Boat Thief Ordered To Jail, Pay Restitution To Owner

SNOW HILL – A Virginia man, who pleaded guilty last November to the unauthorized removal of property after stealing a sport fishing boat from a West Ocean City marina in October before crashing the vessel into the Route 50 bridge and running it aground on a sandbar, was sentenced this week to five years in jail with all but three suspended and was placed on probation for a period long enough for him to pay $24,000 in restitution to the vessel’s owner.

Christopher Bornaschella, 24, of Chincoteague, was back in District Court in Snow Hill on Tuesday to face sentencing for the bizarre boat theft and crash case on Oct. 2. Bornaschella was sentenced to four years in jail with all but two suspended for the unauthorized removal of property charge and another year in jail for the operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol conviction.

In addition, Bornaschella was ordered to pay $24,000 to the owner of the stolen boat, the “Hooked Up,” which new was valued at an estimated $450,000. The extent of damage to the vessel during the incident is unknown, although the restitution amount is largely based on Bornaschella’s ability to pay and not the value of the vessel. Bornaschella was then placed on probation for a lengthy six years, which will help insure he pays the mandated restitution to the boat owner.

The bizarre case began shortly after 1 a.m. last Oct. 2 when a witness, an employee of the nearby Harborside Bar and Grille on the commercial harbor, reported a 47-foot sport fishing boat called the “Hooked Up” leaving the harbor dragging its moor lines behind with an unknown suspect at the helm. The witness knew the boat owner and knew that whoever was behind the wheel was likely stealing the vessel.

The alleged boat thief, later identified as Bornaschella, allegedly stole the “Hooked Up” from its dock at Fisherman’s Marina at the foot of the commercial harbor 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 apparently did not untie the boat from its moorings before pulling out of the slip, breaking off a piling and dragging it behind the vessel.

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

Maryland Natural Resource Police (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.

The search briefly focused on a man named John Edward Cropper, a local waterman, but Cropper eventually turned up none the worse for wear and was never implicated in the boat theft. The search was eventually called off and it remains uncertain if there ever was a man named John involved in the theft or if he had ever been on the boat.

Bornaschella was arrested by NRP officers on the vessel and taken to the Maryland State Police barrack in Berlin for processing. He was found wanted in Virginia on a warrant for burglary and theft and was held as a fugitive from justice from that state.