Is Local Politics Getting in the Way of Public Safety?


by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

It’s 4:45 p.m. in New Town, Key West.  A silver Honda has just crashed into the car of two rangers from Dry Tortugas National Park. The Honda driver, reeking of alcohol, is stumbling away from the scene toward Duck Avenue. He is Robert Bethel, the 34-year-old son of Harry Bethel, a former City Commissioner.

During the next hour police officers responding to the scene will patiently deal with Robert, as if he’s a political time bomb. Over the past three years none of the multiple car crashes he’s been involved in have resulted in prosecution. His father you see, had a lot to do with getting Catherine Vogel, the State Attorney, elected.

Our investigation reveals the frustration of some police officers with local politics.

On that afternoon, October 18, 2016, the first on scene was officer Kouri. He found Mike Wydysh and Brandan Crabill slightly injured, their car ‘totaled’ and Robert Bethel… gone.

Paramedics, also responding to the scene, would catch up with Robert a couple of blocks away. And that’s when the [not so funny] comedy began. And every actor on that stage had delivered the same lines many time before.

Robert Bethel:  Take me to the hospital. I’m diabetic! I’m delirious!

Police Officer: Which type are you?

Bethel: I’m type everything.

Police Officer: Type everything, Sir?  The medics just checked you. Your blood sugar is O.K. So that means it’s not a factor at this point.

Robert Bethel: Take me to the hospital! Hospital! Hospitaaaal !  I’m not gonna go in there for the night [the jail] – fuck that.  I’m sick. My heart hurts.

Police Officer: How does your heart hurt? [incredulous]

Robert Bethel:  It’s beating… rapidly.  I need checks… checks and balances, man.

KWPD officers have heard Robert’s story many times over: He’s not drunk. He just looks drunk because he’s a diabetic. And in a minute or tomorrow his daddy will prove it to you.

On February 25th 2015 Robert Bethel was driving his SUV down Flagler Avenue. He ran a red light and almost crashed into a police car. “I swerved to the right as the vehicle ran the light and entered the intersection, almost crashing into me,” wrote Officer Wanciak in her report, “Bethel appeared to have a difficult time understanding my requests.” He refused to take the DUI sobriety tests, the breath test. Bethel would not get out of the car.  “I had to pry his fingers off the wheel,” wrote Officer Wanciak. Then Harry Bethel, Sr. arrived on scene with the diabetic explanation. The prosecutor’s notes, obtained by The Blue Paper, describe Bethel senior as “combative”. He had to be told by an officer to stop interfering; stop talking to his son.

Those notes also revealed that On December 15, 2014 Robert Bethel had hit a pedestrian. He was described as sweaty and lethargic by officers. That time he was reported as having high blood sugar.  He apparently also sideswiped another car.

Yet the State Attorney systematically failed to prosecute the charges brought by police. Could old Harry really be that intimidating? The facts speak for themselves. When the previous State Attorney, Denis Ward, prosecuted another one of Harry’s sons for lobster trap poaching, the father declared war. Harry Bethel, Jr. was out on bond for arson at the time. He was sentenced to three years in prison.  Dennis Ward lost his job.

“Karma always wins and payback is a bitch,” wrote Harry Bethel in a diatribe published in the Key West Citizen at the time. He had championed Catherine Vogel’s 2012 campaign against Ward: “I worked as hard as I worked in my own campaigns just for the satisfaction of being a part of your DEFEAT,” he wrote in the email to Ward, “I hope that you and your family have as much misery in your life [as] you have put in my famil[y’s] life.” The email was signed, “A loving father.”

There is no doubt that Mr. Bethel is a devoted father. The problem is that his son has now injured and could have killed people in multiple car accidents and that the criminal justice system has failed to protect the public. Many equally loving fathers send their sons and daughters to school on their Christmas bicycles with the reasonable assumption that “sweaty, drowsy, lethargic” people are not allowed to drive a car.

We have reviewed over two hours of video showing Robert Bethel’s interactions with police. The officers’ frustration is palpable. Some of the officers, like Vasquez and Pettee, have responded again and again to the same situation. On one video Officer Pettee is heard predicting how the arrest is going to go down: “When he gets to the jail he’s more than likely gonna ask to go to the hospital. That’s what we dealt with last time.” Another officer agreed: “That is a stall tactic.”

Yet the officers remain remarkably patient. At the scene of the October 18, 2016 car crash Bethel kept walking away. Only after the officers had dragged him back for the third time did they decide to handcuff him. “Is there anything I could say or do to gain your compliance, Sir?” Inside the police cruiser he tried to kick out the window.

In the DUI room he is reported as “extremely violent and threatening.” At one point, in an August 2016 incident, Officer Vasquez warns: “If it was two different other police officers that don’t have patience, you would have been thrown on the ground and tased.” (The fact that he is his father’s son may also have something to do with it.)

