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39 Years Ago: Killing spree at Kingfish

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Emergency personnel respond Aug. 1, 1980, in Holmes Beach, where four people were fatally shot and one person was injured. The case remains unsolved. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
“I saw a car and boat trailer jackknifed near a power pole,” reporter June Alder wrote about her arrival to the scene of a quadruple murder Aug. 1, 1980, on Manatee Avenue at East Bay Drive in Holmes Beach. The vehicle and boat belonged to Dr. Juan Dumois, 47, of Tampa. He and his sons Eric Dumois, 13, and Mark Dumois, 9, were murdered that day, as was islander Robert Matzke, 60. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
Emergency personnel attend to a victim of a shooting Aug. 1, 1980, in Holmes Beach at the Kingfish Boat Ramp and at the Foodway grocery store, now the Publix Super Market. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
A Fiat that had been driven by Robert Matzke crashed into another vehicle at Foodway. Bystanders thought an accident had occurred, but Matzke, an Air Force veteran, had unknowingly confronted a killer and was fatally shot. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
Emergency personnel place a man on a stretcher near the Kingfish Boat Ramp in Holmes Beach Aug. 1, 1980. The killings at Kingfish remain unsolved. The Manatee County Crime Stoppers takes tips at 866-634-TIPS. Islander Photo: Manatee County Public Library System
Cold case evidence Holmes Beach Detective Sgt. Brian Hall holds an evidence bag July 11 containing a 22-caliber bullet gathered Aug. 1, 1980, and still in storage at the HBPD. The bullet is evidence from the shooting at the Foodway grocery store, now the Publix Super Market, 3900 E. Bay Drive. Retired Lt. Col. Robert Matzke was working in his yard near the Kingfish Boat Ramp Aug. 1, 1980, and followed a bicyclist to Foodway, where Matzke was shot and killed by the bicyclist-turned-gunman. Islander Photos: Kathy Prucnell
HBPD Detective Sgt. Brian Hall handles a plastic bag July 11 containing items found in the left rear seat of a station wagon driven Aug. 1, 1980, by Juan Dumois. A man killed Dumois and his two sons in the vehicle. Dumois’ brother-in-law, Raymond Barrows, seated in the front seat, survived the shooting, but died two years later. The evidence is kept in bins at the police department, 5801 Marina Drive.

For an island reporter, the story unfolded, but the mystery remained


Editor’s note: The Islander first published the following report in 1999. June Alder then worked as a copy editor for The Islander and also wrote a history column. The Islander edited this report for style, length and historical perspective.



By June Alder

From The Islander archive

You know how it is in the dog days of August. Not much to do. Putter around the yard in the morning. Have a nap after lunch. Watch the sunset after supper. Watch re-runs on TV with the air conditioner humming.

No, nothing much happens on the island in the summertime. It’s murder for a newspaper reporter trying to make a decent story out of notes from a boring city meeting.

But it wasn’t that way Aug. 1, 1980.

As I recall that Friday, I was the only reporter in The Islander newspaper office when someone yelled at me to pick up my phone. It was my mother calling.

“Oh, hi Mom, what’s up?” I said, or something like that. She rarely called me at the office, so I figured she had some little problem, like when we could meet for lunch.

But her voice was odd, whispery but urgent.

“I’m down here at Foodway (now the Publix Super Market). There’s been an accident or something — a man’s been hurt.”

There was a hubbub in the background.

I could barely hear her.

“What did you say? An accident? In the grocery store?”

She seemed impatient, and I got the idea whatever had happened, it was something serious.

“No, in the parking lot. I was at the checkout counter. A woman burst in, yelling to call the police, get a doctor.” She paused. “I can see a lot of folks running around outside. You’d better get down here, June!”

I grabbed my camera and jumped in my car. Traffic on Gulf Drive was light going south. It took me less than five minutes to round the bend at the Manatee Public Beach. That’s when I saw a bunch of people milling around just east of the stoplight toward Kingfish Boat Ramp.

I wondered if I should drive on to the grocery, but then I saw a car and boat trailer jackknifed near a power pole. There had been an accident and, from the looks of things, it was a bad one. I parked my car on the side of the road and raced over to a scene of chaos.

I didn’t ask any questions, just began taking photographs.

