Monthly Archives: December 2016

HBPD makes arrest in embezzlement

The Holmes Beach Police Department announced July 27 the arrest of a former employee at the Key Royale Club. Holly Elaine Connelly is accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the private golf club in Holmes Beach.

Connelly voluntarily surrendered the morning of July 27 on a warrant and her bond was set at $500,000, according to HBPD.

The department’s announcement said Connelly is under arrest for scheme to defraud.

The arrest, the statement said, comes “after months of extensive investigation.”

For more, read the Aug. 3 edition of The Islander.

Flight pattern

Penny Frick of Bradenton is this week’s winner in the newspaper’s Top Notch contest, winning front-page placement of the photo and an Islander newspaper “More-Than-A-Mullet wrapper” T-shirt. Her entry depicts a gull flying toward the shore with the Anna Maria City Pier in the background. Frick’s photograph will go into a pool of weekly winners eligible for the grand prize of $100 from the newspaper and a bevy of gift certificates and other prizes from Islander advertisers.

MCSO excavates Anna Maria beach for clues, body

With his team nearing the end of four days of excavation work on an Anna Maria beach, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube vowed July 22, “We’re not done yet.”

The sheriff said the MCSO would continue this week to search for clues in the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler, the co-owner of Haley’s Motel who is presumed dead. She has been missing since Nov. 4, 2008.

Last week, following the July 9 discovery of some of Musil-Buehler’s possessions in an overgrown area of City Park near Willow Avenue, the MCSO conducted a massive search of the beach.

A four-day excavation campaign followed a three-day scouring of the area that involved MCSO corrections cadets, crime-scene technicians, metal detectors and cadaver dogs.

The excavation work began July 19, after the MCSO received permission from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to dig on the beach during turtle nesting season.

A condition for the permit was that Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, which monitors nesting activity, have someone at the scene to safeguard nests and collect eggs in the event the MCSO uncovered an unmarked nest.

So for the duration of the operation, which continued through July 22, AMITW volunteers shared the shore — and conversation — with MCSO detectives and technicians.

During that period, the focus of the search shifted from the open beach, where tractors operated July 19 and July 20, to lines of sea oats, where digging took place July 21 and July 22.

 

The dig, day 1

When the tractor drivers moved their first buckets of sand July 19, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox was talking with Sgt. John Kenney, formerly in charge of the MCSO command on Anna Maria and now a homicide investigator.

Both are convinced Musil-Buehler, once a volunteer with AMITW, is dead.

“I truly feel she is gone,” Fox said. “Now this whole island needs closure, needs to be able to rest over this.”

Kenney said, “We know she’s gone. But we’d like to find her.”

Kenney probably will be one of the two investigators who soon will travel to a Panhandle prison to talk with William Cumber, Musil-Buehler’s boyfriend and the last person known to see her alive.

Cumber has said that he and Musil-Buehler, 49 at the time of her disappearance, spent most of the night of Nov. 4, 2008, in their apartment on Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria watching the presidential election returns on TV.

The two argued, he said, over his smoking cigarettes after promising to quit.

Cumber said Musil-Buehler left in her car. She was not seen again, but her car was ticketed early Nov. 5, 2008, near Gulf Boulevard and Magnolia Avenue, about 300 paces from where the search took place last week and 300 paces from the apartment.

Investigators, reporters and bystanders spoke often of Cumber last week — he is the only person of interest in the case.

On July 19, a woman who said she was close to Musil-Buehler told investigators at the excavation site that Cumber and Musil-Buehler often hung out on the beach near Willow Avenue. The woman also said she was on the telephone with Cumber after Musil-Buehler’s disappearance and he confided that he was at their “special place.”

July 19, at the couple’s supposed “special place,” two farm tractors and a heavy-duty front-loader, were employed to dig up large sections of open beach.

To the south and north of the operation, beachgoers erected colorful umbrellas and went on with plans to sunbathe and swim.

“It’s kind of grisly but interesting,” said beachgoer Greg Jones of Tampa. “And it isn’t intrusive.”

The tractor drivers, who work for the MCSO at the jail farm, dug a trench until they reached water. Then they filled in the trench, leveled the sand and moved on to repeat the process on another strip of beach.

The work was laborious, and the sun scorched.

