Tag Archives: 09-28-2011

Fisherman challenges fed’s case

John L. Yates has been fishing since he was a toddler, though he wasn’t hauling in grouper as a 3-year-old.

About 15 years ago, when the furniture maker that he worked for closed its Plant City operation, Yates looked at his options. He could relocate or he could get into a dramatically different line of work.

Yates, who lives in Holmes Beach with wife Sandy, pursued the dramatically different course. He became a commercial fisherman, a profession in a shrinking field, like that of the independent, small farmer.

Yates, who looks more like a fisherman than an Ethan Allen customer service rep, set out 15 years ago as a deck hand on a long-line job. Then, as now, he shipped out from Cortez, one of the few working fishing villages that remain in Florida.

Not long after he started in commercial fishing, Yates, 59, went to work independently, selling his catch to local fish houses, such as A.P. Bell in the village.

“I love my work,” he said during a recent interview at the Star Fish Restaurant in Cortez.

Yates had just returned from a job and was preparing to department on another in a week.

His shore leave was not a vacation. During that period, Yates and his wife worked on a likely appeal of a federal conviction that could send the fisherman to prison or result in a hefty fine.

In August, a federal jury in Fort Myers convicted John Yates on one charge of disposing of evidence to prevent seizure and one charge of destroying evidence to impede or obstruct a federal investigation. The jury did not convict Yates on a third count, lying to a federal agent.

He expects to appeal, and is making the argument that the government agencies involved made mistakes out at sea, on the shore and in the courtroom.

Numerous agencies are involved in the case — the FWC, the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard.

In August, the government touted the conviction.

“Protecting our environment and natural resources should be of prime concern to all Americans,” said U.S. Attorney Robert E. O’Neill. “Our office will continue to make the enforcement of environmental laws a priority.”

NOAA special agent Tracy Dunn said the agency “takes acts of destroying evidence to impede an investigation very seriously and will take appropriate measures to bring violators before the criminal courts.”

Now John and Sandy Yates are eager to comment, and preparing what could be likened to a citizens’ indictment of NOAA.

“NOAA is harassing fishermen. Gloucester has been dealing with this for 10 years,” Sandy Yates said, referring to the Massachusetts commercial fishing community. There, Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and U.S. Sen. John Kerry have raised concerns about aggressive, unfair and poorly-managed NOAA law enforcement operations.

Frank has testified in Congress that NOAA places unnecessary and disproportionate financial penalties on the fishing industry.

“It is clear that the approach has been unduly adversarial,” the congressman said. “Treating fishermen as if they were criminal in every case is clearly wrong — and there has been an excess of that.”

Locally, John Yates said he might be among the first commercial fishermen to face criminal charges “but probably not the last.”

When Yates heads out on a job, he is planning on a two-week fishing trip, generally to catch grouper. The destination is Gulf of Mexico water at least 120 feet deep — maybe south to Key West, maybe north toward Pensacola.

“I’ve probably caught a million pounds of grouper over the years,” he said.

One day on the Gulf four years ago, Yates said an officer with Florida Fish and Wildlife boarded the boat he was captaining for an inspection.

“We were running long-line gear,” Yates recalled.

The inspection, during which time the officer measured the entire catch, lasted about four hours.

Yates said it’s important to note that the inspection occurred “in the heat of August” during the hottest period of the day, because fish shrink in the heat, as well as on ice.

The officer wrote Yates a citation for 72 grouper that weren’t the minimum length, but the fish were not seized at sea.

“They searched but they chose not to seize,” Yates said.

Yates denies the government assertion that he took short fish and alleges that the FWC measured the grouper incorrectly. “I do challenge the way they measured the fish,” he said.

When he returned to Cortez, Yates said there was more trouble, with NOAA, FWC and Coast Guard involved.

Authorities again measured his catch, counting 69 short fish.

Later, the government would allege that Yates or a member of his small crew disposed of three other short fish, but also implied that Yates had replaced the 72 short fish measured at sea with 69 new short fish measured on the dock.

Still, with a citation and the government sale of the fish, Yates thought the matter was closed.

“Under the Magnuson-Stevens (Fishery Conservation and Management) Act, you measure the fish to the best of your ability,” Yates said. “Short fish. You get a fine. It’s a civil matter. So when I got the citation, I thought it was all over with.”

But in May 2010, federal officers were dispatched to Yates’ home and to Cortez to arrest him. He had been indicted and was going to trial in a federal court in Fort Myers.

