Saw palmetto berries
A Vero Beach man and adult son were arrested based on what Indian River County Sheriff’s Office deputy says he saw in the trunk of the father’s car: Fruit. Bags and bags of fruit.
Specifically, bags of palmetto berries.
Both Johnnie Thompson, 66, and son Kevin Thompson, 41, spent a few hours in jail Sunday night in jail before each posted $500 bond Monday morning. The charge for each was harvesting a protected or endangered plant without permission.
Since July 2018, a native plant harvesting permit is necessary to harvest saw palmetto berries in Florida because they’re on the regulated plant index.
The sheriff’s office already had picked up two people for harvesting saw palmetto berries without a permit when a sheriff’s helicopter spotted a silver car parked on the median with someone inside. Deputy Kevin Jaworski’s arrest report says he stopped by the car, where he found Johnnie Thompson.
“I asked him what he was doing in the woods and he said he was there getting away from his wife,” the report said. “He stated he just came out there to drink.”
But next to the truck, Jaworski saw a backpack open with palmetto berries. But Thompson said he wasn’t harvesting them, a claim Jaworski found hard to square with the other bags he saw with berries, about 20 pounds he estimated, as well as tree loppers, gloves and flashlights.
A helicopter found Kevin Thompson, who also had gloves, backpack, loppers and about 20 pounds of palmetto berries in a backpack. Kevin Thompson said Johnnie had dropped him off as well as the other two folks.