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Date of Issue: March 04, 2009

Cumber faces 15-30 years in prison

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Sabine Musil-Buehler, 49
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William Cumber III appears in a courtroom in Bradenton Feb. 24 on a violation of probation charge. Islander Photo: Tiffany Tompkins-Condie/Bradenton Herald

William Cumber III, a “person of interest” in the disappearance of his girlfriend, faces 15-30 years in jail for alleged violation of probation.

Cumber, 39, has been jailed since late December on a charge that he violated his probation for a 2005 arson conviction.

He has been described as a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler, 49, the co-owner of Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach. Musil-Buehler has not been seen since late Nov. 4, 2008.

Cumber has said that the two had a verbal argument and that she left the home she was renting in Anna Maria and he has not seen her since.

Authorities found Musil-Buehler’s car on Nov. 6, 2008, in Bradenton. Small amounts of her blood were found in the front seat and some of her possessions were found in the trunk.

Ten days later, on Nov. 16, an arson fire destroyed a building at the Haley’s Motel complex that Musil-Buehler co-owns with her husband, Tom Buehler, which whom she is separated.

The Holmes Beach Police Department is investigating the fire and HBPD Chief Jay Romine has said Cumber is a “person of interest” in that case as well.

On Tuesday, Cumber appeared in a Bradenton courtroom for what was scheduled as a violation of probation hearing.

Thomas Ostrander, Cumber’s court-appointed attorney, however, asked Judge Gilbert Smith for a continuance to March 17 to become more familiar with the case and to talk with his client.

The prosecution agreed to the continuance, and pointed out that the best deal it will offer Cumber is 15 years in prison for his admission that he violated his probation.

Ostrander, said 15 years seemed high for his client’s alleged misconduct — leaving Manatee County without permission from his probation officer and driving on a suspended license.

Without a deal, Cumber could be sentenced to 30 years in prison for violating probation.

“The state is looking for the maximum allowable,” Ostrander told the judge. “And I am looking for time to prepare.”

Later, Ostrander told reporters that possibly there is something more to the tough sentence sought for the alleged probation, such as law enforcement’s interest in Cumber in Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, which is being investigated as a possible homicide.

The probation violation allegedly occurred Dec. 22, 2008, when Cumber was arrested near Ocala in Marion County. He was driving a pickup truck with an expired tag and Cumber was without a valid license, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

He served 10 days in the Marion County jail before being transferred to the Manatee County jail to await a hearing on the alleged violation of probation.

Cumber was convicted of setting fire to a girlfriend’s home in Bradenton and sentenced to 42 months in prison, followed by three years of probation. He was released from prison last fall.

Cumber was led into the sixth-floor courtroom at the Manatee County Judicial Center in chains. Prior to Cumber’s appearance, Ostrander had informed the judge that his client did not want to be brought into the courtroom.

Smith asked, “Why?”

Ostrander said he did not know, but added that Cumber was not constitutionally required to appear in court.

Smith, however, said, “I would like him to come out,” which Cumber did for the brief discussion.

The probation hearing is rescheduled for March 17.

Meanwhile, officials continue to seek potential witnesses or other sources with information that might help solve the mystery of Musil-Buehler’s whereabouts.

Manatee County’s Gold Star Club is offering up to $5,000 for information leading to the whereabouts of Musil-Buehler.

Also, the Sabine Buehler Benefit Fund is accepting donations at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, for a reward.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 941-747-3011, ext. 2519, or Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS.