The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 9 No. 35 - May 20, 2009


Burglary spree suspects nabbed
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

SUN PHOTO/MAGGIE FIELD Manager Ken Davis shows where
burglars broke into Rotten Ralph’s in Bradenton Beach
Sunday night. Authorities say one of two suspects
caught breaking into the Waterfront restaurant early
Tuesday morning has admitted also burglarizing
Rotten Ralph’s. The two teens are suspects in
other Island burglaries, as well.

AMISUN News Robbery O'Keefe      
Patrick Banker                                   John O'Keefe

ANNA MARIA – An alert Manatee County Sheriff’s deputy foiled a burglary early Tuesday morning at the Waterfront Restaurant, 111 S. Bay Blvd., and may have solved a big part of the recent mini-crime wave on the Island.

It all began around 1:40 a.m. when Deputy Alan Judy, on his way back from patrolling at Rotten Ralph’s in Anna Maria, spotted a suspicious vehicle.

When he stopped to check it out, he heard glass breaking. He then spotted the two suspects running away.

"He called for backup and a Holmes Beach officer arrived along with deputies from the mainland," said Sergeant John Kenney, who heads the Anna Maria substation. "They set up a perimeter and a canine unit found one of the suspects on the beach near South Bay and the other was picked up on Gulf Drive near city hall."

John J. O’Keefe and Patrick S. Banker, both from Sarasota and both 18-years-old, were arrested. Kenney said they left the loot they had taken from inside near the restaurant. Banker admitted to braking into the Waterfront, but O’Keefe did not, even though he had glass fragments in his arm, according to the sheriff’s office media release. Kenney said the burglars tried to break into the safe and got the cash drawer, but they left it when they ran away.

Kenney said authorities also believe the two were involved in earlier burglaries, including the one on May 1 at the same restaurant. Tuesday morning, detectives took Banker to Rotten Ralph’s at the Bridge Street Pier after he admitted breaking into that restaurant on Sunday, at 5 a.m., according to Dave Russell, owner of the restaurant. He said that Banker showed detectives how they pried open a door and took cash, although the manager of the restaurant said they no longer keep large amounts of cash in the restaurant after hours. Bradenton Beach Detective Lenard Diaz said, after interviewing Banker, he is going to file burglary charges against both suspects, even though O’Keefe denied being involved.

Kenney said they are checking to see if the two might have been involved in other burglaries in Anna Maria, such as those to Beach Fitness, Sue Rics, Two Scoops and the Anna Maria City Pier restaurant.

"We’re working with Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach, Longboat Key and the mainland to try to solve this rash of burglaries," Kenney said. "We believe these two are responsible for multiple burglaries."

Kenney had praise for the deputy who broke up the burglary.

"Deputy Judy did an outstanding job," Kenney said. "If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be talking about an attempted burglary."

Burglaries aren’t the only crimes local police are dealing with.

Several businesses also have fallen victim to a scheme involving two people who come into a clothing or souvenir store. While one person distracts the clerk by asking about the merchandise in an area of the store away from the cash register, the other takes the clerk’s purse or wallet. It happened at Two Sides of Nature, in Anna Maria, and at the Artists Guild Gallery in Holmes Beach. One of the two suspects, a black woman, has been described as having a small diamond piercing under a lip and/or a gold tooth.

Meanwhile, Anna Maria Mayor Fran Barford has asked the Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Unit to brief businesses on what to look for and how to prevent theft and burglary. She is also working to have a forum in her city to bring residents up to date.

Holmes Beach Police Lieutenant Dale Stephenson issued a press release with crime prevention tips for businesses and homeowners. They include:

• Always be observant of your surroundings. Stay alert to suspicious persons loitering in the area.

• Always lock your home, even when you are home, and close your garage door when not in use.

• Take only the items necessary to conduct your daily business, Keep your purse tucked securely under your arm.

• If you are going to the beach, take only your keys and suntan lotion. If you are going to the public beaches, put your purse and/or wallet in the trunk before you leave home. Don’t do it in the beach parking lot.

For businesses:

• Have at least two employees open and close the business.

