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Rescued Florida boy surprises Coast Guard with a thank you

ST. PETERSBURG — Luke Finch, the boy rescued at sea from his estranged father, turned up again Sunday near Salt Creek Marina.

A surprised U.S. Coast Guard got called in again, too.

Not that anyone minded. Unlike the frantic events of last Tuesday's daring save southwest of Fort Myers, the event was a thank-you lunch at Fish Tales Seafood and Steak House by owner Dan Wesner.

Wesner told the Coast Guard — regulars at his place — and other authorities to come for lunch. But he didn't tell all the "coasties" about the return of Luke Finch with mom Christa and grandma Julie. The family was driven there by Nellie Woodruff, the Cocoa detective, who delivered him from his father's boat. Woodruff called Luke "like a nephew."

Stephen Smith, senior officer of the rescue boat, the Coast Guard cutter Crocodile, showed up with three other members thinking it was a casual afternoon. Instead, Luke delivered to him a crystal boat steering wheel from Fish Tales, thanking the agency for "a job well done." Had they known, all 11 crew members would have come, Smith said.

"It's absolutely amazing. We're so grateful and blessed," said Christa Finch afterward. "God answered our prayers."

Luke's rescue ended a 2½ day saga. His father, Paul Martikainen, 35, was arrested, accused of abducting the 3-year-old boy from a supervised visit in Cocoa, then trying to sail off with his son for parts as yet unknown from the St. Petersburg marina.

Luke's attention was far from any drama on Sunday. He quietly focused on a new toy truck, a gift along with a boat-shaped phone and a Transformers toy.

For their part, Coast Guard officials gave Wesner, Christa and Luke Finch, and marina area workers Jason Taylor and Debra Van Skiver each Challenge Coins, which are a symbol of a job well done.

Van Skiver, 38, an employee of Neptune Towing and Recovery, said delivering toys to Luke was the highlight of the day. A week earlier, she was among people who gave authorities initial clues in the case.

A chalk quadrangle was traced where Luke sat his last time at the marina Sunday. Next to it, someone wrote, "Welcome Home Luke."

Staff writer Kathleen Flynn contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Rescued Florida boy surprises Coast Guard with a thank you 12/06/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 6, 2009 10:48pm]

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