Florida Keys

Feds add charges to man who allegedly shot at Coast Guard crew

A Key Largo liveaboard accused of firing gunshots at a U.S. Coast Guard crew now faces state and federal charges that could lead to 20 years in prison.

Daniel M. Szabo, 40, remained in Monroe County jail Thursday with no bond allowed.

On Monday, a Coast Guard Investigative Service agent filed a criminal complaint in federal district court charging Szabo "did use a deadly and dangerous weapon" during Szabo's failed attempt to elude a Coast Guard patrol boat in Largo Sound, off mile marker 102.5, late Sunday.

A conviction on the federal charge of using deadly force to resist federal officers carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.

As six Coast Guard crewmen aboard the patrol boat chased Szabo's dinghy, the defendant tried to escape, crashed his small craft into the hull of the Coast Guard boat, threatened suicide and reportedly fired several shots at the federal officers, the complaint says.

"A member of the Coast Guard saw two bright white-and-orange flashes of light from the dinghy," Coast Guard Special Agent Riley Martsco wrote in the complaint.

The crewman "observed two splashes in the water about 20 feet off the bow of the [Coast Guard] vessel and heard sounds consistent with gunfire."

Other crewmen reported hearing "five more gunshots," and one crewman said he saw a "handgun in Szabo's hand." None of the Coast Guard crew was injured.

Witnesses from the Jules Undersea Lodge marina, who first called the Monroe County Sheriff's Office around 9 p.m., said Szabo was drunk, "waving a gun around and had held it to his own head before taking off in the dinghy," according to the Sheriff's Office.

The Coast Guard was called for assistance when Szabo's dinghy was spotted heading into Largo Sound.

The Coast Guard crew stopped Szabo once, and said he appeared to be under the influence. Szabo then throttled his dinghy away, with the Coast Guard chasing at speeds of 15 to 20 knots, lights and sirens going.

After the dinghy struck mangroves, Szabo reportedly called the Coast Guard crew "a bunch of water pigs" and said they would have "to put a bullet right here" as he pointed to his forehead.

The chase resumed, but Szabo eventually was overtaken, subdued by pepper spray and arrested around 11 p.m.

Szabo initially was charged with felony escape. State charges of burglary and aggravated assault also were added Monday. Szabo has no prior criminal record in Monroe County, according to online databases.

A search of Szabo's dinghy did not find a gun, but officers believe Szabo could have thrown his weapon overboard during the extended chase.

"So many people heard the shots that there doesn't seem to be much doubt," said Deputy Becky Herrin, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman.

A search of water in the Largo Sound area was expected this week.