Miami-Dade County

Lights on jetty where José Fernández died could confuse boaters, Coast Guard says

Adding lights on the jetty where Marlins star José Fernández crashed his powerboat in a fatal wreck could confuse skippers used to the existing system of channel markers, the U.S. Coast Guard said in declining requests to make the rocky breakwater easier to see at night.

Fernández’s death at the helm of his powerboat in the predawn darkness of Sept. 25, 2016, put pressure on the Coast Guard to boost the visibility of the unlit jetty where he and two passengers died. The rocks jut about 1,000 feet into the ocean off South Beach’s Government Cut entrance, and peek above the waves at high tide. Miami-Dade police’s marine unit recommended installing lights, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from West Miami, also called for help identifying the jetty at night.

This week, the Coast Guard’s Miami Beach station announced that its review of navigational aids off Government Cut concluded lights were not needed on either the northern jetty, where Fernández’s boat crashed, or on the one to the south. A two-page summary of the Coast Guard’s findings said Fernández caused the only fatality on the jetty since at least 1998, and said “external factors, not related to the waterway” caused that crash.

Toxicology reports showed Fernández, 24, was intoxicated during the 3 a.m. crash, which flipped his 32-foot powerboat onto the rocks and killed passengers Eduardo Rivero, 26, and Emilio Jesus Macias, 27. Fernández also had cocaine in his system, state investigators said.

Citing a state report, the Coast Guard said Fernández operated his boat “in a reckless manner, at an extremely high rate of speed, in the darkness of night, in an area with known navigational hazards such as the rock jetties and channel markers.”

The unlit jetties flank a column of lighted buoys and markers that frame a channel designed to safely guide vessels in and out of Government Cut, the entrance to Port Miami. The Coast Guard said the channel markers and published government charts provide enough guidance for skippers to stay in safe waters.

“Adding additional aids to navigation for the jetties would not conform to navigation standards and could possibly confuse mariners due to existing lighted buoys,” the Coast Guard wrote.

As part of its report, the Coast Guard cited a state review of accident reports off Government Cut since 1998. Of the 107 accidents that weren’t the Fernandez crash, nine involved a boat striking a jetty or underwater rocks that could have been part of a jetty.

“Those nine accidents resulted in five injured persons and zero fatalities,” the Coast Guard said. State investigators “did not find navigation aids a factor in any of those accidents.”

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