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Couple found dead, BBPD unravel murder-suicide

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BBPD Officer Steve Masy and other law enforcement assist the medical examiner in removing a body Oct. 17 from the apartment where two people were found dead in the 2500 block of Avenue C in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
Sabrina Dumdei, 37, died in Bradenton Beach. Her body was found in her apartment Oct. 17. The Bradenton Beach Police Department is investigating.

A string of domestic incidents may have been the precursor for two deaths in Bradenton Beach.

Law enforcement officers began an investigation Oct. 17 at a triplex in the 2500 block of Avenue C in Bradenton Beach, where Sabrina Dumdei, 37, and Zachary Winton, 34, were found dead, according to Bradenton Beach Police Detective Sgt. Lenard Diaz.

Diaz called the case a “probable murder-suicide,” but added Oct. 18 that he was waiting for the medical examiner’s assessment of the bodies.

Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale told The Islander that Dumdei’s father called the BBPD around 2:30 p.m. Oct. 17 to report he found two bodies when he arrived at the property to contact his daughter.

Bradenton Beach resident Patty Shay told The Islander that she walked by the scene after Speciale arrived, when she heard Dumdei’s mother say, “My daughter and her boyfriend just killed each other.”

Speciale, who lives a block over on Avenue B, was the first to respond to the scene after a neighbor ran to his home and notified him of the father’s discovery.

Speciale said Dumdei was a family friend who’d worked for his now-retired wife at a salon she owned.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office crime scene unit arrived around 2:50 p.m. to begin its investigation.

Authorities had not disclosed many details about the incident as of Oct. 18, including what weapons were used or how and where the bodies were found within the upstairs rental apartment.

“There’s a lot of blood,” Speciale said of the scene. “We don’t know the weapon yet, so we’re waiting to find out where the wounds are and what they’re consistent with.”

A broken, blood-spattered chair was visible on the second-floor balcony of the triplex as law enforcement officers began investigating the scene. Blood also could be seen splashed across the sliding glass door and blind behind the chair, as well as smeared on the door to the residence.

Diaz said the mess was even worse inside, where they found the bodies.

“It was a gruesome scene,” he said. “Probably the worst I’ve seen in my 30 years.”

Employees from the District 12 medical examiner’s office removed the bodies from the residence around 9:50 p.m. for examination, which could take up to a month to complete, according to Diaz.

The couple had been involved in three known domestic incidents in the months leading up to their deaths.

Dumdei was arrested July 19 for misdemeanor domestic battery, but the charge was dropped before the case could make it to an arraignment hearing and she was released.

Winton was arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery Aug. 10 and was released after posting bond.

The bond was later disposed when the charge was dropped.

Most recently, Winton was arrested Aug. 31 on four felony charges, including aggravated assault of his partner with a deadly weapon without intent to kill, battery, false imprisonment and tampering with a witness.

He denied the allegations and was released Sept. 1 after posting a $16,000 bail, and the case remained open.

Winton was instructed not to contact Dumdei, but Winton’s attorney filed a motion Sept. 9 for consensual contact.

Judge Lon Arend of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court granted a motion Sept. 15 to lift the no-contact order between the pair.

FISH flounders, cancels festival

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A crowd fills the food court at a past Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival on the waterfront in Cortez. Islander File Photo
A server hands over an order of stone crab claws to a customer at the two-day outdoor Cortez Stone Crab Festival held in November on the waterfront shared by Swordfish, Cortez Kitchen and a fish house and boatworks, all owned by John Banyas. The potential impact of coronavirus has prompted the event’s cancellation. Islander File Photo

Just like a flounder caught in the muck, the organizers of the annual commercial fishing festival in Cortez struggled with whether to host the event in 2021.

But in the end, faced with deadlines to organize the February event and financial consequences, the Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage board members agreed to cancel, leaving people to look past the Cortez waterfront in 2021 for their fix of seafood, music and art.

The FISH board unanimously voted Oct. 5 to cancel the 39th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival in February 2021 due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual festival attracts thousands of people to Cortez over two days to celebrate the heritage of the fishing village and its locally produced seafood.

The event features an array of local food and craft vendors, a lineup of musicians performing onstage, as well as family-friendly activities like a marine life touch-tank, educational “dock talks” and rock climbing.

Such outdoor attractions traditionally draw sizable crowds, but FISH never had to enforce social distancing guidelines — a challenge when dealing with revelers, long lines and crowded picnic tables.

Due to the spread of the coronavirus via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks or sings, the event would put people at risk.

The festival has served as the primary fundraiser for FISH — a nonprofit dedicated to preserving commercial fishing and maritime cultures, as well as the coastal environment.

