Tahoe Queen owner shot dead
December 19, 2001
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Lake Tahoe Cruises, Inc. President Joe Thiemann was shot to death Wednesday during an armed assault on his former business associate, Ski Run Marina owner Mike Phillips.
Phillips suffered cuts and bruises to the head but was in stable condition and expected to be released Wednesday night from Barton Memorial Hospital.
The incident occurred hours after the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board unanimously rejected Thiemann’s application to relocate his tour boat, the Tahoe Queen, to Timber Cove Marina.
Prior to the TRPA’s action, Thiemann’s attorney, Gregory Lien, characterized the board’s vote as “do or die for us.”
By sundown, his words rang with an eerie sound.
South Lake Tahoe Police reported Thiemann went to Phillips’ house at 858 El Dorado Street in South Lake Tahoe’s Al Tahoe neighborhood shortly after 4:30 p.m.
Phillips, described by friends as a devout Christian, and his 18-year-old adopted son were preparing to fly to Oklahoma for a religious retreat.
Thiemann reportedly entered the house, armed with a gun, and confronted Phillips.
Based on witness’ statements, police believe Thiemann aimed at Phillips and pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Thiemann then allegedly began pistol-whipping Phillips, striking him several times in the head.
The adopted son, whose name could not be verified, retrieved a gun from another room, returned and shot Thiemann once. Police reported the bullet left both an entry and exit wound in Thiemann’s upper body.
Authorities were alerted to the shooting at 4:49 p.m. Paramedics attempted to resuscitate Thiemann at the scene and transported him to Barton Memorial Hospital. Henry Joseph Thiemann was pronounced dead at approximately 5:30 p.m. by an emergency room physician. He was 45.
The gunman, not injured during the altercation, was taken for questioning to the South Lake Tahoe police station, where he was released Wednesday night.
Incident reports are being forwarded to the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office for review, said Officer Chuck Owens, police spokesman.
As of Wednesday’s press deadline, police investigators had not determined why Thiemann’s gun did not fire.
Ironically, Phillips and his business partner, Dena Schwarte, on Wednesday obtained restraining orders against Thiemann following the TRPA board vote.
Schwarte said both had received several threats from Thiemann during the past few weeks, primarily related to Thiemann’s eviction from Ski Run Marina.
“I thought we might need (the restraining orders), because of what happened today (at TRPA),” Schwarte said.
Lake Tahoe Cruises was formally evicted from the marina on Feb. 19. At that time, Thiemann moved the Tahoe Queen to Timber Cove Marina and has since been moving administration and reservation functions to separate locations in South Lake Tahoe.
Thiemann purchased Lake Tahoe Cruises in 1972. In 1983, his company moved its primary operations to Ski Run Marina and built the Tahoe Queen.
During Wednesday’s TRPA meeting, Phillips recounted his stormy business relationship with Thiemann, which temporarily halted when Phillips sold the marina in 1985 to the El Dorado Improvement Corporation, run by developer Richard Hodge.
Hodge reportedly signed a 25-year contract with Thiemann. However, by 1993, Phillips had reacquired the marina after the El Dorado Improvement Corporation filed for bankruptcy protection following a failed bid to develop the Ski Run Marina hotel.
Phillips said he offered Thiemann consecutive one-year leases because he felt that was the only way he could ensure Lake Tahoe Cruises honored contract terms.
Phillips said that during this time, the marina’s reputation was being hurt by complaints from customers, regulatory officials and other local businesses about Thiemann’s business practices.
During the past decade, Thiemann has ran into trouble with regulatory officials for exceeding maximum passenger loads on his boat and dredging a channel in 1988 at Ski Run Marina without all necessary permits.
In October of 1995, Phillips and Thiemann signed a final one-year lease that stipulated Thiemann would be not be allowed to continue operations at Ski Run Marina following Dec. 31, 1996.
Even with an eviction pending, Lake Tahoe Cruises did not begin applying for its relocation permits until last September. Initial applications to split berthing operations between Timber Cove Marina and Lakeside Marina were deemed inadequate by regulatory officials. In November, Thiemann submitted applications for a temporary relocation to Timber Cove while his long-term relocation plans could be processed.
The original, temporary relocation proposal fell one vote shy of approval on Dec. 20 by the TRPA board, prompting Thiemann to modify the application to the proposal that was rejected Wednesday.
Thiemann himself, after Wednesday’s TRPA vote, was disappointed by the outcome. Still, he expressed confidence that he could come back to meet TRPA regulations.
“What happened to me today was totally inequitable,” he said minutes after his permit was rejected. “We’ll be keeping (the Tahoe Queen) docked at Timber Cove and not operating until we can satisfy (TRPA board members’) concerns.”