The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 9 - November 19, 2008

headlines

Woman’s disappearance hits home

HOLMES BEACH - Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler was like a member of the family to Sage Hall.

Referring to her in the past tense comes hard, judging by the catch in her throat.

Musil-Buehler has been missing since Nov. 4, when she reportedly argued with live-in boyfriend William Cumber, 208-B Magnolia Ave., a suspect in her disappearance. Her husband and business partner, Tom Buehler, also has been questioned by police, as has another man, Robert Corona, who was found driving her car shortly after she disappeared, told inconsistent stories about whether he knew her, and was arrested for theft.

“She was like an aunt in the family,” said Hall, who owns a videography business, Star Fruit Productions, which she says Musil-Buehler helped her set up.

“She was my first client,” Hall said. “I did a video of her at Haley’s talking with her birds and telling people about all the things to do on the Island.”

After a duplex at Haley’s, 8104 Gulf Drive, mysteriously burned down on Sunday night, Hall put the video on You Tube with Crimestoppers contact information. The fire is under investigation as a possible arson.

Just before the fire, which was reported at 7:19 p.m., Hall was videotaping a wedding at Roser Church and the nearby Sandbar Restaurant.

“I was shooting a wedding that Sabine had set up for me,” she said. “It just got weirder and weirder. Around 7 p.m., me and Tom (Buehler) got together and we smelled fire.” The two commented that it smelled like a wood fire in a fireplace. It turned out to be the wooden Haley’s building on fire.

Hall’s mother, Bradenton resident Debbie Hall, says she’s “just baffled.”

“I have not felt good about this,” she said. “As much as everyone wants to speculate that she just left town, I don’t believe anyone saw her at the airport.”

Island business owner Nancy House and her friend Janean Martin said that they saw a woman who looked like Musil-Buehler at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport on Nov. 13, but waited to report it until they returned from a cruise and learned about the Haley’s fire on Sunday.

House said she had accompanied her daughter on a job interview at Haley’s with Musil-Buehler, and knew her face, voice and German accent, and heard the woman at the airport speaking German.

She didn’t report it to security guards because “There was not time,” she said. “When things like that happen to you, you think nobody would believe it.”

“I guess we should have taken the time to go back, but it’s not like we had a lot of time at the airport,” Martin said.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is “99.9 percent sure” that a woman on the airport video surveillance tape is not Musil-Buehler, according to spokesman Dave Bristow.

“She was not at the airport, that’s crazy,” Tom Buehler said. “She (House) didn’t tell anybody? Or tell her, ‘Everybody’s looking for you?’ ”

“If she knew her, why did she not say to security, ‘That’s Sabine?’ ” Debbie Hall asked.

Hall said she received a call from a psychic who said Musil-Buehler was in a building with a linoleum floor near 14th Street in Bradenton, near where her car was found. Hall went on a search for the building, found one that fit the description, and called police.

Bristow said nothing came of the report.

Police have nearly eliminated Corona, the driver of her car, as a suspect, he said.

“The guy probably never met her. We’re dealing with people who knew her,” he said. “Someone out there has more information than they’re giving up.”

“My original gut feeling is that something terrible has happened to her,” Debbie Hall said. I don’t think she’s still with us.”

Meanwhile, attempts to reach Musil-Buehler on her cell phone are chilling. Her outgoing message, in her voice, instructs callers that she will return their calls within 15 minutes.

‘Person of interest’ named in duplex blaze
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

PHOTO/ERNIE HENDLER

HOLMES BEACH – Anna Maria resident William J. Cumber, 39, has been named as a "person of interest" in the investigation into Sunday night’s fire next door to Haley’s Motel, according to Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine.

Cumber, the boyfriend of missing Haley’s co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler, is one of a number of suspects under investigation in the fire, which destroyed the Haley’s duplex at 8104 Gulf Drive, he said.

Authorities have said Musil-Buehler, who is estranged from her husband and motel co-owner Tom Buehler, was last seen on Nov. 4 by Cumber, who was released from prison on probation in September.

Cumber was convicted in 2006 in Manatee County of felony arson at an ex-girlfriend’s house and was sentenced to three and a half years incarceration with credit for time served, followed by three years probation.

