Convicted Lake County sex offender arrested in Florida after evading authorities

PAINESVILLE, Ohio - A convicted sex offender from Lake County was taken into custody near Orlando Tuesday night, the U.S. Marshals said.

Willard Wigfield, 32, was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force and Osceola County Sheriff's deputies at approximately 5:30 p.m. He was on bond after pleading guilty to a charge of rape and a warrant was issued after he failed to appear for his sentencing in Lake County Common Pleas Court on July 8.

Wigfield was wearing an electronic monitoring device that was sending signals from the Tuscarawas River near New Philadelphia when he was supposed to be appearing in court.

Authorities searched the area and were unable to find Wigfield or the device. U.S. Marshals along with the Lake County Sheriff's Office and Mentor-on-the-Lake Police launched an investigation and discovered Wigfield had cut off his bracelet, faked suicide, and was on the run. 

On July 5, Wigfield made known plans to flee and enlisted the help of his sister Stephanie Smith, of Coshocton, who rented a vehicle for him.

On July 9, investigators discovered Wigfield had traveled to Orlando and deputies there were sent to a hotel to try to apprehend him. However, upon arrival, the suspect was no longer in the room. They did find a close family friend of Wigfield, Robert Mahaffey, of New Philadelphia, inside the room. Mahaffey is being held in the Osceola County Jail on a first degree felony charge of accessory after the fact to the crime of rape.

Police found the vehicle Wigfield's sister, Smith, had rented for him at the hotel. Smith was arrested and charged with Obstructing Justice.

In asking the public's help in the investigation, police received a number of tips in relation to Wigfield's location. The most promising leads led them back to Florida in an area near Kissimmee, a popular tourist destination not far from where Wigfield had last been seen.

On July 23, authorities established surveillance in the area and later that afternoon a deputy saw what was believed to be Wigfield's dog being walked by someone else. The deputy allegedly recognized the dog from photos that circulated earlier in the investigation.

A team followed the person walking the dog, which led them to Wigfield, who was standing in a parking lot. Wigfield evaded members of the Florida Regional Task Force, running into a swampy, wooded area.

Aware of Wigfield's past actions, the Marshals came equipped with a K9 and helicopter, which they dispatched to track Wigfield as he moved through the swamp. The K9 was deployed when Wigfield headed toward a busy interstate.

Wigfield did not surrender, kicking the dog while trying to run. Moments later, Wigfield was taken into custody and then to a local hospital.

The suspect is currently being guarded by armed officers at the hospital until he is cleared for release and eventual extradition back to Ohio.

Anyone with information regarding the whereabouts of a known fugitive is encouraged to contact the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force at 1-866-4WANTED or Text keyword WANTED and tip to TIP411 (847411). Tipsters can remain anonymous and reward money is available.

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