The first excitement of the search came early in the day, when a tractor driver hit something buried about 3 feet in the sand. The find turned out to be a tire filed with concrete. Later, a resident told the MCSO a volleyball net was on the beach about five years ago.

The first day continued with a series of courtesies and pleasantries despite the grim task. AMITW coordinator Glenn Wiseman went home to find an umbrella to shade a tractor driver. Homicide investigators escorted families carting toys and chairs to the shore. One nearby resident offered to make a cooler of iced tea and another offered the press, AMITW volunteers and MCSO team the use of his bathroom. And everyone, it seemed, was willing to share sunscreen — SPF50.

Day one of the dig concluded after more than nine hours at the site, with the finding of the tire and the remains of a buried sea turtle, and with investigators making plans to resume early July 20.

 

The dig, day 2

The MCSO team resumed excavation of the beach at about 7:30 a.m. July 20, with plans to break for lunch but then continue to work until dusk.

While the three tractor drivers worked on the beach, crime-scene technicians began searching in the sea oats.

The search was prompted by a question investigators were trying to answer: What did the beach look like on Nov. 24, 2008?

They knew that in April, the beach was renourished with sand from Tampa Bay, which complicated the excavation because crime-scene technicians could not identify disturbances in the layers of sand.

Also, a number of residents suggested to investigators that the sea oats weren’t as plentiful and thick in 2008, and the beach was narrower three years ago.

Aerial photographs provided by Island photographer Jack Elka also suggested a narrower beach and fewer sea oats in the fall of 2008.

The MCSO officials began to talk about the possibility of digging up the sea oats, which could have been open sand in November 2008. If so, the City Park tree line could have shielded someone digging there from the homes nearby, said MCSO spokesman Dave Bristow.

By the end of the second day of the excavation, the MCSO was working with the DEP to expand its search into the dunes.

“We’ve got to look,” Bristow said.

 

The dig, day 3

On July 21, the tractor drivers were on standby at the excavation site as they awaited the arrival of DEP agent Steve West.

MCSO investigators wanted to talk with West about digging up the sea oats, plants that are protected by law and are a natural tool against beach erosion and storm protection.

The meeting took place mid-morning on the wooden walkway at the Willow Avenue access, with West talking with detectives, crime-scene technicians and Maj. Connie Shingledecker, the head of the MCSO’s investigations division.

Anna Maria Mayor Mike Selby also talked with West. The mayor said he wanted “to help in any way I can.”

West, after a brief discussion, authorized the search in the dunes. His instruction to the MCSO was to replace the sea oats after the search.

“They have been very accommodating, very gracious,” Bristow said of the DEP. “The cooperation has been fantastic.”

Selby said, “I’m very happy that Mr. West is going to allow them to do what they need to do.”

With the expanded search approved, Selby called Island horticulturist Mike Miller to the site, as well as Anna Maria public works director George McKay.

The two men took investigators through City Park, providing a course in Island vegetation, invasive species and beach formation.

Meanwhile, a crime-scene team from the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office arrived with ground-penetrating radar, equipment purchased several years ago with a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Grant.

After an area of sea oats was cleared, the radar — which looked like a cross between a push-mower and Segway — was rolled over the area.

“It will pickup anything reflective — like a ship radar — and send it back,” said MCSO crime-scene technician Jason Smith.

The MCSO had used radar on the beach before — in December 2009, when it searched the Magnolia Avenue area in the Musil-Buehler case. But technicians had problems with the radar because it was sensitive to the salt water just a few feet underground.

On July 21, the first patch of sea oats cleared was yards from where Musil-Buehler’s possessions were found, and at the end of a closed beach path.

Over the next several hours, the excavation turned up shells, turtle remains, trash and a toy soldier.

At about 8:30 p.m., the operation shut down for the night.

 

The dig, day 4

On July 22, the fourth day of the excavation work, MCSO Detective Jeff Bliss arrived to Willow Avenue with the sun still rising.

Resident and former city Commissioner Chris Collins approached the officer. “I just want to say I appreciate what you guys are doing out here,” Collins said.

Knowing the heat would intensify and the work hours had been long, Collins added, “It must be hell.”

Bliss thanked the commissioner, and they talked briefly about Island life, the beach and the search before the detective walked out to monitor the tractors already moving earth.

“It has to be done,” Collins said of the search.

