An unidentified gunman took a trio of pot-shots Friday morning at -workers clearing city-owned property that for years the homeless have called home.
A two-hour search of thick woods across from Crestlawn Cemetery turned up no signs of the gunman, who police believe may be a homeless man angered at the land-clearing project.
“They told us to watch out for these guys upset because we’re clearing their homes, so to speak,” said Julian De La Paz, one of two workers clearing the site Friday. “But I really didn’t think anything like this would happen.”
Vero Beach police said three shots were fired shortly after 9 a.m., as Israel Hernandez began to carve up pine trees with a chain saw. De La Paz said he was clearing brush with a front-end loader when Hernandez motioned for him to take cover.
“He said he could hear the shots going by,” said De La Paz, a crewman for land-clearing contractor L.I. Tree Service.
The two hid behind a tree while city workers constructing a dirt road on the property’s northern edge called police.
Police initially believed Hernandez, who speaks little English, described bird shot spray from a shotgun blast.
They now think Hernandez was trying to explain dirt spray from ricocheted bullets from a pistol.
The shots likely were fired from the railroad tracks along the property’s eastern edge.
A police K-9 dog called in for the search was unable to track a scent through the waterlogged site.
The city this fall contracted with L.I. Tree Service to clear the 13-acre tract, which police say is dotted with small shacks and lean-tos used by transients.
Police, who made the initial request to clear the land, said the area for almost a decade has acted as a magnet for criminal activity.
In April, Bobby Ray Cornett, a transient who lived at the site, was charged with raping a 7- year-old girl in Charles Park.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole this week.
Officers Friday found a relatively new camp littered with empty beers cans not yt bleached by the sun.
No one was at the camp and police have no suspects in the shooting.
Police planned to be on standby Friday to avoid further incidents, although officers were unsure if the protection would continue until the land is cleared.
De La Paz said about a quarter of the land has been cleared.