After a deadly July 4 crash on Biscayne Bay, boaters clamored for safer waters and police promised to crack down on reckless boating. Four people were killed in the crowded holiday waters that day, raising Miami-Dade’s 2014 marine death toll to seven.
The death toll went up again this Columbus Day weekend as police investigate yet another holiday tragedy.
A 63-foot Sea Ray yacht sat moored to a wall Sunday at the Miami Beach Coast Guard base, taken there after a fatal crash Saturday night. According to authorities, that boat collided with a 27-foot Pro Line in Biscayne Bay, throwing the people on the smaller boat into the dark waters of the bay about 31/2 miles southwest of Biscayne Channel. One woman died and two others were injured.
And on Sunday afternoon, a swimmer in the Mashta Flats off Key Biscayne was struck by a personal watercraft in a hit-and-run. She was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to authorities.
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Key Biscayne Police Chief Charles Press struggled Sunday to understand the latest chaos on the water.
"I am angry beyond words,” he said. “It makes me emotional beyond words."
Press, who helped establish a task force to crack down on drunken boating with an aggressive approach heading into Columbus Day weekend, said he and his colleagues were hoping for smooth sailing.
"We were not out there sightseeing," he said, indicating there were more than 25 police and Coast Guard boats on the water pulling over vessels for safety checks. "We were out there taking care of business."
But Press said the task force, which includes several agencies in Miami-Dade and Broward working together in a specific location, can’t change the course overnight. He said boating in South Florida has turned into an every-weekend party, not just on holidays.
Hundreds of boaters were on the water over the weekend, soaking up the sun, listening to music, partying it up. When the sun went down, boaters headed back to area marinas.
It’s not clear whether alcohol was involved in the crash that killed 29-year-old Maria Del Valle after 10 p.m. Saturday, said Jorge Pino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
On her Facebook page, Del Valle is pictured with several young children. She is listed as an alumna of Miami Springs High.
Pino said the smaller boat, named the MimSeas, was skippered by Del Valle’s boyfriend, 33-year-old Maykel Perdomo. He is being treated for non-life-threatening injuries at Mercy Hospital in Coconut Grove.
The third person on board, 23-year-old Dayron Baralt, is hospitalized at Ryder Trauma Center with severe injuries.
Pino identified the operator of the large motor yacht as 49-year-old Steven Trypis, believed to be from Toronto. None of the 21 people on board his boat were injured.
Investigators performed a sobriety test on Trypis, but he was not charged pending blood test results.
This weekend’s tragedy comes amid measures to make South Florida waterways safer, especially during holiday periods.
"We had a very strong presence and you still had that one incident," Pino said. "If it's getting late and you don't feel comfortable operating your vessel, stay there and leave the next day."
A witness at the boat crash scene who did not want to be identified said it appeared the larger vessel struck the smaller boat on the starboard side, knocking it upside down.
The three victims from the smaller boat toppled into the water and were pulled out by passengers aboard the motor yacht.
Pino said the investigation so far shows the motor yacht was heading north in the bay and the smaller vessel was heading south, but he said that information is “very preliminary.” The crash witness said the large motor yacht had been spotted earlier anchored off Elliott Key where thousands of boaters gather to party to celebrate the annual, three-day Columbus Day weekend.
Saturday night’s crash occurred despite a speed zone in effect for Columbus Day from the Rickenbacker Causeway to Black Point.
The boat police will be back out again on Monday for Columbus Day.
"People go out on the water with the intent of partying hard," said Press, the Key Biscayne police chief. "It's a culture of lawlessness, a culture of drunkenness. We need to change the culture."
Miami Herald writer Kathryn Varn contributed to this report.