The Anna Maria Island Sun Newspaper

Vol. 14 No. 5 - November 27, 2013


Morris case not homicide

BRADENTON BEACH – The 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office in Manatee County has declined to prosecute the Sheena Morris case as a homicide or any other crime, according to Assistant State Attorney Art Brown.

“After a painstaking and thorough review and compilation of facts relating to the death of Sheena Morris, FDLE has concluded that ‘the investigation shows no evidence of a homicide,’ ” Brown wrote in a 21-page report, concurring with the conclusions in an exhaustive, 44-page Florida Department of Law Enforcement report released last week.

Morris’ body was found hanging from a blue dog leash in a Bradenton Beach hotel room shower on New Year’s Day 2009 by Bradenton Beach police, a few hours after an argument between Morris and her fiancé, Joe Genoese, was reported by neighboring hotel guests. Police interviewed Morris after Genoese left the hotel, “clearing the call” as a disturbance, according to the FDLE report.

Officers discovered her body the next day while responding to an eviction request by the hotel due to dogs being heard barking in the room, according to police records.

Bradenton Beach Police Det. Lenard Diaz determined that her death was a suicide, but Morris’ mother, Kelly Osborn, rejected the conclusion, implicating Genoese.

She hired consultants to do a private investigation, and they also questioned the conclusion of suicide.

FDLE enters case

Osborn requested that the FDLE review the case, which she took nationwide with television appearances on 20/20 and two episodes of the Dr. Phil Show, one of which featured Genoese failing a polygraph test.

The FDLE conducted a polygraph test which Genoese passed, according to Brown’s report, which noted that the tests are not admissible evidence in Florida courts. Alibi witnesses and telephone records also confirmed that Genoese was not in Bradenton Beach at the time of Morris’ death, according to the report.

A forensic psychologist is quoted in the FDLE report stating that Morris had eight suicide risk factors, including a 10-day psychiatric hospitalization, a diagnosis of “major depression with borderline and histrionic traits,” and the loss of two friends, one who committed suicide a year earlier by hanging himself with a blue dog leash, as she did.

At a press conference last week, Osborn disputed parts of the report, including a reference to her telling investigators that her daughter was once treated for an overdose; she said that no drugs were found in Morris’ system on that occasion. She also said that the report was wrong about her telling investigators that her daughter was bipolar, saying that she had only repeated that Genoese had said that Morris was bipolar.

The report also contradicted Osborn’s contention that Morris had sand on her feet, but that none was in the shower stall, noting that photographs taken at the scene clearly show sand on the shower floor.

Insisting that the finding of suicide is incorrect, Osborn told reporters on Thursday that it is nevertheless time for her to “walk away.”

“My journey is over. I’ve taken this as far as I can,” she said, blaming Genoese for “leaving my 22-year-old daughter alone in a hotel room, taking her money and keys and leaving her in another town. I hold him responsible for this.”

At a Bradenton Beach Commission meeting last week, new commissioners Jack Clarke and Janie Robertson along with Ed Straight, the vice mayor, and Commissioner Jan Vosburgh congratulated Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale and the police department on the outcome of the investigation.

Speciale, who supported his officer’s conclusion of suicide throughout the investigation and expressed sympathy for Osborn, said that Diaz is looking forward to resuming his normal duties after assisting the FDLE over the past year.

“This confirmed they did right,” newly-elected Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said, also expressing sympathy for Osborn.

“I had a son who was 21 years old who died in a motorcycle accident,” Shearon said. “I can relate to Kelly’s grief and I feel sorry for her, but right or wrong, there’s been a final decision on it.”


Island shows charitable side

The bell ringers are back at Publix and some Island businesses have begun to collect from the public and their customers to help those less fortunate.

The Kiwanis Club of Anna Maria Island organizes the bell ringers.

Other charitable opportunities include the Sandbar restaurant’s 20th Annual Lawton Chiles Christmas for Children, which served Christmas cheer for more than 100 kids last year. This year, businesses will bring kids to the restaurant around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 10, and they will have lunch in the pavilion and Santa will deliver their presents from the Gulf, as always. They need contributions of money to pay for the gifts, which are wrapped by restaurant staff members. Make checks payable to the Sandbar restaurant and mail it to P.O. Box 1478, Anna Maria, FL 34216. Put a notation on the check to indicate it is for the Kids Christmas Party.


