Fabiola Santiago

How many more boaters must die before we properly light treacherous Government Cut? | Opinion

This is a story of deaths foretold.

Almost three years after a drunk and high José Fernández plowed his powerboat into one of the Government Cut jetties and died along with two of his friends, three more people have lost their lives on the treacherous rocks at night.

This time, a Lighthouse Point mother and father are dead and so is a 29-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman. Another passenger, a Juno Beach man, is in stable condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Their names are Christopher Colgan, 58, Elisaine Colgan, who would have turned 39 on Sunday, Jennifer Munoz Cadavid, 28, whose body was found Monday near the rocks, and Troy Forte, 37.

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A 2017 picture of Christopher and Elisaine Colgan from Christopher Colgan’s Facebook page. Facebook

Their 32-foot boat struck the south side of the north jetty in Government Cut after they came upon the same conditions as Fernández: Pitch black waters. Rocks that barely peek above the waves at high tide running 1,000 feet into the ocean. Only navigational buoys to mark the deadly rocks on the busy waterway.

After the Marlins star pitcher’s tragic death in 2016, there were calls from Miami-Dade police and elected officials (and this columnist) for the most obvious of preventive measures: the lighting of the jetties.

“A serious threat to boaters,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez called the unlit jetties then in a memo that urged for similar lighting of breakwaters off Haulover Inlet near Bal Harbour.

The high-profile accident also put a spotlight on the complaints of local boaters, who have for years warned that the dark rocks can be impossible to see at night. The Herald also went out at night and confirmed how little you can see out there.

But the U.S. Coast Guard declined to make changes, saying lighting other than the existing navigational buoys would confuse mariners trying to enter Government Cut.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission blamed the 2016 accident squarely on Fernández, who was legally intoxicated and had cocaine in his system, and not on the perilous conditions on this southern tip of Miami Beach.

In a safety review, the Coast Guard agreed that “external factors” unrelated to the waterway, including speed, had cause the crash and deaths.

A repeat of history should prove to the Coast Guard that conditions matter.

The image of the Colgans’ upside-down boat on the jetty seems eerily familiar with good reason.

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A Lighthouse Point couple is dead after a Saturday night boating crash that flipped this boat on Government Cut’s north jetty, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The crash happened at 9:18 p.m. Saturday at the same place where Fernández, 24, Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, lost their lives.

When will the body count be high enough to take substantive preventive measures?

You can warn people. You can run public-service announcements about drinking and boating.

But there’s no guarantee that enough people will hear the warning, or that even those who do will see the rocks in the dark. The latter is the bottom line.

It’s hard to believe that there’s one boating person in South Florida who doesn’t know that the Marlins’ most famous player died on those rocks — and isn’t wary of them.

Christopher Colgan was reportedly an avid boater and fisherman. A neighbor said they couple were “experienced boaters.”

But here we are again in the same place as Sept. 25, 2016.

“We need to do something … to really light it up [in a way] that says, ‘Hey, the jetty is here,’ ” Gimenez said Monday.

He’s right, of course.

We all love the Coast Guard and the life-saving work they do on a daily basis, but on this one, they made a bad call.

I can appreciate that alcohol and drugs played a role in Fernández’s death — and we can all be angry about that until eternity. But why not hear the complaints of other boaters and make the area safer? Certainly in this day and age there’s the technology to tackle it.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating the crash. Toxicology reports are not yet available, but no matter the results, I hope we don’t overly focus on that this time.

When boaters die on dark rocks, it’s time to light Government Cut jetties.

The Colgans, married 17 years, leave behind a teenaged son.

Chris Colgan Jr.’s last words to his parents, as he bid them goodbye from the dock for a day of quintessential South Florida fun to celebrate his mother’s birthday, was: “Be safe.”

Now he will have to live the rest of his life without them.

This is the story of deaths foretold.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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