“We didn’t even know there was a criminal investigation,” Sandy Yates said.

While awaiting trial, Yates did not fish for months.

And now he isn’t captaining a boat.

He and Sandy also say they are coping with Islanders who’ve read about the conviction and upcoming sentencing hearing.

“All the fishermen I work with, they know what this is about,” Yates said. “But not everybody on the Island understands.”

Yates is set to be sentenced Nov. 14. According to the Justice Department, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

“I’ve been boarded and never had a short fish,” he said. “Someone could go rob a bank and get less time than I’m facing for three fish.”

Perico Island road construction to start up

The Florida Department of Transportation last week announced plans for a road improvement project on State Road 64/Manatee Avenue starting in October from east of the Perico Harbor development to just east of Bristol Bay Drive.

The DOT said the $397,000 project would begin Oct. 6 and is expected to finish in December.

Improvements include removing old asphalt and resurfacing the roadway, drainage improvements, installation of new curbs and gutters, widening sidewalks and bike paths and widening of S.R. 64 at the Perico Bay Boulevard intersection.

The DOT advised motorists to use caution when driving in the area. A flagging operation will be in place at times when the contractor must close one lane of traffic for construction, the release said.

Superior Asphalt is the contractor for the approximately .6 mile-long project.

Man arrested for domestic battery

A boater in Bradenton Beach’s anchorage field was arrested Sept. 19 for alleged domestic battery against a woman.

The incident happened just before midnight, with the Bradenton Beach Police Department arresting Obie Combs, 63.

Combs, who has no known address, faces a charge of felony domestic battery by strangulation. He also faces a charge of resisting arrest without violence, a misdemeanor.

The police report indicates that the BBPD was dispatched to deal with a disturbance on a boat. Two witnesses told a BBPD officer that they saw a man with his hands around a woman’s throat, and he was forcing her toward the rear of the boat.

BBPD officers reported that when they called to Combs to come into shore, he allegedly jumped from the boat and began to swim away.

The BBPD maintains that Combs later said he started swimming because he wanted to avoid arrest.

Authorities make arrest in 1982 killing

Florida authorities believe they have solved the murder of a woman whose body was found in 1982 floating about 25 miles off the coast of Anna Maria Island.

The victim was identified earlier this summer by the Manatee County medical examiner as Amy Hurst of New Port Ritchey.

The man taken into custody just last week in Kentucky was Hurst’s husband, William Gary Hurst, 59.

Amy Hurst, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, was 29 when she disappeared in 1982. She was reported missing in November 1982 by her sister, who told authorities she had not seen Hurst for three months.

That same year, in September 1982, a woman’s body was found 25 miles offshore of Anna Maria Island. The U.S. Coast Guard brought the remains, wrapped in an afghan blanket and anchored to a concrete block, to Manatee County.

Authorities determined that the woman had suffered severe blunt trauma to her head.

She was a homicide victim, but she was not identified until this July, when the Manatee County Medical Examiner’s Office compared DNA from the body and Hurst’s son, Jeff Early.

Early had contacted Manatee County officials in 2009 after learning about the Doe Network, a cold-case program that helped authorities match missing persons to unidentified victims.

The son, through the Doe Network, saw a photograph of the blanket the body was wrapped in and suspected it was the same blanket a relative had given to his mother.

Since July, investigators with the medical examiner’s office, Manatee County and Pasco County sheriff’s offices and the FBI have been involved in trying to solve the Hurst case.

Last week, William Gary Hurst remained in Kentucky awaiting extradition. Authorities have not described what led them to arrest the husband.

Man critical after bar fight

A 21-year-old man was in critical condition after a fight in Holmes Beach Sept. 25, according to Manatee County Emergency Medical Services

EMS Chief Ronald J. Koper Jr. said paramedics were called to the D.Coy Ducks in the 5400 block of Marina Drive at about 3 a.m. Sept. 25.

There, the EMS treated a 21-year-old man with a head injury. “No weapons were suspected other than fists and then a subsequent fall,” said Koper, noting that the man hit his head on the ground.

The man, who was not identified, was taken by medical helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Other than the time and location of the altercation, the Holmes Beach Police Department declined to release details of the incident. “An investigation is underway to determine what, if any, charges will be filed,” read a statement from the department on Sept. 26.

Emergency dispatch records indicate that the first officers were sent to the bar at 3:06 a.m., followed by additional assistance at 3:08 a.m.

Shooting victim recovering

A Holmes Beach woman who suffered a gunshot wound to the head Sept. 18 continued to recover last week.