The fourth day continued like the third, with the tractor drivers digging up the sand and sea oats, and then watching for anything unusual as they emptied the buckets.

At about 11:30 a.m., the MCSO closed the Willow Avenue walkway and erected a shield for two crime-scene technicians used hand tools to excavate a small site next to the footbridge.

The dirt was loose and in a long, narrow shape, catching an investigator’s eye, but nothing was found.

Steube, who made several visits to the site last week, arrived about noon on the fourth day and watched the technicians work near the walkway.

The sheriff said the search would resume this week, after the investigative team met to strategize.

Day five of the dig began July 25.

For updates this week, follow the news at www.islander.org.

AMITW meets CSI

Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers routinely can be found at sea turtle nest excavations in July, when nests begin hatching.

But last week’s excavation was a rarity for AMITW, which served as a consultant to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, whose detectives oversaw a search of the beach for missing motel-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a special permit for the activity, which likely will continue this week.

From July 19-22, the MCSO excavated the beach near Willow Avenue in Anna Maria, searching for clues in the November 2008 disappearance of the Holmes Beach woman, who is presumed dead.

With the possibility of MCSO uncovering an unmarked nest, AMITW executive director Suzi Fox and a series of volunteers remained on the scene from about 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. July 19-21 and from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. July 22.

“I’m a little nervous about them finding a nest we didn’t find because of the storm,” Fox said, referring to a thunderstorm several weeks earlier that washed out some nests, drowned some black skimmer chicks and kept AMITW walkers off the beach for a day.

Additionally, there were several marked turtle nests in the excavation area for the MCSO to avoid. One nest, just south of Willow that’s set to hatch in early August, received special attention, with a babysitter seated alongside it for the duration of last week’s search.

Musil-Buehler, an ardent animal-lover, had been an AMITW volunteer and the nest guardians reminisced about her as they watched the MCSO excavation.

“She once chased a gull that had a hatchling,” AMITW coordinator Glenn Wiseman said, adding that Musil-Buehler trained him and his wife for the volunteer program.

Fox, taking a turn monitoring the excavation site, summarized, “This is a week for weird beach activity.”

On Coquina Beach, AMITW verified a green turtle nest made July 18-19, a rare occurrence for the Island.

The loggerhead is the sea turtle most likely to nest on Anna Maria Island beaches — as of July 22, AMITW had documented more than 120 loggerhead nests.

But the last known green turtle nest was laid in July 2002 near 10th Street South after the turtle crawled ashore twice and took an arduous trek through an obstacle course of beach furniture, according to Islander archives.

The green turtle is an endangered species, protected by federal and state law, as well as international accords.

This season’s green turtle nest was moved north of Coquina because of another rare circumstance. While tractors were excavating the beach in Anna Maria as part of a homicide investigation, construction equipment on Coquina Beach was removing rocks from the beach.

“They pumped rock through the pipeline down there,” Fox said, referring to this spring’s beach renourishment work at Coquina.

In April, Manatee County oversaw a $6 million beach project that involved pumping sand and water from a borrow area in Tampa Bay through tubing and metal pipes to the Island shore. The project renourished a small section of shore in Anna Maria, partly where the MCSO dug last week, and much of Coquina Beach.

With the sand-sifting last week at Coquina, AMITW, which holds multiple permits from the state to monitor nesting activity, was under orders to relocate new nests, including the green turtle nest.

Seventeen marked nests, laid before the re-renourishment work began, remained at Coquina Beach last week.

Farm team takes on beach duty, crime-scene search

David Livingston can make his heavy-duty John Deere loader dance, walk and, of course, dig.

Livingston, along with Dale Hancock and Mark Stanton, were reassigned last week from their work at the Manatee County jail farm to the Anna Maria shore.

There, on the beach, the men drove two farm tractors and a massive loader borrowed from Manatee County, for four days. The work was part of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office search of the Willow Avenue beach for clues in the disappearance and likely death of Sabine Musil-Buehler.

Musil-Buehler’s last known whereabouts were provided by her boyfriend, William Cumber, who is serving 13.5 years in prison for violating his probation on a 2005 arson conviction. Cumber, a person of interest in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, told authorities that he and Musil-Buehler were watching the results of the 2008 presidential election on Nov. 4, 2008, when they argued over his smoking cigarettes. Musil-Buehler left their Magnolia Avenue apartment, he said, and was not seen again.