In his arrest warrant in that case, Cumber is quoted by the investigating officer as stating he "did not have the intent to burn down the house but wanted to leave a message since he felt scorned."

Holmes Beach Police and West Manatee Fire Rescue (WMFR) are conducting a joint investigation with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, but have not determined the cause of the fire, Romine said.

"It has to be considered suspicious because of the circumstances, but it would be speculation to connect the fire with the disappearance of Sabine Musil-Buehler," Romine said.

There have been no arrests in either case.

Cumber has been seen regularly in Anna Maria since Musil-Buehler disappeared. Sunday night while the fire was raging, Romine confirmed, he was seen at the Anna Maria City Pier between 7:30 and 7:40 p.m.

Cumber has given inconsistent answers about when and where he was around the time of the fire, Romine said, adding that he was cooperative on the night of the fire when officers contacted him at home.

"We have a keen interest in what’s going on because of our missing person case," Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Dave Bristow said. "We have no information as to where she might be, but we have interviewed the boyfriend about this incident.

“We’re still asking for the public’s help. We continue to interview people close to the victim. We’re looking for information that people might have that we don’t have. It’s frustrating for us and the family."

Musil-Buehler’s car, a Pontiac Sunbird convertible, was found shortly after her disappearance in the area of 12th Street Court and 26th Avenue in Bradenton. It was being driven by Robert Corona, 38, who said he had been partying with Musil-Buehler, then recanted and told police he stole the car.

"Unbelievable"

As flames filled the night sky on Sunday, Island residents filled the street in front of Haley’s. Word of the fire spread quickly through the small, normally quiet community.

Four engines from West Manatee and Longboat Key responded to the fire with 20 personnel beginning at 7:19 p.m., Romine said.

Police and deputies blocked off the intersection of Gulf and Palm drives as several hundred people watched the flames leap from the roof of the building.

"We looked out and I yelled ‘Oh my God! Haley’s is on fire,’ and called it in," said Louie McNatt, who lives next door to the duplex with his wife, Star. "It was about 7:15 p.m. The back end was totally engulfed in flames."

Sandy Mattick, of 307 Pine General Store, said she was bringing her daughter’s girlfriend home about 7:30 p.m. and saw the fire.

"The flames were really high," Mattick said. "There was one fire truck on the scene."

Charlie Daniel, of Anna Maria, watched the fire and remarked, "Oh man. Unbelievable!"

"I heard a siren and thought somebody was speeding, then I came out and saw the flames," added neighbor Wendy Holcomb, who spoke with a couple coming from a wedding at the Sandbar who told her they called 911.

"It’s unbelievable how fast that thing erupted," said Ernie Kendler, who saw the fire from his home across the street. He and neighbor Tom Bucci got a hose and sprayed down the roof of another neighbor’s house on Neptune, he said. Bucci sustained a minor injury to his knee, the only injury reported in the fire.

Capt. Tom Sousa, of WMFR, said the motel was undamaged, but firefighters broke some windows in a unit there to rescue two dogs belonging to guests. The Haley’s duplex was being used as storage and was empty at the time, Buehler said.

Monday, the property remained closed off behind yellow crime scene tape and Gulf Drive in front of the motel was blocked off from traffic. Inside, fire investigators combed the charred ruins using the department’s arson dog, Lucky. The investigators said it likely will be some time before any results are released.

Anyone with information on the fire should call Holmes Beach police at 708-5804 or WMFR at 741-3900. Anyone with information on Musil-Buehler should call the Sheriff’s Office at 747-3011.

Koenigs gets 40 years
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Sue Normand, right, and her daughter, Lisa, comfort one
another during the sentencing. POOL PHOTO

Less than a year after her shooting, Sue Normand feels vindicated.

The man who shot her on Dec. 5, 2007, at her store, Island Mail and More, is more likely than not to spend the rest of his days in prison after receiving a maximum sentence of 40 years and a minimum of 28 years last week, "I’m glad he won’t be back on the streets," she said after the sentencing. "I feel he would still be a menace."

Koenig’s attorney, Peter Belmond, said he would appeal the conviction.

