Monroe County Sheriff’s Office
Daily Crime and Information Report

Issued by the Media Relations Office,
Public Information Officer Deputy Becky Herrin


Click on the highlighted headlines to hear an audio recording of the story

October 14, 2005

Big Coppitt residents evacuated due to hazardous chemicals

Officers patrolling on Big Coppitt Key discovered potentially dangerous hazardous materials exploding and sending chlorine gas into the surrounding atmosphere. They evacuated nearby residences until the fire department could respond and take charge of the material.

Lt. Mitch Snider and Sgt. Chuck Kellenberger were in the vicinity of Pequena Lane and Verde Drive just after 9 p.m. when they heard what sounded like small explosions coming from the bed of a pickup truck parked on Pequena Lane. Accompanying the small explosions was the smell of chlorine gas. Further investigation revealed pool chemicals in the back of the truck causing the sounds and smells.

The fire department was notified of the ongoing incident and, as they were responding to take care of the chemicals the officers began evacuating residents from the area. The residents waited in the parking lot of a nearby church for about an hour until the chemicals were removed. There were no injuries as a result of the incident.

October 11, 2005

ABT, Sheriff’s Office bust Big Pine Key bars for gambling

On May 23, 2005 the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), Crime Stoppers received an anonymous tip that illegal gambling was taking place at Big Pine House of Music.  Detectives with the MCSO determined that the information provided was accurate and contacted the Division of Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco, Key West District Office.

A joint investigation was initiated and it was confirmed that each Monday night, the Big Pine House of Music would host a game of chance, Texas Hold Em.  During the course of this investigation it was determined that Key Deer Bar & Grille had taken the same steps and began their own Monday night, Texas Hold Em tournaments.  Both of these locations stated that the games of chance were taking place to benefit charity organizations in the community. According to investigators from ABT, players would pay $30 to participate in the poker game. Fifteen percent of the money would go to charity. Of the remaining money raised, the first place winner would receive 50%, second place would receive 35% and third place would receive 15%. It was these cash prizes, also called “considerations” that were a violation of state statute. In order to legally conduct such an operation, all money raised has to go to charity with no “considerations” made to players.

On October 10, 2005 the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, Monroe County State Attorney’s Office and the Division of Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco executed two search warrants at Big Pine House of Music and Key Deer Bar & Grille.  Arrest warrants for Keeping a Gambling House in violation of Florida Statutes 849.01 were obtained for the owners of the establishments referred to as licensees of record with the Division of Alcoholic Beverage and Tobacco.

The search warrants were executed on a Monday night during the time that the games are played.  At the time the search warrants were executed the following individuals were arrested:

Big Pine House of Music

Ralph Whitney Warner, 48, Big Pine Key                       FSS 849.01

Kathleen May Peterson, 39, Big Pine Key                       FSS 849.01

Eric Clingman, 37, Big Pine Key                                     FSS 849.02     Collected buy in money

William Pendergraff, 23, Key West                                FSS 849.02     Dealer

Key Deer Bar & Grille

Joshua Kane Ritchie, 30, Big Pine Key                           FSS 849.02     Organizer, collected buy in money

Stephen R Ritchie, 55, Big Pine Key                               FSS 849.02     Dealer

Steven Allen Stotts, 21, Big Pine Key                            FSS.849.02     Dealer

Louis W VanDegejuchte, 28, Big Pine Key                    FSS 849.02     Dealer

                                    *Florida Statute 849.02 – Agent, Employee for Keeper of a Gambling House

One arrest is still pending in this case. George McLaughlin, aka/Captain Dan, will be charged with FSS 849.01, Keeping a Gambling House.

The individuals charged with FSS 849.02 acted as an agent by carrying out various tasks to include organizing, collecting money and issuing table assignment tickets or dealing.

In addition to the gambling charges, three people were also charged with possessing illegal substances. Joshua Ritchie was charged with possession of cocaine after slightly more than three grams were found in two cigarette packs belonging to him; Dustin Fryar, 21, of Big Pine Key was on the premises as a poker player when the search warrant was served and he was found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana; John Bidwell, 41, of Big Pine is an employee of the House of Music and, during the execution of the search warrant, Bidwell was found to possess one gram of cocaine, found in a cigarette pack in his pocket.

For more information about the gambling case, contact ABT PIO Meg Shannon at 850-922-8981.

Two men charged with burglary to boat

Two men were arrested late Monday after they were caught in the act of burglarizing a boat in Key Largo.

Deputies Jeffrey Parker and Edwin Askins responded to the docks at Marina del Mar just before midnight. When they arrived, they found two men being detained by a security guard from the resort. The men, 26 year old Matthew Braden and 24 year old Joshua Mitchener, were caught on board a boat docked nearby by the boat's owner. He told the deputies he heard someone climb on board and caught Mitchener in his cabin. He detained Mitchener until the security guard arrived. Braden, who initially gave a false name to deputies, allegedly acted as lookout for Mitchener, who said he went on the boat to look for beer to drink.

