REBER, Boyd Philip (1947-1986)[SS#566-70-5875], fisherman killed at San Clemente Island when his anchor snagged unexploded ordnance. He and his shipmate, Frank Germano, died in the explosion, and their vessel, Cindy Fay, was destroyed.
Cynthia Reber and her daughter (the "Rebers") brought a wrongful death action against the United States. The Rebers alleged that either an overhead military shell or an unexploded military ordnance on the sea floor caused the destruction of the Cindy Fay, a fishing vessel, thereby causing the death of Boyd Reber. The United States answered the Rebers' allegations, denying any responsibility for Reber's death. After a bench trial, the district court entered judgment for the United States, holding that the Rebers failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the destruction of the Cindy Fay was caused by an underwater explosion or an overhead shell.
Reber's body, along with some wreckage, was found off Mail Point, on the western side of San Clemente, by Paul Donohoe, another fisherman, shortly after 8:00 a.m. on March 2, 1986. Reber was not wearing a life preserver, survival suit, or a slicker when found. The following day, Frank Germano's body was sighted on shore south of Mail Point. Germano did not have either a life preserver or a slicker on. There was also a significant amount of vessel wreckage and fishing gear in the area.
In the News~
March 3, 1986 [LAT]: “The body of a commercial fisherman from Poway was recovered from the ocean near San Clemente Island on Sunday by a Coast Guard helicopter from San Diego. The Coast Guard plans to search the waters off San Clemente today for signs of wreckage from the Cindy Fay, a 40-foot boat which left San Pedro on Feb. 21 on a fishing trip and was reported overdue Sunday. The boat was owned by Boyd Reeber of Poway, whose body was found by the Coast Guard at 10 a.m. Sunday, officials said. Obne other crew member, identified as Frank Germano, was aboard the vessel, according to Robert Engel, a deputy San Diego County coroner. No address was available for Germano.”
April 22, 1986 [San Bernardino County Sun]: “The Coast Guard said Monday it has not ruled out the possibility an errant Navy shell killed two fishermen and destroyed their boat, but she said that evidence collected so far doesn't support the theory. "It's still open," Coast Guard Lt. Robert Murray said of the probe into the deaths of the fishermen, whose bodies were found last month near San Clemente Island, which is used by the Navy for live bombardment practive. "The evidence doesn't substantiate it (the bomb theory), but there's still some evidence that I haven't examined yet, so I might find otherwise," said Murray.”
August 9, 1986 [LAT]: “The family of a San Diego fisherman who drowned last winter under mysterious circumstances off San Clemente Island filed a $10.8 million lawsuit Friday against the Navy, contending the man died after stray Navy explosives struck his boat. The suit, filed in federal court in San Diego, alleged that Boyd Reber of San Diego and crewman Frank Germano of Ventura died February 25 in an explosion of either a missile or live ordinance fired by sailors in target practice off San Clemente Island. The lawsuit accuses the Navy of negligence by failing to warn the fishermen of danger and in allowing explosives to strike their boat. It seeks damages of more than $10.8 million, covering the cost of the boat, and the loss suffered by Reber’s wife and 3-year-old child…”
February 16, 1989 [LAT]: “During Boyd Reber's call to his wife at 7:30 P.M., Feb. 23, 1986, he told her that the fishing for soupfin shark at Mail Point was good, that he loved her and that he would call her again as soon as he could. That was the last time Reber heard from her husband. On March 2, Reber's body was found floating about 20 years offshore near San Clemente Island's Mail Point, his boat mysteriously demolished. The body of Reber's first mate, Frank Germano, was found the next day among the rocks on the shore. An autopsy determined that Reber suffered a blow to the head that knocked him into the water, where he drowned — while in a semiconscious or unconscious state — in 35 feet of water, and that his death occurred between Feb. 25 and 28. Germano was killed instantly by a blow to the head and torso, which destroyed one lung and his liver. The stern of the San Pedro based Cindy Fay was found in 35 feet of water about 1,100 feet offshore during a search by Reber's friends. The rest of the boat washed onto shore, where it was smashed by rocks. Cynthia Sue Reber has filed a multi-million dollar wrongful-death lawsuit against the United States, charging that the Navy ammunition in the area caused the Cindy Fay to explode. Attorneys for the plaintiffs presented their opening statement Wednesday in the 9th U.S. District Court in San Diego. According to a trial brief submitted by attorneys Capello and Michael McCann, “the harm to Boyd Reber and the Cindy Fay was caused by one of two sources, both under the control of the United States: either unexploded ordinance or a live shell.” In his opening statement, Capello said that Navy ships, which use the southern end of San Clemente Island as a bombardment range, were firing at targets in Pyramid Cove about the time Reber died. The fully charged 5-inch shells they were firing had a 26,000-yard range and could easily have struck the Cindy Fay, which was about 22,000 yards away, Capello said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Warren A. Schneider stated that “evidence will show heavy surf is the most likely explanation.” The brief also added that “Mr. Reber's conduct is a very likely cause of the accident.” But accounts by Reber's relatives and friends portrayed him as meticulous and safety-conscious, a man who once cut free his nets because he was unable to haul them in fast enough to escape inclement weather. Tim Houshar, who considered Reber one of his closest friends, testified that the accident could only have happened for ”reasons beyond (Reber's) control.” Capello said that Reber might have inadvertently caught unexploded in his net and that it exploded aboard the Cindy Fay. Several areas around San Clemente Island are posted by the Navy as danger zones, but no warnings were given — outside Pyramid Cove — to civilians about the naval shore-bombardment exercises at the time the Cindy Fay was in the area, Capello said. The Coast Guard is responsible for keeping civilians out of the area when naval exercises are being conducted. “Unknown to Reber, the entire island would be subject to virtual open warfare,” Capello told Judge J. Lawrence Irving, who is hearing the case without a jury. Just one week after Reber's death, said Capello, the destroyer Merrill fired shells that landed far outside the target zone, about a mile south of Mail Point. But Schneider declined to confirm the possibility that Navy ships may have missed their marks during target practice and hit the Cindy Fay. “Almost anything can happen, but I don't know whether it did or did not,” he said. ”I'm not sure we have any specific conclusions as to what happened.” Capello also said that he will bring evidence to show that the Navy and the Coast Guard are involved in a cover-up of the circumstances surrounding Reber's death. Wreckage from the Cindy Fay that was first retrieved by the frigate Bronstein was never turned over to the Coast Guard and has now disappeared, Capello said. On behalf of herself and the couple's daughter, Courtney, now 7, Cynthia Reber is seeking $2.5 million for loss of income and $4 million for pain and suffering.”
August 26, 1991 [LAT]: “A commercial fisherman, Boyd Reber was trawling for soupfin shark near San Clemente Island five years ago. Late one night, he phoned his house near Poway to tell his wife, Cindy, that all was well. He was never heard from again. Records would later show that the sea was calm, the waves unexceptional. Days after the call, Reber's boat was located in pieces. The stern was sheared off, as if from a blast. Just offshore, entangled in a kelp bed, searchers found Reber's body, clad in a sweatshirt and jeans. For 40 years, U.S. Navy ships have used San Clemente Island for target practice. The week Reber died three Navy ships conducted gunnery practice, shelling the island. Claiming that the Navy caused her husband's death because no one or nothing else could have, Cindy Reber and her daughter, Courtney, sued the Federal Government, seeking $2.5 million in damages. A San Diego federal judge turned her down. Two weeks ago, by a 2-1 vote, so did a federal appeals court. Without added review, which is rarely granted, the case is over...”