tampabay.com

Visitors pull body in chains from bay

After a delay, police in Tampa retrieve the corpse from aboard an excursion boat.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published April 5, 2006


TAMPA - Conventioneers on an excursion boat found a body, shackled and in chains, floating in Hillsborough Bay south of Davis Islands on Tuesday night.

Anna Favors, 51, said she saw something that appeared to be a body about 40 minutes into what was supposed to be a two-hour pleasure cruise aboard the Bay Spirit . But she wasn't sure, so she said nothing.

But as the boat headed back to the dock at the Wyndham Harbour Island hotel, the body seemed to have flipped, leaving no doubt what it was, Favors said.

Passengers screamed.

The captain of the catamaran stopped the boat, police said. Four or five of the 30 passengers immediately began working to lift the body into the boat, Favors and colleague Tamiko Castile, 37, said.

One woman rigged a life preserver to a rope. And soon the bloated body of a white male was lying on a diving platform at the back of the boat.

Then the waiting began.

Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said the captain of the Bay Spirit tried several times on his radio to reach the U.S. Coast Guard and St. Petersburg police without success. The captain of a dinner cruise boat , Starship , heard the Bay Spirit's calls and contacted a Tampa police officer.

At 7:48 p.m., almost an hour after the cruise was expected to have ended, a Tampa Marine Patrol unit notified 911 dispatchers about the body on the Bay Spirit . Police units finally recovered the body at 8:30 p.m., McElroy said.

It took more than an hour for police to arrive, Favors said, but for the passengers the time that ticked by as they sat in the dark seemed like ages. Some talked, some prayed. One woman cried.

The case seems to be more than a simple drowning. The body's hands and legs were tied together with metal shackles, Favors and Castile said. He was wearing shorts, and Favors said she could see the hair on the man's legs.

Police would not confirm the man was shackled.

Homicide detectives were on the scene at Marjorie Park Marina on Davis Islands, where the body was taken, but McElroy said the presence of the investigators is routine when a body is found.

The medical examiner will determine cause of death. And it could take days or weeks to identify the man, McElroy said.

"The Lord brought us through," Favors said late Tuesday after she was questioned by police. "The thing I'm thankful for is that that man's family will have some closure."

The Bay Spirit is associated with the Florida Aquarium, and the conventioneers had chartered it for one of its two-hour tours.

Favors said the passengers were in town for a convention put on by the U.S. Department of Education, focusing on mentoring.

Favors and Castile, who work for a mentoring program in St. Paul, Minn., arrived in Tampa on Sunday and had planned to leave Thursday.

But Favors, who took Tuesday's cruise partly to help her get over her fear of boats, said they're hoping to fly home today.

Favors said she's not sure how she'll feel when she wakes up today, but: "I know I'm not getting back on a boat."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 813 226-3383 or rcatalanello@sptimes.com