If Marlins ace Jose Fernandez had survived the boat crash that killed him and two other men Sept. 25 near Miami Beach, he’d likely be facing years in prison instead of major league hitters.
Fernandez was piloting his boat in a reckless manner while intoxicated before it smashed into a jetty, killing the Cuban-born pitcher and two passengers, Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, according to a report released Thursday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The report accuses Fernandez of violating several laws, including boating under the influence manslaughter and vessel homicide. A conviction on either count is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
Fueled by a combination of alcohol and cocaine, the FWC said, Fernandez was operating his 32-foot SeeVee, Kaught Looking, at full throttle when it plowed into a boulder at the southern tip of Miami Beach just after 3 a.m. that morning.
Toxicology reports released in October concluded that Fernandez’ blood-alcohol level was .147, well above the .08 marker for impaired driving, the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner said.
Fernandez, 24, and his friends were at a club, The American Social Bar, for nearly two hours before the crash, the investigation revealed. Fernandez bought two bottles of tequila and three drinks while at the bar, the report said.
Before the report’s release Thursday, questions remained over who was in control of the boat when the crash took place. But the FWC found physical evidence — DNA and fingerprints — that put Fernandez behind the steering wheel and pushing the throttle when the crash took place.
The boat was traveling 65.7 mph — just under its maximum speed of 65.9 mph, according to the FWC — when it “was stopped almost instantly” after hitting a boulder on the north end of the jetty. An investigation found that a marine GPS unit on the boat “clearly displayed the rock jetties and channel markers in the area” but was apparently ignored by Fernandez.
The pitcher’s mother told investigators that her son was an experienced boater who knew the area — Miami’s Government Cut — very well.
But the report said that Fernandez made a simple error that contributed greatly to the crash, steering his boat about 100 feet inside a flashing channel marker that denotes the easternmost point of the jetty. The boat impacted with such force that the “jetty’s boulders caused them to shift and collide into each other,” the FWC reported.
Fernandez and his friends were at The American Social Bar, a Miami club with dockside access, for nearly two hours before the crash, the investigation revealed.
Fernandez’ family attorney told the FWC that Jose Fernandez could “throw ‘em down” and that he “would not be surprised if he was a .2-something,” referring to player’s blood alcohol level. But attorney Ralph Fernandez, no relation to Jose, said he knew of a man who was speaking with Fernandez by phone at the time of the crash and that the pitcher was giving directions when the boat hit the jetty and the phone went dead.
Photo records debunked the attorney’s contention, revealing that the phone call took place 12 minutes before the crash when Fernandez’ boat was still in the Miami River.
Marlins president David Samson released a statement Thursday after the FWC report was released.
“No matter what the report has concluded, nothing will ever diminish Jose’s everlasting positive connection with Miami and the Miami Marlins,” Samson said. “Nor can it lessen the love and passion he felt for his family, friends, teammates and all his fans in South Florida and around the world.”
The families of Macias and Rivero announced plans last month to file negligence lawsuits against the estate of Fernandez, each seeking $2 million.
Before his death, Fernandez had risen to iconic status in South Florida in his four seasons with the Marlins. He escaped Cuba on a raft to come to Florida at age 15 on his fourth try to cross the Straits of Florida; he ended up in jail during one of those failed attempts. When he finally made it, he saved his mother from drowning when she fell overboard.
Fernandez was about to become a father; his girlfriend, Maria Arias, was pregnant with their daughter, Penelope, to whom Arias gave birth Feb. 24.
A two-time All-Star and the 2013 National League Rookie of the year, Fernandez had become the player around whom the Marlins marketed their team. After undergoing “Tommy John” surgery in 2014, he was completing his best season in the major leagues, with a record of 16-8 and a 2.86 ERA.