September 18, 2015

Stolen boat recovered, suspect arrested

The black and white aerial photos were taken by FWC Aircraft Pilot Dan Willlman; photo of suspect being handcuffed is courtesy of Customs and Border Protection.

A multi-agency effort to recover a stolen boat resulted in the arrest of a New York man offshore of the Lower Keys Thursday.

The owner of the stolen vessel called the Sheriff’s Office Thursday morning. He said he was taking his son to school and, as he drove past the Hurricane Hole Marina where he keeps the 31 foot Yellowfin, he noticed it wasn’t in its slip. He called the marina and they did not know why it was missing. The marina manager reviewed video and saw someone take the boat from the marina at 5:30 a.m. The victim called the Sheriff’s Office to report the theft.

The victim had a report from a friend who lives on 12th Avenue on Stock Island who said he saw the boat idling south in Cow Key Channel at 6:30 a.m. He said he thought at the time that  it was early for the victim to be out on the water.

At 3:30 p.m. employees of the Key West Harbor Yacht Club called the Sheriff’s Office to report the stolen boat was currently fueling up at their marina. They had heard the boat was stolen and recognized it when it came in. Deputy Spencer Curry was working in the area and responded to the marina. He arrived just as the stolen boat was leaving. He yelled at the boat operator – later identified as 40 year old Stephen Leonard – to stop. Instead, Leonard fled the marina at high speed. The employees that reported the vessel’s presence told Deputy Curry Leonard was asking how much gas he would need to go to Cuba.

Detective David Cruz was working the case and went to the area of South Roosevelt Boulevard in Key West where he saw the boat going south. Sheriff’s dispatchers notified the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs and Border Protection of the boat’s location.

Those agencies responded – despite stormy weather in the area – with air assets as well as boats on the water. A FWC aircraft spotted the boat and directed the pursuing boats to the stolen vessel’s location. Leonard was apprehended and the boat was recovered unharmed. He was brought in to the U.S. Coast Guard station in Key West where he was taken into custody by Detective Cruz and Deputy Curry. Leonard was charged with grand theft and resisting arrest.

Others who had been in contact with Leonard were interviewed and said he’d been acting strangely and had been talking about going to Cuba.

“I want to thank our law enforcement partners for their assistance in the recovery of this vessel and the apprehension of the suspect who stole it,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “When we called them they responded quickly despite the rain and stormy weather. They were instrumental in this case and we truly appreciate the good working relationship we all have in protecting the citizens of Monroe County and those who visit here,” he said.

“The employees at the Key West Harbor Yacht Club are also to be commended for their quick action in calling us and giving us the location of the suspect and the stolen boat,” said the Sheriff. “The teamwork shown in this case – between multiple law enforcement agencies and community members – was truly impressive.”

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