Once again, Island Vacation Properties has organized the Toys for Tots program on the Island. This program, backed by the United States Marine Corps Reserve, asks for new toys in their boxes for kids of all ages. Cash I gratefully accepted as well. There are drop-off containers in Island Vacation Properties, 3001 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; The Anna Maria Island Sun, 9801 Gulf Drive, Anna Maria; the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, 5313 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach; H2U, 6670 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, Duffy’s Tavern, 5808 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach; Jamaican Breeze Restaurant and Lounge, 420 67th St. W., Bradenton; the Anna Maria Island Community Center, 407 Magnolia, Anna


This holiday season, Artspace is collecting crayons and coloring books for Manatee County homeless children, which will be distributed through FELT (Feeding Empty Little Tummies). Donations may be dropped off 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday until December 10. Artspace is located above the Anna Maria Post Office at 101 South Bay Blvd., Anna Maria. For more information, call 941-243-3835.


Finally, Paradise Bagels and Catering and Jackie’s Café, 3220 East Bay Drive, Holmes Beach, has set up her Giving Tree. The beautiful tree has cards on it, each one representing a family in need of help. It will have the age and size of each child and they recommend a toy and clothing for each child.

Jackie Estes, the owner of Paradise Bagels and Jackie’s Café, said the program began when some kids came to Anna Maria Elementary School Guidance Counselor Cindi Harrison telling her of a girl who wore the same outfit every day to school and her shoes were badly worn. Harrison found out the girl lived with her father, who was barely able to take care of himself, and a brother. She talked it over with Estes and they put together the Giving Tree concept. Harrison provides the cards with recipients’ names either from the school families or others. Make sure you wrap the presents, as there are too few people involved to be able to wrap everything. Those who are collecting for the less fortunate this season can call Tom Vaught at The Sun, 778-3986, or email

Bridge Street to sparkle

The First Annual Lighting of Bridge Street is set to dazzle on Saturday, Nov. 30, from 5-10 p.m. on Historic Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.

The free event, in the Bridge Street Market lot at 107 Bridge St., will feature live music from Sarasota rockabilly band, Ted Stevens and the Doo Shots, from 7-10 p.m., plus dancing, crafts, food by O’Shucks restaurant of Cortez and a full bar with beer, wine and liquor.

Hosted by the Bridge Street Merchants, the event is on Small Business Saturday, which encourages holiday shoppers to shop at independent businesses to support local economies. The merchants have been raising money to deck the street with Christmas lights to provide a family-friendly destination for the holidays.

Take the free Island trolley, which runs until 10:30 p.m. and stops at more than 80 spots on Anna Maria Island, including Bridge Street.


A good friend, trusted colleague


Laurie was known to spontaneously burst out singing, whether
she was walking the beach, calling her dogs or working
in The Sun newsroom.


AMI Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring lost a great friend this last week, Laurie Margaret How Krosney.

I first met Laurie when she interviewed me over the phone. She told me she was going to be my turtle reporter and told me (not asked me) that we would walk on the beach for my first interview. I met her at the end of her street and we walked to the public beach and back. The walk took forever, and not because she used two canes, but because she seemed to know everyone who passed by name. She picked up sea shells all the way. She kept them all in big dishes around her house.

She always had a freezer full of frozen white washcloths to cool off when we came back to her house. We had a million walks over the years. Every time I would call her upset or happy she would reply, “Don’t talk… meet me on the beach?”

Laurie’s reporting was a big turning point in my management of Turtle Watch. She challenged me to try new ideas, she showed me how, through the newspaper, we could direct people to better lighting practices and make them fall in love with the program. She invented the Turtle Tom’s Timely Tips column, named after my volunteer, Tommy Van Ness.

She handed me tissues when I cried, water when I was thirsty, lent me her pen and paper when we were at nest excavations and bought treats for my dogs. When I met her she had two big golden retrievers. However, she was always surrounded by hand-me-down dogs. She loved music and would sing their names out very loud when she called them. As I write this I can hear her right now yelling for JAKE, her little spotted Doxie dog that her son, Sam, gave her. Jake came with problems and Laurie “the fixer” had a great heart and Jake’s problems disappeared. She even bought her living room furniture so the dogs would have something to sit on.

