Two adults and a juvenile from Jacksonville and Middleburg are facing prison time and fines after Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission law enforcement officers arrested them in Orange County on charges of killing a state-designated threatened species and felony cruelty to animals.
Officers said the three ran over two gopher tortoises with a vehicle in the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area, and then while the tortoises were still alive, picked them up and intentionally slammed them violently to the ground.
FWC officers arrested 20-year-old Michael Dublin, of Jacksonville, 18-year-old Dalton Bothwell, of Middleburg, and a 17-year-old boy from Middleburg.
The adults were transported to the Orange County Jail, and the juvenile to the Orange County Juvenile Assessment Center. The charges are third-degree felonies, and each carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.
FWC Officer Steve McDaniel and FWC Reserve Officer James Nelson were patrolling the Tosohatchee WMA about 2 p.m. May 27 when they found a large, severely injured gopher tortoise trying to move on a roadway. They said its upper and lower shells were cracked open, and internal organs were protruding from its sides.
The officers said there was a large amount of blood on the road and the tortoise was barely alive. Nearby was another, smaller tortoise. It too had a cracked shell and was surrounded by a pool of blood, the officers said.
After investigating the incident, the officers determined that Dublin had intentionally struck the tortoises with the vehicle they were all riding in, according to FWC. Officers said he struck the smaller tortoise first, left the injured animal to suffer and die in the hot sun while they rode off and "messed around" in the WMA.
Hours later, as they were leaving the area, they struck the larger tortoise and then got out, picked up the injured animal and slammed it to the ground, causing additional injuries, officers said. They then located the first tortoise they hit, found it injured but still alive, and picked it up and slammed it into the ground, officers said.
"They made no attempt to render aid or take the animals to a vet. They said they simply wanted to 'see what would happen if we dropped it,'" McDaniel said.
Both animals died.
"I just don't understand how and why people can do things like this," McDaniel said.
To report wildlife, fish and boating violations, call the FWC's 24-hour toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if their information leads to an arrest.