Middleburg stabbing victim in critical condition

Clay County deputies take suspect in for questioning

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – A 69-year-old man remains in critical condition after he was stabbed multiple times early Tuesday morning in his home in Middleburg, according to the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

After an early-morning search, investigators took Caleb Ertley, 24, into custody Tuesday, deputies said.

Ertley had his first appearance Wednesday morning on charges of attempted murder and attempted aggravated battery. He was denied bond.

The Sheriff's Office responded to a call around 1 a.m. Tuesday at a home on Bluegrass Avenue, where deputies said Ron Putnam was stabbed after a fight with another man. Putnam was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Robbery and homicide detectives investigated and identified Ertley as a person of interest.

According to the Sheriff's Office, Ertley and his father, Jeffrey Ertley, lived with Putnam until last month, when records show that the father and son were in a fight and Jeffrey Ertley was arrested.

Putnam is a registered sex offender, and Jeffrey Ertley is a registered sexual predator, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The Sheriff's Office said Caleb Ertley had been living in the wooded area around Johns Cemetery Road and Foxtail Avenue. The Sheriff's Office said Ertley was found about 7:30 a.m. in woods near 60 Mint Circle and was taken in or questioning.

Deputies said detectives found bicycle tracks while they were searching the area near the stabbing and followed the tracks toward a home on Mint Circle. The homeowner told deputies that there was a man in a tent behind his home, and detectives found Ertley in the tent about 100 yards into the wooded area behind the house.

"He had a tent set up right here," said Alan Hendl, who owns the property. "He got down here; he had a little fire going and got to talking about how he lived over there and his trailer was being remodeled or something like that. He said, 'I'll just be out here a few nights.' I said, 'You can sleep here tonight, but in the morning, you need to get your stuff and go.'”

Hendl said he was in bed when the detectives came and banged on his door.

"They asked me who I was and who all lived in the house," Hendl said. "I explained it to them. They asked me if I had seen anyone on a bike or anything, and I said, 'Well, actually, there's a homeless guy down in the woods.' And they proceeded to come down here.”

He was taken into custody without incident, deputies said.

A machete was also found at the scene and was taken into evidence.

Putnam's next-door neighbor told News4Jax that the victim is a Vietnam veteran who lives by himself. Richard Spain said Putnam ran to his door in the middle of the night asking for help. Spain said Putnam was attacked with a machete and covered with blood.

"He was hollering, 'Help me, help me,' (and) said he was bleeding to death," Spain said. "Me and my daughter gave him first aid."

The man who owns the property where Ertley was living said he saw lights Monday night and went down to check things out.

"I talked to him for a minute. I was like, 'All right, in the morning, get your stuff and go,'" Alan Hendl said. "I wake up to the cops at the door."

Other people who live in the area were concerned when they heard that a neighbor was stabbed and that there was a search for whoever did it.

"It scares me. I have two kids that live right here and, I mean, their father lives here and he’s usually the only one here and there’s a lot of kids around here," Samantha West said. "(I) lock my doors tight and hug my kids tight and hope and pray. That’s all I can do."

The Sheriff's Office said a number of sexual offenders and predators live in the area because of the layout of the land. It's rural, and they can often find a decent-sized home that isn't near any schools or violating any laws.

Deputies said Putnam and Jeffrey Ertley were not breaking any laws by living in the same home.

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