But on October 18th he caused an estimated $10,000 of property damage and injured two persons. On scene, Officer Vasquez clearly indicates he is out of patience. He warned Bethel: “No, we are not going to do the same thing we did last time.”

So, is Robert Bethel just a victim of diabetic hyperglycemia or is he drunk driving? In his notes, Assistant State Attorney, Nick Travatto, wrote, the officer “is virtually certain that [Bethel] was under the influence of alcohol and drugs on this day.” These officers all insist that they have years of experience and that they aren’t fooled.

During the State Attorney’s investigation of the February 25, 2015 incident, Travatto had drafted the enrollment document for the ‘Back on Track’ program, an alcohol rehabilitation intervention program, but the offer of help was set aside when it was decided not to bring any DUI charges.

In fact, on August 16th of this year Robert’s brother himself called the police to have Robert removed from their father’s house. Robert appeared intoxicated. His brother is seen on the police video saying, “He’s got an alcohol problem.  He’s gonna hurt himself or he’s gonna hurt somebody.” When questioned by the officers about drinking Robert himself admitted he has “slip ups.”

Under Florida Statute refusing to submit to a breath test results in a one-year suspension of driving privileges- the first time. The second and subsequent refusals result in an 18month suspension as well as prosecution as a first degree misdemeanor.

Before Robert Bethel crashed into Michael Wydysh’s car, KWPD officers had brought the State Attorney, Catherine Vogel, charges of DUI and resisting arrest. She declined to prosecute. Arguably, if Catherine Vogel had wanted Bethel to be riding a bicycle she probably could have achieved it.

24 thoughts on “Is Local Politics Getting in the Way of Public Safety?

  1. This is a potentially tragic story in the making. The police are obviously frustrated. They are doing their job, yet the legal system fails to prosecute. The public should be angry and scared that this man remains on the streets to possibly kill someone – a fellow driver, a pedestrian, or even a child walking home from school – wasn’t this last occurrence near a school?
    I do sympathize with Commissioner Bethel whom I know. This is his son. He is a father. But this young man obviously has a very serious problem. Sadly the State Attorney has failed both the public and Robert. So it is up to Robert’s family to urge (insist) their son seek treatment. I am sure the authorities and local substance abuse programs will offer their assistance. This situation could have ended far differently. I know Mike Wydysh and he related the entire situation to me. This case should NOT escape prosecution! It is very dangerous to leave someone with this problem on the streets driving. What if there is a next time, and what if someone dies. It could be some innocent person at the wrong place wrong time, or it could be Robert Bethel. Cars are lethal weapons. That would be tragic for everyone involved. I would urge the Bethel family to seek help for their family member – before it is too late.

    1. Actually, Christine, former city commissioner Harry Bethel is a big part of the problem and he deserves no sympathy therefore.

      Besides his my sons can do no wrong ever attitude, Harry worked many years for Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority. He is why his pitiful (being kind) son Robert got that job at FKAA, and began his Conch “entitlements” slide into the city sewers.

      Bethel is a big part of why Catherine Vogel beat Dennis Ward in 2012, by sweeping Key West so well, that Ward’s victories up the Keys were not enough for him to be reelected that year.

      Vogel swept Key West again this past Tuesday, but Ward must have done better up the Keys.

      Here is a link (hope it works) to the precinct voting in the state attorney race. Ward won no precinct in Key West, and he won all but one of the other precincts in the Keys.

      Perhaps Key West traditionally being a Democrat stronghold, and the rest of the Keys being a Republican stronghold, and Ward having switched from Democrat to Republican after his defeat in the 2012 Democrat primary, and Donald Trump winning in the Keys, sealed Ward’s victory on Tuesday.

      Time will tell if Ward will prosecute Harry Bethel’s son, Robert, after Ward is sworn in next January – if Vogel doesn’t prosecute Robert meanwhile, and give him another bubba Conch free pass.

  2. Sadly, this father is not doing his son any favors. Tough love is called for if he truly loves his son. And, Ms. Vogel should be held accountable for damages.

  3. I’m sorry but I consider Catherine Vogel to be a POS for failing to prosecute Robert Bethel. This is just another example of laws pertaining to everyone except bubbas and their families. Anyone who votes for Catherine Vogel is complicit in the bullshit that goes on regularly in Key West.

    1. How about Vogel not prosecuting the KWPD officers who murdered Charles Eimers and then covered it up, including perjury?

      I have to wonder, though, if Dennis Ward would have prosecuted those officers, had he been state attorney.

  4. Harry Bethel has been pulling strings for Robert since 1998 when Robert was still in High School. Harry, got Robert a full-time job at FKAA two years before he graduated from high school in 2000. Nevertheless, Robert failed to receive the proper accreditations for his job requirements, and he was shuffled around from department to department at the FKAA. Anyone with a different last name would have been fired.

