Locals are homeward bound

Two Steamboat men detained in UAE allowed to leave

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At 2:15 a.m. Monday, Sara Rakowski received the telephone call she had been waiting for since December.

During the call, she learned that her husband, Steve Rakow--ski, 39, and co-worker Jonathan Coles, 37, are coming home from the United Arab Emirates.

The two Steamboat Springs men had not been allowed to leave the UAE since Dec. 12, when UAE authorities detained the men for questioning about their surveying work in the country.

Their passports were taken, and they stood trial for taking unauthorized photos in sensitive locations, which is a violation of the UAE's national security laws.

The men's final trial was scheduled for Monday in the UAE -- Sunday night in Steamboat Springs. Sara Rakowski went to bed with the phone by her side, knowing the outcome could be as harsh as a one-year prison sentence.

Instead, the ordeal apparently ended Monday. Coles and Rakowski were ordered to pay a fine equivalent to $550 and were told they could go home. Sara Rakowski said her husband could be home as early as this weekend.

"I never got back to sleep," Sara Rakowski said. "I am very excited."

Coles' girlfriend, Sarah Hoeller, also received a phone call Monday morning.

"I can't believe this is going to finally be over," she said. "We are expecting them to be on a plane any moment now."

Hoeller said the two men are waiting for a letter from the UAE government explaining why they are leaving the country after their visas have expired. After their equipment is returned, they will leave.

The two men were supposed to leave the UAE days after arriving there Dec. 9. Coles and Rakowski were working as surveyors for CompassCom, a Centennial-based mapping company, in the capital city of Abu Dhabi.

The two were using Global Positioning System equipment to work on a project for an Internet mapping program similar to MapQuest.

In a previous interview, Coles said they were taking pictures of their equipment set up on street corners, a common practice in surveying, when authorities stopped them. The photographs were of equipment and were taken in public places, he said.

Coles and Rakowski have been staying at an Abu Dhabi hotel, which they were free to leave. They had spent their time preparing for the case, staying in touch with family and friends, playing squash and reading.

In mid-April, the first of three trials began, Sara Rakowski said. In the first trial, the prosecution presented its case. At the second trial May 2, Coles and Rakowski pleaded not guilty to the charges. The final decision was made Monday.

The trial was held in front of a panel of judges, and there would have been no chance to appeal the decision.

"We went through every scenario," Hoeller said. "By the time it got to court, we were calm. We had already gone through all the emotional stuff."

Sara Rakowski said the case has drawn much support from the men's families and friends.

U.S. senators Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar and other congressmen assisted in the men's release. On April 7, the Colorado senators met with Ambassador Al Asri Saeed Ahmed Al Dhahri and pressed for a quick and peaceful resolution. Both men also had met with officials from the U.S. Department of State.

"I am pleased that this has been resolved without incident and that Mr. Coles and Mr. Rakowski are headed home," Salazar said.

Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for Allard, said the senator is pleased with all the efforts that have been made to bring the men home.

The UAE is in the Middle East, bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf between Oman and Saudi Arabia. The country is slightly smaller than Maine and has an estimated population of 3.4 million.

Sara Rakowski still can recall the winter morning she said a tearful goodbye to her husband when he left for the trip. She was sad the two would be apart for two weeks, the longest time the couple had not been together.

"They were going over there to promote business and tourism," she said. "It never dawned on me leading up to the trip, when I was packing clothes, picking stuff up at the dry cleaners, (that) something like that could happen."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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