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Santa Rosa man's stolen yacht runs aground; 3 arrested

Rescuers reach for a woman on the back of the 82-foot sailboat, the Darling, stuck in the surf off Pacifica on Monday. She and two men were arrested on suspicion of stealing the boat owned by John Fruth of Santa Rosa.

Associated Press
Published: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 11:27 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 4, 2013 at 8:46 p.m.

A Santa Rosa man watching a Monday morning TV news drama of a luxury sailboat beached off of Pacifica realized that it was his 82-foot yacht and that it had been stolen from a Sausalito harbor.

John Fruth called Sausalito police at 8:16 a.m.

“He stated that while he was watching a news broadcast he saw a story about the vessel and he recognized the vessel as his own,” Sausalito Police Sgt. Bill Fraass said.

Authorities said two men and a woman aboard the boat apparently stole the craft at about 1:30 a.m. and ran aground on a sandbar off Pacifica after a pizza- and beer-fueled voyage.

A website that tracks the course of vessels, marinetraffic.com, showed that the boat had shot out of the Golden Gate and faltered briefly before heading south. West of Mussel Rock, the boat sailed in circles before heading straight for the beach.

After first refusing rescue, the three suspects eventually were brought to shore and arrested after being thrashed about in the surf for the nearly seven hours they were marooned on the sandbar.

The Darling, an Oyster Marine-built sailboat, belongs to Fruth, founder of contact lens manufacturer Ocular Sciences and a current Sonoma Academy trustee, records show.

The boat is registered in the Cayman Islands but docked in Sausalito, Fraass said.

The beach drama began at about 5 a.m. when beachgoers called authorities to report that the boat appeared to be in distress off Linda Mar Beach, also known as Pacifica State Beach.

Radio calls to the boat by the Coast Guard went unanswered. Then the suspects apparently refused help from a Coast Guard rescue swimmer who was lowered by helicopter into the turbulent surf and who tossed a radio onto the boat.

“They tried to refuse him,” Pacifica Police Capt. Joe Spanheimer said.

The drama drew crowds of the curious and news crews to the beach.

After Sausalito police confirmed the boat had been stolen from the Sausalito Yacht Harbor, Pacifica police heightened their actions.

They cleared people from a section of the beach, and for the next several hours, officers, including one with an assault rifle trained on the boat, shouted orders to the suspects through a bullhorn. But the trio, smoking cigarettes and talking on cellphones, didn't surrender until about noon.

San Mateo County sheriff's deputies trained in water rescues rode out to the boat on jet skis and ferried the trio to shore.

Pacifica police arrested Leslie Gardner, 63, of Gillette, Wyo.; Lisa Modawell, 56, of Aptos; and Dario Mira, 54, on suspicion of grand theft and conspiracy.

Two lifeguards who helped pull the suspects from the boat said its cabin was cluttered with empty pizza boxes and about a dozen drained beer bottles. The hours spent rolling in the waves had left items strewed around the cabin.

“Yeah, it was a bit of a party,” said Tim Fellars, a ranger and lifeguard with California State Parks. “Everything got knocked off the shelves.”

A team with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife sealed air vents in the boat's 850-gallon diesel fuel tank to prevent a spill in case the boat flipped, spokesman Eric Laughlin said.

“There has not been any oil spilled, that was the major concern when it was thrashing around the surf,” he said.

A salvage company was called to tow the boat away. Fruth drove down to Pacifica to help arrange for its removal.

It remains unclear how the suspects navigated the about 16.5 nautical miles to Pacifica and why they ran aground.

This story includes information from the San Jose Mercury News. You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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