A charter boat captain was arrested in Florida after getting intoxicated, firing a handgun and refusing to take the frightened passengers to shore in a nightmarish ordeal that lasted more than 17 hours.
Passenger Carlo Lopeparo told Yahoo Lifestyle that he had been on captain Mark Bailey’s boat, Double Marker, several times before without incident, but this fishing trip was different.
Witnesses told Sarasota police that Bailey had consumed multiple beers while driving the boat. One passenger claims to have watched Bailey drinking rum, too, and another alleges that the captain was also snorting cocaine, according to ABC Action News.
About 60 miles out, Lopeparo asked fellow 16-year-old passenger Jason Rialmo to fetch him a beer from a bucket next to the captain. When the teen grabbed the beer, Bailey reportedly banned him from giving it out. Thinking he was joking, Rialmo kept going — so the irate captain grabbed the teen by the neck, ripping off his necklace.
Passengers rose to Rialmo’s defense, getting into an altercation with Bailey, according to WFLA. They ultimately decided to let it go, even as the captain continued to imbibe. Later in the boat ride, Bailey told 25-year-old passenger Chris Giuffre he wanted to speak with him — and what the captain shared was terrifying: “I have a gun and if I want to, I will put a bullet in each of your heads and leave you out here,” Bailey reportedly said.
“At that point we were all kind of waiting for something horrible to happen for him to come down those stairs with his gun," said Chris' father, Christopher Giuffre, to WFLA. And he was right: Bailey then pulled out a a 9mm handgun and fired six to seven shots in the air.
“About the time he threatened to shoot us all and starting firing shots is when we realized it was going to be a life and death situation,” Lopeparo told Yahoo Lifestyle. “We were all in fear for our lives and each other.”
So the passengers decided to put their heads together and figure out how to escape what had become a life-threatening hostage situation. “At this point I was thinking, ‘This is going to end really badly,’ and I think we were all trying to strategize as to what we could do, where we could hide, where could we go, how could we stem the confrontation that was about to ensue," said Giuffre.
As the captain began driving the boat in circles, passengers tried pleading with him to return to shore. Bailey reportedly responded, "No, I can do this as long as I want. I do this for a living."
Lopeparo — who had boarded the boat alongside his brother, nephew and two close friends — said the passengers then decided to move to the bottom deck. ”We knew he wouldn't shoot down and leave himself stranded in ocean,” he said. “And the plan was to keep all passengers calm and collected.”
By about midnight, 17 hours after the charter boat had set sail at 7 a.m., Bailey had steered the boat close enough to the shore to restore cell phone service, and Lopeparo’s friend was able to call a relative, who contacted authorities. According to reports, other passengers had also reached out to the Sarasota police and the U.S. Coast Guard.
First responders from both organizations received the S.O.S. shortly after midnight. Officers were able to rescue the passengers and arrest Bailey. They reportedly led him, stumbling, to a nearby cruiser. He refused a field sobriety test, but officers say he was slurring his words, had watery, bloodshot eyes, and wreaked of alcohol.
Bailey continued to be belligerent in the police cruiser, attempting to kick out its rear door and demanding to speak with a supervisor, according to a police report. He was charged with boating under the influence and resisting arrest without violence.
The Coast Guard is investigating the captain for crimes that took place on the water, under their jurisdiction, according to WWSB. These would include using a handgun and holding the passengers captive.
Lopeparo is relieved that he and all the passengers were able to escape the agonizing situation thanks to the “phenomenal” first responders, but he admitted that he feels a measure of guilt for bringing his family and friends onto the boat. He added, “I’m just thankful this happened to us rather than a family that might not have been capable of remaining calm.”
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