Joliet Native Freed From Honduran Prison

Men released after spending nearly two months in detention on what family says are trumped-up weapons charges. The crew was in the country to train local lobster divers.

U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (left) in Honduras with Aqua Quest crew members, including Joliet native Steve Matanich (far right). Credit: Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick
U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (left) in Honduras with Aqua Quest crew members, including Joliet native Steve Matanich (far right). Credit: Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick
After nearly two months, a Joliet native and five other Americans have been freed from a prison in Honduras after being jailed on weapons charges.

Steve Matanich was one of six crew members on the Florida-based Aqua Quest detained May 5, accused of failing to notify authorities that they were carrying weapons when their ship arrived in Honduras.

Relatives said the crew members, who were in Honduras to help train local lobster divers, were not given time to disclose their weapons.

Last week, U.S Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican, announced that the men had been released and were on their way back to the United States.

"The crew of the Aqua Quest – including the son of one of my constituents – is in the process of traveling back to the United States and being reunited with their families following the ordeal," Fitzpatrick said in a statement, adding that he personally traveled to Honduras to meet with officials from June 22 to 24.

"I visited the Americans in captivity and witnessed the deplorable conditions in which they were wrongfully held for nearly two months," he said. "The strength and courage of these men in the face of uncertainty and danger in a far-away place is an inspiration to me and it was my duty to advocate for their rightful release."

Last month, Matanich's sister, Joliet resident Valerie Smith, said she feared for her brother and his fellow crew members, who had drastically lost weight and were being kept in a single cell amidst poor living conditions.

Initially, Smith said she was told the men could be detained for up to two years. She told the Herald-News that she plans to head to Florida this week to await her brother's arrival.

"I won't be happy until he's back in the U.S.," she said.

Florida-based Aqua Quest International said the ship arrived in the small town of Puerto Lempira on May 5 and immediately checked in with the Honduran port captain. Because the port's office had already closed for the day, the captain advised the men to get some rest and be ready to process their customs in the morning.

But that night while the men slept, local police and members of the Honduran Navy boarded the ship, claiming to have the authority to inspect the vessel. The ship was seized and the crew was arrested before they could declare their weapons, the company said.

Along with Matanich, company president Robert  Mayne Jr. and crew members Michael Mayne Sr., Nick Cook, Devon Butler and Kelly Garrett were arrested.

“It's a great day for the United States of America, Aqua Quest International and Honduras," the company said in a release. "Aqua Quest International has had supreme confidence that at the end of the day, the appeals court in Honduras would look at the facts and rule in our favor and that day has come."

seer. June 30, 2014 at 09:37 PM
meet the next generation of the CIA
Glen Converse July 01, 2014 at 10:05 AM
Why bother with these 3rd world countries?
seer. July 01, 2014 at 12:23 PM
You do realize what the CIA does- right?


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