There seemed to be bodies all over the place. Sheets had been draped over two figures being lifted onto stretchers. They appeared to be children. I couldn’t tell if they were dead or alive.

A few feet away from the car, medics were bent over a man on the ground. One emergency technician was holding an oxygen mask to the man’s mouth. Another was wiping the blood from the patient’s forehead. A third was massaging his chest.

Close by lay a deeply tanned man in red-and-white striped trunks. He was barely breathing. His bare chest was streaked with blood trickling from his nose and mouth. A tube had been stuck in his right arm. I could tell by the look on the face of a woman in a nurse’s uniform holding his head that he was close to death.

I moved in a bit closer with my camera. Through the viewfinder, I could see a small hole — about the size of a dime — in the man’s forehead.

My heart froze. The man had been shot in the head.

By now, another reporter from my newspaper had arrived, as well as reporters and photographers from the daily papers.

And there must have been 40 people scurrying around. I’ll never forget the faces of the bystanders as the word got around of the nature of the tragedy. They had the look of people confronting a situation too horrible to comprehend. The car had gone out of control because the driver had a bullet in his head. Everyone in the car had been shot.

I glanced across the street toward the Foodway. An ambulance was pulling out of the lot. I hurried over. I learned from a cop that a man had been shot there, too.

By now, like everyone else, I was beginning to realize the enormity of the crime that had shattered the pleasant afternoon.

The headlines in the newspapers the next day shocked islanders out of their summer lethargy.

In the weeks and months to come, the story unfolded, but the mystery remained.


The killing at Kingfish

Early Aug. 1, 1980, Juan Dumois, a 47-year-old Tampa physician, his sons Eric, 13, and Mark, 9, and their uncle, Raymond Barrows, visiting from Miami, left Kingfish Boat Ramp for a fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the last day of the family’s vacation in Holmes Beach.

Returning about 5 p.m., looking forward to getting home to supper, they loaded their boat onto a trailer and hitched it up to their station wagon. Dumois and Barrows got into the front seat, and the boys took seats in the back. Just as Dumois was about to drive off, a dark-haired man in his middle 30s, wearing a white tennis outfit and pushing a bike, stuck his head in the car window.

He had sprained his ankle, he told Dumois and would appreciate a lift.

Sure, no problem, Dumois said.

The man hoisted his bike into the boat and got into the back with the boys.

Dumois waited for a gap in the heavy traffic, then pulled away. The station wagon had gone only a few yards toward the intersection of Manatee Avenue and East Bay Drive when the man pulled a gun. He held the muzzle against the back of Dumois’ head and pulled the trigger.

Dumois slumped over, mortally wounded. Three more shots rang out in quick succession. The gunman had pumped the second bullet into Barrow’s head and the third and fourth into the heads of the boys.

The man reached over Dumois and turned off the ignition, steering the car to the side of the road. When it stopped, he jumped out, pulled his bike out of the boat and rode off toward Foodway.

But there was a witness.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Robert Matzke, working in the yard of his condominium unit in Westbay Cove North, had observed the man’s exit from the accident site. Suspicious, he pursued him to the Foodway store in his sports car. There, while still in his car, he argued briefly with the bicyclist. Again, a shot rang out, and Matzke became the hitchhiker’s fifth victim.

Shoppers watched unknowingly as the gunman got into a waiting car, which disappeared into traffic. None of the onlookers had witnessed the killing. They thought Matzke had crashed his car.

All the police had to go on was what Raymond Barrows was able to tell them. He had recovered but died of a heart attack a couple of years later.

The investigation, involving the sheriff’s office and federal agents, as well as the Holmes Beach police, dragged on for months. Dumois’ car was examined for fingerprints. Four artist’s concepts of the killer were circulated and a reward was offered.

More than 100 suspects were questioned, but no solid evidence pointing to the killer was found and no plausible motive for the slayings identified.

Was the killer a madman?

Someone with a grudge against the physician?

Was he a contract killer?

Were the murders mob- or mafia-related?

Though police found nothing to connect Dumois with the underworld, the massacre had all the earmarks of a hit job.

The weapon was a 22-caliber pistol, the type of gun often used in professional killings. The killer was an expert with a gun. He did not fire wildly. He shot to kill.