• Make sure not to release personal information to strangers.

• Keep purses and personal valuables locked in desks or lockers.

• Place surveillance cameras inside the business and place signs on the property advising of them.

• Vary times and routes if travel for bank deposits. Place excess money in a safe or drop deposit. Keep a low balance in the cash register.

• Keep your business neat and clean. A tidy, orderly workplace is inviting to customers, but not to criminals.

• Stay alert and know who is in your business and where they are. Watch for people who hang around without buying anything. Make mental notes about suspicious vehicles or persons to share with law enforcement.

• Greet customers as they enter your business from the outside. Look them in the eye and ask them if they need any help. Your attention to them can discourage a thief from that crime of opportunity.

• Keep signs from blocking the view of your business from the outside. Make sure if you are open at night that you have lights on outside, as well as inside.

• If you see something suspicious, call the police. Let them check out things the right way and not hours or days later after you have thought about it.

• Make a plan with employees about that they are to do in case of a crime at the business.

• Place a mark on the door at a certain height to make it easier to estimate the height of people coming into your business.

• Make certain that current key holders of the business are on file at your local police department.

Cumber sentenced to 13.5 years
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

William Cumber’s sentence will be reduced by
3.5 years for time already served on an arson

HOLMES BEACH – William Cumber, the last person who reported seeing missing Haley’s Motel co-owner Sabine Musil-Buehler alive last November, was sentenced on Thursday to 13.5 years in jail for violating probation on a 2006 felony arson conviction.

Cumber, 39, had previously admitted violating his probation by leaving Manatee County without his probation officer’s consent. He was arrested for driving with a suspended license in Marion County on Dec. 22, 2008, three months after completing a 3.5-year prison sentence for setting fire to the home of a Manatee County woman whom he felt had scorned him, according to the arrest warrant.

"I was running because I had no future. Bradenton was dead to me," Cumber told Manatee Circuit Court Judge Gilbert Smith during his sentencing hearing, which was attended by several law enforcement officers. "I made better choices in my time. That wasn’t one of them."

Cumber, who was shackled in chains, criticized police and the media for drawing attention to his arson conviction after a duplex at Haley’s Motel, 8104 Gulf Drive, burned 12 days after Musil-Buehler’s Nov. 4, 2008 disappearance.

The pressure caused him to be shunned, to lose his new woodcrafting business and apartment on Anna Maria Island and to suffer stress-induced physical and emotional problems, he said.

Recounting the last time he saw Musil-Buehler last election day, Cumber said that she left the home they shared at 208 B Magnolia Ave. after they argued over him starting to smoke after giving it up for her birthday.

Tom Buehler, Musil-Buehler’s husband and business partner, reported her missing two days later after another man, Robert Corona, 38, was arrested for stealing her car, in which blood matching Musil-Buehler’s blood type was later discovered. Corona is awaiting a jury trial.

"Who do they want to decapitate over it? Me," said Cumber, who has not been charged in either the missing woman’s disappearance or the motel fire. The cases are still under investigation.

Sentencing factors

Cumber has 10 prior criminal convictions, four of them felonies, including battery, Assistant State Attorney Tony Casoria told the court, adding that fleeing the jurisdiction is an aggravating factor in the probation violation.

"The defendant describes himself as a victim of the media and a victim of the system, but there are many victims," Casoria said, adding that the state originally was lenient when it recommended 3.5 years in jail for the arson, for which he said 15 years would have been a just sentence.

"The defendant does not deserve leniency any longer," he told the judge.

Cumber’s attorney, Thomas Ostrander, asked the court to consider placing Cumber back on probation, considering his efforts to improve himself in prison and his attempt to start a business, and saying that the prosecutor’s 15-year sentence recommendation did not fit driving with a suspended license and leaving the county.

"Giving 15 years for these types of violations would be wrong and counterproductive," Ostrander told the court.

"The court is not finding you were absconding, but that’s what the evidence tends to show," Gilbert told Cumber just before announcing his 13.5-year sentence. Cumber showed little reaction.

