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2 of 6 intruders in Anna Maria detained by homeowner

An upstairs apartment in the 300 block of Magnolia Avenue in Anna Maria became the scene of an alleged burglary when the resident returned home and discovered six young men in her residence.

At about 11:30 a.m. Jan. 7, resident Laurie Jo Higgins returned home with Amanda Miller Culpepper and saw six males run out her back door and down the stairs.

Higgins reported $50 stolen from the home, adding Jan. 10 that she is still taking inventory.

Higgins said her two sons were home at the time, but one son was in the shower and the other was in a bedroom wearing headphones and did not hear or see the intruders.

She recognized one of the perpetrators, but said no one in her family had invited them to the residence.

Higgins said they exited through the back of the house, and she believes they came in the front door to look for money and valuables.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating, according to Sgt. Mike Jones, who heads the Anna Maria substation. No one had been arrested or charged in the incident as of Jan. 11.

Jones said he is not sure if the intrusion was a burglary or trespass. MCSO will be conducting multiple interviews, he said.

In Higgins’ attempt to apprehend the intruders, she said they “overpowered her,” but she did stop two of the six intruders and brought them to authorities.

She also said the group attempted to enter another house in the neighborhood.

Federal investigation of copter crash hits delay

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Duke Overstreet of Sea Tow, center, who oversaw recovery Jan. 4 of a helicopter that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico Jan. 2, and two other men note damages to the copter after it was brought earlier in the morning to the Coquina Beach South Boat Ramp. The helicopter was recovered at about midnight Jan. 3 about a mile offshore of Anna Maria. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Sea Tow Bradenton owner Duke Overstreet talks to the media Jan. 4 about his crew’s recovery of helicopter wreckage from the Gulf of Mexico. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
The helicopter that crashed in the Gulf of Mexico Jan. 2 with three people aboard approximately a mile offshore of Anna Maria is readied for transport Jan. 4 at Coquina Beach by Sea Tow Bradenton and Ben’s Crane Service of Bradenton. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

The federal government shutdown is reverberating on Anna Maria Island.

Answers to why Sarasota pilot Stanley Lee crashed Jan. 2 in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile from the Anna Maria shore — sending Lee and photographer Tom McKnight to Blake Medical Center in Bradenton — appear to be delayed due to the shutdown.

As of Jan. 4, Lee was reported in serious condition, improved from a critical status.

McKnight, who spoke to The Islander Jan. 6, was treated and released, said he’s feeling very sore but thankful.

McKnight was shooting video and stills of a boat for a manufacturer’s promotion, when water rushed into the helicopter.

“We were flying close to 50 minutes and had done multiple passes in the bay,” he said.

According to Robert Smith, director of Manatee County Public Safety, the helicopter was flying 10-15 feet above the water level before the crash.

“I really don’t know what happened. We were flying normal and then we were not,” McKnight said, adding he then submerged and realized he was hooked on something.

“Honestly, I thought that was it,” he added, saying he felt no panic.

Somehow he became unhooked, he said, came to the surface and saw the other men who had been in the helicopter also had surfaced.

Lee, McKnight and the third man in the chopper, Peter Bowden, boarded the boat they had been filming.

As a 911 dispatcher was directing the boaters, the U.S. Coast Guard from station Cortez met them with a 29-foot boat and crew.

The Coast Guard crew rendered first aid and escorted the boat to the Coquina Beach South Boat Ramp in Bradenton Beach. From there, a Manatee County EMS ambulance transported Lee and McKnight to

Blake. Bowden, saying he was not badly injured, refused EMS transport.

All civil aviation accidents undergo investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, according to the NTSB website.

However, FAA public affairs officer Gregory Martin wrote in a Jan. 3 email there were no plans to begin an investigation of the helicopter crash.

An auto-email response Jan. 3 from Kathleen Bergen, FAA public affairs officer for the southern region, states, “Due to the lapse in government funding, I am not working.”

A similar message was delivered by an officer with the NTSB who answered the phone, but declined to give his name as a spokesman.

Meanwhile, local officials were fielding questions about the crash.

Manatee County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Randy Warren wrote in Jan. 3-4 emails that the FAA and NTSB were notified but an investigation had not begun, adding the FAA “may or may not follow up.”

Sea Tow Bradenton recovered and delivered the 2,500-pound Robinson R-44 helicopter, registered to Sarasota Helicopter Services, to Coquina Beach Boat Ramp for transport to Jacksonville.

Duke Overstreet, owner of Sea Tow Bradenton, said he and a crew, including a diver, found the copter in 25 feet of murky water at about midnight Jan. 3

Found among the retrieved helicopter were a professional video camera, a backpack and wallets.