The crime was well planned. The gunman was seen loitering in the boat ramp parking lot. He had marked his victims. He knew Dumois was a doctor, as he feigned an injury.

He chose a crowded area for the shootings, where he could melt into the crowd. True, it was risky business to execute his mission in a moving car, but he knew it would be going slowly, approaching the intersection only a short distance away from the boat ramp.

He had a confederate waiting in a getaway car at a spot where they could easily join the traffic going north or south.

Police were criticized for immediately directing traffic off the island and failing to cordon off the crime scene quickly. But they didn’t know at first that it was a murder case.


Perfect crime?

The Kingfish killings appear to have been the perfect crime — one that will never be solved.

Investigators say that in such crimes, the only chance for a solution is when someone talks — someone to whom the killer bragged or who was involved somehow in the crime.

But that hasn’t happened.

Perhaps the killer, well paid for his afternoon’s work, is living on his earnings on the French Riviera or in South America.

Or, he may have met a violent death, too.

Will we ever know his identity or the reason for the massacre on that bloody Friday?

Holmes Beach sets maximum millage for 2019-20 budget

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Holmes Beach commissioners listen July 23 as city treasurer Lori Hill presents the maximum 2019-20 fiscal year millage rate during a meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive. Islander Photos: ChrisAnn Silver Esformes

Holmes Beach is a step closer to finalizing its 2019-20 budget.

Commissioners voted 4-0 at their meeting July 23 to authorize Mayor Judy Titsworth to sign and submit DR-420 and DR-420 MMP forms to Manatee County — the forms required by the state to assess the city’s tax base.

Titsworth and Commissioner Rick Hurst were absent with excuse.

According to city treasurer Lori Hill, the mayor proposed establishing a maximum millage rate of 2.25 mills for the 2019-20 fiscal year, the same percentage as 2018-19.

Hill, who compiled the budget, said the rate would give the city “time to receive missing revenue from the state and county and evaluate any possible changes until the September public hearings.”

She said the mayor intends to use the rollback rate, the millage needed to collect the same tax as the current year from property owners, of 2.1062 mills, “if revenue comes in as intended and no additional costs or projects arise.”

The 2.1062 rollback rate would be 6% lower than the 2.25 proposed millage rate.

State law defines a tax increase as anything over the rollback rate.

Millage is $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. At 2.25 mills, the ad valorem tax on a property valued at $500,000 would be $1,125. At 2.1062 mills, the property would be taxed $1,053.10.

Other taxing authorities on the county property tax bill include the Manatee County School District, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Manatee County Mosquito Control and the West Coast Inland Navigation District.

West Manatee Fire Rescue has assessments on the tax bill, not ad valorem tax.

Other sources of city revenue include Swiftmud, WCIND, the county distributed fifth cent gas tax, and the state distributed second, fourth and ninth cent gas taxes, as well as the 1/2 cent discretionary tax.

Hill said approval and submission of the DR-420 and DR-420 MMP is the first step in the budget process, which will conclude with an ordinance requiring two public hearings and two votes for adoption before the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

The commission reached a consensus that the first reading and public hearing will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11.

The final reading and public hearing for the new budget will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, during a regular city commission meeting at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

Anna Maria strikes deal for construction of pier buildings

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Brad and Dawn Huthviance of Trinity, Florida, told The Islander July 27 they “love AMI” on a visit to the Anna Maria City Pier. Islander Photo: Jack Elka

A deal is in place for the construction of a restaurant and bait shop on the T-end of the new Anna Maria City Pier.

City commissioners voted 5-0 July 25 to approve a $967,000 contract with Mason Martin of Holmes Beach for the construction of the T-end buildings. Commissioners previously chose the contractor’s $1,041,101 bid for the job over three more expensive bids.

Mason Martin is a Holmes Beach-based contractor owned by Frank Agnelli and Jake Martin. Each of the partners has built and remodeled island homes for more than 10 years.

The contract gives Mason Martin 200 days to complete work on the buildings, setting Feb. 10, 2020, as the deadline for completion. The deal allows the contractor to apply to the city commission to extend the deadline as needed, through change orders.

