Six of the 11 migrants who survived a deadly smuggling trip that ended when a motorboat capsized seven miles off Miami Beach — including the vessel’s captain and crewman — were arrested Thursday. All had been previously deported from the U.S., most of them after having been convicted of serious crimes.
The crewman, George Lewis of Jamaica, faces a charge of attempted smuggling of the migrants, who came from the Bahamas, Haiti and Jamaica. None had permission to enter the country.
The 25-foot boat’s captain was Naaman Davis of the Bahamas, according to federal court records. It was not clear Thursday why he was not also charged with attempted smuggling.
Lewis and any other accused smugglers could be charged with the deaths of four women who perished when the boat turned over.
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The fatal voyage began in the Bahamas, a frequent departure point for Caribbean smugglers trying to reach South Florida. It concluded at around 2 a.m. Wednesday when U.S. Coast Guard crews rescued the survivors.
Six migrants interviewed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security identified Davis and Lewis as the smugglers, according to a criminal complaint. One of those migrants said that a couple of days before the vessel departed the Bahamas, he saw Davis, Lewis and a known smuggler talking to each other in Bimini.
“Another one of the migrants interviewed stated that prior to their being brought ashore, Lewis had directed them all to tell the Coast Guard that the vessel captain swam away and never came back,” the complaint says.
Lewis had been deported on May 13 over a drug-trafficking conviction. Davis had been deported on March 7.
The other four men arrested are Sean Gaynor, Kenard Hagigal, Matthew Williams and Everton Jones, who is also known as Everton Bryce. All six face charges of entering the U.S. illegally after being deported.
Williams was deported on Oct. 31, 2012, after being convicted of selling drugs on school property and selling controlled substances. Hagigal was deported on May 31, 2012, after being convicted of money laundering. Gaynor was deported on Oct. 27, 2011, after being in the country illegally. Jones was deported on Oct. 14, 2010, after a drug conviction.
According to WPLG-ABC 10, Lewis is 37, Williams is 30, Jones is 50, Gaynor is 27 and Hagigal is 34. The television station also reported that of the five migrants who were not charged, four were Haitian and one was Bahamian.
None of those migrants or the four dead women have been publicly identified. For federal prosecutors to make their case, it’s possible the migrants could be allowed to remain in the country as witnesses to a crime.
Marleine Bastien, president of Haitian Women of Miami, said South Florida relatives of one of the women had identified her body. But she declined to disclose the woman’s name until her remaining relatives could be notified.
“It was very heart-wrenching, to see first the hope and then the disappointment and the pain,” Bastien said after returning from the Miami-Dade medical examiner’s office.
Her organization has leads on the identities of two of the other women, Bastien said. She described two of the deceased as being in their 20s.
Coast Guard crews rescued the survivors, including a 15-year-old girl and a man who was suffering from seizures, after one of the migrants used a cell phone to call 911 at around 1:20 a.m. Wednesday to report that the boat had flipped southeast of Government Cut, the entrance to PortMiami.
No one on the overcrowded boat wore a life jacket.