A frightening five-second video clip clearly shows a small pleasure craft racing toward a seawall adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Miami Beach. The video appears to show the speeding boat T-boning the concrete wall as Coast Guard personnel race to the scene by land and craft. The boat reemerges, slowly drifting east into Biscayne Bay.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Coast Guard still aren’t certain what caused the Friday morning accident. But they identified the boat’s driver as Michael Capponi, 42, a colorful Miami Beach nightclub promoter with a history of drug and alcohol abuse, who has turned his life around the past two decades.
The other person on the boat was his girlfriend Brooke D. Biederman, 23, a 2014 graduate of Princeton University. She suffered serious head injuries and was transported by Miami Beach Fire Rescue to Jackson Memorial Hospital in critical condition, where she is in a medically induced coma. She is the daughter of prominent New York developer Dan Bierderman, who redeveloped Bryant Park and the neighborhood around Grand Central Terminal.
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The two were photographed at an Oscar party last month in Hollywood, California.
Capponi is in Jackson with broken ribs and a broken collarbone. He is expected to fully recover.
“It looks like they were flying,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Jon Paul Rios said. “If they hit a wake or lost control, I don’t know.”
The Coast Guard said the FWC is investigating the incident. FWC spokesman Jorge Pino was on vacation Monday and couldn’t be reached.
Capponi’s friend, who asked that he not be named and who spent time with him at the hospital, said going out on a morning boat ride is part of the promoter’s new spiritual awakening. He said Capponi, 42, vaguely recalls the accident, but has suggested he may have blacked out.
“He was very attentive and he knows what is going on around him. There is no memory loss other than he doesn't know what happened,” said the friend. “He thinks he fell and was cognizant enough that the boat was getting water in it — or he saw pictures — but he is not sure.”
That spiritual awakening, according to a 2011 story in Poder Magazine that was carried by the Miami Herald, came after a misspent youth on Key Biscayne, when by age 13 Capponi was slipping out his bedroom window and spending nights doing LSD in Crandon Park.
By the early 1990s Capponi said he had an $800-a-day heroin habit and found himself homeless on the streets of New York City. After finally willing himself to rehab, doctors discovered Capponi had a brain tumor. He recovered and moved to South Beach, where he made a name for himself promoting some of the most famous nightclubs on the planet, like Warsaw, B.E.D. and LIV.
Capponi also got into humanitarian work and found himself flying with a relief team of Miami Beach firefighters to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake. He’s returned there dozens of times. Now, after creating the Capponi Group in 2005, he mostly deals in construction design and development.
Boating accidents have become all too frequent in South Florida, especially in Biscayne Bay, which is filled to capacity with water and sun worshipers on the weekends and holidays.
On May 4, 2014, during a party for Voli Vodka on the sandbar at Nixon Beach, a large vessel operated by radio personality DJ Laz got stuck in the sand. Several men tried to push the boat out to sea. Before it was freed, 23-year-old Ernesto Hernandez lost his footing and was sucked into the propeller. He was killed.
Then two months later on July 4, it was 10:35 p.m. when a 32-foot powerboat carrying five people, which had also spent the day on the Nixon sandbar, headed back to Dinner Key. Before arriving, the boat slammed into a 36-foot vessel carrying eight boaters. The damaged boats then rammed into a third vessel. Four people were killed, three others were in critical condition.
Capponi, who studies both Kaballah and Christianity, was visited by a priest and family members over the weekend, his friend said. He also suffered a broken nose and his friend said his lung capacity was only about 50 percent. Still, the friend said Capponi’s main concern was with his girlfriend, Brooke, whose head injuries resulted in doctors inducing a coma to alleviate the pressure on the brain.
The friend read a text directly from his cellphone that he said was sent by Capponi: “I’m dying here. I need Brooke to wake up. I’m dying here without her.”
In an Instagram post under his name from two days ago at Jackson’s Trauma Unit, Capponi’s message read: “Thank you for the hundreds of well wishes. Please continue to send all your blessings and prayers in this very difficult passage.’’
Capponi’s friend said Capponi has a regular morning schedule.
“Michael's routine is he gets up early, meditates and answers his emails. The boat was probably a cruise to relax his mind. There's no way this was drugs or alcohol.”