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September 16, 2003
CONTACT:  Jim Huffstodt (561) 625-5122

FORT PIERCE—Investigators with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) recently arrested four Fort Pierce men accused of killing protected nongame migratory birds, including an endangered wood stork, an osprey, a cormorant and several black vultures.

A joint investigation by the FWC and the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office began August 13 after sheriff’s deputies arrested one of the accused and charged him with night hunting on the western edge of the county, said Capt. Jeff Ardelean, who leads the FWC’s South Region Investigations Unit.

Ardelean said deputies contacted the FWC after finding a video tape in the suspect’s car allegedly depicting the four suspects shooting protected birds with rifles and shotguns.

FWC Investigator Travis Franklin said the video shows the accused riding around western St. Lucie County “just randomly killing stuff.”

“I wouldn’t call this hunting,” he said. “They didn’t retrieve any of the protected birds they shot, and left the dead or dying birds to rot.”

All the birds are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, while the wood stork is also protected under state and federal endangered species laws, Franklin said.

The accused are:

bulletMichael E. Owens, 22, of 5302 Bowling Green Dr., Fort Pierce. Ardelean said he was charged with three counts of taking protected migratory birds and two counts of discharging a firearm over a roadway. Bond was set at $35,000.

“The video evidence indicates the suspect killed a cormorant with a .22 rifle, and used a shotgun to kill an osprey and black vulture sometime in March off Header Canal Rd. in western St. Lucie County,” Ardelean said.

Killing protected migratory birds is a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and/or 60 days in jail. Shooting over a roadway is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000, according to the FWC investigator.

bulletJoshua C. Blanton, 23, of 2107 Trowbridge Rd., Fort Pierce is charged with two second-degree misdemeanor counts of killing protected migratory birds. Investigators said the video evidence shows the accused using a shotgun to kill two black vultures June 15 in Emerald Grove, off State Route 68 in western St. Lucie County. Bond was set at $20,000.
bulletDane C. Vachon, 19, of 10653 Pine Cone Lane, Ft. Pierce is charged with one second-degree misdemeanor count of killing a protected American anhinga, also known as a snake bird or water turkey. FWC investigators claim the accused shot the bird with a .22 rifle in Emerald Grove June 21. Bond was set at $5,000.
bulletTheodore L. Wilder, III, 20, of 5100 Sanibel Ave., Ft. Pierce is charged with one second-degree misdemeanor of killing an endangered wood stork, a large wading bird also called an ironhead. Bond was set at $5,000.

FWC investigators said the video evidence shows the defendant shooting the wood stork with a .22 rifle in Emerald Grove June 21.

Additional charges relating to the killing of an endangered species may be forthcoming in this case, Ardelean said.

FWC investigators and uniformed officers arrested Wilder at his home Saturday, Sept. 13, Ardelean said. Vachon was arrested at his home the following day. Blanton and Owens turned themselves in at the St. Lucie County Jail late Monday afternoon.

Ardelean said all four defendants bonded out of jail and are awaiting trial.





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