Michelle Hunt didn’t work on Dec. 16, as she and many realtors often do on Sundays. Instead, she took the day off so she could have brunch with a niece who would be out of town for Christmas.
It would be the last time her family saw Hunt before her death later that day.
There are many questions surrounding what happened in the hours that followed that brunch, which included a boating outing with her boyfriend. Her family is not alone in looking for answers.
The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is investigating her death, but the one person who was with Hunt in those last hours, her on-again and off-again boyfriend of five years, is refusing to talk to detectives and has obtained an attorney, who has not returned detectives’ phone calls.
In his only statement to deputies, Hunt’s boyfriend claimed she had fallen off his boat while they were docked near the Casey Key Fish House restaurant in Osprey, according to the sheriff’s office.
The medical examiner has not yet been able to determine the cause and manner of her death. Among the biggest questions surrounding the case, are Hunt’s injuries and what caused them.
“The person who has the most knowledge is not willing to talk to law enforcement,” lead detective Garrick Plonczynski said.
The Bradenton Herald is not naming Hunt’s boyfriend because her death has not been ruled as the result of any foul play. A call to his attorney for comment was not returned.
What detectives do know is that after having brunch, Hunt met up with her boyfriend and the couple left around 1 p.m. from the Phillippi Harbor Club marina in Sarasota, on his boat. At some point that afternoon, the couple docked near the Casey Key Fish House when she allegedly fell off the boat, according to the sheriff’s office.
Hunt’s boyfriend initially told deputies and her family that he brought her back to the marina. Hunt was vomiting on the boat and witnesses at the marina have told the sheriff’s office they recall seeing the couple return. Hunt’s boyfriend did not take her to be seen by a doctor, however, because she insisted on going home to shower because she had vomit in her hair, according to the sheriff’s office and family members.
After showering or being showered, there are conflicting stories, Hunt lay down on the couch and her condition continued to deteriorate. Family members said the boyfriend told them that he stepped out of the room for a moment and returned to see her eyes roll to the back of her head,
But instead of calling 911 immediately, he called one of her friends first, according to her family and detectives. He did eventually call 911 but the time lapsed is unclear.
In a panic, he can be heard in a recording of that 911 call, telling a dispatcher that he didn’t know what happened other than she had fallen off a dock and wasn’t breathing.
During that call, he can be heard calling out to Hunt’s friend and saying, “Help me.”
He is crying and screaming, as he can be heard doing CPR, “Come on baby, please, I can’t lose you,” he said.
He is frantic as he curses, questioning where paramedics are and pleads with Hunt to wake up.
Detectives have spoken to staff at Casey Key Fish House, who have been cooperative, but they could not recall seeing the couple that day. They are hoping someone who was on that dock on Dec. 16 and saw the couple will come forward with whatever they may have seen.
“I have had people calling and calling and calling to know what’s going on with the investigation,” Plonczynski said.
Couple’s troubled history
Hunt hadn’t told her family that she was back with old boyfriend in the weeks leading up to her death. They hoped she had finally moved on from what they described as an unhealthy and toxic relationship.
They were shocked in hours before her death when they saw a Facebook post from Hunt with pictures from his boat. None of the four pictures show the couple, but rather the view from the back of the boat and said, “The only place that makes sense.”
The post was uncharacteristic of Hunt, according to her family, who was known to post selfies more than anything else. The word choice also seemed unusual to family, some who question if it was even Hunt who wrote the message.
“She did not express to me that she was back with this guy so I thought she was going home to rest and relax,” her niece Elisa Hunt said. “I was completely shocked to get a call from (him) to come up to the emergency room.”
When she got to the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota ER in Lakewood Ranch, he told her that Hunt had fallen off the boat and hit her left side. He questioned her how much Hunt had to drink at brunch, but it was only two bloody Marys and Hunt had eaten all her food, she said.
When a doctor told them that Hunt had died, the boyfriend became hysterical, pounding on things and had to be told by staff to calm down, according to Elisa Hunt.
Family and friends say they suspected Hunt was abused by her boyfriend over the years, and that although she never admitted it, she would share his harassing messages, behavior and threats during the times they weren’t together. There were also times she had suspicious injuries, they say, including a broken arm. She had also inquired about how to go about getting a restraining order, but didn’t say why.
“I know he was very abusive towards her. When we were together she would read me his texts,” Hunt’s aunt Phyllis Peterson said. “He was stalking her.”
Having lost her own mother, Hunt had a very close relationship with Peterson and would confide in her. Hunt had shared that she was going to counseling and how she was getting her life back.
The loss had devastated their family, she added, and they want answers
“Even though that’s not what’s going to give us peace, there is justice that needs to be served,” Elissa Hunt said.
Less than two weeks before Hunt died, her on-again and off-again boyfriend found himself in court before a judge as his most recent ex-girlfriend was seeking a protective injunction against him. She is one of at least three women in the last 14 years to have sought a restraining order against him.
The injunction was denied but not without a stern warning from the judge, the woman told the Bradenton Herald.
“The judge told him, ‘If you contact her again, I will grant it,” recalled the woman, who asked not to be named.
But at the time, the judge didn’t feel the woman was in fear for her life, which she agreed.
“Mostly he was just harassing me,” she said. “We had some issues in our relationship but once we broke up, he would send me 70 emails a day, drive by house.”
She had broken up with him in September after dating for 18 months. He didn’t want to accept that the relationship was over though and kept trying to win her back.
But their relationship had been unhealthy. He was very manipulative, controlling and dishonest, she said, and could be violent and aggressive.
That led to her decision in November to petition for a protective injunction.
Since then, she has not heard from him and the only contact was when she sent her condolences regarding Hunt’s death.
Anyone who witnessed the incident or has any information about the case can contact Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Detective Garrick Plonczynski at 941-747-3011, ext. 2491 or Garrick.Plonczynski@manateesheriff.com.