Miami Marlins baseball star José Fernández was behind the steering wheel when his boat crashed into a jetty off Miami Beach at high speed, killing two others, investigators concluded in a report released on Thursday.
The report based its findings on evidence collected from the crash site, including Fernández’s injuries and DNA from blood on the boat’s steering wheel, according to the investigation by the law enforcement division of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The 24-year-old Cuban-born pitcher was a hometown hero with a charismatic personality and an electric fastball.
He fled Cuba by boat aged 15 and quickly amassed records in the Major Leagues after his debut in 2013. His death caused a mass outpouring of grief across Miami and in Tampa where he attended high school.
Read the report here:
A lawyer for the Fernández family questioned what he called "gaping holes" in the investigation, including the manner in which evidence was collected and the interpretation of the autopsy findings. "We have experts who say the evidence indicates Jose was not driving the boat," said Tampa attorney Ralph Fernandez (no relation).
The 32-foot center console SeaVee boat, named "Kaught Looking," was traveling at 65.7 miles per hour, at "full open throttle," when it smashed into a rock jetty at the entrance to Miami's port, the investigation found.
The boat was blaring loud reggaeton music according to the Coast Guard crew who responded to the crash scene. Its blue interior deck lights were on, which investigators said can impair forward visibility for a driver at night.
The accident occured at 3:02 a.m. in calm, two-foot seas, after Fernández had been drinking at a bar with friends. Receipts for tequila, gin and vodka were found on the boat.
A previously released toxicology report also found that Fernández was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system at the time of the accident last September.
Fernández operated the vessel "with his normal faculties impaired, in a reckless manner, at an extremely high rate of speed, in the darkness of night, in an area with known navigational hazards such as rock jetties," the 46-page report concluded.
"Fernández's impairment and manner of operation caused the accident which resulted in his death and the death of the occupants," it added.
Had he survived, Fernández could have been charged with several crimes, including manslaughter, the report added.
Fernández died at the crash scene off Miami Beach Sept. 25 along with two other men, Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25. A toxicology report also found cocaine in Rivero's system.
The investigation was unable to uncover who provided the cocaine to Fernández and Rivero.
All three men died from "blunt force trauma and drowning," the report concluded. The boat flipped over on impact, ejecting all three men, landing upside down on the rocks.
Investigators said Fernández's body was found physically pinned under the vessel. Injuries to his face matched damage to the drivers' console and Fernández's DNA was found on blood on the steering wheel, throttle and the center console.
Fernández's mother, Maritza Gomez, told investigators that her son "had hundreds of hours of boating experience" and was "very familiar" with the port entrance.
"Maritza and her son would go out on his boat after baseball games," the report said. On those trips Fernández "was always the driver," it added.
On the fatal night Fernández had drinks at a bar before heading out to sea on the boat at about 2.40am. Witnesses at the bar said he did not appear intoxicated and posed for photos with fans.
Text messages revealed Fernández's girlfriend, Maria Arias, was concerned that night about him. "He's been drinking and he's not in the best state of mind," she texted to Rivero.
She added they had gotten into an argument recently. "I just need you to take care of him," she added.
While on the water he made plans to head to the Ivy Nightclub on Miami Beach where he reserved a table, according to a local club promoter who spoke to investigators. The three men never made it to Ivy.
The report's finding will likely strengthen two wrongful death lawsuits filed by the families of Macias and Rivero, each seeking $2 million.
The investigation's findings came out a day after a Miami-Dade judge granted a petition allowing the Fernández estate, reportedly worth between $2 and $3 million, to be administered jointly by the pitcher's mother and his girlfriend who recently gave birth to a baby daughter.
Probate Judge Maria Korvick signed an order designating Gomez and Arias as "personal respresentatives" of the estate.
“No matter what the report has concluded, nothing will ever diminish Jose's everlasting positive connection with Miami and the Miami Marlins,” team President David Samson said in a statement. “Nor can it lessen the love and passion he felt for his family, friends, teammates and all his fans in South Florida and around the world.”