Normand, her daughter, Lisa, and Manatee County Sheriff’s Deputy Angel Buxedo all testified before Judge Diana L. Moreland, who sentenced Koenigs.

Guilty verdict

A jury had found Koenigs guilty of aggravated battery with a firearm for shooting Normand and two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer with a firearm. Koenigs had pointed that same weapon at Buxedo and Holmes Beach Police officer Mike Pilato as they caught up with him in Bradenton Beach after the shooting. Pilato and Buxedo shot Koenigs when it appeared he was preparing to take a shot at them. He was wounded in the leg and sat in a wheelchair during the trial and the sentencing, although he stood when the judge entered the room during the trial.

"The worst part has been that my independence has been taken away from me," Normand said, as Koenigs sat motionless, his head resting on his hands. "The surgeon told me that I would never be able to do the bending, lifting and packing necessary for my business," Normand said that this year her business was operating at a loss for the first time since she opened it. In addition, she said she has to take care of her "staggering" medical bills. She asked that Koenigs be required to reimburse her for her bills.

Devastated

Lisa Normand said that Koenigs physically devastated her mother and financially devastated her family. She said her father, who had not been a part of their lives for some time, suffered a heart attack when he heard she had been shot. She said that Koenigs put a hole in her mother and into their lives.

"What does Mr. Koenigs do?" she asked. "He doesn’t work. He doesn’t get along with his neighbors. What does Mr. Koenigs Do? He exists. He represents a risk to society."

Deputy Buxedo recalled the day he headed for the beach after hearing about the shooting on his radio and the actions that forced him to shoot Koenigs.

"As he fell to the ground, I forced the loaded gun from his hand," he said. "I knew that day that he who fired first would walk away."

The defense offered testimony from Dr. Valerie McClain, a specialist in neuropsychology who said that Koenigs had been treated at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1990 and again in 2004, where he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. She said he had been treated, but had stopped the medication and as a result, had limited recall of the shooting incident. She said when she interviewed him, he underwent a change in moods from hyper to depressed.

Judge Moreland said she could not get over the fact that after Koenigs shot Normand, he didn’t stop to help her or call 911. She said his reaction was to take the loaded gun and run.

In the end, she sentenced Koenigs to 25 years for aggravated assault on Normand and up to 15 years for the two aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer convictions. He would have to serve a minimum of three years for those convictions, after he serves the 25 years.

"Justice was served, a long day has ended and a chapter has been closed," Buxedo said after the sentencing. "Hopefully, we can all heal."

Lisa Normand said she’s glad he’s away.

"I think he will be away until he dies," she said. "I keep thinking my mom should be enjoying life on Anna Maria Island. Of all places, she is safe there."

New tourist tax on table

LONGBOAT KEY - Tourism industry representatives said they favor a new one-cent tax to promote tourism in Manatee County during a forum sponsored by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) on Thursday.

Nearly 100 elected officials, hoteliers, restaurateurs and small business owners – about half from Anna Maria Island – generally agreed that the money is needed, but differed on why.

A consensus was reached on the importance of maintaining the existing advertising and marketing budget, but opinions differed on whether beach renourishment, the Manatee Convention and Civic Center and McKechnie Field should be funded by the tourist tax.

"Fiscal year ’09 will be a challenging year," said CVB Executive Director Larry White, who advocates the tax increase to keep pace with increasing marketing costs.

The tax, expected to raise at least $1 million, would be added to the four-cent resort tax already administered by the CVB. The Manatee County Commission is expected to vote on the issue next year.

Public meeting set on bridge replacement

As work continues on the Anna Maria Island Bridge, the process of choosing a replacement is also under way.

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has scheduled a public meeting at St. Bernard Catholic Church, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach, from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 16, to update everyone on the process, which is expected to take a decade or longer.

"We will present the alternatives," said Chris Piazza, FDOT project engineer.

The work on replacing the 51-year-old drawbridge is in its infant stages, but the $9.1 million rehabilitation project, which is now $10.1 million thanks to performance bonuses for finishing part of the project early, prompted FDOT to begin a Project Development and Environment (PD&E) Study.

