Heather Hanono was sitting in her family’s boat off Dinner Key late Friday night as they cruised through the open bay after watching the fireworks. Suddenly her brother screamed: “A boat’s coming straight toward us.”
In what seemed like seconds, Hanono said, her boyfriend of two years, Jason Soleimani, 23, was dead, she and her family members were injured and there was a gaping hole on the right side of their 2005 36-foot Carrera center-console vessel.
“I can’t even describe it,” the 22-year-old said Sunday, her voice raspy. “It was horrible.”
By Sunday, investigators were forming a clearer picture of what happened in the deadly three-boat crash, which claimed the lives of four people and injured seven.
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It started when a 2003 32-foot Contender center-console boat careened into the Hanono family’s boat, spun out of control and hit a third boat, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The impact threw most of the people aboard the Contender into Biscayne Bay. Three of them died, including Andrew Garcia, 23, Victoria Dempsey, 20, and Kelsie Karpiak, 24. Two others aboard were critically injured including Catherine Payan, 24, and Samantha Rolth.
Soleimani, of Old Westbury, New York, was killed on impact, according to Fish and Wildlife. Heather Hanono said she suffered a dislocated shoulder and concussion. On the boat with her: Elias Hanono, 31, who was treated and released; Dayanara Arias, 39, who was critically injured and is being treated at Jackson Memorial Hospital; Lynda Hanono, 52; Shawn Hanono, 28; Emma Hanono, 5, who was uninjured; and Ella Hanono, 2, who also was not hurt.
There were eight people on the third vessel, a 2014 35-foot Boston Whaler center console, and all but one, who had a minor laceration to the left thigh, were uninjured. The people on that boat were Paolo Amore, 48, Clara Amore, 47, Franceca Amore, 19, Alfonso Panagua, 12, Cynthia Panagua, 49, Gabriel Panagua, 15, Andrea Panagua, 8, and Manuel Rodriguez, 50.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jorge Pino said Sunday that officials were still investigating what caused the deadly crash that happened at about 10:40 p.m. Friday, about three miles south of Rickenbacker Causeway.
Describing the scene as “as chaotic as chaotic could be,” Pino said Sunday the challenge at the time was trying determine how many people were involved. Several agencies pitched in to ferry victims back to the dock.
“All of the people on the first boat were in the water, so it was a real challenge trying to figure out how many people were out there,” he said.
He said every year on July 4, after the fireworks, hundreds of boats head back to the shore “in a mad dash.” Unlike streets, there are no lanes and no “speed-limit, per se,” he said.
“It’s not like we can have someone out there directing traffic,” he said. Boaters often zoom through the open bay, crisscrossing, he said.
Pino said the accident involved two separate collisions, one right after the other. All three boats were towed in and Fish and Wildlife will hold them for investigation at its base in North Miami.
Meanwhile, as investigators continued to piece together what happened, family and friends remembered their loved ones Sunday.
Heather Hanono said she met Soleimani two years ago when she messaged him on JDate, an online dating site.
“That was it, we have been together ever since,” she said. “We were going to get engaged soon.”
She said Soleimani was working in real estate and studying to become an attorney.
“He was the most genuine guy in the entire world,” she said.
Karpiak was about to start a new chapter in her life. She had just bought a new car and was getting ready to leave South Florida for Jacksonville to be with her boyfriend.
Karpiak graduated from the University of North Florida last year, and was working at her mother’s dance camp organization, American Dance Alliance.
She had originally planned on spending the Fourth of July with her family and twin brother. But when her best friend, Payan, asked her to come along for a boat ride, Karpiak told her she would go, even though she texted her boyfriend that she would rather stay home.
Payan remains in the hospital; Karpiak did not make it through the night.
Karpiak’s mother, Rosanna Karpiak, who teaches dance at Palmetto Senior High School in Pinecrest, said her daughter was heading to Monty’s restaurant, near Dinner Key, with Payan, Dempsey, Rolth and Garcia, who was steering the boat.
“Andrew knew what he was doing,” she said of Garcia, who is the son of a retired Miami-Dade firefighter. “He had his captain’s license.”
Later that evening, Rosanna Karpiak knew something was wrong when she “called and called” and her “sweet baby girl” didn’t pick up.
Kelsie Karpiak was working on a creating a free dance camp for young girls, her mother said.
“She had such a big heart,” she said.
Friends described Dempsey as an adventure-seeker who loved being out on the water.
“She drove a Jeep and wasn’t afraid to get dirty, and catch a fish,” said Janice Sands, a close family friend. “It’s just been literally unbelievable.”
Dempsey’s family and friends will host a celebration of life event on July 11 at Old Cutler Presbyterian Church.