Stolen Boat Strikes Bridge, Leads To Arrest, Search

OCEAN CITY – One man is in custody, another believed missing for about 24 hours on Tuesday is alive and well and Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) have still not abandoned a search for another “John” this week after a bizarre story unfolded involving the theft of a fishing boat from a marina in West Ocean City, its collision with the Route 50 bridge and later grounding on a sandbar in the bay.

Around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Christopher Bornaschella, 24, of Chincoteague, allegedly stole the “Hooked Up” fishing boat from its dock at Fisherman’s Marina in West Ocean City and attempted to flee when the boat’s propeller became disabled and the vessel crashed into the Route 50 bridge as many as three times. Bornaschella did not untie the boat from its moorings before pulling out of the slip, breaking off a piling and dragging it behind the boat.

Eventually, the rope tied to the piling got wrapped around the boat’s propeller and disabled the vessel, hampering its navigation ability. It didn’t help that the suspect, Bornaschella, was intoxicated at the time. After striking the bridge, the “Hooked Up” ran aground just south of the span.

NRP personnel arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and questioned Bornaschella, who told police another man he met earlier that night known only as “John” had stolen the boat with him and he believed “John” had gone overboard during the collision with the bridge. The conversation touched off a massive search effort for the missing man including Coast Guard and NRP vessels along with a Coast Guard helicopter.

Early Tuesday, the search focused on John Edward Cropper, 42, of Ocean City. Cropper, a local waterman, did not show up for work on Tuesday and NRP officials believed he might have been the “John” that Bornaschella said was with him and could have gone overboard. However, Cropper turned up alive and well on Wednesday. Despite his being found okay, NRP officials have not ruled anything out in terms of Cropper’s involvement in the case.

“We did locate John Edward Cropper and he is just fine,” said NRP Sgt. Ken Turner. “We’re not saying we’re finished with him yet. This investigation is ongoing.”

Meanwhile, Turner said the NRP has not abandoned a search for another possible “John” although the efforts have been scaled back and now include just the normal marine patrol in the area. It remains uncertain if there was ever another man aboard the vessel when it was stolen, but witnesses have reported never seeing a second suspect.

Nonetheless, the NRP must do its due diligence and continue to look for a possible missing person because of the testimony given by Bornaschella.

“We’re still searching, although it’s been scaled back quite a bit,” said Turner. “John is a pretty common name and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, but we have to follow through.”

Bornaschella was arrested by NRP officers on the vessel and taken to the Maryland State Police barrack in Berlin for processing. He has been charged with felony theft over $500, operating a vessel while intoxicated and operating a vessel in a reckless manner.

In addition, he was found wanted in Virginia on a warrant for burglary and theft and is being held as a fugitive from justice from that state. Bornaschella had a bail review on Wednesday and was ordered held on a $50,000 bond.

The “Hooked Up” was pulled off the sandbar by mid-day on Tuesday during a high tide and was towed into nearby Sunset Marina. Greg Hall of Maryland Coast Towing said the boat was beat up and the propeller was bent from being wrapped with the rope, but it could have been much worse.

“The damage is not too bad,” he said. “There is a dent in the side and the prop is fouled, but it could have been a thousand times worse.”