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Miami's Biscayne Bay 'piano bar' is rescued by a musician

Biscayne Bay's famed "piano bar" is no more but — befitting its curious run from teenage stunt to worldwide sensation — things ended with strange twist.

A state wildlife officer showed up Thursday at the Miami Shores home of the family that had hauled the hefty instrument onto a small sandbar early this month with orders to remove it in 24 hours or risk a fine.

Somebody beat them to it. A crew from TowBoat U.S. Miami had been hired earlier in the day by Carl Bentulan, a day trader and musician from Palmetto Bay, whose 10-year-old son, Liam, suggested that they "rescue" the beat-up and burned baby grand.

"Every morning, he'd get up and read the paper to see if it was still there," said Bentulan, a bass player in a Police tribute band called Synchronicity. "I finally said, 'OK, let's give it a try.'"

Lynn Mitchell, a TowBoat employee, said she thought the call was a joke at first but assured Bentulan that salvors could easily handle a baby grand.

"He said, 'do you have boats that can move things?'" she said. "I told him we have a crane that can put a 50-foot boat on a barge. We can move anything."

When Nicholas Harrington, the 16-year-old MAST Academy student who came up with the idea of plunking the piano down on the small sandbar, arrived with family and friends Thursday afternoon to comply with state orders, the piano bar was already closed. The instrument, legs and pedals removed by salvors, was already resting in the cockpit of a TowBoat U.S. boat.

Thus ensued a brief flurry of phone calls between the Harringtons and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and then between the FWC and the salvors. As the sun set, the folks who had burned the piano — an old movie prop — at a New Year's party, then plunked it down on the sandbar, headed back home.

The salvors headed to a storage yard with their prize: an unplayable, gutted, fleetingly famous piano that after several weeks on the water also has developed some really wicked warps, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said maritime law is clear that someone who pays to salvage something abandoned at sea becomes the lawful owner.

"We're in the salvage business. This is what we do," she said. "It's abandoned property, just like if somebody put out a piano in a swale somewhere in Coral Gables. Somebody could grab it and take it home."

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