Judge Sets Bail at More than $1M for Boat Theft Suspects

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk. Coast Guard photo
A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk. Coast Guard photo

Three men accused of leading a 345-mile boat chase through the Gulf of Mexico will likely remain in jail as they await the resolution of their court cases.

A Lee County judge on Monday set bonds totaling about $1.25 million to $1.5 million for the three men: David Llanes Vasquez, 33, of Miami; Raul de la Vega-Sauri, 25, of Homestead; and Vidal Ramirez-Farfan, 23, of Mexico.

The trio is accused of stealing a 36-foot boat from a residential dock just north of Fort Myers Beach at about 2 a.m. on Christmas Eve. When marine deputies responded, the suspects nearly rammed into the Lee County Sheriff's Office boat, then took off at up to 75 mph during an 18-hour chase. The U.S. Coast Guard took over the chase after the stolen boat outran Sheriff's Office boats.

The men were arrested at about 8:30 p.m., roughly 70 miles from Cuba after Coast Guard officials caught up to them. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Ashley Johnson said the full details of the apprehension remain under investigation.

Two fixed-wing aircraft and one helicopter assisted the marine units, which traveled through waves reaching six to eight feet at some points, Johnson said.

"The question has been asked, 'Why didn't we shoot out the engines?' We took the most peaceful and the most efficient manner possible, so that's why the chase went on for 300 miles," Johnson said. "We were concerned for the safety and welfare of our crews."

At Monday's first appearance hearing, Lee County sheriff's Detective Kevin Watkins said the three men were "definitely a flight risk for leaving the area" and deserving of a high bond. Watkins said he plans to meet with the State Attorney's Office about placing a hold on Ramirez-Farfan, who's a citizen and resident of Mexico.

Ramirez-Farfan and de la Vega-Sauri both face counts of burglary and first-degree grand theft, receiving bonds totaling $1.25 million each. Vasquez faces 19 charges, including grand theft, burglary, fleeing or eluding, and assault with intent to commit a felony. Eight of Vasquez's counts are for reckless pollution causing harm, which stem from the offloading of eight barrels of fuel to make the boat lighter, Watkins said.

All three men requested the appointment of a public defender, indicating they will not be able to afford to post the large amount of bonds.

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