Miami-Dade County

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez to blame for fatal boating crash, investigation concludes

Jose Fernandez’s last interview

Jose Fernandez spoke with the media after the Miami Marlins' game on Sept. 24, 2016.
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Jose Fernandez spoke with the media after the Miami Marlins' game on Sept. 24, 2016.

Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez – drunk, high on cocaine and speeding – was behind the wheel and to blame when his boat plowed into a jetty off South Beach, killing two others, police concluded in a report released Thursday.

Had Fernandez lived, he would likely have been charged with a host of crimes including manslaughter, according to the final report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

READ MORE: What happened in the final hours of Fernandez’s life

Investigators made the conclusion because the physical damage to Fernandez’s body matched the damage on the boat’s center console. His DNA was also found on the throttle and steering wheel.

The boat, investigators concluded, was traveling at more than 65 miles per hour, the top speed of the vessel.

“Fernandez operated [the boat] with his normal faculties impaired, in a reckless manner, at an extreme high rate of speed, in the darkness of the night, in an area with known navigational hazards such as rock jetties and channel markers,” the report concluded.

READ MORE: A jetty with a reputation for trouble

The release of the report comes nearly six months after Fernandez and two others were killed when the pitcher’s boat plowed into a jetty at Government Cut off South Beach before dawn on Sept. 25. Two others on the boat with him, Emilio Jesus Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, also were killed.

With tears streaming down their faces, Jose Fernandez mother and grandmother said their final goodbyes to the Marlins' pitcher.

The report refutes Fernandez’s attorney’s long-asserted contention that the pitcher was not behind the wheel of the boat when it crashed. The attorney claimed that at the point of impact, Fernandez was on the phone with a witness who said the pitcher was barking out to someone else to keep left, away from the shore.

But investigators, after reviewing phone records for the witness, a night club manager named Yuri Perez, concluded that the call took place 12 minutes before the crash – when the boat was still in the Miami River.

READ MORE: A complicated legacy takes another turn

Fernandez’s family attorney, Ralph Fernandez, no relation, said he was disappointed with the FWC’s report. He disputes that the evidence was conclusive to place Fernandez steering the boat during the crash, and said the agency should have turned to outside maritime accident experts for an analysis.

“I can assure you the experts will disagree,” said the attorney, who represents the pitcher’s estate that is being sued for negligence by the families of the other victims.

He also said that just because Jose Fernandez was behind the center console, it doesn’t mean he was steering the boat.

“There’s room for two or three people behind the console area,” Ralph Fernandez said.

The death of the exuberant Cuban-born ace pitcher stunned South Florida and the Marlins franchise, which counted Fernandez as one of its cornerstone talents. Fernandez’s story was familiar for Miami’s Cuban population — he arrived in the United States on a raft after a dangerous voyage that included him saving his mother from drowning.

Teammates donned his jersey in a tear-soaked game after his death, and thousands honored him during a public procession and memorial days after the crash.

“No matter what the report has concluded, nothing will ever diminish Jose's everlasting positive connection with Miami and the Miami Marlins,” team President David Samson said in a statement. “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 report will likely play heavily into the civil lawsuit filed by relatives of Macias and Rivero against the pitcher’s estate. An attorney for their families, Christopher Royer, said in a statement:

“Though fault has been determined officially, the families of Emilio and Eduardo are not vindictive and simply hope that an amicable settlement of the lawsuit can be reached between the parties as swiftly as possible so as not to prolong the final closure for the many people who have been impacted.

“The Rivero and Macias families have also lost their sons in the prime of their lives. Whatever happens, there are no winners in this matter, simply losses — those of the lives of three fine young men.”

That Fernandez was under the influence of alcohol — his blood alcohol level was .167, twice the legal limit — was not a surprise. Back in October, the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office unveiled autopsy reports on the three dead men after the Miami Herald went to court to seek to their release.

For months, investigators with the FWC — which handles boating deaths in the waters off Miami — had been piecing together the violent crash of the 32-foot boat dubbed the Kaught Looking.

READ HERE: The full incident report

That night, friends told the media, 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.

Just before 1 a.m., Fernandez and Rivero docked at American Social, a trendy 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.

Maria Arias, Fernandez’s girlfriend who recently gave birth to his baby daughter, briefly hung out at American Social with the group. She told the FWC that she “did not think Fernandez was behaving unusually and he did not seem impaired.”

But FWC obtained a screenshot of a text message from Arias to Rivero saying the two had gotten into an argument recently and “he’s really pushing me out the door.”

“He’s been drinking and he’s not in the best state of mind,” she wrote, according to the report.

At American Social, investigators concluded, Fernandez bought two bottles of Don Julio tequila, as well as three other well drinks.

At 2:42 a.m. the trio went for an impromptu ride. The boat, at 52.8 miles per hour, cut though the waters of Government Cut, past South Pointe Pier and into the Atlantic Ocean headed northeast.

About a half-a-mile offshore, the boat turned around and headed back toward Government Cut, according to the report by Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigator Christina Martin.

The boat collided violently with the north jetty at 3:02 a.m., causing the vessel to completely roll over and come to rest on the top of the rocks.

Fernandez’s body was pinned under the boat. Macias was thrown off the boat, found in a tidal pool next to the jetty. Rivero was discovered underwater on the north side of the jetty, his head and chest under a boulder.

Autopsies concluded that the three died after suffering blunt force trauma. The level of cocaine in Fernandez’s body also indicated that he had ingested the drug in the few hours before the crash. (Fernandez’s waterlogged phone could never be turned back on, making tracing his cocaine supplier impossible).

Series of photos collected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission during the investigation of the accident in which Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernandez and two companions died.

For investigators, the physical injuries were key in determining that Fernandez was behind the wheel and steering the Kaught Looking.

There was damage to the compass at the helm next to the steering wheel, which showed it was “the mechanism of injury for Fernandez’s extensive jaw damage.” His blood was also found adjacent to the compass.

Meanwhile, Rivero had wounds on his forehead that could only have come from fishing rod holders — which were located behind the skipper’s seat. As for Macias, the physical evidence showed he was standing next to the center console and was hurled from boat.

“There was no evidence found to indicate either Emilio Macias or Eduardo Rivero were possible operators” of the boat, the report concluded.

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