A construction crew is under investigation after allegedly filling the hole of an endangered tortoise with concrete.
Patrice Hook, an optician, stayed home from work Thursday to see if she could catch a Curb-A-Lawn crew in the act of dumping concrete in the vacant lot across the street from her house.
The Hooks had noticed Wednesday that a gopher tortoise hole was full of concrete, said John Hook, her husband. So Patrice stayed home with her 35mm camera.
Sure enough, he said, the crew from the Spring Hill company returned the next day and continued to dump concrete with a wheelbarrow.
Patrice snapped photos, and the couple later called the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
Joe Johnson, a wildlife officer for the commission, said the work crew was installing curbs at a house behind the wooded lot at the corner of Linden and Escobar avenues.
The crew apparently decided the lot was a good place to get rid of extra concrete, he said.
"Out of sight, out of mind, it appears," he said.
Kathleen Letendre, owner of Curb-A-Lawn, blamed the incident on one worker. She said he has been fired.
"It's an embarrassment," she said. "I don't go around killing animals by any means, and it will never happen again."
One tortoise is feared dead.
"We had over 80 volunteers out there last night trying to dig him out and save him," John Hook said Friday. "We had Fish and Game there, we had the fire department, we had neighbors . . ."
"I think the tortoise is dead," added Hook, whose yard has served as a grazing area for the tortoise. "He was either out of the hole when they filled it, or he's down there dead. (Volunteers) dug in several directions, but those tunnels go on forever."
The work crew, which had three workers and a supervisor, is under investigation for destroying a tortoise habitat, a misdemeanor offense, and illegal commercial dumping, a third-degree felony, Johnson said.
Johnson would not identify the workers or the supervisor. They will be interviewed next week, he said.
Letendre, the owner, did not know whether the worker whom she blames for the incident realized the hole belonged to a tortoise.
No matter what, "it was stupid," she said. "Everybody knows what a tortoise hole looks like."
Prosecutors will decide next week whether to file charges against the workers.
"If they knew what they were doing and they knew better, then they should be charged," said Rita Battista, assistant state attorney.
Tony Guarcello, who lives nearby, hopes the tortoise is alive.
"There are a lot of them in the area. I love them," said Guarcello, 73. "We've got one that comes right up to our front door and then walks away.
"We enjoy watching them."