When Mike Morris woke up on a park bench the night of Tuesday, July 9, this is what he saw:
Uniformed police and a contingent of firefighters boarding the Tango, a 1934 custom motoryacht parked in Slip 23 on the south side of Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove. When the men debarked a short while later, one of them yanked a power cord connecting the boat to an electrical outlet on the dock. Then the cops and smoke-eaters drove away in their respective squad cars and fire engines.
The next time Morris woke up, around dawn, Angel, a dog who lived on the Tango, was standing on the prow growling. The 46-foot boat was sinking.
Since then the boat bums, shrimpers, and illegal liveaboards of Pier 9 have been doing their own growling. They say Bronco Billy, a.k.a. City of Miami Police Sgt. Art Serig, has struck again.
"He scared us and bullied us off the boat so he could sink it," gripes Hal Jones, who had been renting the aft cabin of the Tango from a man named Don Bomba for $100 per month.
Serig, commander of the police department's five-man marine patrol, says he did indeed board the Tango with a crew of firefighters after evicting Jones. He says Mike Morris, from his park-bench vantage point, saw what he thought he saw but missed one important detail.
"When we came off the boat, a guy from the fire department pulled the plug," says Serig, who got the nickname Bronco Billy because he drives an unmarked Ford Bronco when he patrols the marina. "I said, 'Hey don't do that.' I knew the boat had leaks and would sink if power got cut off to the bilge pumps. I can assure you that when we left, the plug was put back in."
The morning after Serig and his troops boarded the Tango, city workers at the marina tried for four hours to save the boat, using a pair of water pumps. But by afternoon it had settled in eight feet of water on the bottom of its slip. The next day, July 11, the city hired a crane (cost: $4300) to raise the Tango. But the crane shattered the oak keel and fir-planked hull, spilling ten gallons of diesel fuel and motor oil into the water. The city called the U.S. Coast Guard, and hired another private firm (cost: $2400) to contain the pollution.
Serig says he doesn't know how the Tango sank. Without pointing any fingers, he notes that the yacht's apparent owner, Don Bomba, was involved in a complicated boat feud with a man named Thomas Nelson. Serig was summoned downtown to Bayside Marketplace on June 26 by a distraught Nelson, who lived aboard a fishing boat called the Double Jay. The boat, along with Nelson's possessions, was gone. Police named Bomba the prime suspect in the theft and believe he took the boat north to Fort Lauderdale. Nelson himself seems to have vanished; both his telephone lines have been disconnected. According to waterfront sources, Nelson had given Bomba the Tango in partial payment for the Double Jay but never finalized the legal paperwork or came through on the rest of the deal.
The pursuit of Don Bomba, Serig says, is what led him to the Tango on the night of July 9. Instead of Bomba, he found a solitary dog, some overheated battery chargers, and a lot of frayed electrical wires. He called the fire department for a fire hazard inspection. "Notified [police] this must be reported to the Coast Guard," Miami firefighter Edward J. Bratz later wrote, "as it was a hazard due to electrical and sloopy [sic] maintenance."
Says Coast Guard pollution investigator David Gross: "I wouldn't want to speculate on the incident." Gross adds that he has been unable to determine who the last owner of the Tango actually was. "It's under investigation," he says.
So far Serig hasn't caught up with Bomba. "I'd definitely like to have a chat with the guy," the sergeant says.
"Don Bomba? He was here ten minutes ago," shrugs the bartender at Scotty's Landing, a popular waterfront bar 200 yards from marine patrol headquarters. "I said, 'Are you all right? I've heard all sorts of rumors.' He said he was fine."
Bomba didn't return phone calls to his beeper number.
Though he insists he had nothing to to with the Tango's sinking ("It's a mystery. I'm gonna risk a 23-year police career to sink an old boat? No way. That's nuts"), Sergeant Serig acknowledges that he's on a crusade to rid the waterfront of derelict vessels. (Records show he addressed the city's Waterfront Advisory Board on exactly that topic three hours before he boarded the Tango.)
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"Bronco Billy is bad news," counters Tango evictee Hal Jones. "For the shrimpers, the bums on the dock, it's total harassment from this guy. All he does is harass us and make us pour out our beers."
City of Miami Marinas Manager Raul de la Torre swears that taxpayers won't get stuck with the bill for the Tango salvage and cleanup. "We're going to go after the owner," he says. "Eventually we will get the money."
George Horak, who weathered Hurricane Andrew alone in the Tango on Biscayne Bay back in 1992, says he regrets selling the boat a year ago; a series of ne'er-do-wells let the beautiful lady languish. "I really hated to see how they tore that boat up," Horak laments. "It could've been restored to its original shine and style."
By last weekend, there was no trace left of the Tango. A sleek sailboat had taken up residence in Slip 23.