By Madison Fantozzi
This story published in the Press Journal Saturday June 21. It can also be read online here.
FELLSMERE — Two children are with relatives and nine dogs are being cared for at the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County after officials removed them from a home deemed to be in “deplorable condition,” infested with fleas, cockroaches and flies.
Meagan Cruce, 24, was arrested Thursday after officials found the children and animals at the home in the 100 block of North Hickory Street with drugs and a gun that detectives said may have been used in a years-old homicide.
“People in the neighborhood complained that they felt there were drugs being sold in that house by the frequency and volume of visitors,” Fellsmere Police Chief Keith Touchberry said.
He said he heard of complaints as early as nine months ago.
Several neighbors declined to comment Friday afternoon.
A newborn child died in the home earlier this month, according to state Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Paige Patterson-Hughes. She said the agency is investigating that death, as well as the conditions discovered Thursday in which the two children were living.
Cruce, whose occupation is listed on her arrest report as “drug dealer,” has been charged with felony possession of cocaine, misdemeanor possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana, misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, three counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals and one count of misdemeanor confinement of animals without sufficient food or water.
“The dogs were very aggressive on scene,” Multi-Agency Criminal Enforcement Unit Detective Scott Prouty said Friday. “Their demeanor (now) is night and day.”
Four pitbulls and two chihuahuas were chained, deprived of food, water and shelter, and very aggressive, according to the sheriff’s arrest report.
Three needed to be medicated for county Animal Control officers to transport them to the humane society, and another ran away. A Chihuahua and a litter of three puppies also were found inside the house.
Emily Lanham, the Humane Society’s animal care supervisor, said the dogs were dirty and infested with fleas when they arrived, but were of adequate weight.
Indian River County sheriff’s drug unit and K-9 dog unit, working with the Fellsmere Police Department, had to break through a bedroom door at the home to get to Cruce.
She doesn’t own the home, which is now condemned by county code enforcement.
MACE Unit Detective Sgt. Anthony Civita said several outlets and wall sockets had live electrical wires exposed in the home when they arrived.
Detectives found 3 grams of marijuana, cocaine residue, a digital scale and a Colt .38 revolver they think may have been used in a Fellsmere homicide years ago, according to the report. The weapon was sent to the county’s crime laboratory for forensic testing.
Cruce remained in the Indian River County Jail late Friday with a $7,500 bail, according to a jail official. Officials are continuing their investigation.
Staff writer Laurie K. Blandford contributed to this report.