Striving to avoid a repeat of a Fourth of July boating crash that killed four people and injured several others on Biscayne Bay, federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies will join forces to take drunken skippers off the water over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced plans for the multiagency task force at a waterside news conference Wednesday at PortMiami.
Flanked on the dais by lawmen from Miami-Dade, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the U.S. Coast Guard, Key Biscayne, North Miami, Coral Gables, and Bal Harbour whose patrol boats flashed blue lights behind them, Gimenez said boating under the influence would not be tolerated.
“We’ve had seven deaths on our waterways this year,” he said. “We know alcohol and drugs contribute to these tragedies, and we want to prevent accidents.”
Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, president of the Miami-Dade Chiefs of Police Association, said the task force would be in “full, ready-to-go mode” Sunday targeting boaters in the Mashta Flats area adjacent to his village, as well as the Stiltsville flats and at Elliott Key, which is in Biscayne National Park.
Asked how many officers would be involved, Press responded, “There are going to be a lot.”
The Mashta Flats — a shallow sand flat where hundreds of boaters anchor most weekends to party, swim and play music — has become a personal crusade for Press since his adult daughter almost lost a leg in a boating accident there about a year ago.
The area, also known as Nixon Beach, was also the scene of an accident last May in which a 23-year-old man was killed by the spinning propeller of a boat skippered by popular radio personality DJ Laz — real name Lazaro Mendez — as he tried to back the boat off the flats.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” Press said of the weekend partying. “We’re literally building up to this crescendo, and here we are now.”
Law enforcement officers encouraged boaters who plan to drink over the holiday weekend to appoint a designated skipper.
While it is not illegal to drink and drive a boat, operating with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher or — for those under 21, .02 or higher — are violations of Florida law, and carry stiff fines and possible jail time.