Mitchener and Braden were arrested. Both were charged with burglary. During his arrest and transport to the jail, Braden was able to move his handcuffed wrists from behind him to the front. When Deputy Askins unlocked the handcuffs to move his hands behind him again, Braden fought the deputy. He was charged with resisting arrest with violence, and resisting arrest by giving a false name to the deputies. He was also charged with escape for moving his handcuffed hands to the front, and with disorderly intoxication. Both men were booked into the Monroe County Detention Center.

October 10, 2005

Robbery Arrests

Sheriff’s deputies arrested suspects in robberies that occurred on opposite ends of the Keys over the last weekend.

Arrested early Sunday on Key Largo were three men who reportedly assaulted and tried to rob a man outside a convenience store.

The victim called the Sheriff’s Office and provided a good description of the suspects and the vehicle they drove away in. Sheriff’s Sergeant Dave Carey was responding to the scene when he spotted a dark colored sport utility vehicle that matched the description aired by sheriff’s dispatchers. Deputy Carey followed the suspect vehicle to Bass Avenue near mile marker 103, where the driver turned and then stopped. Deputy Carey detained the suspects until other deputies arrived with the victim, who positively identified 19-year old Eric A. Vigil, 21-year old Andrew T. Atwill and 19-year old Kenneth L. Crawford, all of Key Largo, as the suspects who battered him and tried to steal his money. The victim was not seriously hurt, but did sustain a bloody lip. The clerk at the convenience store corroborated the victim’s statement. She said she hear the victim’s screams and when she ran outside she observed the victim, who was bleeding from the mouth, trying to get a good look at the suspects who were leaving in a dark colored vehicle. A search of the suspect’s vehicle, which was registered to Vigil, turned up a Taser stun gun in a holster, a hand rolled cigar that tested positive for marijuana, handcuffs and a Florida private investigator's badge. Deputies charged Vigil, Atwill and Crawford with robbery and they were transported to the Plantation Key jail for booking.

Sheriff’s deputies Saturday arrested 31-year old Sidney Tullis in connection with a Friday night robbery on Stock Island.

The victim told deputies that he was riding his bike near Bernstein Park when the suspect approached and knocked him off his bike. The victim said the suspect whom he knew as “Billy Tullis” robbed him of 46 dollars. Deputies searched the area, but couldn’t locate the suspect until the next morning when Deputy Christian Kellenberger spotted Tullis, who was positively identified in a photo lineup by the victim, riding a bike on Shrimp Road. Tullis ignored the deputy’s verbal commands to stop, pedaled to the waterfront and jumped into the water. Tullis tried to swim away, but with the help of Key West Police and U.S. Customs Officers, deputies were able to apprehend Tullis and get him out of the water. Deputies took Tullis to the detention center on Stock Island, booking him on robbery and resisting arrest charges. Detectives are also investigating Tullis’ possible connection to other robberies in the Stock Island area.

October 3, 2005

17 year old Coral Shores senior found dead

A 17 year old Coral Shores high school student was found dead by his mother Sunday morning at the Key Largo dive shop where he worked part time.

Detectives say there were no signs of trauma on his body when they examined it on the scene. 17 year old William James Scott lives in Homestead with his mother, Lena May Scott. He attends Coral Shores High School as a Senior. His mother, who also works at the dive shop, showed up to open the dive shop Sunday at 7:40 a.m. and found her son's body on the floor of an upstairs office. She told detectives her son got into a minor accident while driving her car Saturday afternoon. She said she got angry with him and told him to stay at the dive shop overnight. She left the shop at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, returning the following morning to find him dead.

According to his mother, William Scott had complained of chronic headaches and neck pain for the past few months. An autopsy will be done today to try to determine the cause of his death.

Islamorada man arrested for holding woman against her will; threatening her with a gun

An Islamorada man is in jail, charged with holding a woman against her will and threatening her with a gun.

The 20 year old victim told Deputy Edwin Grove said she called 27 year old John Prince and asked if she could stay with him for a few days and he agreed. She showed up at his house Saturday at 9:30 p.m. A short time later, she was contacted by a friend who offered her an alternative place to stay the following day. When she told Prince she might be staying somewhere else, he allegedly lost his temper. He punched his television set, then grabbed her by the throat, holding her down on the couch. He got a gun out of a dresser drawer and allegedly pointed it at her, screaming, crying and waving the gun around. She said she tried to leave several times, but he restrained her. She finally managed to escape about 2:30 a.m. Sunday. The victim drove to Mariner's Hospital, where she called the Sheriff's Office to report the incident.

Deputy Grove went to Prince's house to question him. At the house, Prince admitted to arguing with the victim. He said after she left, he took his gun, ammunition, some marijuana and a pipe and put it out by his garbage can because he knew the police would be called. The deputy recovered the 9mm semi-automatic handgun and all the other items. Prince was arrested. A check on his name revealed a permanent domestic violence injunction filed against him by another woman after an altercation he had with her in March of 2004. The injunction prohibits him from owning a firearm. Prince was charged with aggravated battery, battery, false imprisonment, displaying a firearm during commission of a felony, possessing a firearm in violation of the injunction, possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was booked into the Monroe County Detention Center.