The crash was first reported at 10:53 a.m. by one of the people in the vessel that was being photographed.The boater told the 911 dispatcher, “We’ve got multiple injuries. We’ve got a guy with his ear torn off. It’s bad. He’s got half an ear cut off and he’s choking blood.”

The dispatcher advised treatment and directed the boater to the boat ramp, remaining on the line until they were met by the Coast Guard vessel.

An MCSO Marine unit, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers, and Longboat Key and Sarasota police departments assisted in the rescue.

McKnight, a guitarist with a rock band, The Verge, said he’s not looking at life the same since the crash.

Noting he lost his cellphone and video camera, McKnight said, “None of that matters.”

“That first gulp of air I took is the same air we all breathe,” but, he said, taking a breath again reinforced his belief in peace, love and helping others.

There were some reports that four people were aboard the helicopter when it crashed, but McKnight dispelled that rumor.

“There were three of us” on the chopper, he said. “Maybe the fourth was the angel.”

McKnight added that his band will play for a celebration of life for the crash survivors Friday, Jan. 18, at Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse in Sarasota.

Holmes Beach fights suit filed over treehouse fate, fines

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Owners of the treehouse built in an Australian pine on their beachfront at 103 29th St. in Holmes Beach have been fighting city hall for eight years to retain the structure. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

A new chapter has opened in the long-running saga of the treehouse owners.

In this new effort, a petition from the owners dredges up matters already in court or decided at trial and in appeal.

That is the Holmes Beach view of the new case opened in 12th Circuit Court by treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, according to motions filed Jan. 3 by attorney Jim Dye, of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, for the city.

Dye filed motions to dismiss, to request a more definite statement and to strike the owners’ petition for a temporary injunction.

Dye criticized the owners’ petition in his filing, describing it as “a free-flowing attempt unconnected to a proper lawsuit to enjoin the city from doing undescribed actions.”

The owners’ filed the petition pro se — without an attorney — in mid-December, asking the court to end the daily fines and prevent the demolition of the treehouse. It names the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as respondents.

The DEP was served Dec. 20, 2018, but had not responded as of Jan. 4.

In 2016, the city ordered Tran and Hazen to remove the treehouse and comply with the land-development code, imposing a fine of $50 a day as of July 22, 2015.

The owners’ petition states that some $65,000 in “illegally excessive and unfounded” fines have accumulated, but they are seeking to halt the fines going forward, not the accrued fine.

Asked about whether she will seek to reduce the accumulated fine, Tran said Jan. 4 that “For now,” she is not asking to have the fine forgiven. “I will eventually.”

Tran and Hazen built the treehouse in 2011 without permits required by the city and state for the beachfront property 20 feet west of 103 29th St., where they live and operate short-term rentals known as Angelinos Sea Lodge.

An anonymous tip to the city about beachfront construction resulted in a referral to the DEP and the city refused to waive its 50-foot setback.

Tran and Hazen have brought a number of challenges related to their treehouse through attorney David Levin of Icard Merrill of Sarasota.

Prior litigation included city code board appeals as well as a bid to allow a citywide vote on the fate of the treehouse, which the owners took to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court declined to review the case and allowed the trial court decision to stand.

In addition to owners’ new petition, there are two pending treehouse actions in the 12th Circuit Court.

In February 2018, the city filed a case seeking to enforce the 2016 city magistrate order.

And a 2013 challenge to the constitutionality of the city’s setback rule was reinvigorated in 2018 by Levin before it was set by the court for dismissal due to inactivity.

The opposing motions in the code enforcement case are coming up for a hearing before Judge Lon Arend after press time Jan. 8.

Red tide threatens, tracking hindered by government shutdown

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A cell of Karenia brevis, the species responsible for red tide. Islander Photo: Courtesy Mote Marine Laboratory

The coming and going of red tide remains as much a mystery as Mother Nature.

No solutions have been found.

But the cause of people coughing and complaining of scratchy throats on the beaches of Anna Maria Island Jan. 4- 5 was no mystery — red tide was back.

“It’s the cough again,” Maria Steffens said by phone Jan. 5.

Steffens is night manager at the Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe at the Manatee Public Beach, 4000 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach.

“The other day I noticed that smell. Now there is no smell, only the dry, hacking cough again. I’ve been coughing since I got to work at 2 p.m.,” Steffens said. “I noticed it yesterday afternoon.”

Tiffany LaRocca reported similar conditions in Bradenton Beach at the Beach House Restaurant, 200 Gulf Drive N.

“It’s the itchy throat and the cough,” she told The Islander Jan. 5. “We enclosed the outside seating. At least there is no smell.”

Neither location reported seeing dead fish on the beach.

