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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Clinging to hope, six rescued
The friends spend nearly 24 hours bobbing in the gulf.
By ERIN SULLIVAN, Times Staff Writer
Published October 10, 2007
BAYPORT - She woke at 2 a.m. and felt the cold space beside her. Josh should have been home. He had gone out fishing with friends about 12 hours earlier and said he'd be back with some fresh grouper for supper.
Meagan, 23, and four months pregnant, had put her son, Cameron, 4, to bed, thinking Josh was late but okay. Then she fell asleep at 10 p.m.
Now here it was, 2 in the morning the next day, Tuesday, the house dark. Josh's truck wasn't in the drive. Meagan's gut churned. This was not right. But she told herself she was being silly. He was probably still drinking with his buddies. He'd be home soon.
And she went back to sleep, a decision she later would regret.
* * *
Josh Greer, 27, and Meagan Mullahey met at the Denny's in Crystal River three years ago. She was a manager. He was a customer and flirted with her. He soon applied to be a cook there.
They went to a movie for their first date and had dinner at Steak n Shake. She told him, flat out, that she and her son were a package. Josh could either accept that or not. He said he was on board.
They were engaged about a year later. It was on his birthday, Nov. 15, and they went to her mother's house. Meagan thought it was a surprise party for Josh. But he turned it on her. There, in front of 40 friends and family members, Josh got on one knee and said, "Meagan Elizabeth Mullahey, will you marry me?"
And she said, "Yes. YES!"
They married this year on April 14 at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Brooksville. Meagan wore a strapless white gown with lots of beading and a long train and a tiara. It was the wedding she always dreamed about.
He moved into her house in Spring Hill. They transferred to the Denny's there, to be close to home. Cameron calls Josh his dad. They will find out next week the sex of their baby, due in March. If it's a girl, they'll name her Cassidy. If it's a boy, Connor.
Josh had been excited about this fishing trip for weeks. His friends got a new boat, a 21-footer. They kept making plans, but the weather was bad.
Monday, they thought it looked okay. So Josh and his five friends - Angela Porter and Scott Frechette of Webster, Junior Webb of Ridge Manor and Danette and David Gendron of Brooksville -left from the Bayport Park boat ramp about 2 p.m.
* * *
Meagan woke up at dawn and Josh still wasn't there. She started crying but didn't want Cameron to see her. She got him up and fed him a Pop-Tart.
"Daddy's still fishing?" he asked.
"Yes," Meagan said, her insides screaming. "He must be having fun, catching all those fish."
She took Cameron to school and then went to her job as a manager at Denny's. She called her mom and anyone she could think of, trying to get information. None of the other people made it home, either. Meagan hid in the manager's office and sobbed. Her brother, Tim, also a Denny's manager, came in to relieve her shift about 11 a.m.
Then Meagan headed to the Bayport dock to wait.
* * *
The vigil went on for hours, at the gray concrete pavilion by the boat ramp, a few feet away from Josh's truck, still parked where he left it. Meagan, her mother, a sister-in-law and some cousins sat, their phones ringing from people asking for updates. They had none to give. They did not know if the boaters were dead or alive. Meagan still wore her Denny's outfit. Her olive eyes matched her shirt. Her thick red curly hair was tied back from her face, which is fair and was bright red from the sun. She clutched her pregnant belly. Finally, after 1 p.m., they got some news from a Hernando County deputy.
They've been rescued.
Meagan fell to the ground, "Thank you, God, thank you."
* * *
It was luck.
Roger Butts, coordinator for the marine unit of the Hernando Sheriff's Office, heard the call: Six boaters, missing since Monday afternoon; the Coast Guard was searching.
Butts took his boat out to well-known fishing spots off the Hernando coast. He looks the part of a rescuer - tanned, big mustache, reflective sunglasses and a strong, comforting demeanor. After about 22 miles of looking, he cut the engine at Richardson's Reef, where Army tanks have been submerged as an artificial reef. He was about to move to another spot when he had a feeling he should take one last look. About a mile in the distance, he saw something red.
It could be a crab trap, he thought. Or it could be a life jacket.
He went over and found a woman, alive but injured. Then then he found the rest of them, clinging to their capsized boat, dehydrated, bodies stinging from sun and jellyfish. Their hands were raw from grasping the boat's ropes all night.
Their boat started taking on water soon after they set off Monday afternoon. The waves were 3 to 5 feet high, so choppy Butts said he wouldn't have gone out in it. The water was 83 degrees - still cold enough to cause hypothermia. They wore no life jackets. There, in the dark, they thought they were going to die. In the morning, they were able to get the life jackets out of the boat and put them on and hope someone found them.
Butts put them in his boat. Angela Porter was flown to a Tampa hospital with rib injuries.
He took the rest to the dock, where Meagan waited.
* * *
"Here they are!" Meagan's mom shouted.
It was after 3 p.m., more than 24 hours after all this began. They walked fast to the dock. Meagan's fists were balled up against her mouth, and tears rolled down her face. The boaters limped down the dock and were ushered into ambulances. Josh hugged Meagan.
"I love you," they said into each other's necks. He lost his wedding ring in the surf. She said they'll buy him a new one.
Josh and another man, Junior Webb, were taken to a local hospital for further testing. The rest were released. Shaking, they got in their trucks and drove home. Meagan followed the ambulance to the hospital, vowing never to let Josh fish again and wondering how she was going to explain all of this to Cameron when they got home.