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Coast Guard offering $2K reward in hoax call investigation

By WCTI Staff
Published On: Dec 24 2013 11:10:07 AM CST
Updated On: Oct 21 2013 08:11:24 PM CDT
CARTERET COUNTY -

The Coast Guard is offering up to a $2,000 reward for anyone who can identify the suspect behind a possible hoax call from Carteret County.

The Coast Guard released a recording of the call made at about 2:45 a.m. Sunday near Beaufort. The caller claimed he had five adults and two children on his vessel that was taking on water in the area of the Core Creek Bridge.

The Coast Guard deployed a 24-foot shallow water craft and the Cherry Point helicopter, "Pedro." In addition, Towboat U.S., the Atlantic Beach Fire Department and the Morehead City Fire Department helped with the operation. But crews could not find anything and the search was later called off.

The Coast Guard is offering a reward of up to $2,000 for anyone who recognize the voice of the caller. Contact the Coast Guard at 910-772-2229 or 910-343-3881.

Under federal law, committing a hoax distress call is a felony. Offenders can receive up to six years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In addition, they can be ordered to pay restitution to the Coast Guard for the cost of the search.

Coast Guard Fort Macon Senior Chief Jeremy McConnell said it costs a substantial amount of money to operate the equipment needed for a rescue. He said it also makes for a dangerous situation for his crew.

"Those cases, to me and the Coast Guard, they jeopardize other people's lives because they distract us from where our mission should be," said McConnell.

"False distress calls limit the Coast Guard's ability to respond to actual emergencies," said Cmdr. Joseph Dufresne, deputy commander of Sector North Carolina. "Ultimately, they penalize the local communities and mariners the Coast Guard is charged to protect by unnecessarily endangering the lives of responders and wasting hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars."

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Coast Guard officials called off search on the grounds of a possible hoax. The initial call said five adults and two children were on the boat, according to the Coast Guard.

Coast Guard officials said they received the distress call at 3:00 a.m. Sunday. The distress call came from the area of the Highway 101 bridge over Core Creek in Carteret County.

The Coast Guard, Atlantic Beach Fire Department, Morehead City Fire Department, Tow Boat U.S. Beaufort, and Pedro were all searching the area.

Everyone was called off the search about 8 a.m. Sunday, except for Coast Guard crews who stayed on the water into the afternoon.

Tow Boat U.S. owner, Lee Sykes, said he had two boats on the water Sunday morning.

"We  did find debris, a life jacket kit, life jackets and a cooler floating in the water, but other than that we were never able to find anything," Sykes said.

He said Sunday's distress call is similar to a distress call earlier this month from a man on a boat near Cape Lookout. The article to that story can be found under 'related content' on this page. 

"If there would have been a vessel sunk in the general area than we would have been able to able to locate it with that many resources that were out there looking Sunday night," Sykes said.

The Coast Guard had more than 50 hoax calls in 2011. A hoax can cost tens of  thousands of dollars to investigate. Sykes said his two boats alone cost him $600 an hour.

Search crews in Craven County were dispatched about 7 p.m. Sunday to a distress call on the Neuse River near Highway 43.  Searchers left after approximately an hour after learning the call was likely a hoax.

Another similar situation occurred Friday on the Trent River in Craven County.