ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Investigators have identified a person of interest in connection with five vandalized loggerhead sea turtle nests and the killing of three black skimmer chicks by someone driving a high-powered vehicle on the beach at Anna Maria Island.
About 10:30 p.m. June 27, witnesses said they saw a couple barrelling along the beach when they hit the birds near the city line between Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach and then between 30th and 27th streets in Holmes Beach, and running over five protected turtle nests, designated by stakes.
Laughter could be heard by those who witnessed the incident, who said the couple aimed for the nests. The sound of the stakes being broken could also be heard.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is leading the investigation in conjunction with Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach police departments.
A person of interest has been identified, according to FWC spokesman Gary Morse. Investigators have been in contact with the State Attorney's Office, he said.
After the incident, volunteers with Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Protection attempted to mark were they believed the nests were. Because of damage by recent rains, Executive Director Suzi Fox said the chances of anything hatching from those nests is very low.
Fox said she believes the person of interest was identified after they told someone of their role. That person then contacted law enforcement.
"That's how we always believed that this was going to go," Fox said. "That he was going to brag about what he had done."
Fox is hoping to have some closure to the case soon.
"Obviously, the person who did this is an ill person who needs to get some help," Fox said. "Picking on animals is a real coward. What's the next step?"
Manatee County Crimestoppers is offering a cash reward of up to $3,500 for information leading to the arrests of those responsible. Tips can be called in anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-866-634-8477 or submit an e-tip online at manateecrimestoppers.com.
Others have also pledged to contribute to a reward.
Anyone who has information on the incident, including a description of the vehicle, can also call the Holmes Beach Police Department at 941-708-5804, Bradenton Beach officer Eric Hill 941-778-6311 or remain anonymous and eligible for a reward upon conviction by calling the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. Suzi Fox can be reached at Turtle Watch, 941-778-5638.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.