The proceeds drove the purchase of the 95-acre preserve and contribute to its improvements.

In February, the two-day event attracted 12,000-13,000 people and raised $244,718 in gross revenue, netting FISH $60,000 after accounting for expenses.

This year, members found themselves in a Catch-22: If the festival draws crowds, people’s lives could be put at risk. If the festival fails to draw crowds and generate enough business to turn a profit, FISH takes the risk of losing money.

“I mean, it is a festival. We depend on crowds and people being together, so to try and socially distance with 5,000-10,000 is very difficult,” said John Stevely, FISH member and a founder of the festival. “Just to be responsible and safe and not risk a financial disaster, the decision was unanimous, but it did come with a great deal of pain and agony.”

“There were too many unknowns and, fiscally, we just didn’t think it was appropriate to spend money if we didn’t have more certainty it would come back,” said Karen Bell, a FISH member and owner of the A.P. Bell Fish Co.

“People do genuinely still come out during rain, but this is a bit more precarious than that,” she added.

The FISH board decided in October to cancel the February festival because, in order to proceed with the event, the organizers couldn’t wait any longer.

“We had to make (the decision) now because of all the permitting and organizational work that needs to be done,” Stevely said Oct. 7. “And if we held the festival and people weren’t able to come, it’d end up being a tremendous financial hardship for us.”

The nonprofit has enough money in its contingency fund to sustain a year without a festival but, they wouldn’t last if they moved forward and held an unsuccessful event, according to Stevely.

Board members vowed to explore other fundraising ideas.

“Hopefully, we can plan some other types of activities,” Stevely said. “We’re in a little bit of shock right now, but we’d like to try to do something.”

Bell said the nonprofit would consider hosting small events if the coronavirus situation improves.

“Something simpler. Scaled down. Where people can social distance a little bit more,” Bell said.

The ninth annual Cortez Stone Crab & Music Festival, held traditionally in November in the parking lot of Swordfish Grill, also was canceled due to concerns with the coronavirus, according to Stevely.

“It’s a difficult call, but some people think we’re being responsible and respect that,” Stevely said. “I suspect other people wish that we would soldier on, but we didn’t feel as responsible board members that we could hold the festival.”

“These events are very special, so it’s a big blow to Cortez and a lot of the community,” he added. “But we’ll just have to do it bigger and better and hopefully a lot of people will come out in 2022.”

The FISH board members will meet next at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 2, at Fishermen’s Hall, 4515 124th St. W., Cortez.


Also canceled

The ninth annual Cortez Stone Crab & Music Festival, traditionally held in November following the Oct. 15 startup of stone crab season will not take place. The event, hosted in the shared waterfront parking lot for the Cortez Bait and Seafood fish house, Taylor Boatworks, Swordfish Grill and Cortez Kitchen by the businesses — all owned by John Banyas — also has been canceled due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.


Pet blessings … blessed pets

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Chewy, 15, accepts blessings Oct. 3 from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church pastor Doug Kings. Chewy and his human, Lori Hill, Holmes Beach city treasurer, are locals who annually attend the event, which is in its 10th year.
Island guests Bambi, right, and her human, Erica Ewing, in the front seat, along with Lola and her human, Becky Ewing, drive by Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 6608 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach Oct. 3 for blessings, before heading home the next day to Sidney, Ohio.
The Rev. Doug Kings offers blessings Oct. 3 to Jake, left, Teddy, right, and Buddy, hiding in the rear, in their owner’s vehicle. This year’s event was a drive-thru of sorts in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Kings said the event commemorates St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, recognizing and thanking pets for the role they play in the lives of humans.
Island local Willow, an 8-year-old coton de Tulear, receives the blessing of the Rev. Doug Kings Oct. 3: “Gracious Creator, bless Willow today with your love and protections. Fill his life with fun and adventure, calm his anxieties and heal him of any ailments, and give him a long and happy life.”
Donations of pet supplies collected Oct. 3 as part of the annual pet blessing at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church this year are going to the nonprofit Moonracer No Kill Animal Rescue, according to the Rev. Doug Kings. Moonracer is based at The Islander newspaper office in Holmes Beach, where owner Lisa Williams is office manager. Islander Photo: Amy V.T. Moriarty

Flipping for 50

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A dolphin, documented as part of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, catches a mullet. The program’s origins date to Oct. 3, 1970, when two male bottlenose dolphins were tagged in Palma Sola Bay. That event was the start of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which conducts the longest-running study of a wild dolphin population anywhere in the world. Islander Photos: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory
One of the dolphins monitored in the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, which turns 50 years old this month. The program, started by Dr. Blair Irvine and today led by Dr. Randall Wells, was the first to document the year-round residency of populations of bottlenose dolphins in coastal waters. “What has developed over the decades is certainly beyond anything we could have imagined when we first started tagging dolphins,” Wells said in a statement released by Mote Marine Laboratory, where the Chicago Zoological Society program is based.

