Monday, December 11, 2017
Public safety

Pinellas sheriff: Search continues for two missing men swept into Gulf of Mexico

ST. PETE BEACH — It was supposed to be a spring break cruise along the Gulf of Mexico for 15 international students visiting Florida. But the waters were so rough Tuesday that the boat they chartered didn't get that far.

After leaving Maximo Marina, the choppy surf forced captain Todd Davis to anchor the Jaguar, a 71-foot Sea Ray boat, before it could make it past Shell Key. The students, all from China, asked if they could jump into the water.

What happened next sparked a massive search-and-rescue operation. Student Jie Luo, 21, couldn't get back into the boat. A crew member, Andrew Dillman, 27, dove in to help him. Both were quickly swept away about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, authorities said.

"The last anybody saw of them they were in the current and being pulled out toward the gulf," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday afternoon on Pass-a-Grille as the search for the two men continued.

Neither man was wearing a flotation device. The captain threw devices into the water but the wind carried them away from the men. The captain weighed anchor to move the boat, the sheriff said, but by that time the men were already out of sight.

So if the water was too rough to sail in, then why did the students jump in? The sheriff said investigators are trying to answer that question.

"There seems to be a little bit of a dispute . . .," Gualtieri said. "The student said they asked for permission to get into the water. Davis didn't say they couldn't. Davis says he told them not to because it was too rough. So that part of it we're still trying to flesh out and it's under investigation."

The sheriff said the students came from Orlando to Pinellas County to charter the boat, which they booked online with Florida Yacht Charters for $2,000. He said the students brought a cooler of champagne, beer and wine aboard but that authorities don't suspect that any crew members were intoxicated.

Jie is a student at Colorado State University, which is where 14 of the students on the trip went to school. One student was from Stony Brook University of New York.

The vessel left Maximo Marina about 4 p.m. The captain told authorities they slowly cruised around, but he decided conditions were too rough to enter the Gulf of Mexico so he decided to drop anchor.

Five students jumped into the water and climbed back into the boat twice. It was on the third try that Jie started struggling in the water, authorities said. That's when Dillman dove in to help.

"We're just keeping our hopes up," said his younger sister, Shelby Dillman, 24. "We're just staying positive."

Crews from the Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were still actively searching for the men Wednesday evening.

Gualtieri said the Chinese consulate in Houston was informed of the incident, and that Jie's family was also notified. They were deciding whether to travel to the United States.

"The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority and we are very concerned to hear of what has happened in Florida," said a statement issued by Colorado State University.

Florida Yacht Charters declined to comment Wednesday. Davis, the captain, could not be reached for comment.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

     
   
Comments
‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

‘What I am detained for?’ Comedian Hannibal Buress arrested in Miami

Popular comedian Hannibal Buress was arrested Saturday night in Wynwood on a disorderly intoxication charge after an encounter with a police officer.Buress, 34, was booked into a Miami-Dade jail at 1:57 a.m. Sunday and posted bail just before 6 a.m.,...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

Florida Uber driver charged with sexual assault of passenger

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Florida Uber driver is facing charges that he sexually assaulted a drunken passenger.The Orlando Sentinel reports that 38-year-old Jorge Alberto Antunez Quintero was charged this week with sexual battery after an investigation ...
Published: 12/09/17
Florida man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull faces 17 counts of animal cruelty

Florida man accused of killing Ollie the pit bull faces 17 counts of animal cruelty

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The Florida man accused in the brutal stabbing death of a pit bull named Ollie is facing 17 counts of aggravated animal cruelty — one for each of 16 deep stab wounds and one for trapping the dog inside a suitcase.Prosecutors filed f...
Published: 12/09/17
Deputies: Friend didn’t pull trigger, still faces murder charge

Deputies: Friend didn’t pull trigger, still faces murder charge

TAMPA — A 23-year-old man faces a charge of felony murder in connection with a drug deal that left his friend dead, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Daundrea Lamar Butler is not accused of taking part in the killing, however. He ...
Published: 12/08/17
Bill would punish car theft victims

Bill would punish car theft victims

Left your car running, and a teen stole it?Some state lawmakers think you should be criminally charged for that.Rep. Wengay Newton, D-St. Petersburg, this week filed House Bill 927, which would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to leave your car un...
Published: 12/08/17

Hernando sheriff: 27 dogs seized in chains, with no water or shelter

BROOKSVILLE — Twenty-seven dogs were seized Thursday after the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office said they were found tethered to heavy chains, without water or shelter.Deputies said they received several complaints about the dogs and ended up issuing...
Published: 12/08/17
Delgado gets 25 years in prison for role in 2015 Moon Lake triple murder

Delgado gets 25 years in prison for role in 2015 Moon Lake triple murder

NEW PORT RICHEY — Dora Delgado will spend the next 25 years in prison for shooting one person, who survived, and aiding in the shooting deaths of three other people in Moon Lake in February 2015.Delgado, 41, pleaded guilty Thursday morning to one cou...
Published: 12/08/17

Passenger dies after falling out of van in Plant City

PLANT CITY — A person was killed Friday after falling out of a van into the roadway, police said.The passenger, whose name and gender was not released, fell out of a van traveling north on Alexander Street near Interstate 4 about 3 p.m., according to...
Published: 12/08/17
Valrico man charged with attempted murder after trying to stab man in Seffner, deputies say

Valrico man charged with attempted murder after trying to stab man in Seffner, deputies say

SEFFNER — A 52-year-old Valrico man faces an attempted first degree murder charge after he repeatedly tried to stab a man last month, deputies said.Ronald C. Westendorf was arrested Tuesday on a warrant in Pinellas County and booked into the Hillsbor...
Published: 12/08/17

Gravel spill shuts down parts of northbound Howard Frankland Bridge

TAMPA — Authorities are cleaning up a load of gravel spilled onto the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge on Friday afternoon, shutting down at least two lanes of traffic.The incident was reported at 2 p.m. on the stretch of the bridge drivers approac...
Published: 12/08/17