Following a leisurely afternoon grilling and hanging out with friends at a Biscayne Bay sandbar, Steve Hudson was piloting his 13-foot Boston Whaler boat back to a Coconut Grove marina, a trip he’d made countless times.
Then he blacked out.
When Hudson woke up in the hospital, he learned that a mysterious 25-foot boat had plowed into his vessel, stopped briefly and then – despite desperate cries for help from his girlfriend – sped off into the night.
The damage to Hudson’s body from the hit-and-run two years ago was catastrophic: he broke his knee cap and jaw. Surgeons had to insert six metal plates into his face, and his eye suffered nerve damage.
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“The X-rays for my face looked like a spider web,” Hudson, 50, said Friday. “My jaw was so broken it had to be wired shut for six weeks. I lost 50 pounds.”
But Hudson felt a sense of justice this week when state investigators, after a lengthy investigation, arrested a Kendall man they say crashed his boat into Hudson’s Whaler.
Noel Perez, 30, was still jailed late Friday on a charge of leaving the scene of a boating accident involving serious bodily injury. He was granted $20,000 bond, but must wear an ankle monitor and cannot drive a car or a boat while awaiting trial. He could not be reached and it was not clear if he had an attorney.
“The arrest means a lot to my family and friends, especially because they are all boaters and they were very angry thinking this guy had gotten away with it,” said Hudson, an experienced boater and longtime Miami Herald industrial mechanic.
His girlfriend and now-fiance, Brenda Ocampo, 49, also suffered a concussion and cuts to her head in the July 2012 crash about a half a mile from Dinner Key Marina, where Hudson had been living on a bigger boat at the time.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Perez was at fault in the crash.
Trying to cover up his involvement, Perez had his mother report the boat stolen. “A few hours after the crash,” said FWC Sgt. Jorge Pino, an agency spokesman.
FWC investigators found the supposedly stolen boat the next day at the Dinner Key marina. Perez and his mother inexplicably showed up there to claim the vessel – even though investigators had not alerted them to the vessel’s recovery.
Perez claimed he was out of town that night, but witnesses placed him on the boat just before and after the crash, and video surveillance taken from a supermarket showed he was indeed in town. An accident reconstruction showed his boat had damage that corresponded with the collision with Hudson’s 13-foot Boston Whaler.
“We’re confident we have the right person responsible for this crash,” Pino said. “We owed it to the victims to do a diligent, thorough investigation.”
Perez has a previous conviction for driving under the influence and several arrests, but no convictions, for drug possession.
The arrest comes as law enforcement has made a cracking down on drunk boating a priority on the crowded waters off Miami.
During the recent Labor Day weekend, a task force of police took to the waters off Key Biscayne and Elliott Key, party-boat hot spots, to deter drunken skippering. At least six people were arrested for boating under the influence.
The task force was created after several high-profile boating accidents killed seven people in recent months, including a horrific three-boat crash on the Fourth of July in which four people died and seven were injured.
The next police operation is planned for the Columbus Day Weekend in October.