The sentence will be reduced by the 3.5 years Cumber already spent in prison for the arson, resulting in a 10-year sentence, possibly less with the four months he spent in jail for violating his probation plus gain time for good behavior, Ostrander said. The probation violation could have resulted in a 30-year sentence.

"I just don’t think the violation supports the severity of the sentence that he gave him," Ostrander said, adding that he will prepare the necessary documents in case an appellate public defender decides to appeal the sentence.

High emotions

Friends of Musil-Buehler experienced a range of emotions on learning of Cumber’s sentence.

"I’m ecstatic," friend Debbie Hall said. "But I’m still a little frustrated. I’m glad he’s in jail. I just hope one day we find out what happened (to Musil-Buehler)."

"People that believed that he did it will feel like there is some justice," said friend Nancy House. "But I feel like proof is proof and they could never prove it."

House reported that she thought she saw the missing woman at the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport on Nov. 13, but investigators said she could not be identified on airport tapes.

"It’s still so sad. It’s a sadness in my heart," House said. "She was a great lady."

Buehler did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

To report information on Musil-Buehler’s disappearance or the fire, call the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office at 747-3011 or the West Manatee Fire Rescue District at 741-3900.

Rewards have been established by the Sabine Buehler Benefit Fund at Whitney Bank, 5324 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach and the Manatee County Gold Star Club.

Loggerhead nest count up in 2008

Florida’s most significant turtle species, the threatened loggerhead, laid more nests in 2008 than in 2007, but nesting is down for two other species, the green and the leatherback, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

Loggerheads laid 61,459 nests statewide last year, up from about 40,000 in 2007, but down from about 80,000 in 1998, turtle researcher Anne Meylan said. Over the past decade, loggerhead nests have decreased by 41 percent, according to commission statistics.

Florida is one of two significant loggerhead nesting areas in the world, with 31 percent of the world’s nests; Oman accounts for 65 percent of loggerhead nesting.

Tracking nesting trends is important for several reasons, Meylan said, including determining when construction permits should be issued near nesting beaches, identifying productive areas for conservation land acquisition and impacting oil spill recovery planning.

Other species

The news was the opposite for the other two significant sea turtle species that nest on Florida beaches, green and leatherback, both endangered. Fewer nests for both were recorded in 2008 than in 2007, but long-term trends for both are increasing.

Green turtles laid 9,228 nests in Florida last year, fewer than the record set in 2007, but over the past 20 years, the number of nests has increased tenfold, researcher Blair Witherington said. The largest green turtle nesting area in the world is in Costa Rica, followed by Florida.

Leatherback turtles laid 727 nests in Florida last year, also down from a record 2007, but over the last two decades, the number of nests has increased eightfold, he said. Florida’s leatherback population is mildly significant, with most leatherbacks nesting in Central and South America.

Two other species occasionally lay nests in Florida; Kemp’s ridley turtles, unusual because they nest in the daytime, laid 13 nests in the state last year, while four hawksbill turtles laid nests.

Weather shortens Relay for Life
Anna Maria Island Sun News Story

Cancer survivors marched around the Relay for Life track at
Coquina Beach parking lot. SUN PHOTO/TOM VAUGHT

Cancer survivors, business owners,women, children, the young and the elderly came together on the Island last Saturday and Sunday for one goal ­– to raise money to fight cancer. Several hundred people visited the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Coquina Beach’s parking lot to celebrate life and encourage others to help fight a disease that kills thousands each year in its many forms. Unfortunately, a nighttime rain and lightning storm forced participants to end the ceremony early, scratching overnight activities and a Sunday morning prayer service.

There were 12 teams this year and the Walgreens team and the Historic Bridge Street team were honored for raising more than $6,000 each. Nancy Ambrose, a multiple cancer survivor who helped organize this year’s event, raised more than $1,000 on her own. They won’t know soon whether they suspassed their goal of raising $38,000.

“When the lightning came, everybody broke down their tents and got the money they had raised to safety, so we’ll have to contact everyone to get the money in one place so we can count it,” Ambrose said.

