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Survivor says hijackers shot, tossed charter crew overboard

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Man says hijackers shot and killed four-person charter crew
  • Federal authorities do not believe the man's account, affidavit indicates
  • Two men chartered boat in Miami Beach on Saturday for trip to Bimini
  • Coast Guard found empty boat, then two passengers in life raft; crew missing
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From Susan Candiotti and Rich Phillips
CNN
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- One of two men who chartered a pleasure boat in the Florida Straits said its four missing crew members were captured and killed by hijackers, according to an affidavit released Wednesday in federal court.

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A file photo of the Joe Cool, a charter fishing boat found derelict in the Florida Straits.

The affidavit indicates that federal authorities do not believe the man's account.

The other survivor, Kirby Archer, is suspected in the theft of more than $90,000 in Arkansas, according to a separate affidavit.

Archer, 35, and Guillermo Zarabozo, 19, rented the Joe Cool and its four-person crew for a trip from Miami Beach, Florida, to the island of Bimini last Saturday. When the crew did not return as planned Sunday evening, their relatives called authorities, who initiated a search.

Late Sunday night the Coast Guard spotted the boat 160 miles south of Bimini. It was unmanned and its contents were in disarray.

A search of the 47-foot vessel found, among other things, Zarabozo's Florida identification card, six marijuana cigarettes, several packs of standard cigarettes, a laptop computer, a handcuff key and "a substance on the vessel's stern that appeared to be blood."

Shortly after, a Coast Guard helicopter spotted a life raft with the two men who had chartered the Joe Cool about 12 miles north of the derelict boat.

They were taken aboard a Coast Guard cutter, where they were questioned by the FBI.

Jon Branam, cousin of the boat's captain, said the charter was paid for with $4,000 in $100 bills.

The affidavit says Zarabozo, of Hialeah, Florida, told Richard Blais, a Coast Guard special agent assigned to a joint task force with the FBI, that hijackers boarded the boat and immediately shot and killed the captain, Jake Branam. Video Watch what Zarabozo told the FBI about the hijackers »

Branam's wife, Kelly, became hysterical and she too was shot dead, Zarabozo said.

The hijackers then directed one of the other two remaining crew members, Scott Michael Gamble or Samuel Kairy, to throw the two bodies overboard, but the man refused and he too was fatally shot, Zarabozo said.

The same sequence of events occurred with the fourth man, he added.

At that point, Zarabozo and Archer were the only survivors. Zarabozo followed the hijackers' orders and threw the four victims overboard, he said.

After the vessel was towed back to port Tuesday, Zarabozo told authorities that he did not recognize it and that he had not been on that vessel, the affidavit said.

After considering Zarabozo's statement, Coast Guard Special Agent Blais said there is probable cause to believe Zarabozo lied.

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In a separate affidavit, Blais said there is probable cause to believe Archer was involved in unlawful flight to avoid prosecution in the theft of more than $92,000 in cash from a Wal-Mart in Batesville, Arkansas.

Both men are being held at the federal detention center in downtown Miami and were expected to appear Wednesday before a federal magistrate. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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