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"I've had people tell me that they've come up here three times and never even left the pool bar," Branden jokes. "There were some kind of bro-ish dudes in here the other day, saying, 'Oh my gosh, why are people bringing their kids to Put-In-Bay?'"
Two guys in their twenties walking into Mist around lunchtime on Thursday boil down the typical weekend agenda with aplomb. "We wake up hungover, then we detox, go get lunch at different places, then get our buzz on, again, like we're about to do after this, then take a nap, go out for dinner, and then we go out. Rinse and repeat."
The Mist pool bar is situated just off the main strip, flanked by Mr. Ed's Bar & Grille — a modern clubby bar with live music throughout the day and DJs at night, which boasts the slogan "Nobody's ugly after 2" — and the two buildings of the Commodore hotel, where people book rooms long in advance to be in the center of the weekend action. Mist, Mr. Ed's, and the hotel are owned by local businessman Ed Fitzgerald (not that Ed FitzGerald), and are operated by the same management. On warm, sunny days, Mist will begin to fill up around noon, and for the next six hours or so, guys and gals lay out in lounge chairs or stand in the pool's waist-high water, bellying up to the bar, dancing along to the constant drone of Rihanna, Iggy Azalea and other Top-40 hits.
Fitzgerald's businesses are at the center of the bar scene and the center of Put-In-Bay's drugging and rape problem.
In early May, a trauma nurse at a southeast Michigan hospital called Put-In-Bay police to report a woman was raped on the island that weekend. According to the police report (where the victim's and suspect's names have been redacted), the nurse relayed the story: a Mr. Ed's manager asked a female bartender to have drinks with him after work on a Saturday. Once out with him, she lost consciousness, only to come-to at 2:30 a.m. with her boss on top of her, yelling at her to "take her fucking clothes off." She told him no, the report says, and that she was on her period. But he pulled down her pants, pulled out her tampon, and had his way with her. The police report says the woman declined to pursue charges because she didn't want to lose her job, but that turned out to not be true.
An Ottawa County Sheriff's Office detective had been working on the case and last week issued a 34-page report to Ottawa County prosecutor Mark Mulligan, who will decide whether to press charges, as first reported by the Sandusky Register. The report documents the graphic details of what happened to the woman, the psychological trauma the woman has dealt with since the attack, and summaries of a recorded phone call she had with the man, as well as interviews with co-workers and friends who were around that night, and how his DNA matched with DNA found on her underwear.
The report also brought to light two other instances where the manager had been suspected of drugging at least two other bartenders on the island. The bartender he allegedly drugged last summer said she had two shots with the man and then couldn't remember anything the rest of the day, only to wake up naked in a hotel shower, with him standing over her thinking she was dead. Witnesses recalled how the man whisked the woman to a hotel and refused to let let anybody else in the room to check on her. The other drugging incident reported was an employee of another bar who was served two shots by the man at Mr. Ed's only to realize something wasn't right with how she was feeling. Her last memory was texting her boyfriend to come pick her up. The next day, according to the person who relayed the story to the detective, the manager came by "with a posse of 10 guys yelling at her about spreading rumors" and that "he had a reputation to uphold and that she just couldn't handle island drinking."
The suspect's identity is redacted in the report, but some non-police sources provided his name. The 32-year-old manages both Mr. Ed's and Mist, and was spotted still working there last week.
Outside of the detective's report, the man's name shows up in an August 2011 police report after he and another Mr. Ed's employee refused to leave a Commodore Hotel room where he had followed a female guest into the bathroom and tried to kiss her and then argued with the guests in their room who wanted him out. "Upon making contact with the members of room 242, they stated they just wanted the Ed's employees to leave their hotel and leave them alone," the 2011 police report states. The manager was kicked out and "began to yell loudly and was told to keep it down or he would be sobering up at the jail."
Police and EMS have been regulars at the Mist pool bar — where he also works — this summer, having been summoned on several Saturdays for multiple reports of unconscious, unresponsive and vomiting females, incidents that EMS believed were tied to date-rape drugs slipped into their drinks, not simply the case of someone imbibing too much. Put-In-Bay EMS is very familiar with responding to the regular over-intoxication of drinkers; these people were not just that.
At 5 p.m. on May 25, police "were dispatched to Mist for a possible drugged female." They found a woman "sitting in a chair leaning over a garbage can." EMS took her to the station but there was no further investigation.
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