Crime

Gunfire meant for iguana terrifies vacationing family

Monroe County Sheriff's Office patrol cars line up in front of the home of Jeffrey Spencer Bennett, who faces a misdemeanor gun charge for allegedly shooting his rifle at an iguana.
Monroe County Sheriff's Office patrol cars line up in front of the home of Jeffrey Spencer Bennett, who faces a misdemeanor gun charge for allegedly shooting his rifle at an iguana.

A North Carolina family said their idyllic Islamorada vacation was suddenly interrupted by a moment of terror Wednesday morning when they heard a gunshot whistle past them and smack into the wooden dock at the Upper Matecumbe Key resort where they were staying. 

"Run, someone is shooting at us," Robert Wells, 54, said to his wife Ruth. Ruth Wells, 49, told detectives she whisked her children off the resort's beach, and the family locked themselves in their hotel room, according to a Monroe County Sheriff's Office Offense report.

The family did hear at least one gunshot that may or may not have hit the dock. But it wasn't the Wells in the crosshairs.

Rather, an iguana perched on the seawall of a house next to the Pines and Palms Resort at mile marker 80.4 was the intended target. And from the blood Sheriff's Office deputies found on top of the seawall, apparently it was a successful reptile hunt.

Jeffrey Spencer Bennett, who lives at mile marker 80.5 on the Old Highway, directly north of the oceanside resort, told deputies that he saw a large iguana sitting on the seawall of his 3-acre property. Bennett, a Marathon gynecologist, said he went inside his house and retrieved his .22-caliber Remington rifle. He went back outside to the yard, where he said he shot the rifle once and the iguana fell into the water.

He told deputies that he positioned himself to take the shot facing the water. No one was in his line of fire, he said.

Bennett told police he is an experienced hunter and would never shoot in the direction of people. He also said he had between 10 to 20 higher-caliber guns locked in a safe in his home, "and he would not use them to shoot at iguanas," wrote Deputy Luis Gomez. 

Asked in an interview if he thinks the bullet went through the iguana and into the Pines and Palms dock, he responded, "Impossible." He declined to comment more.

Gomez said he stood on the dock where the Wells said they were when they heard the gunshot. He lay on the dock and looked over and saw a "small indentation" in the wood. He said the indentation was facing north and toward Bennett's property. However, he added, "It is unknown if the indentation was caused by the projectile that struck the dock."

Gomez and other deputies did not find any shell casings in Bennett's yard.

The Wells, who could not be reached for comment for this story, told deputies they did not want to press charges against Bennett "because they felt it was not done intentionally," Gomez said. 

The State Attorney's Office is reviewing the case. Bennett faces one count of improper exhibition of a firearm, which is a first-degree misdemeanor.

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