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Local boat theft turns into long, wild pursuit

By Staff | Dec 30, 2015

A wild, high-seas boat chase played out over the Christmas weekend, and its origin was the Fort Myers Beach area.

Jack Thomas of Waterleaf Lane in Fort Myers was awakened at the front door of his house by a Lee County Sheriff’s deputy at 2:45 a.m. on Christmas Eve, when he was notified that surveillance showed his three-engine, 36-foot Invincible “go-fast” fishing boat had been stolen.

“It came as a shock, but I wasn’t surprised either,” said Thomas, who had his boat on a lift in a boathouse on a vacant lot about 3 miles away on Old Pelican Way near San Carlos Island. “For some time now, guys have been around trying this. My neighbor had a theft attempt take place during a full moon on Halloween.”

As for the chase, it lasted more than 20 hours and ended 345 miles southwest of here near Cuba, according to a sheriff’s report. In the early stages of the theft, the three perpetrators actually rammed a law-enforcement vessel before taking off. Minutes later, after running over and damaging local navigation aids and as a result the boat’s hull, it was in international waters and beyond the county’s jurisdiction and capability.

The U.S. Coast Guard took over, eventually using a helicopter and airplanes in a pursuit that ended Dec. 27 with the arrest of David Llanes Vasquez, 33, of Miami; Vidal Farfan-Ramirez, 23, of Mexico; and Raul De La Vega Sauri, 25, of Homestead. Vasquez faces 19 charges including burglary, assault, larceny, fleeing police, leaving the scene of an accident and reckless pollution. Farfan-Ramirez and Sauri face larceny and burglary charges with hearings to take place Jan. 25.

The men hot-wired the boat’s lift battery and ignition systems, Thomas said.

“I had three cables and extra locks on the boat and they still got it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Thomas’ boat was being processed Monday at the local U.S. Coast Guard station, 719 San Carlos Blvd., for forensic purposes. Thomas said he’ll be taking it to Miami this week to its manufacturer to determine if it can be restored or if its a loss. He estimated its value at $300,000.

And the ordeal has Thomas’ phone ringing.

“Friends are calling all the time. It was even on the ‘Today Show,'” he said.

He gives a shout out to law enforcement for its efforts.

“They did an awesome job nailing these guys,” he said.