"There is no funding beyond the PD&E at this time," Piazza said, "There is a recurring fund for bridge replacements statewide, but it is limited and there is a long waiting list."

The Manatee County government is trying to get a special allocation through the federal government, according to County Commissioner Carol Whitmore. She told The Sun last week that she asked Piazza to estimate the cost of three types of replacement bridges. A 65-foot-tall fixed span bridge would cost $78 million, 45-foot-tall drawbridge would cost $98 million and a 17-foot-high low-rise drawbridge would be $90 million. Whitmore said that they need an estimate of costs before going to the federal delegations to ask for financing.

At the Dec. 16 public meeting, FDOT is likely to go over some of its earlier findings. A public survey taken earlier this year showed that 82 percent of the respondents wanted to replace the old bridge and 66 percent want the new bridge to be a high, fixed-span structure.

FDOT also took a survey of boats passing through the current drawbridge from March 13 through June 3, 2008 and it showed only .3 percent of all the boats would not be able to go beneath a 65-foot fixed span. The survey showed that the majority of the boats (25.3 percent, are between 55.1 and 65 feet tall, 18.3 percent were between 50.1 and 56 feet tall, 17.6 percent were between 45.1 and 50 feet tall, 14.1 percent between 40.1 and 45 feet tall, 11.9 percent between 30.1 and 40 feet tall and 12.5 percent between 21.5 and 30 feet tall.

The PD&E study is normally conducted to see if a road or bridge project is eligible for federal funding.

Piazza urged interested parties to attend the upcoming public meeting so they understand what the project entails.

"We will ask for the public’s opinion again in the future," he said. "Public input is one of our top priorities, but the final decision is still with us."

Pier project back to drawing board

ANNA MARIA – Big dreams for the project at the base of the city pier and the Pine Avenue corridor have come with a big price tag – so big that discussion of the project has been pulled from the Nov. 20 city commission agenda.

"If we do everything we’d like to, the project would cost almost three times what our grant is," said City Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick.

Mattick chairs the transportation enhancement grant committee, a group that’s working on planning what to do with the $300,000 that will flow into city coffers as a result of a Florida Department of Transportation grant that Mattick wrote several years ago.

"Chris Piazza (FDOT engineer) told me the total price tag is $877,000 for everything. That’s for drainage, sidewalks the boardwalk – everything."

Mattick said that because of the high price tag, she wants to wait before presenting the committee’s plans to the commission.

"We need to take a look at the whole project and ask ourselves what we can cut out and what do we really need before we go to the commission with the plan," she said.

Mattick said she still feels optimistic about the project, and she’s already at work on researching other sources for grants that might work for the project.

The committee will meet on Dec. 8 to hear the full report from Piazza and to start working on downsizing the plan.

Center facing financial difficulties

ANNA MARIA – Like many institutions around the country, non-profits are feeling the economic pinch and the Island Community Center is no exception.

Treasurer Bill Ford reported at the board of directors meeting last week that for the first time in 18 years, the Center is operating at a negative cash flow. Revenue is down about $61,000 for the first quarter of the year.

Executive Director Pierrette Kelly said several factors are contributing to the shortfall.

"Every year, when we have the Affaire to Remember all the money over what we budgeted for the Affaire goes into a savings account for operating expenses," she explained. "This year, the Affaire was down $30,000 to $40,000, so we didn’t have that money for savings."

Kelly said other fund-raisers generated less than expected, including the annual golf tournament, which was budgeted at $20,000 and brought in $6,500, and the fishing tournament that produced $5,000 less than expected.

"Another factor was that last year, the board agreed to take $85,000 from the operating account and pay interest on the building loan," she continued. "Of course, they didn’t see the economic problems coming and didn’t know that the Affaire would produce less than anticipated.

"However, at their last board meeting, they said we could take it back when we need it. I plan to take a little at a time because it’s earning interest and is in place to pay down the loan."

The recession is affecting the Center’s revenues in other ways besides fundraising, Kelly said. More people are seeking program scholarships and fewer grant funds are available.

"The economic situation impacts us in every way," she said. "It’s not a financial issue that we’re not all facing together. My crystal ball is broken, and I can’t see the future. When I first came on here in 1989, the Center was in debt, and we turned that around.