Mason Martin is permitted to work on the pier 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

The city will pay the contractor 20% of the contract cost upon mobilization of equipment and materials, 25% more when Mason Martin frame out the pier buildings, another 25% after the exterior is enclosed, 20% when power is hooked up and the final 10% upon substantial completion.

Mayor Dan Murphy said the final contract is $74,000 less than the contractor’s original bid due in part to $18,500 in savings gained from changing the siding on the bait shop and restaurant from kebony to hardie-board. Hardie-board is a fiber-cement product that is fireproof and resistant to insects and vermin.

Murphy attributed a savings on mobilization costs to Agnelli, who suggested employing the i+iconSOUTHEAST barge — already on the job — to transport materials to the site.

I+iconSOUTHEAST is set to complete work constructing the pier walkway and T-end by September, giving Mason Martin a month of overlap on its job. The contractor is planning to begin work on the pier buildings as soon as possible.

“We have a good agreement here,” Murphy said.

Meanwhile, Miller Electric, a subcontractor, is installing electric service to the pier. Wiring is the last step in completing the understructure of the pier, before i+iconSOUTHEAST installs decking on the walkway and the T-end.

The new pier — estimated to total $5.9 million for demolition and construction — replaces the historic Anna Maria City Pier, which was built in 1911, although there were numerous remodels before it was deemed destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

Treehouse owners push case back to circuit court

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Beachgoer Mary Ellen Tacy, of Holmes Beach, pauses before sunset to talk about the plight of the treehouse, behind her on the beach near 29th Street in Holmes Beach. Tacy said people didn’t like the way the treehouse came about in 2011, but now seem OK with it. “What harm is it doing?” she asked. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

One treehouse case is branching off from the federal to the county courthouse.

A month after the city of Holmes Beach removed the case to the U.S. District Court-Middle District of Florida in Tampa, the treehouse owners dropped their federal claims and are poised to push the case back to the 12th Circuit Court at the Manatee County Judicial Center.

Owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, represented by Sarasota attorney David Levin, of Icard Merrill, filed a new pleading July 16, followed by an “unopposed” motion — having consulted with the city’s representatives for the case, the law firm of Trask Daigneault of Clearwater, who agreed to remand the case to state court the next day.

The case was one of two treehouse cases in federal court as of July 26. Two similar cases are pending in the 12th Circuit.

Tran and Hazen live and operate four short-term rental units at 103 29th St., where they built the beachfront structure in an Australian pine tree without city or state permits.

In the latest federal complaint — leading to the move back to state court — the owners are continuing to challenge a city setback as preempted by state law, but “deleted all allegations and references to the U.S. Constitution, leaving only allegations pertaining to state law claims,” according to the owners’ motion to remand.

Attorney Jay Daigneault of Trask Daigneault said he would not oppose the move back to state court.

“The case was removed based on federal questions. Now it’s purely a matter of state law. There’s no sense in being obstinate,” Daigneault said July 25.

The treehouse litigation, dating back to 2013, centers on the structure’s location within the city setback for the state erosion-control line. The line was established to divide public and private property based on the high-mean tide line.

A permanent high-tide line was established by the state in 1992 prior to a beach renourishment project.

The owners claim the setback is an unconstitutional property rights taking. The city contends the issue was already decided and cannot be relitigated based on a legal doctrine known as the finality of judgments or res judicata.

In state court earlier this year, 12th Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas ruled he would hear the state constitutional challenge — the to-be remanded case — before a city-initiated case to enforce 2013 and 2016 code board and magistrate decisions calling for the structure’s removal and fines.

The dispute began in 2011 after an anonymous complaint alerted the city to construction on the beach. The city referred the complaint to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which came back to the city for a letter of no objection.

In July 2013, the code board ordered Tran and Hazen to remove the structure, a decision that was revisited by a special magistrate who, in 2016, fined the owners $50 a day dating to July 2015 — now at more than $73,250.

Judge Janette Dunnigan, now retired, upheld the code enforcement decisions against constitutional challenge.

She ruled against the owners’ arguments on the unconstitutionality of the city setback and reprimanded city officials for giving bad advice — although there were no building plans or applications — before Tran and Hazen built the treehouse without permits.

The owners opened another front in state court in 2013, petitioning for a citywide vote to grandfather the treehouse, which was lost on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January 2018, the high court declined to review a circuit court decision based on a state statute that prohibits referenda and initiatives relating to development orders.

