MANATEE — A man found behind the wheel of car that belonged to a missing 49-year-old island motel owner is slated to go to trial in August, according to prosecutors.
Robert Corona, 38, is charged with resisting law enforcement without violence, driving without a valid license and grand theft of a motor vehicle.
Corona was found in Sabine Musil-Buehler’s white 2000 Pontiac Sunfire driving east in the 1200 block of 26th Avenue West in Bradenton on Nov. 6, 2008, according to reports.
During a traffic stop, Corona left the car and ran from deputies. He was found by a sheriff’s dog underneath a truck parked in the 2400 block of 11th Street West, according to the arrest report.
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Even though she has been missing for almost a year, Musil-Buehler has not been declared legally dead.
“We have treated this as a homicide for some time,” said Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dave Bristow. “It does make it difficult to investigate a homicide without a body. ... There have been cases where someone has been charged with homicide without a body, but it’s few and far between.”
Sheriff’s office investigators conducted searches at the beach and other locations in the county with no success when Musil-Buehler was initially reported missing. She was last seen by her boyfriend, William Cumber, on election night after an argument.
Cumber, who had a previous conviction of burning an ex-girlfriend’s house down, is a person of interest in her disappearance.
Two weeks after Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, Haley’s Motel, a 15-room efficiency motel on Holmes Beach co-owned by Musil-Buehler, was partially burned to the ground.
No one has been charged with arson in that case.
Cumber was arrested in January after he was stopped driving a friend’s truck in Marion County. Cumber, who had no valid drivers license, was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years in prison for violating his probation.
In previous interviews, Cumber said he did not know what happened to Musil-Buehler. He was the only person close to Musil-Buehler who seemed to believe she was alive.
Investigators presume she is dead.
“The fact of the matter is nobody has seen her. She just fell off the face of the earth,” Bristow said. “For a while there was hope she would turn up, but as days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months, that’s the only thing you could assume.”
When Corona was questioned about Musil-Buehler’s car, he initially told investigators he was partying with her. He later changed his story and told authorities he found the vehicle unlocked and parked at the Gator Lounge in the 1800 block of 14th Street West, according to authorities.
Musil-Buehler’s blood was found inside the car. Some of her clothes and personal belongings were in the trunk, according to a warrant.
Authorities do not believe Corona had anything to do with Musil-Buehler’s disappearance, Bristow said.
It’s possible Corona could enter a plea in the next week, said Tony Casoria, assistant state attorney. Otherwise, Corona is scheduled to go to trial Aug. 10, according to court records.
Prosecutors are asking that Corona get sentenced to five years in prison.
Tom Buehler, Musil-Buehler’s separated husband and business partner, said he is continuing to rebuild the motel. He has not entered a court motion to presume his wife is dead, he said.
Buehler has been waiting on investigators to find Musil-Buehler’s remains or arrest her killer, he said.
According to Florida laws, someone would have to submit a petition to a judge in order to declare her dead.
It’s unclear where Musil-Buehler’s remains could be.
Bristow said investigators initially searched between the Anna Maria apartment she shared with Cumber and the Gator Lounge in Bradenton. It’s possible her remains were taken outside the county, he said.
“Sometimes you hope for a break and hope information comes in,” Bristow said. “You at least want to find the body and give some closure to the family in that regard.”