Through the years on her turtle beat she became my friend. She even accompanied Debbie Basilius and I on a trip to Costa Rica to the Sea Turtle Symposium. We had a blast. Then she taught me how to report my travels long distance sending my stories back to her to edit. People still tell me they loved how they felt they could go with me on my trip to Central America by 70-foot yacht as The Sun newspaper published my stories.

She used to correct my diction, spelling and give me that Laurie look when I did something wrong. She always encouraged me to be a better person and showed me how taking the higher road was the best way. I will miss her but I can bet she is walking around heaven with Turtle Tommy and Coordinator Bud Edgren singing funny songs and telling good stories!

Home sales continue strength

The real estate market continues its growth as the nation’s economy slowly re-emerges from the recession.

According to figures gathered by Island Real Estate agent Alan Galletto from the local Multi-List Service, sales for October 2013 were 32, almost even with October of 2012 at 33. Sales for October 31, 2013 year-to-date (Y-T-D) were 333 compared to October 31, 2012 Y-T-D at 369 only 6 percent from a banner sales year.

“Based on where we are in the year and the healthy pending sales activity it looks like we will again go over 400 sales for 2013,” Galletto wrote.

Sales for the last 12 months were 410, which included 35 distressed properties still only 8 percent of the sales. Inventory on the Island continues to be at a historic low due to the strong sales activity and is currently at 279. Pended properties (properties under contract) continue to remain strong at 62, which continues to bode well for strong sales over the next few months. Distressed properties (short sales and bank owned) remain at 2 percent of the inventory at 7.

“For the tenth month in a row, sales for 2013 continue to show an increase in average and median prices in all types of properties as well as increased activity in the higher price ranges,” Galletto wrote. Of the sales for 2013 Y-T-D, 50 percent of the sales were under $500,000 compared to 52 percent last month, 30 percent were between $500,000 and $750,000 compared to 31 percent last month, 11 percent were between $750,000 and $1 million compared to 10 percent last month and 9 percent were more than $1 million compared to 7 percent last month. In the last couple years, although sales activity was at record levels, only 2-3 percent were over $1 million.

“This year, the number of sales over $1 million has more than tripled to 9 percent,” he wrote. “That percentage is going to go up by the end of the year with quite a few high end properties closing in December.

“The three Gulf front lots in Banyan Tree Estates listed at $2,690,000 are under contract and will close in December. The condo at 3716 Gulf Drive Unit A listed at $2,999,900 is under contract and will close in December and 95 52nd St. listed at $3,250,000 is under contract and due to close in December. There are also three other pended properties over $1 million due to close in December,” he said. “These sales will drive the percent of over $1 million properties sold to over 10 percent.”

Galletto said sales will reach a benchmark again this year.

“Last year at this time I was saying sales for 2012 would be over 400 for the first time since 2005 and we ended the year at 430,” he said. “Here we are again with only two months left in the year and we are again poised to record sales for 2013 over 400. If we only match sales for November and December last year at 68, we will end 2013 with sales at 409.”

Optimistic first meeting for new officials

BRADENTON BEACH – The first city commission meeting for newly-elected Mayor Bill Shearon, Commissioner Jack Clarke and Commissioner Janie Robertson was full of good tidings, as the police department was congratulated on its investigation of the Sheena Morris case and on its commitment to sea turtle protection.

The commission congratulated Police Chief Sam Speciale on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement report on the Morris case that supports the police department’s finding of suicide, and on the 12th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office decision to decline to file charges in the case, thanking the department for their work on the case.

Speciale and the department also received an award from Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring Director Suzi Fox for their patrols of the beach during turtle nesting season, which ended Oct. 31.

The police department kept watch on a nest laid under a street light at busy Cortez Road and Gulf Drive that was caged to keep the hatchlings from going into the street when they hatched, she said.

“It was a cool team effort,” she said, adding that her volunteers couldn’t check the nest at night because they wake up before dawn to monitor the beaches.

