At least four people were killed and several others were injured in a three-boat collision late Friday that left the waters near Dinner Key strewn with victims and rescuers rushing them to docks and waiting ambulances, officials said.
Two people were confirmed dead soon after the 10:45 p.m. collision on the Fourth of July, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Jorge Pino said Saturday. Rescuers found two additional bodies on Saturday morning.
Pino said none of his fellow officers could remember a deadlier crash.
“The most that I can remember is three people died in Collier County about three years ago,” he said. “But as far as four fatalities in one single accident, I’ve never heard of that.”
Pino said the accident involved one larger boat and two “open-fisherman-style” boats, but it was unclear as to what caused the initial crash.
“The issue we see every year is that after the fireworks are over, there’s a mad dash to the marina,” Pino said.
At least nine people were sent to hospitals with injuries ranging “from minor to very critical,” Pino said. Three went to Mercy Hospital and two were airlifted to Kendall Regional Medical Center. Four people were taken to Ryder Trauma Center, two of whom were unresponsive and later pronounced dead.
“CPR was being performed (on the unresponsive victims) by paramedics all the way to the hospital,” Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Ignatius Carroll said.
Other victims went to the hospital on their own, Pino said.
Of the three victims admitted to Mercy Hospital, two were treated and discharged immediately. One victim remained in the hospital Saturday night, Mercy spokeswoman Gloria Caballero said.
Two young children were rescued and reunited with family at Mercy Hospital, Carroll said.
Carroll described the scene as “chaos,” with the first calls to fire rescue reporting that two boats had collided. When paramedics went out, they discovered a boat with two women aboard, neither of them conscious or breathing.
Rescuers transferred the women to a Fire Rescue boat, Carroll said, and tried to resuscitate them as they headed back to the marina. As they rushed the women back to shore, Coast Guard crews pulled an unconscious man out of the water and a paramedic already aboard the Coast Guard vessel began to perform CPR on him.
With paramedics now performing CPR on three victims, calls continued to come in that more bodies were in the water, Carroll said. So fire rescue crews dropped off the victims to paramedics on the ground and sped back out into the bay.
“We had boats motorcading back and forth bringing in injured people,” he said. “They were out there in the dark. What was really challenging was you don’t know how many people were on the boats.”
“There were people who were traumatized, injured, confused,” said Carroll. “We weren’t getting accurate counts of people. We were trying to determine, did we have everybody? And then we found out there was still a possibility two people” were missing.
Complicating the rescue efforts, Carroll said, Miami Fire Rescue paramedics were responding at the same time to a car crash on the corner of Coral Way and 32nd Avenue, in which four people were critically injured. All four were taken to Ryder Trauma.
“We were working two mass casualty incidents that both got dispatched within about five minutes of each other,” said Carroll. “Our protocol is to try not to overload one hospital,” and therefore two victims from the boat collision were airlifted to Kendall.
Pino said the accident involved two separate collisions, one right after the other. All three boats were towed in and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will hold them for investigation on its North Miami base. Photos of one of the boats showed a large hole on its side.
The Coast Guard in Miami said it responded to the crash after a boater on a 36-foot pleasure craft reported that another boat had struck his vessel. The boater told the Coast Guard his vessel was taking on water and that passengers had fallen into the water, and that the other boater did not stop following the collision.
The Coast Guard said that when it contacted the owner of the boat that allegedly hit the vessel, the owner reported that his son had taken the vessel out Friday evening.
State Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials were talking to victims’ family members for help with the search efforts, Pino said. Names of all the victims will not be released until all next-of-kin have been notified.
Late Saturday, Pino confirmed the identity of one of the victims as Kelsie Karpiak, of Miami.
Karpiak was a dancer and cheerleader who, as a senior at Miami Palmetto Senior High School, performed in the 2007 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, according to Miami Herald archives.
She was the president of the Miami-based American Dance Alliance, which organizes dance camps and competitions in Florida, according to her LinkedIn page. Karpiak graduated last year from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, where she studied public relations and sports management.
In 2013, Miami-Dade County had 104 boating accidents, the most of any county in Florida, according to the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
In September 2012, a man died after his personal watercraft collided with a boat in Biscayne Bay. Two summers ago, Dinner Key saw another late-night crash that injured two people.
El Nuevo Herald staff writer Juan O. Tamayo contributed to this report.