Miami-Dade County

Water cops on prowl for drunken boaters on Biscayne Bay; at least 3 arrested

To keep drunken boaters off the water and prevent another deadly tragedy, marine officers were out in force Sunday looking for scofflaw skippers.

They’ll be back out Monday as South Florida waters once again fill up with holiday revelers.

Officers set up a BUI checkpoint — boating under the influence — at Crandon Park to snare people suspected of drunken boating. But they’re also looking to stop speeders and other violators.

Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press, who is also the president of the Miami-Dade Chiefs of Police Association, said officers would continue their efforts in various areas one weekend a month.

“We are out there to make sure everyone is safe,” Press said. “We do not want any more tragedies on the water.”

By 8 p.m. Sunday, three boaters were arrested on suspicion of BUI.

Federal, state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies joined forces over Labor Day weekend in a push to educate boaters and enforce laws. The multi-agency task force, announced by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez last week, targeted boaters in the Mashta Flats near Key Biscayne, Stiltsville flats and at Elliott Key, which is in Biscayne National Park.

The push comes after a deadly Fourth of July boat crash that killed four people and injured several others on Biscayne Bay. Several other accidents in recent months left an additional three people dead.

While plenty of boaters dropped anchor in the Mashta Flats area on Sunday, Key Biscayne marine patrol Officer Raul Jaime said there were far fewer boats than on July 4 and other long weekends.

“There are half the boats that are normally there,” he said, adding that it may be because word spread of the heavy police presence or reports of bad weather.

However, there were still plenty of boats that took to the water.

Large yachts and small boats anchored in the Mashta Flats with people plunging into the water as music pulsated from the decks.

Clusters of boats made it harder for Jaime and his partner Gordon Spitler to weave through.

“If something were to happen, it would be hard to get to them,” Spitler said.

Officers stopped several boats to check for life jackets and ID. Jaime pulled over a boat after he saw it speeding through a manatee zone. Mario Rivero ended up with a $90 citation.

“I made a mistake. I have to pay for it,” he said.

At about 6 p.m., Jaime got a call from Chief Press to respond to a boat for suspicion of boating under the influence. Orlando Garcia, wearing a blue bathing suit and no shoes, was taken aboard the Key Biscayne boat and brought to shore, where he was met with officers ready to handcuff him.

A mobile command center was set up at Crandon Park Marina to process suspects.

Press said he was aboard the Coast Guard boat that stopped Garcia’s vessel for a safety check. He said there were several “visual signs,” without going into specifics.

“We knew pretty quickly we had a potential BUI,” he said.

For Press, boating safety is personal. His daughter, who is now 26, was seriously injured last September in a boating accident near Mashta Flats. She was swimming when a boat backed up and she “was torn up.” She is still recovering from the accident.

“We are doing this for everyone’s baby,” the chief said.