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Three missing boaters were fixtures at Boca Grande houses

February 29, 2024
By Garland Pollard

Longtime employees, friends, rally to cause of lost fathers

Three of the four men lost off the coast near Venice in an apparent fishing boat accident on Feb. 17 were employees of Safety Harbor Builders on Gasparilla Island.

“We were super close with those men,” said Chip Crawford, a co-owner and CEO of the firm. “If Safety Harbor built their house in the last 10 years, they have probably seen those men.”

Missing are 38-year-old Angel Hernandez-Munoz, 54-year-old Ruben Mora Sr., 37-year-old Julio Cesar Cordero-Briones and 35-year-old Alfonso Vargas-Parra. The three employees of Safety Harbor were Angel “Francisco” Hernandez, Julio Corderro and Alfonso Vargas.

Here, Angel, his mother and his sister.
Contributed family photo.

In response to the tragedy, Safety Harbor Vice President Gary Bingamen has organized a Gofundme for the families. At press time, and in only four days, they raised over $43,000 of a $50,000 goal.

So far, the community has been extremely generous, as so many people on the island had ties to the men. The Gofundme continues to raise money, and the goal has been modified upward several times because of the response.

The Gofundme will go toward all of the men’s families. “As main providers, their sudden absence has left their loved ones struggling with uncertainty and financial strain,” Bingamen wrote in the Gofundme. “In this time of difficulty, we are reaching out to our community for support. Every donation, no matter how small, will make a significant impact. All funds will be divided and distributed equally to the families of these beloved men, helping to alleviate some of the financial burdens they now face.”

Crews from the U.S. Coast Guard searched for about 60 hours covering approximately 10,345 square nautical miles for the group, an area about the size of Massachusetts. They gave up the search at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 20.

The men were reported missing on Sunday morning, when Venice Police dispatched the Coast Guard station in Cortez because the men were overdue from a launch at Marina Park and Boat Ramp. The weather had been stormy late Saturday.

“We offer our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the missing men,” said, Lt. Cmdr. Dana W. Grady, a search-and-rescue mission coordinator for Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “One of the hardest decisions to make during a search is a suspension. No two cases are ever the same, which makes each case challenging on its own.” 

Alfonso taking a break.
Photos submitted

“Using all available information, our focus is to saturate the area as quickly as possible, using all available Coast Guard and partner agency crews,” said Capt. Michael P. Kahle, commander of Sector St. Petersburg. “This was an immense search area.”

The search was massive, incorporating Coast Guard Air Stations in Clearwater, Miami, Cortez and Fort Myers Beach. They employed three Coast Guard cutters, as well as police and fire in Sarasota, Venice, Charlotte County, Lee County and Florida Fish and Wildlife, among others. Crews searched as far as 80 miles off the coast for the 23-foot 1975 SportCraft. 

Each of the three has worked on many houses on the island. Angel’s wife, mother, uncle and cousin all work for the firm. Crawford said that Angel Hernandez-Munoz had worked for the firm for over 18 years; he even remembered him working on the Farish’s house. 

“It’s been a pretty challenging week,” Bingamen said. “Angel and I have worked together for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t just my employee, he was my friend. They all were such selfless and wonderful people.”

The Gofundme is at