Two charged with manslaughter in mysterious Miami boating death

Alicia Bartolotta
Alicia Bartolotta Osceola Corrections

Somehow, Lauren Jenee Lamar plunged into Biscayne Bay from a moving boat, unnoticed by anyone. For detectives, the story of her demise last month did not add up.

The boat captain, nightclub owner Russell Bruce, insisted he thought she was sleeping inside a small below-deck cabin on his 30-foot boat as they cruised back to a South Miami-Dade marina after a night of partying. But the tiny cabin was in the boat’s bow — in plain sight of whoever was behind the steering wheel.

And when Bruce and another passenger, Alicia Bartolotta, returned to the Matheson Hammock marina, they waited 39 minutes to report her missing. A police officer also saw the pair arguing on the dock.

And instead of calling 911, Bruce told police he first poured himself a drink.

“Bruce advised that he then began to consume vodka because he was upset that the victim was missing,” according to an arrest warrant released Friday.

Minutes after Bruce reported the woman missing, Bartolotta sent a text message to a friend saying “Help me! This girl jumped out the boat drunk we are under cop sh*t we are f**ked.”

Authorities on Friday charged Bruce, 45, and Bartolotta, 29, with manslaughter, saying the pair left the 26-year-old Lamar to die in the dark waters of Biscayne Bay. The body of the Miami Beach event promoter was discovered floating in the waters near the marina 36 hours later.

But Lamar’s death remains mysterious. The exact circumstances of how she fell into the bay remain unclear. And for now, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s office has only ruled the cause and manner of death as “undetermined.”

Bruce surrendered Friday morning and was booked into a Miami-Dade jail. “We are confident that no crime was committed and we look forward to aggressively defending this case,” said his defense attorney, Dave Raben.

Upstate in Osceola County, where Bartolotta lives, she left a jail after posting $100,00 bond. Bartolotta is a waitress living in Winter Garden.

Bruce 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.

An arrest warrant, prepared by Miami-Dade Detective Jonathan Grossman and prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio, outlines the state’s case:

On the night of May 24, Bruce and Bartolotta had been out cruising around the bay on his 30-foot Concept. At one point, they returned to Matheson Hammock marina to pick up a bottle of Belvedere vodka from Bruce’s Hummer.

Bruce and Lamar traded phone calls. The boat picked up Lamar at 7:32 p.m. at Bayside Marina. They cruised over and anchored around Stiltsville, the iconic group of wood stilt homes in Biscayne Bay one mile south of Cape Florida.

They left at 10:45 p.m., docking back at Matheson marina 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.

The warrant noted that Bruce and Bartolotta had functioning cellphones, and the boat’s radio worked fine.

Boats from several police departments, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard immediately began to scour the waters of Biscayne Bay.

Back at the dock, Bruce and Bartolotta acted strangely at the dock, according to the warrant. Minutes later, a Miami-Dade police officer, looking for Bruce, saw him and Bartolotta “having a verbal argument.”

Bruce told a Fish and Wildlife lieutenant that that he did not realize Lamar was missing until they docked. He invoked his right to remain silent when approached later by Miami-Dade detectives.

According to a warrant, Bartolotta also told police that Bruce called 911 — something that never actually 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.