Duluth police ID Vista suspect after releasing video

Body: 

Brady Slater

Duluth News Tribune

The Duluth Police Department has identified a suspect in this week’s Vista Fleet tampering, which left two cruise vessels unoccupied and adrift overnight in the vicinity of the Aerial Lift Bridge.

Deputy Chief Laura Marquardt said criminal charges are expected in the “near future” against a 47-year-old man from Excelsior, Minn., who she identified as the “sole actor” in the incident.

The announcement came at noon Friday, shortly after police released surveillance video of the early Thursday morning incident.

“The video is pretty telling,” Lt. Jeff Kazel said. “This was a person who had to have some knowledge of boats. We definitely think there was intent.”

The video shows the man guiding the Vista Queen through the raised and open Minnesota Slip Bridge before setting the vessel out into the Superior Bay. Police said in a news release that the clock associated with the video showed 2:47 a.m. as the man was in the act of moving the Vista Queen on Thursday. The company’s larger vessel, Vista Star, was also unmoored from its dock behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

The police also revealed that it was the Aerial Lift Bridge operator who called 911 to report the Vista Fleet boats adrift in the bay. Vista Fleet owner Justin Steinbach had previously said that he’d been alerted to the situation early in the morning by a DECC employee.

The ships were unmoored and adrift for roughly four hours. Steinbach has previously said he felt fortunate the boats were returned to their docks undamaged. He said the tourist-and-event boats are worth a combined $1.5 million.

Duluth police said they received a 911 call from the lift bridge operator at 6:16 a.m. on Thursday alerting them to the two boats of the fleet being adrift. Both boats were brought back successfully within the hour.

The boats were cleared by the only freighter to pass under the lift bridge during the incident, the John D. Leitch, which arrived while the boats were being recovered by the authorities and Vista Fleet crews. The U.S. Coast Guard also assisted in the recovery of the boats.

“If the ore boat going through would have hit one of them it would have caused serious damage — if not sunk it,” Kazel said.