CVB: Target international tourists

ANNA MARIA – As the slow tourist season approaches and the economy remains sluggish, Island hoteliers should consider a "hands across the water" marketing approach to boost their business, tourism marketing officials say.

About 25 hoteliers, property managers and rental agents got their feet wet last week at an international marketing strategy meeting sponsored by the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) at The Studio at Gulf and Pine.

"We operate on one principle – once we get them here, they’ll come back," CVB Director Larry White said.

European visitors typically stay longer and spend more than domestic tourists, making them well worth targeting, according to the CVB. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that international tourists spend eight times as much on vacation as domestic tourists.

Their top two destinations are Orlando and the beaches, with about 48 percent choosing Florida’s east coast and 51 percent choosing the west coast, said Walter Klages, of Research Data Services, a CVB consultant.

"This is probably the most different place on the Florida coast," Klages said, offering visitors what he calls "real, original" Florida.

In light of bleak overseas travel predictions for 2009 by the U.S. Travel Association, now is the time to increase efforts to target the overseas market, according to the CVB’s Jessica Grace.

The county’s marketing team makes that relatively easy, offering information on request about how to work with international tour operators from the United Kingdom and Germany, the top two points of origination for overseas tourists to Manatee County, according to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport statistics. Canada is the top foreign point of origination on the continent.

Tour operators learn about the county at travel shows, such as the Pow Wow in Miami last weekend, where the CVB manned a booth offering information about Manatee County’s beaches, art galleries and other attractions.

Hoteliers do not have to attend travel shows to have their rate information and any special offers – such as two tickets to the Florida Aquarium with a minimum stay – included at the booth, White said.

CVB marketers also plan to attend shows in London in November and Berlin in March 2010 to boost the area’s image overseas.

Tourism faces budget crunch

HOLMES BEACH – As hurricane season approaches, tourism businesses also face potential economic storms, county officials told the Anna Maria Chamber of Commerce board last week.

With $25-30 million in cuts needed to balance next year’s county budget, the county faces "a bit of a challenge," Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzecker said.

At the same time, Manatee County tourism revenues are down 7 percent for the year so far, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Larry White told board members.

By the end of the fiscal year, the county’s tourism budget – funded by the tourist tax – could be down by 10 percent, or $500,000, he said.

The tourist tax funds beach renourishment, marketing, advertising and the Manatee Convention and Civic Center, among other tourism-related items.

A 1 percent increase in the 4 percent tax that becomes effective June 1 has been designated for increased tourism marketing efforts, but everyone in the county has their eye on it, Hunzecker said, adding that the suggestion has been made to divert the new penny from marketing to beach renourishment.

Local tourist tax collections will not be enough to pay for the next beach renourishment project, he said.

"We have to protect the marketing fund," said chamber board member and Manatee County Tourist Development Council member David Teitelbaum. "It’s not a grab bag. It’s inappropriate to use the funds otherwise."

Recommendations to charge for parking at the beach or to institute a fare for the free Island trolley are equally unpopular, Hunzecker said, warning that a budget shortfall must be made up in some way.

A public hearing on the county budget is scheduled for June 18 at 6 p.m. in the Manatee County Commission chambers.

Robinson Preserve parking solution offered

BRADENTON – County officials may have a solution to the safety issue created by people parking at the Perico Bayou Bridge in order to go in the back trail entrance to Robinson Preserve.

"There was money set up for a roundabout at the entrance to Robinson Preserve, and it was taken off the shelf," Keith Bettcher, Manatee County Natural Resources Department administrator, explained.

"The money is still there and the idea was brought up to create parking on the southwest side of the bridge to allow for a boardwalk under the bridge and to Robinson Preserve."

"Charlie (Natural Resources Department Director Charlie Hunsicker) said it’s doable, and it’s a better fit to do it there than at the Anna Maria Bridge." Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie added. "About 30 spaces could be available and there would be ADA parking and access to Robinson."

Kingfish boat ramp

Bill O’Shea, of the county’s Natural Resources Department, reported that the lease agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation for Kingfish boat ramp is still not finalized. He said improvements to the ramp were planned in three phases, but because county commissioners objected to paving the parking lot, the improvements could be done all at once.

