Two charged in connection with Topsail tree-cutting incident

Crime

SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — After months of investigating, two people have been charged in connection to an incident that happened in May at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Walton County. 

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Emory Gaultney (76) and Michelle Glantz (66), who are both from Georgia, have been charged with multiple misdemeanors and felonies in connection with an incident in late May, in which multiple people were caught in the act of cutting down trees in the state-protected park.

The charges include:

•             Trespassing – First Degree Misdemeanor

•             Damage Property-Criminal Mischief – Third Degree Felony

•             Larceny – First Degree Felony

•             Conservation- Violation of F.A.C pertaining to Migratory Birds – Second Degree Misdemeanor (18 counts)

•             Conservation-Violation of F.A.C pertaining to General Prohibitions – Second Degree Misdemeanor (2 counts)

•             Conservation- Violation of F.A.C pertaining to Threatened/Endangered Species – Second Degree Misdemeanor

•             Conservation- Violation of F.A.C pertaining to Threatened/Endangered Species – Second Degree Misdemeanor

•             Conservation-Environment – First Degree Misdemeanor (5 counts)

Gaultney and Glantz both reside at Cypress Dunes, a gated community neighboring the preserve. After learning of the incident in May, the Cypress Dunes Homeowners Association released a statement saying the event “overwhelmed [them] with shock and dismay,” and that while the individuals have been respected members of the neighborhood for many years, “their actions go against the values and ideals of [the] community.”

Residents in a neighboring community were eyewitnesses to the incident, first hearing the chainsaws in the distance and watching the trees fall. Resident Bill Potter went to investigate, and filmed a cell-phone video speaking with the suspects, also showing the damage caused.

“It’s very disappointing when someone does something that they know, fundamentally, is wrong,” Potter said when we originally covered the story in early June. 

Another resident who was an eyewitness to the incident, Garett Barry, said on Monday that he’s glad to know justice is being served.

“I was pretty shocked when I first heard, I had kind of put it on the backburner for a little bit and kind of pleasantly surprised I guess that at least some charges were filed,” he said. “It sends a message that nature is a little bit more important than convenience or any other manipulation of the environment.”

Potter agreed, saying he’s also glad to see justice is being served and he hopes this prevents future destruction at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said this investigation is ongoing; additional charges may be forthcoming. 

They said the investigation was a joint effort with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

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