The Rev. Kenneth Baxley, whose congregation came to his defense when he was charged with failing to register as a sexual offender, was charged Wednesday with committing sexual battery on a child under 18.
Baxley, 36, the pastor of Central Baptist Community Ministries in Lakeland, was arrested following an investigation that began Monday when a caller told authorities Baxley had sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl, said Polk County sheriff's Lt. Joe Halman.
Halman said investigators interviewed the girl, who told them a sexual relationship with Baxley had gone on for about a year.
Investigators obtained a search warrant and found evidence in Baxley's house substantiating the allegations, Halman said.
In March, Baxley pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sexual offender. That charge stemmed from a case in which he served 15 months in prison for attempted sexual battery on a child under 12, a crime committed when he was 18. Sentencing for failure to register is set for May.
Baxley's 130-member congregation stood behind him in its willingness to give him a second chance in the March case. Joe Pigg, chairman of the church's deacons, said Wednesday the church continues to stand by Baxley and that he believed the new allegations are false.
Pigg acknowledged that the congregation has mixed emotions.
"They don't know what has transpired. They're upset he's been arrested again," he said.
Fire forces temporary
evacuation of Polk homes
LAKE WALES _ A 300-acre brush fire that came so close to one home that it melted its window blinds forced the evacuation of 30 residents of a Polk County residential neighborhood Thursday night.
A voluntary evacuation was ordered for another 1,500 residents of Indian Lake Estates, about 15 miles east of Lake Wales.
Late Thursday, officials allowed the evacuated residents to return to their homes as the fire came closer to being contained.
There were no reported injuries, said Tom Mason, assistant public safety director for Polk County. He added that the fire may have been set by an arsonist.
Only one structure, a home where the blinds melted, received minor damage, Mason said.
About 85 firefighters took on the blaze, digging fire lines around it while helicopters dropped water on the fire.
Most of the evacuated residents went to the Indian Lake clubhouse for shelter, Mason said.
Sharks apparently nip two
at nearby Volusia beaches
NEW SMYRNA BEACH _ A surfer and a wave-boarder were injured Thursday in apparent shark attacks about 2 miles apart.
Richard Lloyd, 22, was surfing in front of the Inlet Condos of New Smyrna Beach when he felt something bite his leg.
"I didn't see anything," said Lloyd, who was taken to a hospital for stitches. "This could be worse. I can feel my toes."
Minutes later, a 12-year-old boy was attacked about 2 miles north while he was wave-boarding with a friend. The boy had two small lacerations, said Robert Horster of the Volusia County Beach Patrol.
"This time of the year, you do have a lot of young sharks around," Horster said. "This water being cloudy and murky, they may come in looking for small fish."
_ Ledger and wire reports