In addition to the pending constitutional and city code enforcement cases, ongoing treehouse litigation as of July 26 involves two cases opened by the owners — without an attorney — in 2018.

In a state court case, an amended verified complaint alleges negligence and violation of rights and seeks injunctive relief and unspecified money damages against the city and DEP.

In that case, Judge Charles Sniffin is expected to hear city and DEP motions to dismiss Sept. 10 at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.

On the owners’ third amended complaint, alleging similar claims against the city in federal court, a city motion is pending. That motion claims the latest pleading tries to advance claims that were or could have been litigated in previous cases and, “in the interest of finality,” asks for dismissal with prejudice.

U.S. District Judge James Moody is expected to rule on that motion without a hearing.

Tran told The Islander in a July 26 email she plans to continue her fight to protect her treehouse and property rights and will continue challenging what she calls the city’s unreasonable fines.

She also promised, “More soon.”

Coast Guard Cortez assists boaters in Gulf

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U.S. Coast Guard Station Cortez rescuers pump water from a damaged boat July 28. Islander Photo: Courtesy USCG

A U.S. Coast Guard crew saved the day for four boaters from Ellenton with a damaged hull in the Gulf of Mexico west of Bean Point.

The men were on a 21-foot vessel about 12 miles west of Anna Maria Island at 2:36 p.m. July 28, when the center console boat began to rapidly take on water, according to U.S. Coast Guard-Tampa Bay detachment public information officer David Micallef.

“Apparently, they had a damaged hull,” he added, but also said he did not know how the damage to the vessel occurred.

Rescuers transferred three of the men onto the Coast Guard’s 29-foot rescue boat, and assisted by pumping the water out of the hull as the captain maintained speed on the damaged boat.

“These mariners did everything right,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Lettington, the coxswain and captain of the rescue boat.

Lettington said the boaters called in their location and problem “immediately.” He also complimented them for having a radio and life jackets onboard.

The boaters returned to Bradenton Beach.

No injuries were reported.

— Kathy Prucnell

Bradenton Beach gives tentative nod to spending increase

Taxes are set to rise for Bradenton Beach property owners.

City commissioners voted unanimously July 25 on several motions to approve tentative spending for city departments in the 2019-20 budget, as well as a 1.2% proposed salary increase and a tentative 2.3329 ad valorem millage rate.

Commissioner Randy White was absent without excuse.

Total expenditures are projected to reach $5,428,848 in the new fiscal year, almost $2 million more than the current $3,555,521 spending plan.

Much of the difference is due to $1,347,124 for a flood prevention project — to be funded by the state — which makes up most of the $1,494,825 stormwater capital project.

General fund expenditures are projected to increase $253,755, from $3,067,040 this year to $3,320,795 for 2019-20.

Expenditures for the Bradenton Beach Police Department are projected at $1,244,377 in 2019-20, an almost $100,000 increase over 2018-19.

Police Chief Sam Speciale said the primary reason for the difference is to accommodate hiring a new officer, which resulted in a $70,450 increase in wages for the department.

“I think it’s great we’re finally getting another officer,” Mayor John Chappie said.

Speciale said the city’s community redevelopment agency could fund half of the cost of the new officer.

City clerk Terri Sanclemente, said her administrative department’s expenses are projected to increase by $51,430 from the $603,209 budgeted in 2018-19. She attributed the increase to higher rent for administrative buildings and election fees, as well as staff members advancing on the longevity scale, earning higher salaries and benefits.

She added that the difference also is due to the planned purchase of new equipment, including a laptop, a new computer and microphones for the Katie Pierola Commission Chambers.

“It’s important to note that for 75% of the budget we just really don’t have a lot of a say,” Chappie said. “It’s pretty much set in stone if we want to continue operating and providing the basic services that we need to.”

In other matters, the commission discussed the budget for the Tingley Memorial Library, 111 Second St. N., which is owned by the city and funded through a private bequeath that is held by the city in the form of certifications of deposits.

Proposed library expenditures for 2019-20 are $45,051. The amount is a $4,255 increase over the $40,796 in library expenditures for 2018-19, and includes $2,000 for installation of an automated external defibrillator.

