MELROSE, Fla. – Deputies have arrested two suspected home burglars, both named Justin, after a series of burglaries reported by homeowners, according to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff’s Office arrested Justin Lee Harris, 28, of Melrose, and Justin Michael Buchler, 36, of Keystone Heights.
Deputies on Wednesday were called to a home in Melrose on Shiloh Road to investigate a burglary in progress. Investigators said they received a tip from a woman who called 911 after she saw two men removing various items from her neighbor’s house and loading them onto a truck.
According to the arrest report, the owner of the home lives in St. Johns County, but uses the home and the garage on the property to store many of his possessions that totaled nearly $30,000.
The 14-page arrest report states that after the deputy went into the backyard, he located Harris who was coming out a wooded area of the yard. Harris was taken into custody while investigators said Buchler took off running.
According to the report, Harris told the deputy he was there to pick up a car, but when the owner of the property was contacted via telephone, he told authorities that he did not know Harris.
Shortly after the owner was called, investigators said, another deputy deployed his service dog, which picked up scent of Buchler. The report states the dog tracked the scent to a wooded area located a few hundred yards from the home.
Investigators told News4Jax that Buchler had buried himself inside a gopher tortoise nest and was still trying to cover himself with dirt by the time the K-9 deputy caught up to him. He was taken into custody.
Deputies determined that thousands of dollars worth of items were taken from the home, including jewelry, tools, collectible items, computers, a motocross bike, a trailer and even an antique clock from the 1950s. Investigators said many of the items were found loaded in the suspects’ truck.
A search of the truck, investigators said, also turned up various illegal narcotics, drug paraphernalia and a gun, which is why both men are also facing drug charges and charges of being in possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in addition to burglary and theft charges.
Investigators told News4Jax that neither men could explain how the stolen items ended up in their truck. They said they believe the men were going to pawn the stolen items.
Clay County records show that Buchler has a list of convictions on charges of theft, dealing in stolen property, illegal possession of a firearm, and drug possession. According to the Florida Dept. of Corrections, in 2014, Buchler was sentenced to two years of incarceration on drug charges. Prior to that prison stint, he served time behind bars for drug possession, dealing in stolen property and illegal possession of a firearm.
Prior to this latest arrest in Putnam County, Harris was already dealing with an active case in Clay County, in which he is a suspected of committing assault with a deadly weapon. He has prior convictions for grand theft, burglary and drug possession. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, Harris was sentenced to a year and three months behind bars on a conviction for burglary. Two years prior, he was sentenced to the same length behind bars after he was convicted on burglary and grand theft charges.
As of Friday afternoon, both men were being held at the Putnam County Jail.