Nearly seven months after he disappeared, a champion offshore powerboat racer from Egg Harbor Township returned Thursday to the Shore, his attorney said.
Andrew Biddle, 45, appeared in Atlantic County Superior Court about 3 p.m. and surrendered, putting to rest any belief that he might have died in a late-night summer boating accident.
Biddle was declared missing after a speeding pontoon boat he was said to be aboard hit a buoy and crashed into a jetty near the tip of Longport on July 20. A passenger, Justin Belz, swam to shore and said he could not find his friend.
The reported accident sparked an 18-hour Coast Guard search. Biddle's family from his native Huntingdon, Pa., joined the effort. An online outcry by those who knew Biddle, including in the powerboat-racing community, ensued.
But within weeks, Biddle was listed as wanted in the National Crime Information Center, after local authorities said they believed he had orchestrated the accident to avoid criminal charges.
"He voluntarily returned from wherever he was, when he probably could have stayed there ad infinitum," Mark Roddy, Biddle's attorney, said Thursday.
Roddy said he received a call from his client last week, during which Biddle said he "wanted to step up and do the right thing."
The Pleasantville lawyer told Biddle to contact him after returning to the tristate area. Biddle made that call Wednesday.
"Once I knew he was serious and this was going to take place, I made a series of calls to let the court know I was going to surrender him," Roddy said.
The hearing before Judge Kyran Connor lasted about 10 minutes, Roddy said. Connor ordered Biddle to post $50,000 bail, cash or bond, within 24 hours, or be taken into custody. Roddy said Biddle was working on producing the amount he needed. He would not discuss charges against Biddle.
Biddle and his partner in business and boating, Tracy Blumenstein, face a number of charges relating to Blumenstein's company, Professional Boat Sales, which Biddle helped operate. Complaints allege the pair defrauded customers (one, for example, says they sold a pontoon boat but never paid its owner).
The two were past winners of the annual P1 Superstock U.S. championship, a series of offshore powerboat races in Florida. In 2013, they won championships stateside as well in the United Kingdom.
Biddle, who has filed for bankruptcy in the past, also faced criminal charges and legal troubles in and near Huntingdon County, Pa., where he operated Raystown Performance Marine Sales, to which Blumenstein's family was also connected.
That history led Egg Harbor Township police to remain adamant that Biddle was on the run after the crash.
"I can tell you with certainty he is alive," Detective Ray Theriault told The Inquirer in December.
Theriault, who investigated many of the recent claims by customers, could not be reached Thursday.
Some speculated during Biddle's disappearance that he could have used his international boating connections to elude arrest. But where he was during his absence remained a mystery Thursday.
Roddy said Biddle did not say where he had been or why he returned.
"I just know he has a wife and kids," Roddy said. "I think that weighed on him."