VIDEO/PHOTOS: Authorities tight-lipped about federal wildlife violation investigation in Estates

Video from NBC-2

— A home on a quiet street in rural Golden Gate Estates became the focus of a secretive search Wednesday for evidence in a wildlife violation investigation.

With a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service search warrant in hand, federal agents assisted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Collier County Sheriff’s Office spent the day at the house on a wooded lot at 2880 20th Avenue S.E.

The search extended to a dark blue Chevrolet Silverado parked in the middle of 18th Avenue S.E., one block away from the 20th Avenue home.

Conservation Commission Capt. Jayson Horadam would not say whether or not the investigation was related to the unexplained deaths of three endangered Florida panthers this year.

“Our position right now is we don’t have any comment on what’s going on,” Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Warren said.

A sheriff’s office crime scene investigator took photos of the truck, measured its wheels and used a vacuum inside the truck cab.

By mid-afternoon, authorities had driven the truck back to the house and dumped ice out of a five-gallon bucket into a cooler in the bed of the pick-up.

The truck had a license plate from Wakulla County, in the Florida panhandle, and a sticker with the slogan “Catch me if you can,” on the back window.

Back at the house, agents worked in front of an open garage door blocked from view by a Conservation Commission vehicle.

Agents walked in and out of an open front door, and at one point carried a cardboard evidence box marked “Rifle Collection” into the house, which property records show is owned by Terry L. Sirosky.

A metal ladder with a makeshift chair on a platform at the top leaned against a palm tree in the front yard.

Earlier that morning, K-9 units were at the home aiding in the investigation, which included the home’s wooded back yard, Horadam said.

He said the search began about 7:30 a.m., and that there was no one home when they arrived.

The gated gravel driveway had signs posted saying “Beware of Dog” and “Keep Out.”

Neighbors curious about all the commotion on the street drove down the street lined with a dozen law enforcement vehicles.

“You come around the street and it looks like an army out here,” said Skip Hager, a landscaper who lives on 18th Avenue S.E.

Neighbors said they did not know who lived at the house.

Neighbor Frank Oliva described the neighborhood, off Everglades Boulevard and south of Golden Gate Boulevard, where he has lived for six years, as off the beaten path.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Oliva said.

Horadam, with the Conservation Commission, said the investigation did not involve a wild animal on the loose and that there was no threat to public safety.

He would not say, though, what kind of animal was involved or what led them to the house on 28th Avenue S.E.

In April, a panther was found shot to death in Hendry County. A $15,000 reward has been offered for information about the shooting.

Federal authorities also are investigating the death of a panther found dead in September in an orange grove east of Ave Maria. The cause of death of that panther is unknown, Conservation Commission biologist Dave Onorato said this week.

Onorato said a state wildlife veterinarian has determined that a third panther found floating in the Turner River in Big Cypress National Preserve died from blunt force trauma to the abdomen.

The death could not be connected to a collision with a vehicle, Onorato said.

Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/

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