Patron Shot at Coral Bay’s Island Blues

The popular Coral Bay bar and restaurant Island Blues was the scene of a shooting on Tuesday night, December 6, while a large crowd was gathered to hear guitarist Max Cabello.

A patron at Island Blues Restaurant was shot while sitting at the crowded bar on Tuesday night, December 6, and although V.I. Police Department officials are investigating the incident as a possible accidental shooting witnesses disagree.

The popular Coral Bay bar was filled with about 150 residents and visitors listening to San Francisco-based guitarist Max Cabello when the shooting occurred shortly after 10:45 p.m., according to witnesses.

Victim Heard a “Loud Clap”
Jason Ward was sitting at the bar facing Coral Harbor with his back to the road when he “heard what was a loud clap and he lifted up his shirt and noticed that he was shot when he saw blood,” said VIPD spokesperson Sgt. Thomas Hannah.

The victim then went “to the western side of the bar and fell to the floor,” Sgt. Hannah added.

The gunshot, from a small caliber weapon, entered Ward’s abdomen on the right side and exited on the left, Sgt. Hannah continued.

VIPD Says Shot From Inside Bar
Despite early speculations the shot was fired from outside the establishment, the shooting “absolutely” occurred inside the bar, according to the VIPD spokesperson.

“The shot came from inside the bar absolutely,” said Sgt. Hannah. “From the report that I am looking at which describes where they found the projectile and where he was shot, everything was inside the bar.”

“As a preliminary investigation we are investigating this as a possible accidental shooting,” the VIPD spokesperson continued. “The victim indicated that he was sitting at the bar and someone was standing to the right of him and after he was shot that person standing next to him began to act quite suspiciously.”

Ward was shot from close range which also indicates that the shooter was inside the bar, Sgt. Hannah added.

No Altercations at Bar “There were no altercations either physical or verbal and the shot was from close range,” said the VIPD spokesman. “He might have an idea of the person who shot him and more than likely it was accidental.”

“At approximately 1:45 a.m. on Wednesday, December 7, the victim stated that he knew who may have shot him and that it occurred inside of the bar,” according to a VIPD press release. “The victim did indicate to detectives this shooting was an accidental shooting.”

Sgt. Hannah would not release the names or descriptions of any suspects in this case.

“This is an active investigation to determine exactly what transpired and I am not at liberty to release the names of any suspects or witnesses,” said Sgt. Hannah. “Rumors saying that it was a drive-by shooting are not true – it happened inside the bar absolutely.”

Witness Says Shot Came from Outside
However, one witness disagreed and insisted that the shot came from outside the bar.

“It is not true (that the shot came from inside),” said a resident who was sitting at the bar directly next to the victim when he was shot. “I saw the barrel flash from the gun and heard the direction it was coming from and it came from the gate – it definitely came from outside.”

The bullet hole in the railing near where Ward was sitting also proves that the shot came from outside because it would be impossible to angle the gun in that direction from inside the bar, the witness explained.

Victim Was Sideways to Road
Ward was sitting with his back to the road, but he turned sideways to watch the band, the witness continued.

“He turned to face the band so he was sideways to the road when he was shot,” said the witness. At the time no one, including Ward, knew he was shot until he started bleeding, the witness continued.

“The music was so loud and it was a low caliber gun, probably a .22 which sounds like a fire cracker,” the witness added.

“I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye and heard the gun shot but I wasn’t about to run outside and see who it was,” the witness said. “It was definitely a walk-by shooting.”

Shooting Seemed Random
The shooting seemed random, the witness added.

“Jason was there for about two hours and there were no fights or controversy,” said the witness. “I think it was random, that someone just fired a shot into the bar and it hit him.”

Island Blues had a large crowd eager to hear Max Cabello’s guitar playing.

“The place was mobbed, there were at least 150 people there,” said another witness who was at the Coral Bay bar at the time of the incident.

After the shooting, Cabello announced over the microphone that the music was over and people should remain calm and leave, according to the witness.

Crowd Leaves Calmly
“Everyone at the bar kind of hit the floor after we heard that there was a shooting because we didn’t know where it came from or what was going on,” the witness said. “Then people just left quietly – there was no panic.”

A VIPD vehicle was parked across the street from Island Blues with its lights on, but the officer did not enter the establishment, the witness continued.

“The cop car was sitting on the side of the road with its lights on and the officer was just sitting in his car,” said the witness. “There was no attempt made to stop anyone or question people who were leaving.”

Fire Department Responds
It is unclear whether the VIPD officer seen across the street ever entered Island Blues, but just before 11 p.m. a Coral Bay fire truck with its sirens on was seen responding to the scene, according to a resident who lives in the area.

“The first responder was the Coral Bay fire truck which came with the siren on just before 11 p.m.,” said the resident. “Then I saw two police vehicles arrive from the Cruz Bay side at least 20 to 30 minutes after the fire engine showed up.”

“The ambulance was another 20 to 30 minutes behind them,” the resident added.

Ward was taken to the Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center (MKSCHC) where it appeared that the gun shot wound did not hit any vital organs. The victim was conscious and lucid, according to friends who saw Ward at MKSCHC after the shooting.

Ward was then transferred to the Roy L. Schneider Medical Center in St. Thomas where he reportedly refused treatment before boarding a plane to the U.S. on Wednesday morning, December 7.

Bullet Straight Through Stomach
“He is in good condition,” Sgt. Hannah said. “It seems that the bullet went straight through his stomach.”

Sgt. Hannah would not comment on whether the recently opened temporary VIPD Coral Bay Substation, which is located a few hundred feet away from Island Blues, was staffed or not at the time of the shooting.

“Whether officers are in Coral Bay or Cruz Bay, police are not sitting everywhere,” said the VIPD spokesperson. “We get a number of calls and the next available unit that is free will respond to that particular call.”

“The temporary substation will be manned based on the man power available on that particular shift,” Sgt. Hannah added.

Number of Incidents at Island Blues
Island Blues has been the scene of a number of robberies over the past year, the latest being an armed robbery on November 6. During that incident, two men, one armed with a shotgun and the other with a nine millimeter handgun, fired a shot into the air and demanded money from the bartender.

There were no officers at the VIPD Coral Bay Substation on the night of November 6.

In the most brutal occurrence relating to Island Blues, owner Sarah Abramson was severely beaten, duct taped and robbed at her Estate Quaco and Zimmerman home on July 6.

No arrests have been made stemming from the November 6 armed robbery or the July 6 home invasion and beating.

The owner of the popular Coral Bay bar and restaurant has pledged to take measures to improve the safety of the establishment.

“I want this to be a safe community and we will take all the measures that we can to make Island Blues a safer place like install better lighting,” said proprietor Emily Hannon. “The whole thing is very sad and we’re just glad that Jason is going to be alright.”

Police Asking for Assistance
Police are still investigating the December 6 shooting and are asking for the public’s cooperation.

“We are still investigating whether it was an accidental shooting or not,” said the VIPD spokesperson. “We are asking anyone who was in the bar at the time that this shooting occurred to call the criminal investigation bureau at 715-5534, 715-5546, 715-5522 or the Leander Jurgen Command at 693-8880.”