Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system when he died in a boat wreck off South Beach, a toxicology report shows, but his family’s attorney insisted Saturday that he was not piloting the vessel when it crashed.
The release of the medical examiner’s reports added new details to the devastating death of Fernandez, the Cuban-born sports hero who was killed in a horrific boat wreck last month that shocked South Florida and rocked the Miami Marlins franchise.
Fernandez, 24, died when his 32-foot boat plowed into the Government Cut north jetty before dawn Sept. 25. Two others on the boat with him, Emilio Jesus Macias, 27, and 25-year-old Eduardo Rivero also were killed.
While his two companions had alcohol in their systems, neither was legally drunk, the reports from the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office show. However, one of them, Eduardo Rivero, also had cocaine in his blood, the reports show.
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Fernandez had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, well above the legal limit of .08. Another measurement showed the level at exactly double the legal limit.
The release of the toxicology reports came one day after the Miami Herald sued the Medical Examiner’s Office seeking release of the documents.
The crash was being investigated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which initially claimed the documents could not be released because of an active criminal investigation. However, the Herald contended that no criminal charges could be brought because everyone on board died.
The records were released after the FWC declined to be a party to the lawsuit. “Miami-Dade County prides itself on being a transparent government,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a statement explaining why the reports were released after the police agency declined to take part in the lawsuit.
However, the player’s longtime friend and family attorney Ralph Fernandez blasted the county for releasing the toxicology reports, insisting there is an active criminal probe that could still net arrests, although he declined to say who might be the target.
Ralph Fernandez, no relation to the pitcher, said investigators have strong evidence that the star was not piloting the boat as it zoomed toward the rock jetty some time after leaving the American Social Bar & Kitchen on the Miami River.
The evidence: A witness who was on the phone with Fernandez “at the point of impact,” the lawyer said. The witness told police and Fernandez’s lawyer that the pitcher “was telling the person driving to go left, go left, bear away from the shore, and moments later, communications ceased,” the attorney said.
The witness’s account was backed up by text messages and phone records, according to Fernandez’s lawyer. He believes Macias was behind the wheel of the SeaVee-brand boat dubbed the “Kaught Looking.”
The autopsy showed that the men suffered devastating blunt-force trauma to their heads and bodies. The cause of death for each man is listed as “boat crash.”
The presence of alcohol in the crash was no surprise.
Last week, the Miami Herald obtained a search warrant that indicated that the bodies of the men exhibited a “strong odor” of alcohol when they reached the morgue. A bar receipt from American Social was also found inside the pocket of one of the men.
As for cocaine, Ralph Fernandez said the use of the drug was “totally out of character for Jose Fernandez.”
Dr. John Marraccini, a Florida forensic pathologist who reviewed the toxicology report Saturday, said the level of cocaine in Fernandez’s system shows the pitcher’s body was already beginning to metabolize the drug. As to how long it had been in his system, “all you can say is hours,” Marraccini said.
FWC, which investigates boating accidents, has not yet completed its final report on the accident.
Family members and an attorney representing Macias and Rivero could not be reached for comment. Marlins President David Samson declined to comment.
The results of the toxicology reports do nothing to diminish Fernandez’s place in Miami lore, his attorney said.
“He loved Miami. He loved the Marlins. He loved his people, and that’s not going to change,” Ralph Fernandez said. “Even if he was a wild thing, that’s not going to change what he did for everyone around him and for baseball and athletics as a whole.”
Fernandez was the franchise’s ace pitcher whose youthful exuberance captured the hearts of South Florida sports fans. He was particularly beloved by Miami’s Cuban-American community — like so many others, he fled the Communist island by sea, even diving into the ocean to save his mother when she fell overboard.
Authorities had released few details about the crash, although friends told reporters that Fernandez had been upset and wanted to blow off some steam after a game in which he did not pitch. Several teammates declined to accompany him on the boat, but his friend, Rivero, agreed to go along.
They docked at American Social, a posh watering hole on the Miami River, meeting up with Macias, who lived at the adjacent condo building but had turned in for the night. A friend of Rivero’s, Macias agreed to come down and meet Fernandez; he worked in financial advising and the pitcher could have been a possible client.
The trio went for an impromptu ride that ended just after 3 a.m., when the vessel plowed into north jetty, one of two that border Government Cut, the channel that commercial ships use to enter PortMiami.
Ralph Fernandez, Jose Fernandez’s attorney and longtime friend, said he believes the pitcher allowed Macias to operate the boat because of possible impairment.
Said the lawyer: “We often had that discussion. If you do not feel 100 percent, do not operate the boat under those conditions.”
Miami Herald staff writer Clark Spencer contributed to this report.