Miami Marlins

Push for Jose Fernandez Avenue still on track in Miami-Dade

Sandy Tejeiro gazes at a portrait of Jose Fernandez at a memorial service at la Ermita de la Caridad on Sept. 28.
Sandy Tejeiro gazes at a portrait of Jose Fernandez at a memorial service at la Ermita de la Caridad on Sept. 28. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Reports of drug use and drinking by Jose Fernandez before he and two others died in a crash on the Marlins pitcher’s boat have not dissuaded a Miami-Dade commissioner from wanting to rename an avenue outside Marlins Park after the popular baseball star.

“He made a mistake and, obviously, he paid for it with his life,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who sponsored the resolution to rename a 2 1/2 mile stretch of 17th Avenue as “Jose Fernandez Avenue.”

“What he did as a baseball player cannot be erased by one act,” Barreiro said.

Barreiro’s resolution has the backing of Miami’s City Commission, which passed a similar motion, and is co-sponsored by all 12 of his fellow county commissioners.

Last week it was placed on the agenda of the County Commission’s Tuesday meeting, before news broke Saturday that a county autopsy showed Fernandez, 24, had a blood-alcohol content well above the state limit and also had traces of cocaine in his system when he died. It’s not known who was operating Fernandez’s boat when it crashed on a jetty off Miami Beach in the early morning hours of Sept. 25, killing him, Emilio Jesus Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25

The timing of Barreiro’s resolution offers a prompt test of how community leaders plan to balance the possibility of drug-and-alcohol use in a horrific boat crash that killed three local residents with the outpouring of grief and admiration for Fernandez after his death.

Fernandez’s fraught journey from Cuba, his public affection for his mother and grandmother, and a sunny off-field persona helped make him a Miami favorite for a baseball team that has been notably lacking in broad fan support. He died while awaiting the birth of his first child.

Barreiro’s resolution highlights the Cuban ties that helped him become such a favorite in Miami — “a story of flight leading to freedom,” as the resolution put it.

“Whereas, Jose Fernandez made four valiant attempts to escape Cuba as a teenager and, during one of those attempts, heroically dove into the waters of the Yucatan channel to save his mother’s life,” reads the introduction of the legislation. It recalled how Fernandez’s grandmother stayed in Cuba but tried to follow Marlins games “by sitting on her roof with a radio and praying for clear skies to catch the transmission.”

David Samson, president of the Marlins, said the team endorses renaming Southwest 17th Avenue after Fernandez as a way to ensure that “his memory should and will be discussed for future generations each time anyone is near Marlins Park.”

“The unimaginable tragedy of the loss of Jose Fernandez and that of the other two men is still fresh and will always be painful,” Samson wrote in a statement. “The love and support from our community and around the world that has been shown toward Jose and his dear mother and grandmother and soon to be born daughter has been overwhelming and certainly deserved.”

Barreiro’s resolution would rename 17th Avenue, a county road, as Jose Fernandez Avenue on the stretch that begins at U.S. 1 and runs to North River Drive. That would put Fernandez’s name on the main thoroughfare running past the 37,000-seat stadium.

Problematic backgrounds have caused occasional angst for county commissioners when they’ve tried to rename public areas after local residents and celebrities. In 2014, the commission scratched a plan to name a Kendall park after a well-liked founder of a Hammocks baseball league when it surfaced he was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana in the 1980s. In 2008, Miami-Dade commissioners voted to remove Jose Canseco’s name from part of Southwest 16th Street after the former Coral Park High baseball star was entangled in a steroids scandal.

A required background check of Fernandez for the Barreiro resolution by the commission’s auditor stated that “no adverse findings came to our attention.” It had not been updated as of Monday afternoon, but the final agenda could have a more recent version.

State investigators haven’t said publicly what they think caused the crash.

Fernandez, a frequent fisherman, owned the 32-foot boat that landed upside down on a South Beach jetty shortly after 3 a.m. He and his two companions boarded the Kaught Looking for an impromptu boat ride after meeting up at a Miami River bar earlier in the morning. A search warrant tied to the probe of the fatal crash stated the operator of the vessel was running at a high rate of speed and with a “recklessness” that was “exacerbated by the consumption of alcohol.”

An attorney representing Fernandez’s family said he had evidence the baseball star was not at the wheel during the crash. The lawyer, Ralph Fernandez (no relation to the pitcher), said a witness reported a phone conversation with Jose Fernandez from his boat that had him instructing someone else to “go left, go left” before the line went dead.

County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said she was “saddened” to hear the news about Fernandez’s toxicology results but that she thought it was too early to render a decision on the crash.

“I hope we can hear more about that,” she said of the circumstances of the crash. “We cannot erase what he represented to the community … I want to respect the pain of the family.”

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