The federal government shutdown that began Dec. 22, 2018, cut off access to the University of South Florida’s topical oceanography lab, which provides data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

So researchers at Mote Marine Laboratory and other government agencies as of Jan. 7 were relying on first-hand observations and samples to determine red tide’s presence and make forecasts about the harmful algae bloom.

According to Mote, a boat captain reported coming across a dense patch of phytoplankton, took a sample and brought it to the Sarasota lab Jan 2.

The sample, found about 2 and l/2 miles off the Sarasota County coastline, contained high concentrations of Karenia brevis.

Meanwhile, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission concentration readings, which the previous week had been clear for Sarasota County, showed high concentrations of K. brevis near Siesta and Lido Keys.

FWC readings in Manatee County remained clear, with no red tide detected in daily samples or in the Jan. 2 midweek report.

Samples showed no K. brevis at Longboat Pass in Bradenton Beach, the Rod & Reel Pier in Anna Maria or the Palma Sola Bay Bridge on Manatee Avenue in Bradenton.

Mote’s daily reports on beach conditions showed no signs of red tide Jan. 4 at Coquina Beach or at Manatee Public Beach in Holmes Beach.

A late December storm, that brought 10-foot waves to the Southwest Florida coastline, apparently broke up part of the K. brevis bloom and swept some of the toxic algae far offshore.

Now, however, it appears red tide is creeping back to the coastline.

Coyote strolls Marina Drive

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A coyote saunters along Marina Drive near Key Royale Drive in Holmes Beach Dec. 30, 2018. Coyotes usually are active at night, but daytime sightings on the island have become more common since summer 2018. Rick Scherrer of Anna Maria spotted the coyote while on an afternoon bike ride. “We ride our bikes a lot and were really surprised to see that coyote just standing in the driveway in broad daylight,” Scherrer wrote Jan. 2 in an email to The Islander. “We have spotted him up at our end, but only late at night. He/she is mighty bold!” Islander Photo: Courtesy Rick Scherrer

Cortez Coast Guard remains on duty

U.S. Coast Guard public information officer David Micallef extended kudos to the Cortez crew that responded to a Jan. 2 helicopter crash in the Gulf of Mexico.

“They did an excellent job, coming to the scene within minutes and administering first aid and escorting the crash survivors to shore,” he said.

And they will continue with this type of work during the federal government shutdown, according to Micallef.

Micallef said the federal government considers Coast Guard services essential to provide national security and protect life and property, performing search and rescue, homeland security, law enforcement and environmental responses.

The Cortez station employs about 30 officers and other personnel.

Petty Officer Christopher Swanson of the Cortez station said Jan. 4 the Coast Guard found funds during the shutdown to issue employees a recent paycheck, but their next paycheck remains uncertain. U.S. Coast Guard public information officer David Micallef extended kudos to the Cortez crew that responded to a Jan. 2 helicopter crash in the Gulf of Mexico.

“They did an excellent job, coming to the scene within minutes and administering first aid and escorting the crash survivors to shore,” he said.

And they will continue with this type of work during the federal government shutdown, according to Micallef.

Micallef said the federal government considers Coast Guard services essential to provide national security and protect life and property, performing search and rescue, homeland security, law enforcement and environmental responses.

The Cortez station employs about 30 officers and other personnel.

Petty Officer Christopher Swanson of the Cortez station said Jan. 4 the Coast Guard found funds during the shutdown to issue employees a recent paycheck, but their next paycheck remains uncertain.

Man arrested for DUI, drugs in Holmes Beach

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Ethan Brannock, 29

Turning east onto Manatee Avenue from Gulf Drive, a man weaved into a cement curb and was arrested for
impaired driving.

Ethan Brannock, 29, of Bradenton, was arrested at 2:53 a.m. Dec.15, 2018, for driving under the influence and
possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana.

Holmes Beach police stopped Brannock in a 2016 Toyota Tundra in the 700 block of Manatee Avenue.

According to the report, Brannock denied driving the vehicle, and the report noted the motorist’s answers were sarcastic.

He also told officers he had nothing to drink, but changed his story several times to consuming one beer, two beers and six beers, the report stated.

The officer noted the odor of marijuana after approaching Brannock and, in a search of the vehicle, found open beer cans and 2.7 grams of marijuana in the center console. Police also ticketed the motorist for violating the open container law.

Brannock was taken into custody and transported to the Manatee County jail.

He posted a $620 bond and was released.

Brannock’s arraignment is set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Man arrested for DUI in Holmes Beach

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Joshua Peurifoy, 33

Polite initially and then uncooperative was how Holmes Beach police described a Bradenton man arrested for driving under the influence.

