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KEY WEST, December 30, 2019 – A Key West man is off to Florida State Prison for a violent knife attack on a visitor from California.
Christopher Yarema, 44, pleaded no contest December 20 to aggravated assault and felony criminal mischief. Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones sentenced him to 24 months in state custody followed by 36 months of probation. His wife, Stephanie Burnham, 37, pleaded no contest in November to battery and received a year in the Monroe County Detention Center. Assistant State Attorney Christine Poist represented the state.
On October 27, 2018, the victim and his partner were at Wisteria Island in Key West Harbor enjoying a day of recreation and were getting ready to take their rented inflatable dinghy back to a larger boat they had rented that was anchored out. Yarema and Burnham approached in a skiff, yelling. One of them used a sexual epithet toward the victim and said “get the [hell] off our island.” The victim was packing his belongings to leave, not wanting a confrontation.
Yarema and Burnham kept yelling at him to leave or “we will kill you!” The skiff then landed on the beach and Burnham said “I will kill you.” As the victim tried to untie the inflatable, Burnham punched him in the face, then struck him in the head with an oar. He pushed her away, then Yarema stepped up and said “you knocked down my wife, I’m going to kill you.”
Yarema swung at him twice with a knife, missing both times, but did stab the inflatable twice. The victim and his partner were able to get away by holding onto the deflating inflatable dinghy, using it as a raft. They made it back to their anchored boat and called for help over the boat radio. The Coast Guard later described the inflatable as “completely flattened.”
Yarema told deputies he lived on Wisteria Island and saw people near his campsite. He said he saw Burnham arguing with the two men near the campsite “but does not remember anything else.” He said he went to sleep and awoke to Coast Guard officers telling him he needed to go with them. He was arrested at the Key West Coast Guard Station. Damage to the inflatable was $2,000.
Separately, Judge Jones gave Yarema 24 months in prison (to be served concurrently) for violating probation in a 2016 case by getting arrested for the 2018 assault. In the 2016 case, he pleaded no contest to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after holding a knife to a 69-year-old man’s neck at a Stock Island convenience store and telling him, “I want to kill you.” Yarema received 24 months of probation in March 2017.