By Hannah Winston, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WELLINGTON, FLORIDA — Laura Gontchar watched on a beautiful day with her husband and 7-year-old son from their home as a mother duck and her 11 ducklings made their way from the lake to the food the family left for them in their backyard.
Then, she heard the lawnmower.
Gontchar said as soon as she saw Jason Falbo change directions on the lawnmower near the lake and head deliberately for the family of ducks, she ran outside screaming. But she said she couldn’t stop him.
“Everything was flying in the air, the blade was so powerful,” she said. “It was horrific.”
Gontchar said her son Kai ran out screaming behind her.
“He was yelling, ‘Stop, stop! Ducks! Stop!’”
On May 2, Falbo was mowing Gontchar’s backyard in the Olympia development, at Forest Hill Boulevard and State Road 7, when Gontchar said he ran over the family of ducks. Gontchar said Falbo told the family after he didn’t see them, but she said she watched terrified as Falbo moved to deliberately harm the ducks.
Falbo then backed the lawn mower up and ran over more of the ducks, Gontchar said, before he aimed for the remaining ducks, but they were able to make it back to the water.
By the end of the incident, only the mother and two ducklings survived. Two others made it out from under the lawnmower but drowned as a result of their injuries, Gontchar said. Her husband, Boyd Jentzsch, told Falbo to get off of their property and called authorities.
Falbo, 24, faces animal cruelty charges and is being held on $27,000 bail at the Palm Beach County jail.
Wayne Soini, Falbo’s boss who was not at the scene when the ducks were killed, said the incident is just a big misunderstanding. The grass was too high for Falbo, who has been working for the lawn maintenance company for nine months, to see the ducklings, Soini said. Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office deputies noted at the end of their report that the family was able to see the family of ducks from their home “at a farther distance” than Falbo.
Gontchar said not only did Falbo lack remorse for his actions, he was smiling.
Just hours after the incident, Gontchar said, the mother duck swam back to their backyard in search of her ducklings, and for a couple days after the incident she came back and called again and again for her babies.
“She came back and was clucking, calling for her ducklings,” Gontchar said, choking up over the memory. “But they weren’t there.”