On July 9, while clearing out an overgrown area of City Park in front of his family home, Ed Moss found items belonging to Musil-Buehler. His discovery prompted an MCSO search of the Willow Avenue beach that is continuing this week.

Key to the search is the support staff from the farm, working with detectives and crime-scene technicians with the MCSO and also technicians with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.

Livingston, Hancock and Stanton spent about 40 hours last week operating the tractors on the beach, with temperatures in the 90s and feeling even hotter.

As they emptied each bucket, they watched the sand fall, searching for clues but only occasionally finding shells, animal remains, trash and one miniature toy soldier.

MCSO Capt. Doug Baird said Livingston, Stanton and Hancock got the beach assignment because they are the farm’s best tractor operators.

“It would be nice if they were successful in the search,” Baird said mid-morning July 22, as he watched the drivers dig into a line of sea oats west of City Park, where Musil-Buehler’s possessions were found.

Others in the farm division will assist later on the case by trying to generate new plants from sea oats collected from the Willow Avenue beach.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which permitted the excavation of the beach and dunes, asked the MCSO to groom the beach and replant the dunes.

So crime-scene technician Jason Smith collected oats July 22, which MCSO Detective Jeff Bliss said jail horticulturists could try to regerminate.

Livingston endorsed that idea. He opened the door to his cab long enough to shout above the loader’s engine, “And we can save the taxpayers’ some money.”

Pier boardwalk, entry, parking lot near completion

Despite the Florida Department of Transportation’s optimistic July 13 press release that the north portion of the boardwalk at the Anna Maria City Pier would be open last week, it didn’t happen.

Anna Maria public works director George McKay, who is overseeing the project for the city while the DOT has overall supervision, said one holdup was the need for more wheel bumpers in the north parking lot.

McKay said crews from Woodruff & Sons, the general contractor for the project, worked this past weekend to complete the north boardwalk and parking lot. When the work is finished, McKay said the north parking lot and boardwalk could open.

DOT spokesperson Trudy Gerena said the anticipated opening last week was “temporarily postponed,” while DOT and Anna Maria officials re-evaluate the parking area to “see if it would be beneficial to install additional wheel bumpers along the road side” to ensure a safer parking area.

“Once the parking decision has been made, the parking area will be open to the public,” Gerena said.

Lighting for the north boardwalk is on back order, she said, and benches should be in place the first week of August.

While the loading space for the Island trolley is nearly complete, the truncated dome mats can’t be installed until the concrete for the loading space has been “cured for 28 days,” Gerena said. The trolley stop should be operational by late August.

Anna Maria Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick, who was instrumental in obtaining the grant that funded the $857,000 project, said last week she was disappointed that the opening was delayed.

“We’re not talking about a grand opening or ribbon-cutting, but I expected to see people on the boardwalk this week, so I was disappointed,” Mattick said.

After nearly five years of working to bring the project to fruition, however, Mattick said she could wait a few more days.

“You can see that it’s coming along, and when the landscaping grows in, it’s going to look very attractive.”

Mattick said the 850-foot-long boardwalk would be particularly helpful for people in wheelchairs to visit the pier or take in the sights. The boardwalk is only 8 inches above ground and people in a wheelchair can easily enter the walkway.

“They can get on the boardwalk anywhere and there will be some areas on the boardwalk set aside for those in wheelchairs to view the pier and waters,” said Mattick.

Last week, the commissioner expressed some concern that installation of the shelters roofs at the pier entrance was delayed.

“We really need to have the trolley shelter covered and ready as soon as possible,” Mattick said.

Woodruff & Sons Inc. began construction in mid-May, concentrating initially on construction of the north portion of the boardwalk, the shelters at the pier entrance and the northernmost pier parking lot.

Both the north and south sections of the project should be completed in October, the DOT said.

Funding for the boardwalk is from a federal grant administered by the DOT through its maintenance of State Road 789/Gulf Drive. For more information on the project, go to www.mysr789.com.

City to save for Bridge Street pier rebuild

Bradenton Beach commissioners, while budgeting for 2011-12, also are budgeting for a major capital improvements project — the reconstruction of the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

Commissioner Janie Robertson won the full commission’s support for her recommendation that 92 percent of the newest round of community redevelopment agency money be earmarked for the pier project.