One nest hatched in the daytime, and an officer collected the hatchlings in a box he had in the trunk of his patrol car, saving them from getting burned by the sun and eaten by birds, she said, adding that they were successfully released later.

With the smallest amount of nesting beach, Bradenton Beach had the most nests of the three Island cities, with 130 of the record 370 nests, she said, comparing it to the first year that statistics were kept - 1983 - with only 20 nests.

No light ordinances existed then, she said, and only seven volunteers were documenting nests, while now, all Island cities have lighting ordinances and Turtle Watch has close to 100 volunteers.

Since 1983, the Island also has had beach renourishment, which provides more nesting habitat, she said.

New administration

Shearon thanked City Attorney Ricinda Perry for not billing the city during the transition period between his term and that of former Mayor John Shaughnessy, and thanked the staff for helping him make a quick transition.

He said he is meeting with the staff about implementing the team concept that was part of his campaign platform, and reiterated his open door policy.

“I will answer every e-mail that comes in from a citizen,” he said.

Shearon said he will be notifying commissioners about their liaison assignments this week, and encouraged the two new board members to meet with department heads to “get up to speed.”

He also announced that he will be attending Island and Longboat Key commission meetings to extend an “olive branch” to other cities.

Gateway update

Police Lt. John Cosby updated the commission on planned improvements on the beach just north of Cortez Road, across Gulf Drive from the Bridgeport, Gulf Watch and Imperial House condominiums.

He said he met with Shaughnessy and County Commissioner John Chappie, who approached the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) about installing sidewalks and a bollard fence along Gulf Drive as safety measures.

“We have a crosswalk that goes nowhere, which is in violation of DOT standards,” he said.

Bollards also could define the four beach access pathways from each condo and at the Gulf Drive Cafe, but it is costly, he said, adding that he will continue to stay in contact with the condo association boards on the issue.

Condo owners have asked that the trolley stop bench not be roofed over, which would impact their view of the beach.

The commission agreed to have staff work on the project.

In other business:

• The commission agreed to hold work sessions immediately before each commission meeting to work out details on the agenda and shorten commission meetings.
• Shearon announced that the city’s code enforcement department will report to the police chief under an agreement made by the previous administration.
• Former Commissioner Ric Gatehouse suggested that the city ask the city attorney to look into taking over the fire station for police and public works vehicle and equipment storage, as previously suggested. Shearon responded that city staff will investigate the responded that city staff will investigate the possibilities.
• The commission approved a benefit at the Drift In on Jan. 18 for Privateer Deb Murphree, who needs a liver transplant.
• The commission denied a request to waive the $75 permit fee for Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society benefit at Coquina Beach, citing the previous commission’s decision to treat all events the same.
• The commission approved a request for a donation from the city by the Bridge Street Merchants for its Sixth Annual Christmas on Bridge Street on Saturday, Dec. 14, which benefits food banks and animal rescues.
• The commission decided to take city donations to the Annie Silver Community Center from the city’s election fund, since the center is now the city’s polling place.
• The commission approved the Castaways Tavern request for a special event on Saturday, Dec. 7.

Bird count cancelled on Island


A black bellied plover rests on Holmes Beach.



A decrease in the number of birds caused by the overdevelopment of Anna Maria Island has prompted Audubon to remove the Island from its Christmas Bird Count, coordinator Dick Comeau said.

The Gulf Circle, a group of volunteers that has counted birds on the Island, Longboat Key and Cortez each Christmas for several years, has been “retired,” he said.

The northern part of the Island from Anna Maria Elementary School north probably will be included in a proposed, as-yet-unnamed circle which could also include Egmont Key, Fort DeSoto, the Pinellas National Wildlife Refuge, Shell Key Preserve and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge area, he said.

The southern part of the Island will not be included in a circle, he said, adding that Leffis Key in Bradenton Beach was the only spot on the southern part of the Island that had a good number of birds in recent counts.

The Island has no shortage of birds, according to Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring Director Suzi Fox.

The group conducts its own bird count six times a year, with the next one set for February.

Volunteers spotted a juvenile bald eagle at Bean Point and several Wilson’s plovers at the Island’s north end recently, among other more typical species, she said.

