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Date of Issue: December 03, 2008

Haley's seeks help in recovery

Fire 'intentionally set'

Holiday lights will go up this week at Haley’s despite the twin tragedies of an “intentionally-set” fire and the unsolved disappearance of the motel’s co-owner.

To bring some brightness to the motel, 8102 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, co-owner Tom Buehler is seeking some help from the community — donations of volunteer time and holiday decorations.

“The decorations burned in the fire,” Buehler said of the Christmas-themed displays that the motel is known for setting up to open the holiday season.

Buehler continues to await results of forensic tests from evidence collected following the Nov. 16 fire and news from detectives investigating the disappearance of his estranged wife, Sabine Musil-Buehler.

Musil-Buehler was last seen Nov. 4, the night of the general election, by her boyfriend, William J. Cumber of Anna Maria.

The two were watching election news when they had an argument over Cumber smoking a cigarette. He said she left his residence in Anna Maria in her white Pontiac convertible and he has not seen her since.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office recovered Musil-Buehler’s car early Nov. 6 and arrested the man allegedly seen driving the vehicle, Robert Corona, 38, of Bradenton.

On Nov. 18, Corona pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of grand theft auto. He also faces misdemeanor charges of driving without a valid driver’s license and resisting arrest.

Corona initially told investigators he was given the key to the car to go buy drugs. He later said he found the car, with the key in the ignition, in a parking lot at the Gator Lounge on 14th Street in Bradenton.

Authorities have said they do not believe Corona met Musil-Buehler.

Blood found in Musil-Buehler’s car has led MCSO detectives to believe they may be investigating a homicide. Details of lab tests on the blood will not be released.

Meanwhile, testing continued last week on evidence collected from the motel fire, which caused an estimated $250,000 in damages.

The fire destroyed a two-story wooden structure to the north of the main part of the motel. The building was used for maintenance, storage and laundry facilities on the ground level and motel lodging that overlooked a garden, according to Buehler.

Buehler said the structure, which was insured, could be torn down as early as this week and that he has plans to rebuild on the site. The details, he said, are being discussed with Holmes Beach building officials.

Officials, at Islander press time, had yet to identify the origin of the fire or the cause in an investigation that has involved interviewing witnesses, securing the scene, collecting evidence and sending materials to a lab for testing.

“It’s an ongoing investigation at this time,” said Sam Venezeio, a public information officer with the State Fire Marshal office. “We’re keeping it close.”

Venezeio said the fire was deemed “intentionally set,” but additional details could not be released and the case remains under investigation.

“On this case,” he said, “there are other issues.”

Partners in the joint fire investigation include the West Manatee Fire Rescue District and the Holmes Beach Police Department.

“It is not something that happens real quick,” WMFR Capt. Tom Sousa said of the testing process.

As the official detective work continued last week, Musil-Buehler’s friends continued to collect donations for a reward fund at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

“I really appreciate their concern,” Buehler said of the support from friends.