Angler dies in 6-man brawl over Florida fishing spot


Mar 11, 2001
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Angler dies following dispute

By Michael Reed, St. Augustine Times Staff Writer

One man is dead after what witnesses say was a fight over a fishing spot Saturday on the Claude Varn Bridge over the Matanzas Inlet on State Road A1A.

The victim is 35-year-old Craig Alan Buckley of Ocala, but the district medical examiner has to do an autopsy before the cause of death can be determined, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.

The fight was between six men fishing in two groups of three, according to the sheriff's office. Charges were filed against three of the men.

Kenneth Eubanks, 39 of Tallahassee, and James Robert Nelson, 36 of Palatka, are charged with manslaughter. The victim's brother David Todd Buckley, 37 of Peoria, Ill., is charged with aggravated assault. Nelson is also charged with aggravated assault.

They were booked into the county jail and have first appearances at 8 a.m. today before Circuit Court Judge John Alexander.

The Sheriff's Violent Crimes Unit is still investigating the incident, but eyewitnesses said the fight started after one man walked over to where another had been fishing.

"The entire altercation stemmed from an argument over a fishing spot," said Sheriff's Deputy Chuck Mulligan.

One man left his fishing spot on the east side of the bridge and the other walked over to see if the fish were biting where the first man had been, according to eyewitness Elizabeth Stanley. The first man returned and argued with the other, she said.

Eyewitness Robert Grady said the first man was asked by the second man what his group was fishing with and the first man got mad. Facing a three-to-one challenge, the second man called two of his friends over for support, he said.

"All six of the guys were saying words back and forth to one another, and all of a sudden a fight broke out," said Grady, a Gainesville resident.

Eyewitnesses said the first man pulled out a knife and then the second man responded with a fishing knife, and eventually, after the argument escalated, all six men fought with their fists.

"There were knives shown, however, knives were not part of the actual fight," Mulligan said.

Stanley said Buckley hit his head during the brawl and stopped moving. She said another man was knocked unconscious and later came to.

People fishing nearby tried to revive them by pouring water on them, but one never did, she said.

"It wasn't even necessary all over a fishing spot," Stanley said.

The fight occurred around 1:30 p.m. Buckley was pronounced dead at 2:27 p.m. at Flagler Hospital. The sheriff's office left the crime scene around 5 p.m.

Some of the eyewitnesses were still on hand in the evening twilight, fishing.

Gainesville-resident Dimitri Player talked about the incident as his new catch flopped around on the pavement. He said he saw the fight but said the dispute was not territorial because those fishing don't have set places on the bridge to cast.

"It's just a matter of being here to see how the fish are going to bite," he said. He added that they were biting Saturday.

Sometimes, he said, people just fish too close to one another and arguments start.

He said the second group involved were nice guys. "I've fished up here many-a-days with them," Player said. He said he has been coming to the inlet to fish for 15 years.

Fights on the county's fishing bridges are rare, or go unreported, Mulligan said.

"I've not heard of anything occurring like this in the past," he said.

Mulligan said he used to patrol the area. "Usually, this is a nice area," he said. "They're leisurely fishing and enjoying their day off."

A wide-variety of salt water fish can be found in the inlet anything from sea bass to sheephead, he said.

Grady said the inlet is a nice, peaceful place to fish, which made Saturday's episode sad.

"We come here to relax and have fun," he said.

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