Motorist Joshua Peurifoy, 33, was arrested at 12:53 a.m. Dec. 21, 2018, by the HBPD on Gulf Drive at East Bay Drive after an officer observed him swerving and weaving as he traveled south on East Bay.

Peurifoy told police he drank one-two beers at D.Coy Ducks Tavern, was sober and on his way to another bar. According to the HBPD report, Peurifoy had poor balance and refused to place his hands behind his back and get into the patrol vehicle.

The report also states police “cajoled” Peurifoy into the patrol vehicle and transported him to the Manatee County jail, where he refused to provide breath samples for a blood alcohol content test.

Peurifoy posted $120 bond and was released, pending his 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, arraignment at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

Is it worth it?

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In 2018, the three cities on anna maria island spent money on lawsuits that involved taxpayers and taxpayer money.

They mostly lost. And they paid some pretty big attorney bills.

The city of Anna Maria, fortunately, had insurance to help pay a $1 million settlement in late 2017 to a contractor who was libeled and prevailed in 2018 in its challenge against another contractor over inflated permit claims.

Holmes Beach is still paying to put to rest — and demolish — the treehouse built without permits, encroaching on city and state setbacks.

The treehouse owners even made an attempt to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal of a lower court decision that halted their attempt to get the treehouse put to a vote by the city electorate.

Now they are representing themselves — have the donations to their cause dried up? — to halt the city- imposed fine and to avoid the demolition order.

The local court is likely to spit out an angry order barring them from the courthouse.

And what will follow? A lawsuit by the city to recover its costs?

The treehouse owners should have come to the city begging for mercy years ago — and maybe their money could have gone toward dismantling the tree- house. They would have had a better shot at starting over and following the proper process.

And maybe they’d be lounging in the treetop by now.

Worst of all, Bradenton Beach is spending tax- payer money to the tune of more than $100,000 in a fight with its own city residents.

The six defendants resigned long ago as volunteer board members, after the city was convinced to join the lawsuit by its attorney, who hid the fact that the lawsuit was initiated by a bitter ex-mayor. The city attorney put blinders on the public during her presentation “for” the lawsuit. I’m just guessing, but maybe the commission majority knew what was going on before they voted to approve funding the lawsuit.

Now the depositions eat up more taxpayer money as city employees and officials are paid for time spent in legal offices rather than time on the job.

“City sues taxpayers” is a headline that should scare the people who live in a town that tolerates spite- ful officials who sue their citizens.

Those officials should hide in the treetops.

And taxpayers on Anna Maria Island should place a higher value on their votes

Shamrock shiver makes splash in Bradenton Beach

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People plungers — some in costumes — charge into the Gulf of Mexico Jan. 1 for Clancy’s 11th annual Shamrock Shiver New Year’s Day Charity Plunge at Seventh Street South and Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach. Islander Photos: Ryan Paice
Mark Gritz, left, and Robert Nott, costumed as an Amish couple, win Clancy’s 11th annual Shamrock Shiver New Year’s Day Charity Plunge best costume contest.
Ron Stout, left, is outfitted as “Mr. Red Tide” for Clancy’s 11th annual Shamrock Shiver New Year’s Day Charity Plunge costume contest Jan. 1 in Bradenton Beach. He terrorized his sea turtle friend, Paul Devine, who took it all in fun.

New Year’s Day proved to be the perfect time for a plunge.

With 73-degree weather and clear skies, more than 100 people rushed Jan. 1 into the Gulf of Mexico for Clancy’s 11th annual Shamrock Shiver New Year’s Day Charity Plunge at Seventh Street South and Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach.

The event began with a costume contest judged by the crowd.

Participants included Ron Stout, decked out as “Mr. Red Tide,” and a friend, Paul Devine, who wore a sea turtle blowup raft; Heather Horn, who was made up as a shamrock; and Bill Capobianco, who came as a unicorn that ate a monkey.

Outfitted as an Amish couple, Mark Gritz and Robert Nott walked away with the contest’s top prize.

At the beach, volunteers collected donations and sold event T-shirts and sand brushes.

After the plunge at noon, people returned to Clancy’s Irish Sports Pub, 6218 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, for an after-party with raffles, live music, food, beverages and awards.

Proceeds benefit Caring for Children Charities, the fundraising arm of the Sarasota-based nonprofit organization, Florida Winefest and Auction.

Since its inception in 1991, Florida Winefest has donated more than $8.5 million to children’s charities.

Clancy’s has helped raise $219,520 with its annual plunge since beginning in 2009.

The 2019 plunge raised at least $27,000, with pledges and checks still rolling in as of Jan. 3, according to Jan Crudele of Florida Winefest.

To pledge or make a donation, contact Crudele at 941-952-1109.