County invests in beachgoer safety, lifeguard towers

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New beach towers, new lightning tech A new lifeguard tower stands watch Sept. 18 over beachgoers on the sands of Coquina Beach in Bradenton Beach. Manatee County built the tower and 10 others on the island’s public beaches earlier this year and equipped each with a lightning suppressor to improve beach safety. The county also is installing a PA system on the towers so the beach patrol supervisor can announce alerts for beachgoers. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
A diagram for EMP Defense’s lightning suppressor technology, which Manatee County installed along with 11 new lifeguard towers on Anna Maria Island. Islander Courtesy Photo: EMP Defense

Manatee County has spent several months improving safety for lifeguards and beachgoers at the public beaches on Anna Maria Island.

Beach Patrol Chief Joe Westerman said work began in January with the construction of 11 lifeguard towers on county-run beaches, including Coquina and Cortez beaches in Bradenton Beach and Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

The former beach towers were worn and noncompliant with Florida wind codes and the county replaced them with new structures expected to last at least 30 years.

The county also installed “lightning suppressors” atop each tower.

Unlike lighting rods, which attract lightning, the weather-resistant gear prevents lightning strikes within a 100-meter radius by deionizing the air around the device.

In other words, the suppressors prevent lightning by balancing the surrounding electromagnetic field and providing a safe outlet for any leakage current to the ground.

“I’m not a scientist, so I can’t really get into the brass tacks, but they’ve been shown to prevent lightning within a small area,” Westerman said. “This stops strikes from even happening…. And we’ve had no  strikes so far.”

Westerman said the county’s lifeguards hadn’t stopped their usual practice of closing the beaches when lightning is reported within 5 miles.

He said the goal of installing the lightning suppressors was to protect lifeguards during inclement weather and allow them to remain in their towers to oversee evacuations.

Westerman said the county also was installing new solar-powered PA systems at the towers that allow a beach patrol supervisor to remotely issue announcements to beachgoers.

The system will be used to issue warnings about rip currents, lost children and lightning strikes and other alerts and information.

“I’m super-excited about the addition of the PA system because, instead of blowing a whistle or waiting for someone to realize they’ve lost their child, we can be a bit more aggressive and notify the public of any issues,” Westerman said. “It’s just an extra layer of protection for people when they come to our beaches.”

He said the PA system should be operational by the week of Oct. 5.

Island ‘Super Market’ allegedly skirts face mask mandate

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People approach Publix Super Market, 3900 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, where enforcement of the city face mask mandate has come into question. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
Publix Super Market, 3900 E. Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, has signage posted in the store indicating masks are required but, store management apparently has recieved instructions to the contrary from its corporate office.

Holmes Beach’s Publix may not be doing its part to uphold the city face mask mandate.

According to two Publix Super Market employees who requested anonymity out of fear of retribution from their employer, corporate policy prohibits staff from removing or reporting individuals who refuse to wear face masks.

“We can’t kick anyone out,” one employee said. “We can offer a mask, but that’s it.”

The other employee said workers were told not to report people who refuse to wear masks unless they cause a disturbance for other shoppers.

The Islander publisher, Bonner Joy, pointed out two unmasked shoppers at the Beachway Publix, 7310 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

“The manager had just provided a mask to another customer when we spoke and I was told the policy is to advise customers of the rules and offer a mask, but no enforcement of the county mask mandate would be carried out at the store — according to corporate directions,” Joy said. “I found it ironic for a clerk at the entrance to clean carts while people pass through the doors into the store with no mask, putting everyone in the store at risk of possible exposure to COVID-19.”

“I wrote to customer service the same day but, as of Sept. 11, I have no reply,” Joy continued. “I won’t be going back to Publix.”

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, the county and Holmes Beach mandates require people wear masks within businesses — with few exceptions — and places the onus on the businesses.

Establishments that fail to enforce the mandate in Holmes Beach can receive a verbal warning for a first offense, a $250 fine for a second offense and $500 fines for any subsequent offenses.

To date, the city has not issued any businesses citations for offenses or collected any fines.

Publix media relations contact Maria Brous did not confirm nor deny the allegations about corporate directives in a Sept. 8 email to The Islander.

“If a customer does not have a mask with them, we will gladly offer them one to wear while shopping in our stores,” Brous wrote. “Our management teams are handling situations as they arise, so I cannot give you a more in-depth perspective.”