City treasurer Shayne Thompson wrote in a July 25 email to The Islander that $454,849 remains in the library fund.

The meeting ended with the approval of the tentative millage rate for the new fiscal year.

The millage rate is the amount per $1,000 of property value used to calculate property taxes. The owner of property appraised at $500,000 with a 2.3329 millage rate would pay $1,166.45 in property taxes.

The proposed millage amounts to a tax increase for property owners. To avoid a tax increase, the city must adopt a rollback rate of 2.2431, which would yield $1,398,157.96. The rollback rate is the rate needed to produce the same income as the current budget.

The owner of a property valued at $500,000 would pay $1,121.55 in property tax at the rollback rate.

The total appraised taxable value of Bradenton Beach properties is $650,221,930, with $4,311,124 in new taxable construction. With the proposed 2.3329 ad valorem rate, the city would collect $1,516,902.74 in taxes, a $73,680.20 increase over the $1,443,222.54 collected in 2018-19.

“To continuously live within our needs as a community and live off of the increase in the taxable value of property, prices go up every year for everybody,” Chappie said.

The first public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, at city hall, 107 Gulf Drive N., immediately following a public hearing for the community redevelopment agency at 5:05 p.m.

The second public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, following a CRA hearing at 5:05 p.m. at city hall.

AM commissioner bows out of race

One Anna Maria city commissioner is out of the running.

Facing a campaign for another term on the Nov. 5 ballot, Commissioner Doug Copeland announced at the July 25 city meeting that he would not seek re-election.

“At this time I would like to announce that I will not be seeking re-election and would like to encourage some of our very talented citizens to seek that seat,” Copeland said during his turn for comments at the city meeting.

Commission Chair Brian Seymour called the announcement a “bombshell.”

He and Commissioner Carol Carter thanked Copeland for his service to the community. Copeland previously served many years as a volunteer member of the city planning board.

Seymour added, “He’s served the city so well for so many years.”

Copeland’s decision comes less than a month before candidate qualifying begins in the city.

Prospective candidates have Aug. 19-30 to provide the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Office with a candidate oath, a statement of candidate or party, financial disclosure forms, as well as the qualifying fee or certification of petition.

Seats held by Commissioners Dale Woodland and Carter also are up for re-election.

Woodland said in a July 26 interview with The Islander that he will seek re-election and has begun the steps to qualify.

Carter wrote in a July 26 text to The Islander that she also will seek another term.

Commissioners serve two-year terms and receive a $4,800 annual stipend.

Erratic driving leads HBPD to arrest Parrish man for DUI

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An erratic driver on Manatee Avenue was arrested by Holmes Beach police for driving under the influence.

Michael Sargent, 32, of Parrish, was arrested after Officer Alex Hurt observed his Ford pickup truck fail to stop at the flashing red light at Gulf Drive and Manatee Avenue, travel east on Manatee in the westbound lane, drift across the lanes and, at one point, drive onto the grass.

Sargent refused to submit to roadside tests, telling police he watches cop shows and believed it would not be in his best interest.

Taking inventory of the truck before the tow, police found half-empty bottles of Crown Royal and Fireball whiskey.

At the HBPD station, Sargent refused to provide a breath sample and told police he should have stayed on Anna Maria Island, where his family offered him a place to sleep.

He was transported to the Manatee County jail, posted a $120 bond and was released.

His arraignment is at 8:25 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 1051 Manatee Ave., W., Bradenton. — Kathy Prucnell

Anna Maria reveals tentative 2019-20 revenue, tax increase

A tax increase may be in store for Anna Maria.

Mayor Dan Murphy presented tentative revenues for the city’s 2019-20 budget at a July 25 meeting, including a proposed 2.05 ad valorem millage rate, which would be a tax increase for property owners.

Millage is the percent per $1,000 of property value used to calculate property taxes. The owner of property appraised at $500,000 with a 2.05 millage rate would pay $1,025 in property taxes.

To avoid a tax increase, the city must adopt a rollback rate, the rate needed to produce the same income and spending as the current budget.

At Islander press time, that rate was not available.

The total taxable value of Anna Maria properties is $1,200,147,787, including $24,860,747 in new taxable construction.

