Vandals chop down 3 exotic orchard trees

A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the arrest of those involved with the Jan. 26 illegal chopping down of three established exotic orchard trees grown from seed at Nick’s Island Tropical Fruit, 60 Hilliard Lane, Merritt Island.

The reward is being offered by grove owner Okie LoPresti, born and raised in Brevard County, an electrical engineer who in 2000 started a palm tree nursery growing exotic palms and cycads on South Merritt island.

He expanded his operation a couple miles north to include a you-pick grove for Agritourism called Nick’s Island Tropical Fruit in honor of his son. The grove now has areas of fully-established trees yielding mango, Thai guava, starfruit, wax jamboo, avocados, lychees and longan, the type of tree that was destroyed Jan. 26 by what appears to have been a battery-powered electric saw.

“At 8 a.m. that morning I didn’t notice anything but maybe I just didn’t look. I came back at 11:30, I dropped back by and I noticed foliage close to the ground. I knew something was not right. I immediately called the Sheriff’s Office,’’ he said.

The 10-year-old trees were worth about $1,000 per tree, and, when ripe in August, each yields about $400 or 100 pounds of fruit, he said.

Most of the customers who frequent the grove are Asian, Indian, Hispanic or islanders, he said.

“I am the only one around that has some of these. I have multiple generations of families that come here and bring their kids and remembering picking these back in India. I want my son Nick to learn the whole process, the sweat equity, taking care of something and hopefully making a profit, ‘’ he said.

LoPresti put up a relatively large sign on South Tropical Trail about the $5,000 reward offered for information about the incident.

Brevard Council Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tod Goodyear said rewards often are offered, but this one is a little larger than normal. He confirmed that the BCSO is investigating the incident.

“We have victims who offer rewards thinking that the monetary amount might generate interest and usable information. Five-thousand (dollars) might shake that loose in this case,’’ he said.

If you have any information regarding this incident, contact the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office at 321 633-7162 (press 4) and request to speak with Deputy A. Eichner #4150. Reference case number: 2018-00030630. 

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