“We recognize that there will be exceptions to our mask policy due to age and medical restrictions, and we will handle these on a case-by-case basis,” Brous added in a Sept. 11 email.

Brous did not respond to The Islander’s question asking if an individual not exempt from the mandate but refusing to wear a mask would be removed from a store or reported to local authorities.

Holmes Beach manager Chris Smith declined to comment Sept. 11.

Also, Smith and Brous both denied permission to The Islander to take photographs on Publix property.

“Unfortunately, since the start of the pandemic, to be fair and consistent with all our media partners, we have not allowed videography/photography in our stores,” Brous wrote.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said the HBPD wouldn’t act on the allegations until it received a complaint from an individual about mask enforcement.

“If Publix has their own rules that violate the city’s rules, we would handle that on a case-by-case basis should we find that’s the truth,” Tokajer said. “But that’s not something we’d go and discuss with Publix unless this is a problem brought to our attention.”

“My officers can’t be at every business at once,” the chief said. “There are a lot of things going on in the city that require police attention.”

He suggested the police department has had a good relationship with the store’s management team, which he said may handle things differently from the corporate directive.

“We’ve never had a problem that we have discussed with our Publix local management team that they have not addressed immediately,” Tokajer said. “Their corporate rules and local rules are between Publix and the local management team.”

Mahi wowie

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Mahi wowie Capt. David White, right, and angler Spencer Dienes, a radiologist in Miami, show off what White termed “a respectable little mahi-mahi” caught Sept. 2 on a live shiner in about 120 feet of water off Anna Maria Island. Dolphinfish, Coryphaena hippurus, also known as mahi-mahi or dorado, can run up to 63 inches and 88 pounds, but it’s common to find fish of 30 pounds. The fish is capable of flashing purple, chartreuse and a wide range of other colors.

Bradenton Beach officials, friends remember former mayor Shearon

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Bradenton Beach flew its flags at half-mast Aug. 21 outside the city’s police department to honor former Mayor Bill Shearon, who died Aug. 20. Islander Photo: Ryan Paice
Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon and his service dog, Reece, promote Election Day 2017. Please, see obituary, page 14. Islander File Photo

Former Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon’s passing brought sorrow to many in his city and beyond.

Flags at city hall and the Bradenton Beach Police Department were lowered to half-mast Aug. 21 in respect for Shearon, who died Aug. 20. He was diagnosed with cancer in May.

Shearon became a Bradenton Beach resident in 2003. He then became a member of the city planning and zoning board, then the city commission 2004-07, before serving as mayor 2013-17.

As mayor, Shearon balanced the budget, advocated for hiring a city manager and worked with Police Chief Sam Speciale, the city’s pier team facilitator, to guide the reconstruction of the Historic Bridge Street Pier.

“I worked with him for quite a few years and I had great respect for the man,” Speciale told The Islander Aug. 21. “The thing with the man was that he had his idea on how things should be done and sometimes that was tough. But when you sat down with him, he was willing to bend his ideas if you had better options.”

“I thought as a mayor he did a very good job,” Speciale continued. “I have the utmost respect for him, and he’ll be missed.”

Bradenton Beach Police Lt. John Cosby said, “Bill was different, and we didn’t always see eye to eye, but he would always listen to what you had to say — but it may not be convincing. But he had a great sense of humor … he was a good guy.”

Former planning and zoning board member John Metz worked with Shearon and described him as dedicated, “true to himself and the people around him. He was my neighbor, a good friend, and someone I deeply miss.”

Metz said Shearon “made a lot of progress in the city, and I don’t believe he’s ever received enough accolades for what he’s done.”

Another former P&Z member, Rick Bisio, said, “He was never a politician, and that was obvious. But he was truly devoted to his city.”

Commissioner Jan Vosburgh worked with Shearon during her first round of service on the board.

“He had a great attitude,” she said. “He always called me his favorite commissioner even though we butted heads quite frequently. He will be missed.”

Former City Commissioner Randy White credited Shearon for bringing him into city government.

“I learned much from Bill about city affairs,” he wrote to The Islander. “He was a teacher and a mentor. It was he who inspired me to become a city commissioner in 2017.”

White continued, “What impressed me most about Bill, the man, was his integrity, his dedication and the unwavering fight in him to go the distance, with a smile, his big laugh and a joke to boot.”

“For me, Bill Shearon stepped up to bring honesty, integrity and a hands-on, strong managerial administration to the city of Bradenton Beach. And he faced battles on every advance he made,” said Islander publisher Bonner Joy.

“But Bill kept his nose to the grindstone and forged ahead to improve the city however and whenever he could. He became the best sort of political official, a true public servant.”