"We’re doing everything in our power to provide the best quality and services to meet the community’s needs, but we can’t continue to operate without an increase in members, program participants and fundraising activities and events."

Kelly was asked whether in hindsight, she regrets constructing the new building.

"No," she replied emphatically. "If we hadn’t built this, we would be working out of a moldy, falling down building. We raised $4.8 million to do it and thank goodness we did it when we could. Now we have a resource for the community that will last many years into the future."

Next phase of stormwater project unveiled

ANNA MARIA — The final phase of an ambitious drainage project designed to cleanup stormwater before it gets into the canals and the bay was unveiled at a meeting last week.

The project, which is projected to cost $$704,000, will be jointly funded by the city and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Each will pay half.

The city was to have drawn low interest funds for its $353,000 share from the Florida Local Government Finance Division, but that funding is currently unavailable due to the volatility in the economic picture.

The money for Phase II was to have come from a $1 million line of credit the city had secured and was set to begin drawing on Oct. 1.

"And when things stabilize, we’re probably going to be looking at an interest rate of 8 or 9 percent," Finance Director Diane Percycoe told city commissioners at a meeting last month when they were discussing Phase I of the project, which is now under way.

Percycoe was on vacation and could not be reached for comment last week, but Mayor Fran Barford said she was sure the funds would become available.

"We’re talking to Wachovia Bank," she said. "I’m positive that we’ll get the funds. Meanwhile, we’ll take the money from reserves."

At the meeting on Nov. 17, residents in the affected area were invited to hear about the project overall and to look at detailed maps to see how their properties would be affected.

"This is interesting, and I can really see how my house will fit in," said Kim Iafolla, who lives at Coconut and Gulf. "I had no idea my neighbor flooded so badly."

This final projected phase of the drainage project began several years with a small project on Rose Street, continued with the more ambitions Gladiolus/North Shore Basin (called Phase A) to the current Phase I project underway along Gulf Drive and North Shore Drive. It will be in the design phase most of next year and should be ready to go into the ground by December of 2009.

"That’s if all goes well," said City Engineer Tom Wilcox. "And I don’t see why it won’t."

The drainage project for the entire city is designed to clean up the stormwater that comes from rains before discharging it into canals or the bay. It relies on a series of swales, wide grassy areas that run down the platted alleyways of the city, to hold the water and let it percolate down through the soil and sand. This filters the water and cleans it before it’s released into the aquifer.

There are also a series of storm drains that have special filter boxes designed to remove heavy metals and other pollutants before releasing water directly into the bay or the canals.

There were some problems uncovered with those filters in the Phase A area. It was discovered that the contractor ordered and installed filter boxes appropriate for freshwater environments. Here on the Island, salt-tolerant systems are needed. That problem has yet to be resolved with no estimate yet on what it will cost to remedy the problem.

"This system cleans the water, but with big storms or with extremely high tides, nothing will stop the water," Wilcox noted. "This is a barrier Island only a few feet above sea level."

Stopping some of the worst flooding, especially flooding of homes, is a secondary goal of the project.

Bridging the Gap ends with a bang

Anna Maria Island was bustling last weekend as Bridging the Gap came to an end following the reopening of the Anna Maria Island Bridge. The activities began Friday with artsHOP, a series of openings at the Island’s art galleries. Then came the Key Royale Golf Tournament, a progressive Realtor open house, a concert at the Community Center, an arts and crafts festival at Holmes Beach City Hall field and the Bridge Street Market on Saturday.

While Bridging the Gap, sponsored by The Anna Maria Island Sun, is over, it may not be dead. The Manatee County Tourist Council talked about making it an annual occurrence and many of the event sponsors are considering reruns next year.

If it did anything, Bridging the Gap brought the Island business community together to make the best out of a potentially bad situation, the six-week closing of the bridge. While the closing was not as disastrous as some feared, it could have had a bad effect on the businesses out here if it had continued past the deadline.

Whether we Bridge the Gap next year or just see some of the events return on their own, the Anna Maria Island Sun will be there to cover all the fun of living on Anna Maria Island.

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