When he discovered that a passenger on his small boat was missing, Miami nightclub owner Russell Bruce waited 39 minutes to report her missing. The resulting charge: manslaughter, for failing to call authorities quickly enough.
But prosecutors, in the end, could not prove that even if Bruce had called 911, rescue crews would have found Lauren Jenee Lamar in time to save her.
“There were multiple depositions of the Coast Guard, marine patrol and expert witness,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio told a judge on Friday. “That evening, the conditions were very rough. It was pitch black out. Ms. Lamar was intoxicated.
“The witnesses could not definitely say that had they been notified immediately, she could have been rescued immediately.”
For that reason, Bruce was spared jail time on Friday, agreeing to serve four years of probation after pleading no contest to manslaughter. The case also won’t show as a felony conviction on his record.
Bruce, 47, offered a brief apology to the family, though he faced the judge when he said it.
“It was a very tragic day. I’m sorry for your loss,” said Bruce, flanked by defense attorney Dave Raben.
In light of the weak evidence, the plea deal was approved by the family of Lamar, a 26-year-old nightclub event promoter originally from Atlanta. Still, they were not happy.
Lamar’s father, Anthony Lamar, snapped at Bruce as he left the courtroom: “You should have called two years ago. Be a man!”
Her mother told reporters that Bruce “discarded her like garbage.”
For you to say you didn’t know that a person was not on the boat anymore, there’s something wrong with that picture.
Rebecca Lamar, mother of woman who died in Biscayne Bay
“That boat was not that long. It was not that big. It’s not like it was a yacht,” Rebecca Lamar said. “For you to say you didn’t know that a person was not on the boat anymore, there’s something wrong with that picture.”
Bruce moved to Miami in 2012 after operating coffeehouses and micro breweries in Seattle. He later moved to Los Angeles and got involved in the music industry. In 2014, Bruce and partner Anthony Moretti opened the nightclub Steam and a speakeasy called Railroad Blues, both of which are now closed.
Lamar’s family is suing Bruce for wrongful death; the case is still ongoing.
Lamar fell off Bruce’s 30-foot Concept boat on May 24, 2015, after they spent the night partying out on the water. They were with another woman, Alicia Bartolotta, who also was charged with manslaughter. She has rejected a plea offer and the case remains ongoing.
The boat docked at the Matheson Hammock marina in South Miami-Dade at 11:09 p.m. It was not until 11:48 p.m. that Bruce walked over to a marina office and reported the missing woman to a security guard, who called 911 three minutes later.
Lamar’s body was discovered floating in the waters near the marina 36 hours later. A cause of death was never established, but there was no trauma or evidence to indicate she had suffered injuries on the boat or was pushed off the craft.
An arrest warrant noted that Bruce and Bartolotta had functioning cellphones, and the boat’s radio worked fine. Bruce also raised suspicions because he poured himself a vodka drink before going to report her missing, police said.
He told a Fish and Wildlife lieutenant that he did not realize Lamar was missing until they docked. Later, with Miami-Dade police detectives, he invoked his right to remain silent.
According to a warrant, Bartolotta also told police that Bruce called 911 — something that never happened. She also gave various versions of what happened, at one point saying she may have “blacked out and couldn’t be sure what happened,” according to police.