FWC: Gopher tortoises smashed, killed; 3 arrested

Men, teen charged with animal cruelty

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Two men and a teen have been arrested after officials say they ran over two gopher tortoises with a vehicle, picked them up and intentionally slammed them to the ground.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers arrested Michael Dublin, 20, of Jacksonville, Dalton Bothwell, 19, of Middleburg, and a 17-year-old boy from Middleburg in Orange County on charges of killing a state-designated threatened species and felony cruelty to animals.

On May 27, FWC officers found a large, severely injured gopher tortoise attempting to move on a roadway in the Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area. Its upper and lower shells were cracked open, and internal organs were protruding from its sides, officials said.  The tortoise was barely alive. Nearby was another, smaller tortoise. It too had a cracked shell and was surrounded by blood, officials said.

After investigating the incident, the officers determined that Dublin had intentionally struck the tortoises with a vehicle. He hit the smaller tortoise first and "left the injured animal to suffer and die in the hot sun while they rode off and messed around," according to deputies.

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 found the first tortoise 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 FWC Officer Steve McDaniel in a release.

Both animals died.

"I just don't understand how and why people can do things like this," McDaniel said.

The adults were transported to the Orange County Jail; the teen was taken to the Orange County Juvenile Assessment Center. The charges carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and five years in prison.

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