    Here is a link to hundreds of pages of FKAA personnel files about him:

    He had apparently been getting drunk while on the FKAA job for years. He wanted to take his lunch break at 8 am. He had been way over in sick hours. I heard he left FKAA in July 2015. Was he pushed out or outright fired? Moreover, why would anyone leave a cushy FKAA job after working there for more than 15 years? Did he receive some sort of pension or disability? Is he vested in the FKAA retirement system?

    In 2015, I had applied for the same school district job as Bethel: Specialist Computer Network Position, . At the time, I was suspicious of their hiring process so when I received a letter stating that the job had been filled, I filed a public records request to find out who were the finalists for the job and why they were chosen. When I did, however, strange things started happening. At first, they said that the job was filled, then they said it wasn’t. I asked for copies of the people who had applied even if no one was actually hired. They gave me the run around and didn’t deliver everything, but one of the papers that came back had his name and history on it. Something was fishy. Is he is now working for the school district? His Facebook page says he’s working at The Krusty Krab, but that’s a joke. There has to be more of a story behind his current employment.

    To show even more of Robert’s Bubba connections, Cates put him on the tree commission even though he lives on Big Coppitt and doesn’t have any qualifications other than his last name. He was even the chairman for a while. Is there anyone between Key West and Miami who could possibly be less qualified? This certainly adds to my lack of confidence in the tree commission.

    This guy receives every possible break, and he manages to screw up every one of them…but then it matters more about who you know than what you know when you are from Key West and your last name is Bethel.

  5. Catherine Vogel is an absolute fool to think she is immune from prosecution if Robert Bethel ever hurts or kills someone. In fact, if Robert Bethel ever hurts or kills someone that could be the complete downfall of all of the Bubbas. So, the rest of you Bubbas should be raising hell just like every law abiding citizen.

    1. Now now. Of course the State Attorney is immune from prosecution for the deeds of Robert Bethel. She has discretion on whether or not to prosecute and her immunity is clearly established.

      1. Yes , she is but if this hits the right department with enough pressure she could be impeached for what amounts to bribery. If smart she will go after him. The deal will go very easy on him and with time served will get off with probation and fine.

        On the 8 TH write in Sloan. Unless the voters take action KW will stay corrupt.

        Are ways to get Vogel out of office and into prison

          1. Anyone but Cates and Sloan, don’t you mean, Ben? I was the only filed write-in candidate, who could have received votes that would have gotten him elected, if he had received more votes than Cates. All the other write-in votes for mayor, including any votes for Naja and Arnaud, for whom I gladly would have voted, if either of them had run or mayor, would not have unseated Cates, even if Naja or Arnaud had received more write-in votes than the regular votes Cates received. Why? Only filed candidates’ votes are counted toward victory or defeat, in Key West, and, I think, in Florida. After the dust had settled, I learned from our supervisor of elections Joyce Griffin yesterday, that I actually received 109 write-in votes, not 1,160, as was reported the next day in the Key West Citizen. The other write-in votes were, I suppose, for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bum Farto, and actually real, still-living people, who had no chance of winning, because they were not filed candidates. I should have known the 1,160 votes I was shown having received was wrong, as I had been thinking perhaps I would get 100 votes, in keeping with my 4 previous runs for mayor, where my vote count ranged from 30 something in the 2003 mayor’s race, up to a bit over 200 in the 2014 mayor’s race.

  6. How much do you want to bet that Catherine Vogel will still not prosecute Robert because she will never do anything to go against the man responsible for her getting elected, Harry Bethel. I’d also love to have an answer from our illustrious Mayor as to how Robert was qualified to serve as Chairman of the Tree Commission.

    1. Unlike in 2015, this time the State Attorney has charged Robert Bethel with all of the crimes brought by police. The State Attorney still has discretion to “nolle pross” [decline to prosecute] on those charges. Time will tell how much energy is put into the prosecution and it will depend on who is State Attorney as well. In 2015 the DUI charge was never brought by Catherine Vogel. The Resisting Arrest w/out Violence charge was filed but it was later nolle prossed.

  7. It’s time to have the old man arrested by the Feds for prosecutory interference . Of course the legal beagles will contend that the case must go thru the States’ Attorney first but it will have to go into federal court because of the strong connections with this States’ Attorney you mention. Was this States’ Attorney the one involved in the Beach murder by Keys police?

    1. Yes, exactly and if it goes to federal that boy will be doing some serious time. Feds need to look into Vogels corruption. Would think the people be tired of her and the Bubba family. Step 1 is write SLOAN in on the 8 TH

  8. Sometimes late at night on my way home past the cemetery, I wonder how the founders of this community would feel about our current bubbas using the founders good names to hold themselves above the law . . . or perhaps I’m just hearing an irrigation pump.

    1. It’s the irrigation pumps, trust me. The “founders of this community” are smiling in their “sleep”…content in the knowledge that their legacy of lying, cheating and stealing is in safe hands. 😉


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