The iconic Rotary Club of Key West sign that beaconed visitors “Welcome to Key West,” has been found and returned to the club Thursday.
The Key West Express, a daily fast-ferry to Key West from Fort Myers Beach and Marco Island, brought the missing sign back to Key West this morning after a young couple in their mid-20s
dropped it off at its Fort Myers Beach terminal.
The couple, who would not identify themselves, asked Express personnel if they could put a package aboard the vessel. When Express people said, they don’t transport cargo, the couple showed them the sign in the back of a black pickup truck.
“We then took possession of the sign and confirmed that we would be certain it was returned to Key West,” said Linda Miller, general manager of Key West Express.
The Key West Express, with the sign aboard, docked in Key West at noon Thursday and the Key West Police Department immediately rushed it to the DoubleTree Resort for The Rotary Club of Key West’s noon lunch meeting.
“And everybody stood up and gave a standing ovation,” Rotary president Albert Gonzalez said.
According to reports, the sign became missing after Hurricane Irma hit the Keys on Sept. 10, however, someone took a photograph of the sign sitting in the back of a pickup truck and posted it on Facebook. That led police to the Fort Myers man who said he alone took the sign.
A witness told police that he saw two people loading the sign into the black Ford F-150 truck and had pictures, and video of it driving away. Because of the inclement weather, the people in the images could not be clearly identified. But Key West Police detectives were able to use a picture showing the truck’s license plate number to track down the owner, public information officer Alyson Crean said.
The man was eager to return the sign, said Mr. Gonzalez, so The Rotary Club will not press charges against him and another person who helped him steal it hours after Irma passed over the Keys.
“We’re going to say that a gentleman and someone with him picked up the sign right after the storm and stored it for us until the appropriate time that it could be returned,” Mr. Gonzalez said.
Mr. Gonzalez received an apology by email as well as a phone call from the young man who stole the sign, he said, and that the man decided to put it on the Express ferry Thursday morning.
Part of the man’s email read, “I would like to apologize for the stupidity and realize the best place for the sign is in its original home. I hope you can forgive this lapse in judgement.”
He was forgiven.
“Listen, I was a kid once,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “He seemed like a kid that was just having a good old time, he’s seen a cool sign and said, ‘you know what that’d be great to have in my backyard or something.’ I can tell you he’s very remorseful.”
Mr. Gonzalez said the Rotary club had originally paid $8,000 for the sign, and that it had needed refurbishing anyway, before the storm. That’s being done before it will be back at its post welcoming visitors once again.