With the proposed 2.05 millage, the city would collect $3,000,369 in property taxes, a $754,932 increase over the $2,245,437 collected in 2018-19.

Property tax revenue is projected to account for more than 41% of the city’s expected $7,228,885.61 in revenue for 2019-20.

Murphy noted the city’s projected revenue is $497,552.07 less than collected in 2018-19 because of one-time funding for the construction of the Anna Maria City Pier, which is set for completion by February 2020.

Commissioner Dale Woodland said the same effect can be expected for the 2020-21 budget since the 2019-20 budget accounts for $725,000 in funding for the pier’s construction.

Of that $725,000, the state will provide $285,000 and the Manatee County Tourist Development Council is expected to provide $435,000. Sissy Quinn, a resident and historical preservationist, also raised $5,000 toward pier construction costs on GoFundMe.

The tentative revenues also show a $70,949.19 decrease in stormwater utility revenue. Murphy said the city used $70,000 of reserve funds in 2018-19 for stormwater projects.

Murphy said no vote was needed on the tentative numbers at the meeting. He said a date and time for the first public hearing regarding the budget would be set the week of July 29.

Bradenton Beach reviews Sunshine litigation, strategizes

The trial is over.

And the judge ruled for the city.

But the division of court costs and legal fees for the case of the city of Bradenton Beach and ex-mayor Jack Clarke versus six former volunteer board members for violating Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Law is undetermined.

The mayor and commissioners met July 26 in a special meeting, followed by a shade meeting, to discuss how to a proceed to a hearing for sanctions — legal fees and court costs.

A shade meeting allows a government body to privately meet with council to discuss litigation strategy, settlement negotiations or expenditures.

Following the closed portion of the shade meeting, the commission approved 4-0 a motion to “pursue any and all remedies available to the city of Bradenton Beach.”

Commissioner Randy White was absent with excuse.

At the conclusion of the July 15-19 trial at the Manatee County Judicial Center, 12th Judicial Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas ruled in favor of the city and Clarke.

However, he allowed time before another hearing to determine sanctions.

The suit, filed by the city and Clarke in August 2017, alleged Sunshine Law violations by former P&Z board members Reed Mapes, John Metz, Patty Shay and Bill Vincent, and Scenic Waves Partnership Committee members Tjet Martin and Rose Vincent, all of whom were members of the now-defunct grass-roots group Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach.

Clarke and the city, represented by attorney Robert Watrous and paralegal Michael Barfield, successfully made their case that the board members violated the Sunshine Law by discussing city matters at CNOBB meetings and through emails, texts and phone calls.

“Clearly, public business was discussed at many, and virtually, all of the CNOBB meetings,” Nicholas said in his ruling July 19. “This is not a close call.”

By the time the case went to trial, all defendants but Metz represented themselves, citing climbing legal costs.

The defendants said as of May 31 and prior to the trial, their combined costs for the suit were nearly $250,000.

At the July 26 meeting, city treasurer Shayne Thompson provided the commission with a report stating the city’s costs and fees had reached $326,306.08 before the trial.

City attorney Ricinda Perry said with the addition of the trial and her costs, the city’s costs will rise to about $450,000.

She said before the case went to trial that the city made an offer that would allow the defendants to each pay fines of $500 and admit they violated the Sunshine Law to end the matter.

“The city offered so many chances for everyone to move forward,” Perry said. “Those offers were rejected, knowing that attorney’s fees were mounting.”

Barfield said July 26 the city’s legal expenses reflect the struggle getting the defendants to submit their records for the case.

“A significant portion of the efforts of the fees incurred by the city related to what we didn’t know,” he said. He added that the city had suspicions the defendants were withholding evidence, which wasn’t supported until witness Michael Harrington, former webmaster for CNOBB, provided a flash drive containing emails exchanged between the defendants that had not previously been submitted.

Barfield also noted that Nicholas found the claims and evidence put forward by the defendants to be “‘contrived, after-the-fact and not credible.’”

“Those, we believe, are the magic words for sanctions that will be imposed by the court, when the court is fully aware of the efforts the city made to try and resolve this case, pretrial, and those offers were rejected by the defendants,” Barfield said. “We think we are well-positioned to recover, if not all, a significant portion of the city’s fees.