An hour long 911 call from a family held hostage by an armed and intoxicated Sarasota charter boat captain who refused to return to shore reveals “17-hours of terror.”
SARASOTA — Specks of light in the distance meant a chance for rescue for a family being “held hostage” by a charter boat captain on the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking with exhaustion in his voice, the caller made the distress call close to midnight on Sunday, when their armed captain brought the boat he had been driving in circles for over 2 1/2 hours within range of a cell phone tower. The distraught passenger called 911 after first calling the Coast Guard. They had been at sea for about 17 hours, after departing Marina Jack in Sarasota at 7 a.m. on June 1.
While the name of the caller was redacted in the 911 recording, Christopher Giuffre, 23, placed the call, according to his family.
“Is the vessel in distress?” the female 911 operator first asked.
“Yea, so it’s just that he, the captain is high as a kite,” Giuffre said. “He’s drunk or something. He’s shot (a handgun) a couple times.”
Sarasota Police Department reports indicate that passengers saw Captain Mark Bailey, 36, of the Double Marker charter fishing boat, drinking beer and rum, snorting cocaine and smoking marijuana.
Bailey did not return calls or text messages from the Herald-Tribune seeking comment for this story.
Over the course of 17 hours, Bailey became drunk, high and threatened to shoot his passengers and dump their bodies overboard, police reports indicate.
Statements made to police show the incident began after an altercation occurred between Bailey and Jason Rialmo Jr., 15, the son of one of the five passengers, Jason Rialmo, 39.
The younger Rialmo was asked by his uncle to get a beer from the captain’s plastic pail on the second deck. Bailey told the boy to put it back, according to police reports, and followed the boy down to the main deck, where he ripped a chain from the boy’s neck.
The boy’s uncle was furious and exchanged words with Bailey, which sparked multiple arguments and the captain’s refusal to return to shore.
When the Double Marker came within sight of the light-dotted skyline, from Anna Maria to Siesta Key, and Giuffre got cell phone reception, he called the Coast Guard and 911.
For just over an hour, Giuffre and a 911 dispatcher remained connected, as she attempted to identify the boat’s location and provide information to police and Coast Guardsmen onshore, and a Coast Guard vessel waiting in Sarasota Bay.
“I believe he is heading back to the shore at the moment, but I’m really not sure,” Giuffre told the dispatcher. “I don’t want to be crazy, but he’s kind of somewhat held us hostage for two hours here, driving north and south along the coast. Wouldn’t take us anywhere close. We’ve told him multiple times we’re done, we are ready to go in.
“He’s like, ‘I can do this all night, this is my job,’ you know what I mean? … He wouldn’t take us into shore at all. We’re like, what the hell is going on? It’s just been a really, really strange trip.”
Giuffre said passengers heard a volley of six or seven gunshots, as Bailey shot his handgun over the water from the upper deck. He also said Bailey remained atop with the firearm while operating the boat.
Giuffre said he and his family cowered inside the vessel’s main cabin for most of the trip.
As the boat came closer to shore, the dispatcher tracked the boat using the cell phone’s GPS signal, and tried to have Giuffre identify their exact location using landmarks.
When they passed into Sarasota Bay, Giuffre sounded relieved and named channel markers and acknowledged to the dispatcher that a Coast Guard vessel had begun to follow them.
Giuffre gathered passengers inside the cabin as they pulled into the dock, following instructions from the dispatcher, who told them the Coast Guard and police would soon storm aboard the vessel and arrest the captain.
“Whatever you do, I want you to stay out of danger,” the dispatcher said. “Just stay separated from him as much as you can. Let them do what they need to do.
“Just let them park the boat, and I want you all to stay as safe as you can until you speak to the officers. OK?”
“OK,” Giuffre said.
The situation ended without incident.
“We’re OK,” Giuffre told police. “I’m still on the phone right now.”
The dispatcher said, “Is that the police sir? Go ahead and speak to the police. I’ll let you go.”
Bailey was arrested and charged with boating under the influence by the Sarasota Police Department, as well as resisting arrest. He was released later that morning on $620 bail.
The Coast Guard is also investigating, and federal charges could follow.