Sunday, July 15, 2018
Public safety

Casino shuttle boat destroyed by fire as 50 passengers abandon ship in frigid Gulf

PORT RICHEY — A casino shuttle boat headed into the Gulf of Mexico caught fire Sunday, forcing 50 passengers to jump into chilly water just off a residential neighborhood.

The boat was headed to an offshore casino ship, where gambling is legal, when the fire broke out just after 4 p.m.

The captain turned the boat around and grounded it near a residential community on Harborpointe Drive. Passengers jumped into the frigid gulf waters and waded to shore as flames destroyed the boat.

Everyone survived, authorities said. Fifteen people complaining of chest pain, smoke inhalation and other minor injuries were taken to a hospital to be checked, authorities said.

Bakr Jandali, 19, lives on Harborpointe Drive and said he heard the shouting first. Then he saw billowing clouds of smoke rising from the boat.

Jandali and his family, along with several of his neighbors, watched as dozens of passengers crowded near the bow as the blaze quickly spread from the rear of the boat.

"They didn’t have much time to decide whether or not to jump," Jandali said. "The fire was moving fast. It was a hard jump."

The passengers leapt about 12 feet into very cold and somewhat shallow water, he said. They waded through murky, waist-deep water arriving not too far from his back yard.

"All of us, my family and the neighbors, brought them towels and water," Jandali said. "They were so cold."

When one woman reached the shore, Jandali said, she collapsed and vomited.

His father, Imad Jandali, a pediatrician at All Pediatric Care in Spring Hill, said the woman appeared to be suffering from cold shock.

"It was horrifying," the younger Jandali said. "I thought for sure someone might have died."

PRIOR FIRE: He still has nightmares: Deckhand recalls prior casino boat fire

Jason Zimmerman of the Port Richey Police Department said he and two fellow officers — Detective Angel Russo and Officer Zane Zabetka — arrived to a chaotic scene.

"The boat was fully engulfed in flames and everybody was off the boat. There were multiple people in the water," Zimmerman recounted. "We rescued probably 12 to 15 people that were out in the water," including "a couple of seniors who were face down in the water."

Authorities credited the ship’s captain, who brought the burning boat within 100 yards of shore — making it easier for the dozens of passengers to make it safely back to land.

While the fire appears to have started in the engine room, the exact cause remained unclear Sunday evening.

• • •

For Christine Hashim, a nurse anesthetist, emergency situations were nothing new. But she could hardly have expected one to wash ashore near her house.

When a neighbor noted smoke in the air, Hashim said, she looked to the water to see people struggling.

Hashim, 50, entered the water to help the struggling passengers — some of whom appeared to have medical problems, she said. She worried some might suffer from hypothermia.

She said she saw the boat explode. "People were scared," Hashim said.

• • •

Driving into his neighborhood on Harborpointe, Larry Santangelo, 57, thought maybe his home was on fire.

When I got closer, I saw people walking around confused and shaking," Santangelo said.

He was also worried the wet people might suffer hypothermia, so Santangelo invited about 30 passengers into his garage.

"It was so windy and they were soaking wet," he said. "I just started putting them anywhere I could fit them — my garage, my fishing room. I brought them socks and more towels."

Santangelo, originally from Long Island, N.Y., said he sees the boat pass behind his home nearly every day. Sunday night, he was still trying to clean up after the dozens who took shelter in his home.

"I’m washing about 70 towels tonight," he said.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the rescue along with several agencies including the Coast Guard, Pasco Fire Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Port Richey police.

"At the end of the day, everyone’s cold, everyone’s wet, but everyone’s safe," Russo said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Comments
Hudson man dies in Hernando County motorcycle accident

Hudson man dies in Hernando County motorcycle accident

HUDSONmotorcyclist killed on u.S. 19 wasn’t wearing a helmetA Hudson man died in a motorcycle accident Sunday morning on U.S. 19 in Hernando County.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 51-year-old Timothy Guillotte was driving his 2007 Honda Silv...
Updated: 3 hours ago
A 71-year-old Florida man tied a gun to a weather balloon to fake his own murder, police say

A 71-year-old Florida man tied a gun to a weather balloon to fake his own murder, police say

The Palm Beach Gardens Police Department’s first homicide investigation of 2018 opened in late January - rather early in the year, considering that Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, is basically a live-in golf course of 50,000 people, where the annual mur...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Corrections officer in Pinellas accused of having sex with a woman on probation

Corrections officer in Pinellas accused of having sex with a woman on probation

A probation officer with the Florida Department of Corrections who was working out of Tarpon Springs has been arrested on a charge that he had a sexual relationship with a woman whose probation he was overseeing. Jeffrey Thomas Desimone, 40, was arr...
Published: 07/14/18
Two apparent murder-suicides have occurred at the same St. Pete apartment complex this summer

Two apparent murder-suicides have occurred at the same St. Pete apartment complex this summer

A couple was found dead Friday night at a St. Petersburg apartment complex in an apparent murder-suicide, police said.It is the second suspected murder-suicide at the Vibe at Gateway on 77th Avenue N in the last five weeks. The apartment complex also...
Published: 07/14/18
A toddler left in a hot car in south Florida has died

A toddler left in a hot car in south Florida has died

A 17-month-old boy left in a car for about eight hours died after his mother parked the car and went to work. Pembroke Pines Police said the toddler’s mother left him in the car Friday morning after parking in a hospital parking lot. The Sun Sentine...
Published: 07/14/18
St. Petersburg man killed after his vehicle crashes into trees off Interstate 275

St. Petersburg man killed after his vehicle crashes into trees off Interstate 275

A 69-year-old St. Petersburg man was killed Friday afternoon when he lost control of a sport utility vehicle on Interstate 275 and hit several trees, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.The crash occurred at 3:39 p.m. south of the 22nd Avenue S exit ...
Published: 07/14/18
Pasco motorcyclist dies after crashing and hitting tree

Pasco motorcyclist dies after crashing and hitting tree

A 56-year-old New Port Richey man died Friday night when he lost control of his motorcycle and hit a tree, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.John Edward Beatty was driving a 2017 Harley-Davidson south on Sunshine Boulevard south of Casey Drive when...
Published: 07/14/18
Deputies fatally shoot man during Riverview domestic violence call

Deputies fatally shoot man during Riverview domestic violence call

RIVERVIEW — Shots rang out in the darkness early Friday when a 60-year-old man was killed by deputies in a quiet neighborhood near Big Bend Road and U.S. Highway 301.Deputies were called to a house at the end of Estates Del Sol Drive just after 3 a.m...
Published: 07/13/18
Updated: 07/14/18
Clearwater medics ‘didn’t hesitate’ to save man from sinking car (w/video)

Clearwater medics ‘didn’t hesitate’ to save man from sinking car (w/video)

CLEARWATER — Had the two firefighters swum up to the sinking car any later, the 91-year-old driver might have drowned."They didn’t hesitate, and that’s the bottom line," Clearwater Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief Ricky Stasiowski said after Friday’s dr...
Published: 07/13/18
Updated: 07/14/18
He was sentenced as a teenager to life in prison. Three decades later, parole could be two years away

He was sentenced as a teenager to life in prison. Three decades later, parole could be two years away

DADE CITY — Nearly three decades after he began serving life in prison, Christopher Kelly learned Friday that he could go free in two years.Kelly, 44, appeared in court to get a new sentence for a crime he committed as a teenager: robbing a man, beat...
Published: 07/13/18