springs where he switched from his car to his pick-up truck vehicles and picked up the couple’s two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 1-year-old girl, from a babysitter, who was not aware of the earlier carnage.

At approximately 12:25 a.m., Brown arrived at Central Florida Regional Hospital in an attempt to locate Chericia, hoping to finish her off. There, Seminole County Sheriff’s deputies and Sanford police officers confronted him and a gun battle ensued with Brown firing the initial shot, leading to return fire as he ran out of the hospital lobby and fled in his truck, the two kids in the back on a small jump seat. No one was hit or injured during the exchange of gunfire.

Brown sped off on I-4 east towards the St. Johns Bridge, but as deputies were closing in, he pulled over to the side of the interstate, shot each of the children in the head before turning the gun on himself with a mortal wound to his head.  Deputies had used stop sticks to flatten the tires on Brown's vehicle, which ked to his last minute of violence.

Brown and his two children were found dead inside when deputies caught up to the disabled vehicle. 

And while most homicides are considered reactive where law enforcement typically responds to a violent act that was unforeseen, the horrific violence Brown unleashed on his loved ones could have possibly been avoided had an investigator assigned to the case after prior incidents was found to have not done his due diligence and was  fired by in the year by then-Sheriff Don Eslinger before he left office at the end of 2016 for retirement.

FAST FACTS: FDLE Crime Stats for Orange, Seminole & Volusia Counties in 2016 & 2017
Highlights: The violent crime rate decreased by 11.5 percent and the overall number of murders dropped from 154 to 70. But the much greater number of murders the previous year were due to the Orlando Pulse nightclub mass shooting incident on June 12, 2016 where 49 people were killed.
Highlights: The violent crime rate dropped 12.6 percent and the number of murders fell from 27 to 17. Ten of the 17 murders in 2017 were handled by the Sanford Police Depaerment because they occurred within the city limits.
Highlghts: The violent crime rate fell 9.1 percent, but murders rose from 19 to 27. 
Highlights: Murders declined by 1.2 percent and robberies by 2 percent. Rapes rose by 7.2 percent as did aggravated assaults by 1.9 percent. 
 
Previous-Related Coverage

Seminole Counrty Sheriff's Deputy saved 2 women in 2016 from overdose deaths resulting from opioids / Headline SurferOpioid overdose deaths at epidemic levels in Sunshine State, but a Seminole County deputy's heroics saved lives of two addicts who overdosed

Story Summary: Deaths caused by fentanyl increased by a whopping 97 percent in 2016, according to recently released report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Thanks to the heroics of Seminole County Sheriff's deputy Fred Hilaire, two women in separate overdose situations in 2016 survived. Sheriff Dennis Lemma described his deputy as a "hero," who relied on his instincts and law enforcement training in responding to the emergency situations.  
Headline Surfer photo by HenryFrederick / Deputy Fred Hilaire is shown outside the main office of the upscale rental development 'Lofts @ Savannah Park' on International Drive near Sanford, Lake Mary and Heathrow. Hilare was featured in a profile story on the opioid crisis. The story published Nov. 19, 2017 includes an exclusive video interview. 
 
Henry Frederick Picture

Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.