Maya V. Schon, 66, was rushed to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg at about 8:30 p.m. Sept. 18, after being shot in what the Holmes Beach Police Department described as an attempted murder-suicide.

Her husband, Joseph S. Schon, 69, died in their home on 83rd Street after apparently shooting himself.

The double-shooting occurred shortly after 8 p.m. on the Sunday night.

Neighbors said they did not hear any gunshots, and were only aware of an emergency when police and paramedics arrived to the 200 block of the residential street.

“We just didn’t hear anything,” said neighbor Kim Morgan, adding that most homes on the street were closed up, with air conditioners humming.

Neighbor Vincent Capo said he realized something was wrong when the fire truck and ambulance arrived.

“They flew her out right away,” he said, referring to Maya Schon, who was listed in good condition Sept. 23.

Earlier in the day, Morgan had seen Maya Schon gardening in her well-kept yard.

“She was fine,” said Morgan, who said she knew the husband and wife well enough to share a “Hi, how are you doing?” and described the couple as “pleasant people.”

Capo said he would see Maya Schon working in her garden or on her way to the beach most days.

“I’ve lived here 35 years,” he said. “I’ve known them 10 years or so. Joe, sure, we get along. He seemed like a nice guy.… They were just people going on with the years.”

“I never expected this to happen,” Capo added. “It’s just a surprise, you know?”

The HBPD released a brief statement on the incident Sept. 19, but officers said last week that the case remained under investigation.

A handgun was recovered, and HBPD said several rounds had been fired.

The 911 call that brought authorities to 83rd Street was placed by Maya Schon, who dialed the Manatee County emergency communications center at 8:18 p.m.

After providing the address, she told the 911 telecommunicator, “I’ve been shot by my husband and he shot himself.… I’m shot in head and he shot himself in head. Please come. Hurry up.”

The call lasted 7 minutes, 41 seconds. The emergency telecommunicator talked with the victim, learning her age, that Joseph Schon had been drinking, that he was in the bedroom and probably dead, that a gun was in the bedroom and that Maya Schon was struggling to reach the front door to await aid.

“Just rest in the most comfortable position you can. They’re on their way,” the telecommunicator said. She offered repeated assurances that police and paramedics were on the way until Maya Schon could hear sirens.

“OK, they are here,” she said before she hung up.

In addition to HBPD, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and Bradenton Beach Police Department officers responded, along with first-responders from the West Manatee Fire Rescue and Manatee County Emergency Medical Services.


Islander Calendar – 09-28-2011

Saturday, Oct. 1

9 a.m. to noon — Keep Manatee Beautiful coastal cleanup at various Island locations: Kingfish Boat Ramp, Anna Maria City Hall, Coquina Beach and FISH Preserve. Information: 941-795-8272.


Monday, Oct. 3

        6:30 p.m. — Children’s book illustrator Alexandra Lillis will speak to Artists’ Guild members at the Episcopal Church of Annunciation, 4408 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Information: 941-778-6694.


Wednesday, Oct. 5

        1:15 p.m. — Gulf Coast Writers meet at the Island Branch Library, 5701 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Information: 941-778-3209.



• Through Oct. 9, “The Sound of Music” at Manatee Players, 102 Old Main St., Bradenton. Information: 941-748-5875. Fee applies.

• Tuesdays through Nov. 15, 4 p.m., Inquiring Minds cross-denominational Bible study class at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. Information: 941-778-4579.

• Tuesdays, noon, Rotary Club of Anna Maria Island meetings at the BeachHouse Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N., Bradenton Beach. Information: 941-794-8044.

• Tuesdays, 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., coffee and conversations for seniors at the Anna Maria Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria. Information: 941-778-1908.

• Second Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m., Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 8199 meets at the volunteer fire station, 201 Second St. N., Bradenton Beach. Information: 941-778-4400.

• Wednesdays, two hours before sunset, the city of Bradenton Beach hosts a sunset party with entertainer Mike Sales at Katie Pierola Sunset Park, 2200 block of Gulf Drive North, Bradenton Beach. Information: 941-448-5798.

• Wednesdays, 6 to 8 p.m., teens meet at the Anna Maria Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia Ave., Anna Maria. Information: 941-778-1908.

• Wednesdays and Saturdays, 9 a.m., players pitch horseshoes in the pits at Anna Maria City Hall, 10005 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria. Information: 941-708-6130.

• Fridays, Senior Adventures Group meets for outings to various locations. Information: 941-962-8835.

