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Crash closes boat building

A boat falls from a shelf and lands on others in an accident at the Snapper Marina's storage area.

[Times photo: Olie Stonerook]
Four boats were damaged Sunday in this accident at the Snapper Marina's boat storage building in Hernando Beach.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 24, 2000


HERNANDO BEACH -- Ron Hoffer wants to downplay Sunday's beam break in the dry storage area of his Snapper Marina as simple bad luck.

"It's just an accident," and an insured one at that, Hoffer said -- nothing to call your friends about.

And certainly nothing to hurt the marina's already wounded reputation in the community, Hoffer insisted.

Yet the crash, which damaged at least five boats, attracted sheriff's deputies, a Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire crew, the on-call county Emergency Management official and a county building inspector. That inspector, Steinar Lero, ordered the storage building closed as unsafe until an engineer could prove it had no structural damage.

It turned out that the top shelf of boats toppled onto those below because a forklift operator did not set a boat properly into its spot, destabilizing the supports that held the row in place, said Grant Tolbert, Hernando County development director.

The building had no structural integrity problems, Tolbert said, and no one was injured. The 15 gallons of fuel spilled in the crush, at first considered a potential fire hazard, was deemed minimal in the end, said Bill Appleby, Hernando County emergency management officer. In fact, Lero wrote in his report, he had asked Hoffer to close off access to the building "since we did not know what would happen if he moved more boats."

"I did not want the public to get injured or walk around inside since one boat was held up by only a propeller," Lero wrote.

Aside from the crunched boats, which Hoffer said would be covered by insurance, the thing to take the most substantial hit was the marina's already spotty standing.

Hoffer sold the business, once called Hernando Beach Marina, to a Hudson family on a lease-to-own basis about four years ago and thought he was going to retire.

The couple who ran the marina ended up running into trouble with the law instead.

John "Rick" Ufnal was sentenced to five years' probation on charges of four counts of grand theft, two counts of issuing worthless checks and one count each of forgery, theft of Florida sales tax and failure to keep tax records. His wife, Deborah Lee Ufnal, received three years of probation for her role in withholding taxes.

During their tenure, Hoffer said, the Ufnals destroyed the marina.

They never paid him close to $80,000 in lease money and left him to pick up the pieces.

One of the first things he did was change the marina's name to Snapper. Then he began to repair the property slowly but surely.

"It's coming back," he said Monday. "So many people wouldn't even come into the marina because of (Ufnal). I had to practically do the place over."

And he has been doing a credible overhaul, Tolbert said. "He was trying to do it properly."

Now Hoffer just hopes that people don't read too much into the sign on his dry dock building that blares "UNSAFE: Do not enter or occupy."

Rumors tend to fly in Hernando Beach, he said.

"I'm not closed," he said, while waiting for an insurance adjuster to assess the full extent of the damage.

"We'll be open for business just the same as normal."

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