The group’s statistics show that the northern part of the Island is where most shorebirds nest each year.

Birds are a barometer for how an area is doing environmentally, Fox said.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of the publication that evolved into Audubon magazine, suggested that rather than shooting birds in traditional holiday hunts, people count birds instead.

Since then, the annual, volunteer-driven event has provided data on trends in bird populations from all 50 states, every Canadian province, and parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies and the Pacific Islands.

Barrier island cities pledge cooperation

HOLMES BEACH – Taking place this month at Holmes Beach City Hall, and hosted by Mayor Carmel Monti, the Wednesday, Nov. 20 Coalition of Barrier Island Elected Officials meeting saw commissioners from four cities discussing congestion, the repeal of the vacation rental law, paid parking, duplication of services, legislative priorities and the idea of outside evaluation by paid consultants.

Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said she was headed to Orlando later that afternoon to encourage Florida League of City officials to include repeal of the state’s vacation rental law in their 2014 legislative priorities.

She encouraged elected officials and citizens to contact State Rep. Jim Boyd in an effort to garner his support for the repeal of the state law created by House Bill 883. Boyd has recently expressed support for the much-debated law Sen. John Thrasher hopes to repeal.

Longboat Key Commissioner Jack Duncan stressed to SueLynn the need to reiterate the importance of local governments’ right to home rule, and Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen agreed.

Duncan urged the mayors of each city to push their fellow commissioners for resolutions expressing support for the repeal, to be shared with county commissioners, state legislators and other engaged parties.

Holmes Beach officials have already created a resolution. Bradenton Beach officials opted for a letter instead, and Anna Maria officials have yet to take an official stance on the issue.

Duncan encouraged folks to attend the ManaSota League of Cities meeting in December and noted a “deafening silence” coming from Bradenton and Sarasota concerning repeal of the vacation rental law.

When discussing the duplication of government services, talk turned to the recent Urban Land Institute (ULI) study conducted in Longboat Key, and the 40-page report produced by unbiased and objective outside consultants. The study cost the town of Longboat Key $125,000.

SueLynn said she was not calling for the three Island cities to come together as “one big, happy family,” but suggested money could be saved by sharing infrastructure start-up costs and expenses associated with public works and maintenance projects.

She suggested the three cities share the cost of a ULI evaluation that would produce an overview on the current state of the three cities, the officials that govern them, and the businesses and residents that populate them.

Key recommendations in the Longboat Key report included building community together, adapting to a changing market, focusing on the future instead of the past, relaxing rental restrictions to help local businesses, implementing early action at sites of opportunity, creating a community and cultural centerpiece and improving mobility along Gulf of Mexico Drive.

The ULI study produced a second document titled “ULI Report: Next Steps” that expounds on the methods Longboat Key officials might employ to achieve the stated recommendations.

Duncan suggested that the three Island cities start looking at the idea of city managers, prompting audience member and County Commissioner Carol Whitmore to say, “Nobody has one.”

In Holmes Beach, the mayor serves as CEO of the city, earning a little more than $12,000 a year, whereas city and town managers typically see salaries in the $80,000 to $100,000 range, if not more.

It was proposed that a citizens committee be created to look at possible suggestions for reducing duplications of city services without cutting jobs.

Newly-elected Bradenton Beach Mayor Bill Shearon said he was part of the Consolidation Consideration Committee that a few years ago worked on a controversial consolidation referendum that was supported by Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach officials, but rejected by officials in Anna Maria, and never placed on a ballot for Island voters to decide.

Monti said there were many opportunities for shared services between the cities and also with the Manatee County. “We’ve opened that door and we need to keep that dialogue going,” he added.

Duncan anointed Monti to serve as the liaison to ensure that the four barrier island cities continue working together in their attempt to be more efficient.

Audience member and County Commissioner John Chappie offered Monti his services as county liaison if needed.

In regard to paid parking at the Manatee Public Beach, Monti provided an update on the Island Congestion Committee’s efforts and reasserted his view that paid parking is as much about creating additional revenue streams as it is about reducing congestion.

“We’re not going to stop people from coming to the Island,” he said, noting that how to accommodate the growing number of visitors is the question that needs answering.

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