“What I am suggesting that we do with what CRA monies we get this year is we designate a percentage to be put in escrow and earmarked for pier revitalization,” Robertson suggested at a recent meeting. “We need to start saving for that.”

The CRA district, established about 18 years ago, includes the area from Sarasota Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Cortez Road to Fifth Street South. The CRA generates dedicated property tax dollars for projects to boost business, promote recreation and preserve and revitalize the community.

CRA money is being used to pay off a loan taken out to add amenities and rebuild the restaurant portion of the pier after it was damaged by a storm in 2004.

City clerk Nora Idso said the loan — a payment of $550,000 a year — would be paid off in December 2012.

Then the city plans to rebuild the portion of the pier seaward of the restaurant. The reconstruction would cost more than $500,000, possibly as much as $750,000, according to public works director Tom Woodard.

Robertson cautioned that if the city encountered a structural problem with the pier and had zero dollars set aside for its rebuild, the structure would have to be closed.

Mayor Bob Bartelt said if that happened “we would look like we’ve got an awful lot of egg on our chin. …We obviously need to keep this on the front burner.”

The CRA revenue for the next fiscal year will not be known until later this summer.

The pier costs the city about $30,600 a year to maintain. The pier income — the restaurant and fishing kiosk leases — are about $113,000.

Retiree rescues man found in pool

Holmes Beach resident Dr. Saul Ladd rescued a man from his pool July 14.

The incident occurred on a Thursday afternoon at Ladd’s residence in the 600 block of Foxworth Lane in Holmes Beach.

“I was about to go out to play golf,” Ladd said.

He looked out to his pool and saw a man, face down, floating. A leaf-blower pack was strapped on the man’s back.

Ladd said he asked his wife to call paramedics by dialing 911 and the doctor dove into the pool. When he reached the man, who had been assisting on a lawn care job, he found the man was not breathing.

“I got him to the shallow end,” Ladd said. “I don’t know how long he had been in the pool.”

Manatee County Emergency Medical Service paramedics arrived and worked to revive the man.

The EMS crew also showed concern for Ladd, whose pulse rate was low.

“I started to have a heart block,” the doctor said.

Both men, the 83-year-old rescuer and the rescued, were rushed to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton.

Ladd said, “My cardiologist came to check me out. He said, you are going to need a pacemaker.”

But, said Ladd, he never hesitated to dive into his pool.

“I didn’t have to think about it,” he said. “I wasn’t put on Earth to watch somebody drown. I forgot that I was 83.”

The man, whose identity was not released in accordance with a health confidentiality law, was resuscitated and admitted to the intensive care unit at Blake, according to EMS chief Ron Koper.

NOAA surveying on crab rule

A federal agency is collecting public comment on a proposed rule to repeal the fishery management plan for stone crab in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published the rule in the Federal Register July 20, opening a public comment period that continues through Aug. 19.

The rule mostly impacts Florida commercial stone crab fishers. The federal management plan, setting U.S. government quotas for crabbers, was implemented in 1979 to respond to competing gear use between stone crabbers and shrimpers, and only applies to federal Gulf of Mexico waters, not Florida waters.

In reviewing federal rules, NOAA’s fisheries service and the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council examined the need for the federal stone crab management plan.

The conclusion the agencies reached was that regulation is adequately managed by the state. Florida law forbids the taking of whole stone crabs. Crabbers are allowed to take claws at least 2 3/4 inches long and are required to return stone crabs safely to the water. The stone crab can regenerate its claws three to four times.

“NOAA Fisheries Service is considering action that would repeal the stone crab FMP and allow the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to exclusively manage the stone crab fishery in adjacent federal waters beginning with the 2011-12 season,” read a press statement from the federal agency.

The stone crab season opens in Florida Oct. 15.

The action, according to NOAA, would promote management of the stone crab fishery in the most efficient manner, while maintaining conservation of the resource and the ecosystem.

Comments about the proposed rule to repeal the federal stone crab plan can be submitted to www.regulations.gov. On the website, click on “submit a comment” and then enter “NOAA-NMFS-2011-0140” in the keyword search and click on “search.”

      To mail comments, write to Susan Gerhart, Southeast Regional Office, NOAA Fisheries Service, 263 13th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33701.