• Fridays, sunset, drum circle with Mike Sales at Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach. Information: 941-526-6789.

• Saturdays, 8:30 a.m., Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island meets at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe, Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

• Saturdays, 9:30 a.m. to noon, Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra rehearsals at Roser Memorial Community Church, 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria. Information: 941-778-7853.



Thursday, Sept. 29

        6:30 p.m. — Mark Moffet presents “Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions” at the South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. Information: 941-746-4131. Fee applies.


Friday, Sept. 30

        10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Asolo Repertory Theatre costume sale at the Asolo Rep Scenic Studios, 1009 Tallevast Road, Sarasota. Information: 941-351-9010.

        5 p.m. — Contender Film Series: “The Heart of the Game” at the South Florida Museum, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton. Information: 941-746-4131. Fee applies.


Saturday, Oct. 1

        8 a.m. to 1 p.m. — Plant fair at the Manatee County Fairgrounds, 1303 17th St. W., Palmetto. Information: 941-722-4524.

        10 a.m. to 5 p.m. — Asolo Repertory Theatre costume sale at the Asolo Rep Scenic Studios, 1009 Tallevast Road, Sarasota. Information: 941-351-9010.


Sunday, Oct. 2

        9:30 to 11:15 a.m. — Photo walk led by Doug Sahlin through the historic Cortez Fishing Village departs from the Star Fish Company Dockside restaurant parking lot, 12306 46th Ave. W., Cortez. Information: 877-317-1167.


Tuesday, Oct. 4

9:30 a.m. to noon — Manatee Genealogical Society meeting at the Central Library, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd. W., Bradenton.

8 p.m. — Fall Festival of Music concert at the State College of Florida, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton. Information: 941-752-5252. Fee applies.


Wednesday, Oct. 5

5 to 6:30 p.m. — Reception for artist Bettina Sego at the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Information: 941-779-2106.


Coming Up:

• Oct. 6, Opening night of “A Nice Family Gathering,” Island Players.

• Oct. 6, Anna Maria Island Privateers’ bone soup contest.

• Oct. 8, Master gardener tour, DeSoto National Memorial.

• Oct. 8, Wagon tour, Robinson Preserve.

• Oct. 8, American Association of University Women present “Muslim Women: Where they were and where they are now,” Bradenton Country Club.

• Oct. 10, Qigong workshop, Robinson Preserve.


Save the Date:

        • Oct. 14, Anna Maria Island Community Center Golf Outing, IMG Academies Golf and Country Club.

        • Oct. 14-15, Bayfest, Pine Avenue.

Send calendar announcements to diana@islander.org. Please include the time, date and location of the event, a brief description and a contact via e-mail and phone.

Island police blotter – 09-28-2011

Anna Maria

• Sept. 18, 200 block of Chilson Avenue, grand theft. The MCSO investigated a complaint from a Plant City man who said fishing poles were stolen from a boat parked in a driveway. The total value of the poles was $1,000.

• Sept. 19, beach near Elm Avenue, theft. The MCSO reported the theft of a catamaran from the beach. The boat had been left on the beach, and it was unknown when the theft occurred.

        Anna Maria is policed by the MCSO.

Bradenton Beach

• Sept. 19, 200 block of Bridge Street, domestic battery. The Bradenton Beach Police Department responded to a report of a disturbance in the Historic Bridge Street Pier anchorage field. A man was seen with his hands on a woman’s throat. He was arrested for domestic battery by strangulation.

        Bradenton Beach is policed by the BBPD.


• Sept. 17, 4500 block of 124th Street Court West, theft. The MCSO investigated a report that someone stole a military ID card.

        Cortez is policed by the MCSO.

Holmes Beach

• Sept. 17, 5900 block of Marina Drive, accident, property damage. The MCSO reported a DUI with property damage following an accident in which the “at-fault driver appeared impaired.” No further information was available.

• Sept. 18, 200 block of 83rd Street, suicide, attempted homicide. The Holmes Beach Police Department responded to a report of a double-shooting at a residence. A woman was found with a gunshot wound to the head. A man was found inside, dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound.

        Holmes Beach is policed by the HBPD.



In the Sept. 21 issue, Streetlife incorrectly stated Matthew Edixon was arrested on a felony charge of obstructing a police officer without violence. Such a charge is a first-degree misdemeanor, not a felony.

A caption for a photograph from a 9/11 observance in New York City contained an incorrect identification. The photo was of Susan Tabicman of Holmes Beach.