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A tourist decided to break into an empty waterfront home on Big Pine Key rather than pay the pricey fees at a campground, police said.
Matthew Elden Prescott, 45, of Fort Pierce, Florida, was arrested and charged Tuesday with burglary, theft and property damage, after police said he tried to grab a free vacation stay by breaking into a three-story house on Long Beach Road.
Deputies responded at 7 p.m. Tuesday after the property manager reported three strangers had broken into the home and appeared to be living there.
Prescott, his 45-year-old girlfriend and 13-year-old daughter were inside unpacking belongings, and they also had three dogs with them. Prescott at first said he knew the owner and was going to buy the property.
“His story changed several times,” said Adam Linhardt, spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies tracked down the homeowner in Pennsylvania, where she lives most of the year. She said the property is not for sale and no one had permission to be there other than the property manager.
The property has been unoccupied since Hurricane Irma struck Sept. 10, 2017. Hurricane shutters had been removed and one of the dead-bolt locks on a door had been taken out, according to the arrest report.
Some jewelry boxes inside had been tampered with, deputies said.
Prescott admitted that he didn’t have permission to be there and that he had decided to go to the Keys for a vacation and had first planned to find a campsite. Deputies found camping gear with the group.
But all the campsites in the Lower Keys were too expensive, Prescott said, so he discovered the Long Beach Road house and broke in. He also went to the fuse box to turn on the power.
Prescott was taken to the Stock Island Detention Center, where on Wednesday morning he remained without bond.