By Bob H. Lee
A three-quarter moon rose above the pine forest and deep shadows fell across Forest Road 8 in southeast Marion County. As darkness descended, a 23-year-old man, whom I will call Rick, sat behind the steering wheel of a Chevy pickup truck parked on the west shoulder of the road in the short grass. Next to the truck stood a four-strand barbed wire fence which bounded Sunnyhill Restoration Area – 4,405 acres of public wilderness managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District and closed to hunting. The upper Ocklawaha River drains through the property leaving a wide marsh that spreads out to sandy ridges interspersed with oak hammocks, pine forests and head-high patches of dense scrub thicket.
It was around 7 p.m., Saturday, November 20, 2004. Rick waited anxiously inside the truck with the lights out, wondering why he d let himself get talked into being there. He had agreed to be the lookout and pickup man for two friends, Dickie Howard and his cousin, while they went into the woods to drag out a deer Dickie had illegally killed earlier that day. Late autumn in most places would be free of insects, but not central Florida, and not inside the truck s cab that night. Mosquitoes buzzed Rick with abandon, and finally, fed up with the pesky bugs, he turned on his ThermaCELLTM and sat it on the dash. A ThermaCELLTM is an effective and quick-acting palm-sized mosquito repellent device that uses butane to activate the repellent. Within seconds the signature orange glow from the burning gas came on – Rick settled back and tried to relax..