Search for Sabine goes on (gallery)

Manatee authorities performing delicate hunt for missing island woman

rdymond@bradenton.comJuly 20, 2011 

ANNA MARIA -- With about a dozen curious onlookers gazing from a nearby footbridge, two frontloaders began digging up sections of Anna Maria Island beach Tuesday to search for the remains of a missing woman.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office does not know for sure if island business woman Sabine Musil-Buehler is buried in the sand near the Willow Avenue footbridge, but it became a possibility again when some of her belongings were found in nearby vegetation July 9, said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow.

Although nothing was found of significance Tuesday, the digging will resume today, Bristow added.

What makes the dig a challenge is that the beach has been renourished and no longer has the natural sediment layers that would make it possible to dig shallower and find disruptions in the sand, said Det. John Kenney.

“We have to be very meticulous now,” Kenney said. “It is time-consuming to do it right.”

The dig began at 9 a.m. and became dramatic about an hour later when one of the frontloaders unearthed something hard 4 feet down.

It turned out to be an old truck tire filled with concrete with a hole in the middle, probably used as a post holding up a volleyball net, deputies said.

The sheriff’s office was on site ready to dig at 7:30 a.m., but had to wait until 9 a.m. for the arrival of their partners on the dig, Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shore Bird Monitoring.

There are five protected turtle nests in the large perimeter of beach where law enforcement is digging.

The turtle group, which has been in existence since the 1980s and protects turtle nests by cordoning them off and keeping watch over them, had to finish an emergency operation in another part of the island.

Only the second green sea turtle nest found on the island in the past 28 years was discovered early Tuesday morning near the third lifeguard stand at Coquina Beach, said Suzi Fox, director of the turtle group.

Ironically, Musil-Buehler was an ardent turtle protectionist who served with Fox’s group for more than a decade.

Finally, Fox arrived at the dig site and the tractors roared into action.

One tractor was digging about 10 feet from a cordoned-off turtle nest that won’t be moved for the dig, Fox said.

“The mama turtle digs about 3 feet underground before she lays her eggs, so if there is something there we would have seen it,” Fox said.

The sheriff’s office had to secure a federal permit to dig on the beach during nesting season of the threatened turtles, which runs May through October.

“This is just a center point,” Bristow said. “We will work out both ways from here.”

The sheriff’s office is putting the beach back together as each section is excavated.

“It must be safe for beachgoers when we are done each day,” Kenney said. “Sheriff Brad Steube has told us we will have whatever we need for as long as we need it to cover the entire area that we need to cover.”

Dianne Small and her 17-year-old daughter Courtney are staying with family in a vacation rental house on Willow Avenue. They have been coming to the beach for several days and were surprised by Tuesday’s dig.

“It is kind of creepy and scary,” Courtney said. “We have set our umbrellas there the last few days where they are digging.”

But Courtney hopes they find the woman’s remains, adding, “It will be good for the family to bring closure.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.

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