Jose Fernandez, Marlins ace and Alonso High grad, dies in boat crash (w/ video)

Published September 25 2016
Updated September 26 2016

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, an electric fan favorite who eight years ago fled Cuba on a speedboat on his fourth try and ended up in Tampa, starring at Alonso High, was killed early Sunday along with two friends in a violent boat crash off Miami Beach. He was 24.

Details are still under investigation, though authorities believe all three almost certainly died on impact. The team's game in Miami against the Braves was canceled. Fernandez's scheduled start Sunday had been pushed back a day — if he had stayed with the Sunday start, he likely would not have been out late boating.

"All I can do is scream in disbelief," said Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Marlins executive and native of Cuba. "Jose won the love of all. I feel as if I had lost a son."

According to authorities, the 32-foot center-console SeaVee in which Fernandez and two male friends in their 20s were traveling was spotted overturned on an unlit jetty about 3:20 a.m. by a U.S. Coast Guard crew on routine patrol. The boat's navigation lights were still on, and debris was scattered everywhere.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue divers found two bodies beneath the boat. They found a third on the ocean floor to the south of the jetty. The names of the other two who died were being withheld until next of kin are notified, the Coast Guard said, but they were identified by WSVN, who talked to their families at the medical examiner's office, as Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Macias. The medical examiner posted death notices for both men on its website with no ages or other identifying information except that both died at 3:15 a.m. Sunday.

Macias' Facebook page said he worked in wealth management for Wells Fargo Advisors. Rivero's Facebook page said he worked for Carnival Corp.

One of them was the son of a Miami-Dade police detective, the police department said.

Lorenzo Veloz, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the "severe impact'' suggested speed was a factor.

The other two victims were not professional athletes, Veloz said. He said there was no indication of alcohol or illegal drugs.

None of the victims were wearing life jackets, authorities said.

Fernandez, who was not driving the boat, appeared to have died from the impact of the crash and not from drowning, Veloz said. Toxicology tests will be conducted during the autopsy.

The boat was owned by a friend of Fernandez's who "is very well connected with several Marlins players," Veloz said. "I have stopped that boat before for safety inspections with other Marlins players on board. We know that this boat knows the area.

"He was a pillar to our community," Veloz said of Fernandez. "He was involved in everything that he could be to give back."

Boating at night can be dangerous and difficult, particularly for inexperienced boaters. There are no lights, and distances are difficult to judge.

Investigators were not sure where the men were headed or where they had come from. They were wearing shorts and T-shirts.

Boaters said the north jetty juts out about 1,000 feet further to the east than the south jetty, which sometimes catches boaters off guard. The rocks furthest to the east are submerged and marked on the edge by a buoy that knowledgeable captains know will tell them if they're too far inland.

Photos of the vessel show damage to the hull near the front, in a spot that would have been underwater during operation. Veloz said the boat is believed to have struck the jetty. But Omar Blanco, a lieutenant in the county fire department, said it's not just the jetties that can cause boaters problems, but the submerged rocks around them.

"We've seen that happen all the time," he said of boating mishaps near Government Cut — a channel used by cruise ships and freighters to head into and out of the Atlantic Ocean. "There are rocks underwater you don't see."

By 2 p.m. Sunday, the jetty was cleared of wreckage. Juan Viviescas, 16, stood alone at the end of a pier, staring at the jetty. He wore a Marlins shirt and teared up as he spoke of his favorite player. "I'm a pitcher also," said the high school junior. "He had so much support because of how he played. … With so much heart and intensity. Like it was his last game."

Politicians around Miami and the state offered condolences to Fernandez's family and vowed to celebrate his life.

"His death is a huge loss for our community," Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said in a statement.

Athletes shared their memories as well.

"Hermano, wherever you are, you know how much I loved you," tweeted the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, a Cuban athlete. "Sin palabras. My heart is with the families."

No information on services had been released late Sunday, but the families of Macias and Rivero had started GoFundMe pages to raise funds for funeral expenses.

"It brings us great grief to announce the passing of our new beautiful angel Eduardo Rivero," his page said. "A man full of life, full of love, and full of happiness, was taken too soon with so much left to live for. Due to this tragedy we reach out to you for help as his family can not afford funeral arrangements."

Macias' page called him "an amazing son, brother, grandson, boyfriend, cousin, friend. Due to this unexpected tragedy we reach out for help to assist our family with funeral expenses. We will forever be grateful."

The team store at the stadium was open, and fans snapped up Fernandez T-shirts and jerseys to remember the 2013 NL rookie of the year. "Now, it is all we have of him," said Jason Inman, who drove from Fort Lauderdale. "Memories."

                     
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