Who cracked the case of the burned buoy?
Key West police got some help tracking down two men they said vandalized the beloved landmark at the Southernmost Point of the U.S.
Credit the detective work at a Duval Street bar.
A bartender with a good memory and his boss with a curious mind figured out the suspects’ names after going through receipts and security camera footage.
Cameron Briody, who tends bar at Irish Kevin’s on Key West’s most famous street, awoke New Year’s Day to learn that the giant buoy landmark had been scarred by a fire two people set next to it with a burning pine tree.
The vandalism struck a nerve on the island. People wanted to see the suspects identified and arrested. The “coconut telegraph,” the nickname for the island’s gossip chain, was on high alert, of course.
So how did a bartender turn into a detective?
Briody recognized one face from a Southernmost Point webcam video circulating online. He said he served the man on New Year’s Eve that police later identified as a suspect, Skylar Jacobson, 21, of Henrietta, Texas.
The customer ordered drinks three times and never tipped, Briody recalled.
“I knew immediately that I had served him and that he had used a card, so his name would be on the slips,” Briody said in an interview via Facebook message.
So he immediately called work with the intel. Daylin Starks, the bar’s general manager, started hunting.
“We have a ton of cameras here,” Starks said. “Because Cameron remembered everything, it was super easy for me.”
“It took five minutes to breeze through the credit cards and find it,” Starks said.
With the time stamp on the receipt, she then found camera footage that she said showed both suspects at the bar.
“We could follow them the whole time, in and out of the bar,” Starks said. “We could see them getting rejected from all the girls they were trying to hit on.”
The day after the vandalism, police said they knew who the two suspects were but wouldn’t release names while searching for them. By the end of the week, they announced they had arrest warrants for Jacobson and David B. Perkins Jr., 22, of Leesburg, Florida.
On Friday, Perkins was booked into the county jail on Plantation Key in the Upper Keys, and released in a couple of hours without having to post a bond, according to online records from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
Jacobson also has plans to turn himself in, according to Key West police spokeswoman Alyson Crean.
Perkins and Jacobson each face a felony charge of criminal mischief with more than $1,000 in damage.
Standing out in a crowd
In addition to the receipts and video, Starks found the men on Facebook and Instagram.
Jacobson had two Instagram accounts but one was private with the warning, “No snitches,” she said.
She told police she could keep going.
“I said, I can make a fake account and be friends with him,” Starks said. “They were like, ‘We’re good.’ ”
New Year’s Eve was a huge night for Key West bars.
Tourists poured in for drinks along Duval Street and packed two blocks before midnight to watch the “drops” at two bars, including the tradition of a drag queen named Sushi seated inside a giant red high-heeled shoe that descended as the last seconds of 2021 ran out.
Even amid the high volume of customers, Starks said certain things can make a customer stand out.
Police reported that Briody could easily remember Jacobson’s face because he was the only customer who didn’t leave a tip.
Starks said Jacobson was also memorable in another way: He wore long baggy shorts with a dark T-shirt, tall black socks and a backward baseball cap.
“His outfit was just so horrible it was hard not to remember him,” Starks said.
Making a ‘colossal mistake’
The two suspects in the Southernmost Point buoy vandalism case told police they were only in Key West for one day over the holiday weekend.
But they left a lasting impression — along with a mess for the city to clean up, police said.
Restoring the charred buoy, which included sanding it down and repainting the entire 20-ton landmark, cost $5,379, police reported after speaking with the city’s community services director.
City workers finished repairs on the buoy at the end of last week.
When Perkins returned a message from Key West Police Detective Karl Malsheimer on Jan. 1, he admitted to the vandalism, saying they didn’t intend to damage the buoy but made a poor decision, according to police reports.
“Perkins said everything is on camera and he made a colossal mistake,” Malsheimer wrote.
The pair found the pine tree on Duval Street and dragged it to the buoy. Perkins said they didn’t initially plan to start the blaze. But once they got it to the buoy, he said it was his idea to light up the tree with a cigarette lighter, police said.
In the video, the tree is lit but fizzles after the man with the lighter flips it over. He kneels and lights it again.
Asked if they were drinking at the time, Perkins said “they never would have done what they did if they were in the right state of mind,” the detective wrote.
“Jacobson acknowledged that what happened was a big mistake and they ‘weren’t thinking,’ ” the report says.
A case of rum as a reward
The case shows how residents and police can work together, said Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg.
“This is a great example of the partnership the Key West Police Department shares with the community,” he said in a statement. “Between the people who provided the video, the officers and detectives who worked quickly to identify the suspects and the tip by Mr. Briody, this highlights community policing at its best.”
Briody said he doesn’t deserve any credit for the arrests.
“I simply remembered serving the one guy and things progressed from there,” he said in a Facebook message. “Daylin’s detective skills definitely solved the case and obviously the rest of the credit goes to the KWPD for all of their hard work.”
But he was still given a reward: a case of rum.
Paul Menta, who owns a rum distillery in downtown Key West, had promised a case to the person who could help police identify the suspects.
“There’s a lesson for you: Always tip your bartender or he will remember you, for the good reasons or the bad reasons,” Briody said in a Facebook video with Menta and Key West author David Sloan.
In the video, Menta hands over the case of rum, along with a “Conch Republic” flag, as the three stand at Whitehead and South streets with the Southernmost Point buoy in the background.
“Thank you for helping us preserve this, keeping an eye on it,” Menta says, “and being a responsible bartender, as well.”