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Two deaths in Tampa Bay leave questions

BRANDON — Alton E. Jones loved the water.

"It was in his blood. He just knew what he was doing," a co-worker, Darrell Morning, said Monday.

Jones, 55, and a friend, Mary Hanusek, 54, were found dead in Tampa Bay on Sunday morning, floating far from Jones' fire-damaged boat.

Even as friends grieved, they friends wondered: What happened?

Why did Jones, an experienced captain who ran his own deep-sea fishing business, abandon his boat?

Why was he wearing his life jacket incorrectly?

Who made a Spanish-language distress call to the Coast Guard at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night?

Those were the questions, Morning said, that he and other co-workers had asked themselves "a hundred times already."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the deaths.

So far, there's no evidence of foul play, spokesman Gary Morse said.

Hanusek, of Tampa, and Jones had both worked as Hillsborough County courtroom clerks for the past nine years, said spokeswoman Linda Goldstein.

Hanusek worked in County Civil court and Jones in Circuit Civil.

Attempts to reach family members were unsuccessful.

Jones' co-workers were stunned by his death, Morning said.

In the office, Jones had been a father figure, calm and cheerful, who could defuse tension with a well-timed joke.

"He had a spark about him, that when you talked to him, you could not help but smile with him," Morning said.

On Friday, the office celebrated Jones' upcoming birthday; he was about to turn 56.

He had taken vacation time and planned to take his boat to Mexico, Morning said.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at srosenbaum@sptimes.com or 661-2442.

Two deaths in Tampa Bay leave questions 04/07/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 11:37pm]
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