The Crime Tip from a Non-Tip at the Tip of the Nation

The decorative buoy pictured above is in Key West, Florida, and it’s mostly incorrect. It is in Key West, yes, and that’s part of the continental United States, yes. But it’s about 93 miles from Cuba and, more importantly, it’s not quite actually at the southernmost point of the continental United States. Here’s a map showing where it is, and as you’ll quickly notice, you can go further south; in fact, if you go for a 22-minute walk (in a strange, roundabout path), you’ll end up at another spot that claims, mostly accurately, to be the “actual southernmost point of mainland USA.” 

But regardless, the buoy above is close enough to correct for most people (and besides, the “actual” point doesn’t have as cool of a marker). And even before Instagram became a huge part of our social culture, the location shown above was a neat tourist attraction and home to many vacationers and their cameras. But for those who arrived at the so-called Southernmost Point of the Contentnail U.S.A. on January 1st of this year, they got more than they bargained for — someone had damaged the buoy the night before, leaving it charred, as seen here.

And it serves as a reminder: if you’re going to be a jerk, don’t also be a cheapskate.

Let’s start with the picture of the jerks in action.

On New Year’s Eve — well, technically, early in the morning on New Year’s Day — these two young men, likely inebriated after a night of revelry, went to the buoy a bit after 3 AM. They didn’t come alone, though — they were armed with a Christmas tree and, presumably, matches or the like and some sort of accelerant. They lit the tree on fire right in front of the buoy, for reasons beyond explanation, but it most definitely did not appear to be an accident. We know that because the area has security cameras and recorded their escape; here’s a screenshot, above, via the Miami Herald, of the two guys being really stupid (especially given that one seems to be crouching on the fire, but that’s another story). The tree caught fire, the flames charred the buoy, resulting in around $5,000 of damage to the buoy and a lot of ruined pictures for anyone who visited the marker on New Year’s Day.

Despite having camera footage of the crime in action, police were at a loss for who these hooligans were; even though they were caught on tape (or whatever those cameras now use) in the act, their faces weren’t shown. It looked like the hardly-dynamic duo was going to get away with their crime; with thousands and thousands of tourists in Key West that night, the men pictured could have been virtually anyone. But the police didn’t give up right away. Instead, they did what you’d expect — they circulated video and pictures of the event in hopes that someone would be able to identify the tree torchers. 

Asking for help worked. It turned out that at least one of these jerks was a jerk earlier in the evening. As presumed, they spent the hours prior at a bar, ushering in 2022. And in doing so, one of them ordered three drinks, which isn’t at all unusual. The unusual part? He didn’t tip his bartender. A local Fox affiliate explains:

Like other locals across the city, bartender Cameron Briody watched the video, and recognized the 21-year-old man who had stiffed him at Irish Kevin’s on Key West’s famous Duval Street. “I knew immediately that I had served him and that he had used a card, so his name would be on the slips,” Briody told the [Miami] Herald.

With the bartender able to recall that at least one of the two guys was at his bar that night, a second set of security footage came into play. Per the Fox affiliate, “the bar’s general manager, Daylin Starks, turned to recordings from the ‘ton of cameras’ that watch over the bar each night, and matched credit card receipts to time-stamped videos of the suspects.” From there, it was pretty easy to catch the suspects. As Starks explained, by simply viewing the security video, “we could follow them the whole time, in and out of the bar. We could see them getting rejected from all the girls they were trying to hit on.”

The two suspects turned themselves in shortly thereafter. Both were charged with criminal mischief with damages over $1,000, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, but it’s likely they’ll get some mix of fines and probation. It is unlikely that they’ll be asked to, or will willingly, simply tip their bartender.

Bonus fact: The place above that claims to be the “actual southernmost point of mainland USA” is only kind of correct. Key West is an island but it’s connected to the rest of Florida via U.S. Route 1 — that is, you can drive to it. But there’s a point further south than Key West that is part of the Florida Keys, as seen on the map here. Called Ballast Key, it is not so easy to get to (you need a boat). It was the last privately-held island in the Keys, too: it was owned by developer David Wolkosky until after his death in 2018. In his will, he donated it to the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

From the Archives: The Key to Seceding: If you look carefully at the top section of the buoy, you’ll see it reads “The Conch Republic.” Here’s that story.