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Couple's Reunion Cruise Ended in Death

Mission Viejo man says he doesn't know how his ex-wife's body ended up off the Italian coast.

July 01, 2006|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

It was the first day of a weeklong cruise along the Italian coast, a romantic getaway designed to rekindle a failed marriage.

Now, Lonnie Kocontes, 48, a Mission Viejo attorney, says he wishes they would have resisted the temptation.

His ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, 52, of Ladera Ranch, disappeared their first night aboard the Island Escape as the cruise ship steamed toward Naples from Sicily. Her body was found the next day by the Italian coast guard, floating in the sea near Reggio di Calabria.

"I wish I knew what happened," Kocontes said.

So do authorities.

Kanesaki's death May 26 is being investigated by Italian authorities and the FBI, which are sorting out the lives of two people who were in the midst of a court battle when they decided to put aside their rancor and take a Mediterranean vacation.

Investigators have not suggested that foul play was involved. And Kocontes has told authorities that his former wife had previously talked of suicide.

The couple were among the 1,700 passengers aboard the Island Escape when the ship left Messina, Sicily, for Livorno in Italy's Tuscany region. Various stops were planned along the way.

As the ship headed north, the couple retired to their cabin the first night and had a glass of white wine, Kocontes said. He said he took a prescription sleeping pill to help combat the time change, hoping he would be refreshed by morning for an excursion to Pompeii. He said he remembered Kanesaki saying about 1 a.m. that she was stepping out to get a cup of tea to help her relax.

About 6 a.m., Kocontes notified cruise officials that Kanesaki was missing, said Andy Furlong, spokesman for Island Cruises, which owns the ship. Several pleas were made to passengers over the ship's PA system to help in the search. The ship pulled into Naples, an unscheduled stop, and police were notified.

Naples authorities conducted an onboard investigation, collecting records and statements and searching the couple's cabin. They confiscated an empty wine bottle, prescription medicine and vitamins and Kanesaki's elastic knee band. Kocontes was questioned, then released.

Kocontes opted to get off the ship in Naples, where he was offered "every assistance at this difficult time," Furlong said. Kocontes stayed for a night at a hotel before flying back to California. He said he left because he was having little luck getting answers about his ex-wife and had language difficulties.

Investigators said they had not reached any conclusions on Kanesaki's death. Kocontes said he had no answer either.

"I can't rule suicide out," said Kocontes, who has been interviewed twice by the FBI. "When she would be sad and she would drink, she talked in general terms wishing that she were dead. She's talked about wanting to kill herself in the past."

Kanesaki's family declined to comment, but her mother told the Orange County Register that she seemed upbeat before the trip and there was no reason to believe she was suicidal.

Kocontes said Kanesaki was a private person who enjoyed time alone at home, gardening and playing with her dog, Snowy. She had not been working since 1996 because of arthritis. He said that when she drank, she would sometimes grow angry or throw things and occasionally hit him. On several occasions, he summoned police.

In August 2002, Kanesaki was arrested and charged with corporal injury and battery on her ex-husband. Kocontes wrote a letter to the court seeking counseling for Kanesaki.

"She had expressed suicidal ideations and that I was concerned she would hurt herself," Kocontes wrote in a letter to Deputy Dist. Atty. Jennifer Le. "I continue to believe that Ms. Kanesaki requires counseling and psychological evaluation, not incarceration."

The court ordered Kanesaki to attend a domestic-violence program, in which Kocontes participated, court records show. The charges were dismissed after she completed the program.

But in January, Kanesaki was arrested again after she allegedly kicked Kocontes in the leg. She was charged with battery and later enrolled herself in anger management classes and attended Alcoholics Anonymous sessions. Her arraignment was scheduled for July 28.

Kocontes has also had run-ins with the law.

He was charged in July 1999 with sexual acts and lewd conduct on a girl under 16 whom he allegedly befriended at a South Pasadena public library, according to court records. The charges were dropped after the girl became too distraught to testify in court, said Los Angeles Deputy Dist. Atty. Amy F. Suehiro.

In 1981, he was sentenced to prison for possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver in Lincoln, Neb., according to prison records. And five years before that, he was convicted in Nebraska for burglary, possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver and possession of a controlled substance. He was sentenced to prison. In both cases, records show, he served about three years.

The couple met while she worked as an administrative assistant at a Los Angeles law firm where he worked. They were married in 1995. He filed for divorce in 2001, but they continued to live together.

In July 2005, Kocontes married Amy Dao Nguyen, a Riverside educator. They bought a home in Orange, but two months later, Kocontes filed for divorce.

About the same time, he asked a judge to force Kanesaki to sell their Ladera Ranch home so they could split the proceeds. Kocontes and Kanesaki didn't show up for the hearing, and the case was dismissed.

Kocontes said their relationship had been improving. He said they didn't argue during their trip. They were making plans to remarry, he said, on Nov. 29, their wedding anniversary.

"I was committed to this woman," Kocontes said. "I loved her with all my heart. I wish I never had gone on the cruise."

Last week, she was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier.

*

Times staff writer Cara DiMassa contributed to this report.

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