Nightclub operator loses track of passenger on board; her body likely found floating in marina

MIAMI -- Nightclub operator Russell Bruce didn’t realize one of his boat passengers was missing until he maneuvered his craft back to Matheson Hammock Marina from Stiltsville, he told police.

Security officers at the popular South Miami-Dade beach and boat landing spot called authorities. Within minutes, a frantic search across land and water for 26-year-old Lauren Jenee Lamar was underway, even as police questioned Bruce and another woman, Alicia Nicole Bartolota, aboard the 30-foot Concept.

Early Tuesday morning, someone flying in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and a videographer for a local television station spotted the body of a black female floating just beyond the marina. The body was retrieved, but not immediately identified, and sent to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.

“Everything is matching that it could be her,” Miami-Dade Police Detective Daniel Ferrin said.

Bruce told police two hours had passed from the time Lamar made her way below deck to relax and when he noticed her missing after docking at the marina just before midnight Sunday. Ferrin said it’s possible if Lamar fell overboard somewhere in Biscayne Bay, the body would show up later at the popular beach and boat-landing spot.

“The current could have pushed her in there,” he said.

Miami Herald news partner CBS4 reported Bruce, Bartolota and Lamar had been drinking at the Hard Rock Cafe at Bayside Marketplace before heading out to Stiltsville by boat Sunday. When the group headed for the marina sometime before midnight — when Lamar apparently fell off the boat — it was windy and rough.

Over the next 30 hours, teams from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Coast Guard, Miami, and Miami-Dade police scoured the area. During the search, Bruce and Bartolota were questioned and released.

After the U.S. Coast Guard found the body, the Miami-Dade police missing-persons unit handed the investigation over to the homicide squad, which is standard procedure until any possible malfeasance is ruled out.

Bruce, 45, moved to Miami in 2012 after operating coffee houses and micro breweries in Seattle. He later moved to Los Angeles and got involved in the music industry. Last year, Bruce and partner Anthony Moretti opened the nightclub Steam and a speakeasy called Railroad Blues in a building just west of downtown Miami, on Northeast 14th Street.

The incident involving Bruce was the latest in a string of club promoters and celebrities who have had deadly or crippling accidents in South Florida’s waters.

In May, 2014, radio personality DJ Laz accidentally got his 40-foot pleasure craft stuck on a sandbar at No Name Harbor behind the home where President Richard Nixon spent his winters on Key Biscayne. With the propellers still whirling, 23-year-old Ernesto Hernandez and others tried to free the boat. Hernandez slipped and was killed by the blades.

Then in March, nightclub promoter Michael Capponi lost control of a small pleasure craft he was guiding and smashed into a seawall protecting the Coast Guard station in Miami Beach. Capponi’s girlfriend, Brooke Biederman, was badly injured.