REDWOOD CITY -- Dario Mira, 54, walked out of jail a free man Wednesday after a strange odyssey partying aboard a stolen luxury yacht that ended with him and two others behind bars just two days before.
The Aptos man shrugged and said it wasn't the first time he'd been the subject of a massive police response, only to be released. The other time he'd walked into a house in Santa Cruz that was under police surveillance after a rash of burglaries.
"I made the front page on that one, too," he said, while waiting for 55-year-old girlfriend Lisa Modawell's release from custody. Prosecutors also decided not to file charges against her.
But the man who'd allegedly been at the helm of the stolen 82-foot yacht Darling that ran aground in the sand off Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica early Monday morning wasn't so fortunate. Leslie Gardner, 63, of Gillette, Wyo., pleaded not guilty Wednesday in San Mateo County Superior Court to three felonies, including grand theft.
Elizabeth Hill, a San Mateo County Superior Court commissioner, ordered him held on $1.01 million bail. The amount is high because the stolen boat is estimated, according to prosecutors, to be worth more than $2.8 million.
Mira and Modawell ended up walking away from the wild voyage because prosecutors couldn't prove the couple knew the boat was stolen from Sausalito Yacht Harbor around 1:30 a.m. Monday. Assistant district attorney Al Serrato said Gardner told them he'd come to have the boat as part of an inheritance.
"What was his endgame? I don't know," Serrato said of Gardner. "You can't make this stuff up."
Cristina Mazzei, an attorney who represented Gardner in court Wednesday, said she couldn't comment because she has not seen any of the evidence.
As he walked, looking desperately for a cigarette, Mira said he'd assumed Gardner had gotten the boat from his family. He and Modawell had only met Gardner a couple days earlier in Santa Cruz through a friend and were invited aboard. He said they had no reason to be suspicious.
The group then drove up to Sausalito, had some beer and pizza at a restaurant down the road from the harbor and then headed over to the Darling. Sausalito police say Gardner then forced open the latch, found the boat keys in the cabin and cruised out of the harbor into the Pacific Ocean.
Mira said police got it wrong. He claimed Gardner called someone and was told the keys were stashed in a "canopy" outside of the boat. Gardner then unlocked the door and the party continued, he said.
The goal of the brief trip remains unclear, but the trio had intended to head down the coast and stop in Half Moon Bay and then Santa Cruz.
"It was a pleasure cruise, or so I thought," said Mira, chuckling.
Prosecutors, boat experts and Mira believe Gardner must have known what he was doing, because he guided the boat out without a scratch. Yet for some reason the captain drove the boat in a circle and then bore down in a nearly straight line on Linda Mar.
Mira said even as the trio sat stranded in the boat, which was being battered by waves, he had no idea it was stolen. The group initially ignored Coast Guard communication attempts and then the order police shouted through a bullhorn. But they finally gave themselves up around noon Monday.
Mira said, if not a good story, it was a good lesson.
"It'll teach me to be more careful who I associate with when I go out," he told TV cameras and reporters moments after he stepped out jail.
Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335. Follow him at Twitter.com/melvinreport.