ORANGE COUNTY --
Two teens and a 20-year-old man 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 for killing a state-designated threatened species and for felony cruelty to animals.
The three allegedly 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, 19-year-old Dalton Bothwell of Middleburg, and a 17-year-old juvenile male from Middleburg and charged each with killing/wounding a threatened species and felony cruelty to animals.
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 around 2 p.m. on May 27 when they found a large, severely injured gopher tortoise attempting to move on a roadway. Nearby was another, smaller tortoise. It too had a cracked shell.
After investigating the incident, the officers determined that Dublin had intentionally struck the tortoises with the vehicle they were all riding in. 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 wildlife area. 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. They then located the first tortoise they hit, found it injured but still alive, and picked it up and slammed it into the ground.
“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,’” said Officer McDaniel.
Both animals died.
“I just don’t understand how and why people can do things like this,” McDaniel said.