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.”