Clearwater man charged with tossing man off boat, leaving him to… – Tampa Bay Times

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After Lonnie Wilson was found dead in the water near Sand Key Park in Clearwater in December of 2021, at least three people told police they knew who killed him.

James McManus told police he had gone boating with Wilson and a man named Shane Dugan, and that Dugan threw Wilson overboard during an argument and ordered McManus to drive the boat away, leaving behind Wilson behind to drown.

Ligia Bello told police that Shane Dugan had sent a video to his brother, James, who was her tenant and roommate. It showed Shane Dugan throwing someone over the side of a boat, she said.

David Kluever, who worked at Hooters with Shane Dugan, woke up in the middle of the night on Dec. 4, 2021, plus opened a series associated with Snapchat messages in which Dugan admitted to throwing Wilson off a boat, he told police.

After he was tossed from the boat, Wilson, 48, drowned. His body was found the next day in the Gulf of Mexico about a mile from Sand Key Park in Clearwater.

About a week later, Clearwater police arrested Dugan on a manslaughter charge in connection with Wilson’s death. Dugan pleaded not guilty to the charge.

But the case soon started to unravel. By the time Kluever reached police force, the Snapchat messages had disappeared. A search associated with James Dugan’s phone didn’t turn up any footage showing Shane Dugan tossing Wilson overboard. And just six months after Dugan’s arrest, McManus died.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office dismissed the particular case.

“He was murdered, ” Wilson’s mom, Gwen Pickering stated. “And there’s no justice. ”

Differing accounts

Wilson had moved to Florida to be near his teenage son. He sometimes worked in catering and helped out a friend at a convenience store she owned. In his free time, he enjoyed shooting pool and bowling.

Wilson lived on the 24-foot Dolphin sailboat in the Clearwater Beach Marina, according to court records. He was a part of a community of people who make their homes within boats on Pinellas beaches.

“He just was amazed at how beautiful the sunsets were from his boat, ” Pickering, 65, said.

Lonnie Wilson, 48, was found dead in the Gulf of Mexico on Dec. 4, 2021.
Lonnie Wilson, 48, was found dead within the Gulf associated with Mexico on Dec. 4, 2021. [ Moss Feaster Funeral Home ]

On Thanksgiving last year, Wilson went to Orlando to celebrate with his cousin, Ashley Socha, and her family. They went for a walk plus hung out at a park. They watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and made deviled eggs.

”We experienced a lot of downtime, so it was quality time. And that was nice, ” Socha said.

Wilson returned to Clearwater. The following week, he proceeded to go sailing with Dugan and McManus, who also lived on a boat from the marina.

Dugan and McManus returned to Clearwater in the particular boat. Wilson did not.

Police began investigating Wilson’s death after their body was found. While canvassing the Clearwater Marina area where Wilson’s boat was anchored, police spoke with McManus. At first, this individual told police he had gone sailing with Dugan. When asked if Wilson came with them, he told police, “I don’t think so. I was pretty drunk. ”

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During that interview along with McManus, Dugan called and police spoke with him over the phone.

He told police he went boating with Wilson and McManus, but said he hadn’t seen Wilson since they got back to shore. Police asked if the men argued while on the boat. Dugan said no.

He agreed to meet a detective at the marina about an hour later but never demonstrated.

Later that will day, McManus called law enforcement and told them he or she wanted to talk again. This time, he gave them a different story:

The three men had gone sailing together on Dugan’s boat, the 1982 Catalina yacht that had a motor. As they steered farther away through shore into the Gulf of Mexico, the sea fog worsened. Eventually, they turned off the motor and drifted along while they drank and talked.

Wilson began arguing along with Dugan. McManus started driving back toward the Sand Key Bridge. At one point, Wilson stood up and drew his hand back, as if he was going to hit Dugan. Dugan threatened to throw Wilson off the boat. Wilson stood up again, and Dugan pushed your pet overboard, McManus said.

Dugan told McManus to drive off, according to police reports. McManus informed police he worried that will if he didn’t, he too, would be thrown overboard.

The particular investigation

Over time, others came forward with tips.

On Dec. 7, 2021, David Kluever left a message for a detective working the particular case. In a phone interview, he told a detective that he had worked well with Dugan at Hooters. They had gone drinking at a bar before Dugan left to go sailing with McManus and Wilson.

Kluever mentioned Dugan later admitted in Snapchat messages that this individual had thrown Wilson away the boat. But the messages had already disappeared, as texts on the particular platform are automatically deleted after they’re read.

On Feb. 2, the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office was called to investigate the overdose death associated with James Dugan, Shane Dugan’s brother, in Palm Harbor. James Dugan’s landlord plus roommate, Ligia Bello, told deputies that she got information about Wilson’s dying, and they connected her with Clearwater police detectives.

Bello informed detectives James Dugan said his brother, Shane, acquired hit someone and tossed the person overboard. Bello stated he described a video his brother sent him of the incident within graphic detail, but never showed it to her, according to police reports.

A police search of James Dugan’s phone found “vague references” in order to his brother making a video and appeared to be referencing Wilson’s loss of life, according to police records. However, he didn’t make any statements that were specific enough for police to confirm it. A research of the phone did not turn up any videos or photos related to the investigation.

Charges dropped

In June, about six months after Dugan’s arrest, prosecutors filed the notice to the court: They were dropping the manslaughter charge against your pet.

“[T]he essential witness in order to the case, James McManus, has died, and without his testimony we are unable to go forward, ” the document states.

Assistant state attorney Erica Emas told the particular Tampa Bay Times that McManus died of natural causes. While attorneys can sometimes use testimony from someone who is deceased, there are certain requirements, she said.

One of those rules is that will the testimony must be sworn. At that point in the criminal case, prosecutors were still investigating, Emas said, and had not yet taken sworn testimony through McManus.

Without it, prosecutors felt these people couldn’t get a conviction.

“Knowing something and proving something are two different things, ” Emas said. “And if I can’t prove it in front of the jury, then I can’t within good faith put forward that case. ”

Dugan did not return calls seeking comment for this story. Their lawyer, Jonathan Saunders, mentioned Dugan would not be speaking with the Tampa Bay Times. The lawyer said he agreed along with prosecutors’ conclusion that there wasn’t enough evidence to go forward with the case.

Wilson’s family members found out the charges had been dropped after Pickering, his mother, called the state attorney’s office to ask for an update.

“I just started screaming ‘No, no, ’” Pickering recalled.

Lonnie Wilson, 48, was found dead in the Gulf of Mexico in December of 2021. Prosecutors dropped the criminal case against the man accused of killing Wilson in June after a key witness died.
Lonnie Wilson, 48, was found dead in the Gulf of Mexico in December of 2021. Prosecutors dropped the criminal case against the man accused of killing Wilson in June after a key witness died. [ Courtesy of Gwen Pickering ]

Wilson’s sister, Jennifer Berger, said the girl has gotten more angry the more she has learned about the situation.

“I just feel like there was no justice there and presently there wasn’t a big enough fight for him, ” Berger, 38, said.

Emas said she feels the case got the particular attention it deserved, yet she understands the family’s frustration.

“I think that any family members member would feel frustrated in a situation like this, ” she said.

While they struggle with a lack of closure, Wilson’s family members continue in order to lean on each other. Keith Wilson, Lonnie’s younger brother by about the year, remembers him as a beloved sibling who had been like a twin.

“I still talk to him even though he’s not here, ” he said.

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