Bustamante: No criminal prosecution

The State Attorneys office announced Thursday to Historic City News that no one will be charged in the fatal boating accident that happened along the Intracostal Waterway near Palm Valley in April.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Luis Bustamante said that the State Attorneys Office was unable to find sufficient evidence that a crime was committed.

After a lengthy investigation we found that there was insufficient evidence to prove that a crime had been committed,” said Bustamante. “What we found was that the person operating the vessel was not legally impaired.”

Bustamante said that although underage drinking had place — it was not the main focus of the investigation.

“It’s a tragic, tragic accident but it did not rise to the level of criminal prosecution” said Bustamante.

The investigation concluded that alcohol had been consumed prior to the boat arriving at the Conch House and that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to hold the Conch House liable for underage drinking, he said.

“We don’t know who provided the alcohol and under what circumstances it was provided,” said Bustamante. “It’s difficult to prove who provided alcohol to minors.”

It would be difficult to prove whether minors consumed alcohol on the boat or at the Conch House, he said. The possibility of fake ID’s also complicated providing how underage victims obtained alcohol.

In the report released by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Donnie Bethel, the co-owner of the boat, told investigators that “everybody was drinking.”

Bethel also told investigators that “pretty much everyone smoked marijuana,” and that some on the boat had used cocaine.

Bethel also told investigators “one of the bouncers at the Conch House gave all the underage girls free bands to drink.”

The Apr. 12 boating accident occurred when a 22-foot Crownline boat carrying 14 people was returning from Reggae Sunday at the Conch House in St. Augustine.

The investigation determined that the boat was traveling between 30 and 40 mph when it collided with a moored push boat.

The accident claimed the lives of five people and seriously injured nine others.

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