Florida Keys

‘Hey Mr. Speedo, get the [expletive] off our island!’ Tourists forced from Key West spot

Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor has so far been left undeveloped as the city has become a major tourist destination.
Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor has so far been left undeveloped as the city has become a major tourist destination.

Two tourists were forced off an island off of Key West by local squatters, police said.

The Hollywood, California, couple said they were attacked by a Key West couple that camps on Wisteria Island, a small, undeveloped spot visible from Mallory Square.

Wisteria Island, also known as Christmas Tree Island, remains in an ownership fight between developers and the federal government. Without a clear owner, the land has been turned into a makeshift community by the homeless.

“Hey Mr. Speedo [gay slur], get the [expletive] off our island!” shouted the campers, Christopher Thomas John Yarema, 43, and Stephanie Lynn Burnham, 35, at the two California men, according to police.

Burnham yelled, “You have five seconds to get off, or I will kill you,” according to the arrest report.

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Burnham punched one of the men in the face, damaging his sunglasses, then struck him in the head with a boat oar, Monroe deputies said. Yarema pulled out a knife and swung it at the same man but missed and then stabbed the dinghy twice, police said.

Yarema was charged with aggravated assault and property damage. Burnham was charged with battery and property damage.


The tourists said they had rented a large boat that came with an inflatable dinghy from a local charter boat company. At about noon Saturday, they anchored the boat and used the dinghy to travel to Wisteria Island, where they spent the day walking the beach and snorkeling.

By 4:30 p.m. the tourists were preparing to leave Wisteria when they noticed an approaching small skiff with two people aboard. That’s when Burnham and Yarema began yelling slurs at the same-sex couple.

Jeffery Pellissier, 59, who was battered, told police he was untying the dinghy to leave when he was attacked by Burnham. He pushed her away and Yarema said, “You knocked down my wife, I’m going to kill you,” reports stated.

Yarema approached him with a four-inch blade, swung but missed. Pellissier was able to put the dinghy between himself and Yarema.

Yarema came at him again with the knife, missing again, but punctured the dinghy. Yarema swung and stabbed the dinghy a second time, police said.

Pellissier and his partner Keith Miller, 61, were able to board the dinghy and made it back to the rental boat where they radioed for help. The Coast Guard arrived and found the dinghy out of air.

The charter boat company stated they wished to press charges for the damage to the dinghy, which is valued between $2,000 and $5,000.

Yarema and Burnham were arrested at the Coast Guard station and taken to the Stock Island Detention Center. On Monday afternoon, both were being held on $15,000 bonds.

Burnham was listed as a “stage performer” who is homeless. Yarema is listed as a fisherman and roofer with a Caroline Street address in Key West.