Passengers’ fears couldn’t stop Fernandez boat accident

Talented pitcher was in no condition to make sound decisions

“Take care of him please. He’s been drinking and he’s not in the best state of mind...”

On the night baseball star Jose Fernandez would die, in a high-speed boat crash whose tearful aftermath still lingers, his girlfriend sent that text message to Jose’s pal Eduardo Rivero, also doomed.

Rivero on a boat? He was afraid of the ocean, his mother and sister and girlfriend Jennifer Peralta all told the FWC’s lead investigator, Christina Martin, whose report emphasizes Peralta’s statement: “She had not known Rivero was on a boat the night of the accident and was shocked when she heard this because she knew he was afraid of the ocean. She and Rivero had been on a small boat once before in Mexico and recalled Rivero being ‘petrified’ while on it.”

The third victim of the accident, Emilio Macias, apparently wasn’t afraid of the ocean but was nervous about high speed. His girlfriend, Saymar Salas, told investigators that she knew of him being on boats only twice in their 10 years together. Once, with her family, he was fretting about their speed which she thought was not excessive.

On the night of the accident, the three young men were drinking at American Social, a popular riverbank bar and restaurant. Fernandez, who had gone there with Rivero on his 32-foot SeaVee Kaught Looking, bought two bottles of tequila.

Rivero, a close friend, exchanged texts with Maria Arias, Jose’s girlfriend. He too was worried about Jose’s state of mind. Arias told him they had argued recently and she felt like he was pushing her out the door.

“I just need you to take care of him,” she finished the text.

Fernandez and Rivero had arrived at American Social on the boat at about 1 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25. Rivero called Macias, who lives in a building next door, and invited him to meet Fernandez. At 2:42 a.m., the three of them left the bar on Kaught Looking.

They had 20 minutes to live.

As they motored down the Miami River, Macias phoned Saymar. Go outside, he said, and look for a boat near the South Miami Avenue bridge. She saw a white boat with blue lights illuminating the cockpit and someone waving from the stern. That’s Emilio, she thought. She shot a photo.

On the way downriver, Fernandez called Yuri Perez, a nightclub promoter, and asked him to arrange for a table at Ivy, a Miami Beach nightclub. Perez heard him giving someone instructions, as though the other was steering the boat, and then there was a loud sound and the call was dropped.

Perez would mistake that for the fatal accident. So would Fernandez’ family lawyer, who wanted badly to believe it wasn’t Jose who crashed the boat into the jetty. The call was made 12 minutes before the accident.

Once out of the river, Jose turned northward and let’er rip. That boat, with a pair of 350-hp Mercury outboards, could fly. In a performance test on Biscayne Bay before he took delivery in 2015, it had made an average maximum speed of 65.9 mph.

Its GPS units, which survived the crash, told FWC investigators that Kaught Looking was doing 52.8 mph in the Government Cut inlet that night. A minute later, it was lowered to 49, going out to the Atlantic.

Let’s do a little wondering: How might that feel to a man who’s scared of the ocean and another who’s scared of speed?

Toxicology testing later will show Jose Fernandez’s blood-alcohol level at 0.147 percent in the iliac vein. The legal standard for impairment is 0.08 percent.

The report says he also used some cocaine that night, some of it at the same time he was drinking.

Rivero and Macias had been drinking too, but were not legally drunk. Rivero too had used some cocaine.

Let’s do a little reckoning.

We’ve learned that the guy at the helm — the only one to touch the controls, as DNA and blood tests would show — wasn’t just drunk, but close to double-drunk. One passenger was afraid of the ocean. The other was jittery about speed.

Why did they go with him? Did they realize how drunk he was?

Rivero had an emotional reason. His downhearted friend needed him and Maria had begged, “Take care of him please.” Macias, a banker, may have imagined him as a prospective and lucrative client.

Even if you know little about baseball, it’s likely you’re somewhat aware of what a dazzling, electrifying persona was Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins. If you understand baseball, you know what it was like to watch him striking out opposing batters by the dozen.

Not only that. When a team desperately needs to score and it’s the pitcher’s turn at bat, he’s almost always pulled for a pinch hitter. Not Jose. They’d let him swing and bang, in came that run.

Who wouldn’t want to be his pal?

Ralph Fernandez, the family’s lawyer who spent a lot of time with Jose, talked with the lead investigator, Martin. She wrote in her report: “He described Fernandez as controlling and a ‘hothead’ but very persuasive and exuberant. He gave an example of Fernandez being able to convince someone to do something even if they had never done so before, just so that they could be close to him and be his friend.”

At the end of the jetty, Fernandez passed red-lighted buoy number 12 on the wrong side, his left, but still a safe distance from the jetty. On a marine chart, the space looks smaller than it is.

Coming out the cut, just beyond the north jetty’s end, Fernandez steered slightly off channel, but the tide was high and the sea calm and the space between the buoy and jetty is wider than it looks on a marine chart.

Next he swung a hard left, northbound, with the throttles surging again. A video surveillance camera, probably at South Pointe Park, verified the GPS track.

Can you almost hear Emilio Macias, who’s afraid of speed, and Eduardo Rivero, who’s afraid of the ocean? Do you think they were saying, in ordinary conversational voices, Uh, Jose, can we go back now because we are just a little jittery, y’know? Please?

Anyway, he turned around — a sharp hairpin turn to starboard that the GPS recorded alongside his outward route and then across it, bow pointed south-southwest toward the jetty.
Not slower, but faster.

A technician at Mercury Marine analyzed the twin outboards’ engine data recorders, which showed the throttles wide open during the last 20 seconds before impact. The GPS clocked the impact speed at 65.7 mph.

Rivero was standing behind the helm seat, Macias alongside and slightly in front of the console.

The port side of the hull hit the jetty boulders first. The bow lifted. The starboard side rolled to the right. For just an instant, the three young men kept going and their bodies hit things at 65.7 mph.

Jose Fernandez’s thighs hit the plexiglass cover of a console switch panel and the right side of his face struck the glass dome of the compass.

Eduardo Rivero was thrown forward and upward, his forehead striking the bottom of a rod holder, one of six mounted at the rear of the boat’s T-top. It made a circular cut, four centimeters in diameter.

Macias also was thrown forward and upward, his head hitting the underside of the T-top and a spotlight mounted on the top’s leading edge.

All three had many other blunt-force injuries. All their bodies were flung off the boat, onto the jetty.

Kaught Looking’s impact moved jetty boulders and knocked them together, grinding their edges against each other.

Martin, the lead investigator, noted that a clear vinyl enclosure was wrapped around the boat’s console. That’s a comfort accessory, primarily for inclement weather and protection from bow spray. It wasn’t raining that night.

Martin wrote that it probably diminished visibility if anyone was doing lookout duty — which probably no one was.

With the tide all the way up and the moon phase in the last quarter, relatively little of the unlighted jetty was visible against the sky. It needed someone watching carefully, not distracted by fright and holding on for dear life.

That would not have been a fatal problem if Fernandez had made a wider turn, southward to the Government Cut entry channel, but evidently he was in no condition to make good decisions.

The result: Three strikeouts, all at once. Game over. Life over.