MIAMI — Investigators are trying to determine whether Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was at the wheel of his sportfishing boat when it slammed into a jetty in the early-morning darkness, killing him and two others on board.
The three men died when the 32-foot SeaVee slammed into rocks jutting off the southern tip of South Beach at about 3:15 a.m. on Sunday, according to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office. A Coast Guard crew going out on patrol discovered the wreck about 15 minutes later.
The boat registered to Fernandez had landed upside-down, with its engines partially submerged, its bow pointed skyward and debris scattered over the large jagged rocks. Investigators are now examining the wreck at a secure facility, according to Monday statement by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
There’s no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were involved, commission spokesman Lorenzo Veloz said.
Also killed were Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, according to Darren Caprara, operations director of the medical examiner’s office.
The wreck happened at the mouth of Miami’s Government Cut, a busy channel for cargo and cruise ships, smaller fishing boats and personal watercraft. While the area is well lit at night by South Beach’s neon hotels and condominiums, this also creates a glare that can make spotting a safe route through the channel more difficult, said Terry Claus, a fishing charter captain.
“Especially if you’re going fast, there’s too much to take in,” Claus said. “There’s a lot of lights, there’s a lot of markers for the cruise ships — red lights flashing, green lights flashing, white lights flashing, and there’s a lot of boats running around. You have to be alert, and you have to slow down.”
Nighttime speed limits have been established in the waters off Miami for holidays, but officials have resisted requiring licenses and safety training for adult boaters, said Claus, who advocated for tougher safety regulations after a July 4, 2014, crash in Biscayne Bay killed four people.
News photos of the boat involved in Fernandez’s death appear to show that it had blue interior lights, a decorative feature that Claus said could have impaired the driver’s vision if they were on.
“You’re surrounded by all this blue light, and you can’t see what’s in front of you,” Claus said Monday. A boater safety course would have explained the danger, he added.
“Those blue lights are supposed to be on at the dock to make the boat look pretty, but when you’re on the ocean, everyone can see you but you can’t see anyone else.”
Wildlife commission spokesman Rob Klepper said he could not confirm whether the vessel had interior lights that may have impaired the driver’s vision.
At 3:15 on Sunday, it was nearing high tide and the jetty that protects its entrance was partially submerged. So if the boat was going fast enough for the bow to rise out of the water, “then it’s very possible that he could not see any of those rocks in front of him,” Claus said.