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Susie (#) (-1994)

In the News~

March 11, 1994 [SBNP]: “When Santa Barbara Commercial fisherman John Mecono voyaged to San Miguel Island last month, he didn’t dream that in 24 hours he’d be in handcuffs — out of business, homeless, and facing federal charges stemming from the stormy shipwreck of his vessel. Mecono, who lived on his boat, is charged with abandoning property on the island national park. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ he said. ‘I have nothing now, no home, no boat, nothing.’ Mecono is scheduled for a hearing before a U.S. magistrate on March 18 in Ventura. If found guilty, he could be fined up to $5000 and face a one-year federal prison term, or be required to pay all wreck removal costs. Channel Islands National Park rangers arrested him yards from his uninsured boat, Susie, the afternoon of February 3 after she wrecked on Cuyler’s Harbor Beach. The surf-battered wreck of the 41-foot former tuna boat left Mecono, his dog, and a passenger shelterless for several dark hours on the rain-and-wind-lashed shore. ‘It was freezing,’ Mecono siad. ‘We got down behind some rocks. I was never so miserable in my whole life. Rangers appeared after sunrise. By mid afternoon, they arrested Mecono and whisked him, handcuffed, to the mainland via helicopter. Head ranger Jack Fitzgerald said Mecono refused to cooperate with rangers and was preparing to desert his boat. ‘We’re not really inerested in punishing him,’ he said. ‘We’re seeking clean-up and not penalty.’ Cleaning up the mess would cost from $15,000 to $30,000, depending on whether volunteers help, Fitzgerald said. Mecono admitted he was the boat’s owner, Fitzgerald said. ‘I think he did say his name,’ the ranger said. ‘But he would not give any verification. He said he was leaving and he was taking his stuff.’ And cursing, ‘he said he wasn’t going to remove anything else.’ Between 15 and 20 vessels wreck on the islands yearly, Fitzgerald said. Usually, one or two are from Santa Barbara. ‘If we let everybody deposit boats there, the park would be a junkyard,’ Fitzgerald said. ‘And we’d be negligent if we let them.’ After the grounding, Mecono and Keith Andrews of Santa Barbara, owner of the vessel Six Brothers, said they had loaded Andrews’ skiff with electronic equipment and other valuables from the Susie as a precaution against looters. Mecono said rangers arrested him ‘just when I was getting to run the first load of stuff off the beach.’ He denied refusing to tke responsibility for cleaning the wreckage and fleeing. ‘Why would I leave? Why would I want to lose everything I own?’ He admits to anger, but claims the rangers were heavy-handed. ‘I was in shock. I started feeling really sick about the boat,’ Mecono said. ‘They said they wanted to take me in because the magistrate wanted to talk to me. I’m refusing to go. They’re telling me I have to leave my home busted up on the beach. I’m still in shock,’ he said. Next thing I know he cuffs me. And he wouldn’t even let me talk to my friends about the stuff on the boat.’ A ranger ‘shoved me real hard into the helicopter.’ Meanwhile the Susie lies a battered wreck amid an elephant seal colony. Rangers and volunteers have removed thousands of fishing hooks from the beach that washed from the Susie, as well as other boat debris. Fitzgerald said the boat should remain until April so removal won’t disturb breeding seals. Mecono has not returned to the wreckage. He said he’s unsure of his rights, and has no money to arrange for salvage. Fitzgerald said he hopes the magistrate will find Mecono guilty and orger him to make monthly payments towards removing the wreckage. That’s preferable to a fine, Fitzgerald said, because fines go to the U.S. Treasury, not the park. ‘It’s a tragedy for him to lose his boat,’ Fitzgerald said.’ But that’s not the end of the tragedy. To make it right, it needs to be removed.’ The ranger said that anybody whose boat wrecks on the park’s islands can avoid prosecution in the hours after. They must answer allrangers’ questions, provide a permanent addressand telephone number, volunteer to remove the wreckage, discuss salvage plans with rangers, and immediately start cleaning debris around the vessel.”