Phase I includes constructing a multi-use trail and reconfiguring the parking lot to result in 42 vehicle/trailer spaces, 13 vehicle parking spaces and two ADA spaces.

Phase II includes repairing or replacing the seawalls and ramps and replacing docks. Phase III includes constructing a restroom facility and pursuing a cure for the sea grass build-up on the ramps.

"It will be pretty significant closure," O’Shea said.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she thought the restroom was not feasible, and O’Shea said a two-to-four-stall modular building on 12-foot pilings is planned. However, Bettcher said the county may no be allowed to install a restroom because the area is in the velocity zone.

O’Shea said the landscaped islands in the ramp area that are to be relocated may be moved to the area between the "Welcome to Holmes Beach" sign and Westbay Cove.

"Our thought is about the bridge replacement," Bettcher added. "It doesn’t make sense to move them and have to move them again in the future."

Causeway trees

Chair Seth Kohn reported that the Causeway landscaping project has been closed out and the contractor replaced dead trees that were under warranty. However, other trees that have died that were no longer under warranty may not be replaced immediately because of the drought and the economy.

"I would like to take those trees out because I feel that no tree looks better than a dead tree," he said.

He also reported that the Causeway boat ramp should be competed by June and that some trees were relocated to the south end of the project area.

Bettcher said the county is moving forward with the conceptual design for the restoration of Neal Preserve, and it could be submitted for permits in the fall.

Vice Chair Molly McCarthy said due to the efforts of Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine, who has been working with the DOT, a split-phased signal at Westbay Cove is planned for October. The signal would allow drivers to exit the condo parking lot before northbound drivers turn left from East Bay Drive on to Manatee Avenue.

Singers raise dough-re-mi for cancer

HOLMES BEACH – Although the query that brought outdoor dining back to the commission turned out to be a non-issue, it gave commissioners an opportunity to reconsider their position on non-conforming uses.

According to the ordinance, any restaurant owner who wants more outdoor seats can make an application to the building department. However, a restaurant that is in a residential zone, making it a nonconforming use, requires a variance from the board of adjustment to expand.

Commissioner Pat Morton said the section regarding non-conformities and the board of adjustment should be removed from the ordinance.

"If you take it out and they’re not in a commercial zone, they can’t do anything," Mayor Rich Bohnenberger protested.

Morton said Havana Cabana was denied for expansion of its outdoor seating based on that section of the ordinance. Bohnenberger said that the section has nothing to do with Havana Cabana’s request and that he would resolve the issue with the restaurant.

"He should be allowed, unless there’s something we don’t know," City Attorney Patricia Petruff agreed.

Non-conforming uses

Commissioner John Monetti pointed out that the query reopened the discussion regarding non-conforming uses and said, "When people want these types of things, they could come to us. I’d be open to that."

"If it’s not the proper zoning, they have to go to the board of adjustment," Chair Sandy Haas-Martens protested. "You can’t make something more non-conforming."

Monetti asked Petruff if moving seats from inside to outside would be considered expanding. Petruff said that is not addressed in the ordinance, but in her opinion, transferring seats is not expanding because they are not intensifying the use, but adding seats is expanding.

Zaccagnino said three commissioners want requests from non-conforming restaurants to come to the commission rather than go to the board of adjustment. Petruff said that would mean the commission would have to hear all cases seeking expansion of a non-conformity, not just those from restaurants.

"I can see the problem," Monetti agreed. "You can’t cherry pick your issues."

The only non-conforming restaurant that has expressed an interesting expanding its outdoor dining is Skinny’s Place.

"This leaves them up the creek without a paddle," Zaccagnino exclaimed. "You’re taking away their property rights."

Estella Freeman, of Skinny’s Place, said it would cost them about $3,000 to go before the board of adjustment, and asked, "How’s that fair?"

Petruff suggested that the owners seek a rezone of the property instead of seeking a variance.

"We can’t make everybody happy," Haas-Martens said. "This ordinance covers 99 percent of the restaurants."

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