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AON Truck-Buck Winner Arrested With Hundreds Of Illegal Lobster
Less than two weeks before the Shoot-Out, Jeffrey Honnell, of Pittsview, and six other men, were found with 320 illegal lobsters in Marathon, Florida.
 
By Brad Gill
Posted Wednesday August 9 2017, 10:32 AM
 
Jeffrey Honnell, of Pittsview, won the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out grand-prize Chevy pickup truck on July 22 in Birmingham. On July 9, he and six other men were charged and arrested for taking 320 illegal lobsters in Marathon, Florida.
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Truck-Buck Shoot-Out winner Jeffrey Honnell, 45, of Pittsview, was one of seven men arrested in Marathon, Fla. on July 9 after Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers discovered the men in possession of 320 lobster tails at a time when the state’s spiny lobster season was closed. Additional charges involving stone crabs, undersized fish and equipment used to take the lobsters were also made.

Approximately 10 days before the Truck-Buck Shoot-Out, AON received a call regarding the charges brought against Honnell. The anonymous caller wanted AON to be aware of Honnell’s arrest in case he did indeed win the truck. The caller didn’t want AON brought into a negative light.

Based on Truck-Buck rules, AON had no solid grounds for eliminating Honnell from the contest. Truck-Buck 10 rules stated, “Hunters who have been convicted of a game violation of the Alabama Game & Fish Code, that conviction occurring on or after Jan. 1, 2014, are specifically excluded from participation in the Contest.”

Honnell passed the AON polygraph examination on May 2, 2017, which was his final qualification for admittance into the Shoot-Out. In the days leading up to the Shoot-Out, Honnell did not offer any information with the AON staff about his actions in Florida.

On the afternoon of Honnell’s arrest, FWC Officers Alex Piekenbrock and Jefferson Carroll were patrolling an area in Monroe County referred to as the Vaca Cut at approximately 4:10 p.m. They observed a 1995, 25-foot Boston Whaler that was later discovered to be a rental boat.

“We observed a vessel with fishing poles clearly visible onboard,” Piekenbrock reported in an FWC Incident Summary Report. “The vessel was heading in a direction of travel consistent with the vessel returning to its dock; travel from Vaca Cut to a residential area. The vessel passed the house we later discovered they rented and turned into the canal between 112th Street Ocean and 114th Street Ocean. The vessel had multiple fishing poles, in rodholders, on the t-top. I initiated the blue lights of my patrol vessel and conducted a vessel stop in the canal off of 2nd Avenue Ocean in Marathon.”

There were seven men on board between the ages of 19 and 57. In addition to Honnell, the following men were on the boat: Leon Reeves, of Phenix City, Jeffrey Meide, of Rome, Ga., Robinson Reeves, of Phenix City, Kyle Bartkiewicz, of Eufaula, Francis Bartkiewicz, of Eufaula, and David Gilmore, of Eufaula.

“There were multiple spear guns and pole spears on the deck of the vessel,” wrote Piekenbrock in the FWC incident report. “The occupants were asked if they had any saltwater product on the vessel, and they stated that they did not. Officer Carroll asked for permission to search the vessel, and the captain consented. Officer Carroll boarded the vessel where he picked up a mesh bag containing spiny lobster. The bag contained multiple wrung (removed) spiny lobster tails, stone crab claws and filleted fish. Through my training and experience, the filleted fish appeared to be snapper, grouper and hog fish.”

Florida’s 2017 spiny lobster season would not open until a two-day recreational sport season on July 26-27, followed by the regular commercial and recreational lobster season, which started Aug. 6 and now runs through March 31, 2018. Lobster can’t be harvested with spear guns or pole spears during the season.

Each of the men were read their Miranda Rights and interviewed.

“Mr. Honnell was advised his Miranda Warning, and he verbally stated he understood his rights and agreed to speak with me,” said Piekenbrock. “He stated he knew there were specific seasons for lobster in Florida. He advised he harvested lobster today (July 9) with a pole spear. He further advised all of the lobster on the vessel were harvested today. He said they also went out on the vessel to harvest lobster yesterday (July 8). Mr. Honnell stated he had filleted all of the fish that were on the vessel. He also admitted to harvesting two of the stone crab claws inside the dive bag.”

Officer Brian Sapp had been dispatched and arrived on the scene. He inspected the dive bag and discovered 137 wrung spiny lobster tails, and 117 of the wrung lobster tails were under the minimum legal size limit of 5 1/2 inches. The bag also contained four out-of-season stone crab claws, of which two were under the legal size limit of 2 3/4 inches. There were also four fish fillets in the bag.

“I asked Mr. Honnell if he was aware of the spiny lobster regulations, to which he replied yes. Mr. Honnell stated that he knew he was breaking the law, and he made a mistake,” wrote Sapp in the FWC incident report. “Mr. Honnell stated that he knew it wasn’t lobster season, and that he should not have speared them.”

The men confessed that more lobsters were at the nearby rental home that had been taken the day before. Lt. David Robison and Officer Clayton Wagner, who had also arrived on the scene, were given permission to search the rental home with one of the men. At the rental home, the officers discovered 183 spiny lobster, 129 of those were wrung tails, and 109 of those tails were undersized. There was also an undersized filleted black grouper carcass in a freezer outside of the house.

The seven occupants were placed under arrest, handcuffed and transported to the Monroe County jail where they were processed.

Honnell and the other men now face 586 first degree misdemeanor charges for out-of-season spiny lobsters and tails that have been wrung or separated from the body.

Sixteen counts of second degree misdemeanor charges were made for out-of-season stone crab claws, fish not landed in whole condition, undersized fish and the use of equipment designed to puncture the shell of the lobster

Two counts of third degree felony charges for possession of 100 or more undersized spiny lobsters were also made.

AON contacted Honnell on Monday, Aug. 7 to give him the opportunity to share comments, but he stated that he could not comment until after litigation.
 
 
 
 
 
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