The FBI's ability to identify a comatose man in a Chula Vista medical center Thursday marked an apparent breakthrough in the mysterious disappearance of a former NBA player and two others off Tahiti.
Miles Dabord, wanted in Phoenix on fraud charges and sought by the FBI and law enforcement officials in Tahiti in connection with a murder investigation, has been in a coma and listed as a John Doe since he was brought to the hospital Sunday, the FBI said Thursday.
Dabord, 35, is the brother of Bison Dele, 33, who, along with his girlfriend, Serena Karlan, 30, and boat captain Bertrand Saldo, have been missing since they were seen sailing the South Pacific with Dabord in early July. Dele played for the Los Angeles Clippers, among other teams, under the name Brian Williams.
Witnesses have identified Dabord as the man who docked Dele's catamaran, the Hakuna Matata, in mid-July, registering it in the Tahitian town of Taravao as the Aria Bella. Tahitian authorities said he also used an alias.
"We are very glad we have him, but we are still anxious to talk to him," said Josefina Regula, a special agent in the FBI's San Diego office.
FBI supervisor John Steiner in San Rafael said Dabord was found comatose near the California-Mexico border Saturday night. Police in Chula Vista said Dabord had been found in Tijuana. Steiner said he was alone but refused to provide other details about the circumstances.
Chula Vista police were able to identify Dabord by running his fingerprints through a database.
Dabord has not been charged with murder, but Phoenix police had a warrant for his arrest for allegedly signing his brother's name to a check and skipping bail. He had also been identified as a fugitive by the FBI.
Even as Dabord was arrested, investigators in and around Tahiti were making what they believe was significant progress in piecing together the details of his final days in the islands.
Fact-finding has been difficult, investigators said, because the boat was moving across long stretches of open water, heading from port to port, and some witnesses have given conflicting dates and locations.
Law enforcement authorities, who requested anonymity, said their theory is that Dele and the others died July 6 or 7.
In the first week of July, the Hakuna Matata--with its full crew--was believed to be headed for the island of Raiatea, northwest of Tahiti.
It either reached there and turned back to Tahiti or stopped in midcourse, sources said. Either way, the deaths are believed to have occurred in the deep waters between the islands.
By July 8, Dabord was back in Papeete, Tahiti, where he greeted his girlfriend, Erica Weise, at Tahiti-Faa'a International Airport.
From there, the couple is believed to have traveled to another island, Moorea, where investigators Thursday were searching for evidence of their stay.
Weise flew out of Tahiti on July 15. At that point, Dabord either motored or sailed the catamaran up the island's east coast.
Near the town of Hitiaa, he struck a coral reef and radioed for assistance, he said when he came ashore. According to workers in nearby Taravao, Dabord brought the boat into the town's small marina hoping to have its hull inspected.
But the marina's crane was too small to lift the 55-footer.
By that time, the name Hakuna Matata had been painted over, authorities said. When Dabord checked in at the marina, he registered the boat as the Aria Bella.
For at least two days, Dabord remained on the boat in dock.
"He did not come out for coffee, not to eat," said Marc Norel, manager of the A'O Restaurant, which overlooks the marina.
When Dabord finally went ashore, he got a ride to Papeete, probably on one of the small buses, known as Le Trucks, that are always circling the island, sources said. He is known to have left Tahiti on July 19.
Investigators said today that they are awaiting test results on a substance taken from the boat that they believe is blood. They also found damage to one of the hulls that they suspect was caused by a bullet.
Tahiti prosecutors opened a homicide investigation this week involving the disappearance of the other people on the yacht.
On Sept. 5, Dabord attempted to purchase $152,000 in gold coins in Phoenix by writing a check from his brother's account. He also allegedly signed his name "Brian Williams," which is Dele's former name.
Dabord offered Dele's passport as identification, authorities said. He also had three of Dele's credit cards in his wallet.
Phoenix police questioned him, but Dabord was released early the next morning when a Maricopa County prosecutor decided there wasn't enough evidence to warrant an arrest.
After his release in Phoenix, law enforcement sources said, Dabord had a conversation with his former girlfriend Weise, of Sonoma County.
During the discussion, a French police source said, Dabord told Weise of a scuffle aboard the boat and said all three--Dele, Karlan and Saldo--had been killed.
According to this account, Dabord said Dele instigated the altercation.