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Judge has questions about petition before presuming Isabella Hellmann dead

Posted at 1:48 PM, Oct 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-19 19:37:49-04

Lewis Bennett’s attorney asked a judge Thursday to sign off on a death certificate for his client’s wife, Isabella Hellmann. 

However, Judge Kathleen Kroll said she still has questions regarding the issue.

It’s been five months since Hellmann went missing at sea.

She was on a trip with her husband on his 37-foot catamaran when Bennett told the Coast Guard he woke up after feeling the boat hit an object.

Bennett said Hellmann was last keeping watch, but when he looked for her she was nowhere on the boat.

Bennett said the boat started taking on water, so he grabbed a backpack and other items and filled a life raft to abandon the boat.

He was rescued by the Coast Guard, but after a four-day search, the Coast Guard did not find Hellmann.

Bennett has since been arrested on charges of transporting stolen coins the federal government says were found in the backpack he took off the sinking boat.

From jail, he has hired an attorney to presume his wife dead to control the condo where they lived together in Delray Beach.

Judge Kroll said Thursday she could not issue the death certificate based on a Coast Guard report the attorney presented to her, stating that the search for Hellmann was suspended after the Coast Guard concluded that she could not have survived more than 120 hours at sea.

“I would have questions for the Coast Guard,” said Kroll in court. “I’m concerned that I don’t have anyone to ask those questions to.”

The judge said just because the report says the search was suspended for Hellmann does not mean the investigation is concluded.

Kroll also stated that normally she is presented with a letter presuming death, such as in cases where someone has fallen off a cruise ship.

“I have to tell you, I think this is really quick. Normally I see these [cases] after a year or two. So, when did the accident happen?” Kroll asked Bennett’s attorney Lee McElroy.

“May 14, your honor,” said the attorney.

“Yeah, so what’s the rush?” answered Kroll.

Although Bennett’s current status in federal custody awaiting trial did not come up at the hearing, McElroy told the judge the Delray Beach condo where the married couple lived is only in Hellmann’s name and Bennett does not have access to the estate.

He is seeking that access along with other assets, like Hellmann’s car, some small bank accounts, and personal effects. 

The judge said she would like to see a letter from the Coast Guard saying the investigation is concluded. She has set another hearing for Nov. 3 regarding the matter.