Final flight, crash of the Flying Fifty
Abandoned Flying Fifty sailboat takes several days ...
MARCO ISLAND — A judge has dismissed charges against a Golden Gate Estates man charged with abandoning his wrecked sailboat in the Marco River last year after a defense attorney argued the prosecution couldn't prove its case.
It turned out Steven K. Lacefield, 56, never received the title from the boat's owner after paying $90,000 and could not be prosecuted as the owner.
Lacefield was set to go to trial Wednesday on charges of operating a boat without a title and abandoning a derelict vessel on Florida state waters, but defense attorney Donald Day filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted by Collier County Judge Mike Carr.
That's because the prosecution's key witness -- who sold the boat to Lacefield -- didn't want to travel from Arkansas to testify in the trial, Assistant State Attorney Bill McCaughan told the judge, adding that the witness had been told by someone in the State Attorney's Office that she didn't have to testify.
"They did not have the evidence to prove the case even with the witness," Day said Thursday. "... They could not prove any of the elements necessary. This was a mess from the start."
The boat had remained in the river for six months while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigated and determined the "Flying Fifty," which was registered in Delaware, was owned by Lacefield. He was charged on March 26, 2008, and has been free on $1,500 bond ever since.
More than a month before he was charged, Lacefield was notified that it was his responsibility to remove the boat, according to the FWC, but took no action. The FWC also notified him that he'd have to pay a county boat removal fee, but Day said that wasn't paid because the state improperly took possession of the boat.
A woman sold Lacefield the boat, Day said, but had no right to sell it because she and her husband, whom she was divorcing, owned it together and she kept the money. Day called the government investigation flawed and said Lacefield never received title to the boat and is now out $90,000.