Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Family attorney: Cocaine was out of character for Jose Fernandez

MIAMI BEACH — Miami Marlins pitcher and former Alonso High School star Jose Fernandez had cocaine and alcohol in his system when his boat crashed into a Miami Beach jetty, according to toxicology reports released Saturday.

It's not clear whether Fernandez was driving when the boat crashed Sept. 25, killing the 24-year-old baseball star and two of his friends. But Fernandez had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, well above Florida's legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.

Associate Medical Examiner Kenneth Hutchins listed the cause of death as "boat crash" for Fernandez, 27-year-old Emilio Jesus Macias and 25-year-old Eduardo Rivero.

Each man had suffered blunt force injuries to his head and body, Hutchins wrote.

Cocaine use would be out of character for Fernandez, and the toxicology reports raise more questions than they answer about what happened that night, said the Fernandez family's Tampa-based attorney and longtime friend, Ralph E. Fernandez.

"That leads me to think, could this be an isolated incident? Yes. Could this have been involuntary? Yes. Why do you think there's still a criminal investigation pending?" said the attorney, who isn't related to the pitcher.

Authorities have interviewed a "highly reliable" witness who said he was on the phone with Fernandez just before the crash and heard the pitcher giving another person directions about where to steer the boat, he said.

"If you tell me that he'd been drinking, I'd say, 'So?' He wasn't driving — and he was very careful about that," Ralph Fernandez said.

Players with Major League Baseball contracts have been tested for performance-enhancing substances since 2004 and violations are announced publicly, but there is no random testing for drugs such as cocaine and players generally aren't suspended for abusing those drugs unless they fail to comply with a treatment program or are convicted for drug use, possession, sale or distribution.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said Fernandez's autopsy report was "not even official" and declined further comment before Game 4 of the World Series.

Toxicology reports showed both Macias and Rivero also had alcohol levels below the state's legal limit, while Rivero also had cocaine in his system.

Chris Royer, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer representing family members of Macias and Rivero, told the Sun Sentinel that his clients had been told about the findings and they would make a statement having taken some time to discuss the reports.

Royer did not immediately respond to messages left Saturday by The Associated Press.

The bodies had a strong odor of alcohol on them when they were recovered by divers, and investigators also found evidence the boat was speeding when it slammed into the jetty, according to a search warrant affidavit released this week by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office.

The affidavit said officials also had recovered a receipt for alcohol from American Social Bar & Kitchen, where the trio had been before the crash.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez directed the medical examiner's office to release the autopsy reports Saturday, a day after the Miami Herald sued the medical examiner's office seeking their release.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the state agency investigating the crash, previously refused to release the reports. Gimenez said state officials also refused to join the county as a co-defendant in the Herald's public records lawsuit.

The autopsy reports "will provide invaluable information to FWC investigators as they conduct a thorough and complete investigation," wildlife commission spokeswoman Susan Smith said in an email.

U.S. Coast Guard officials have said they'll examine lighting at the South Beach jetty where the boat crashed.

Fernandez, the National League Rookie of the Year in 2013 and a two-time All-Star, owned the 32-foot SeaVee named "Kaught Looking."

Fernandez and his mother and sister escaped Cuba by boat and moved to Tampa in 2008. He led Alonso to two state titles before being drafted by the Marlins in 2011. The school retired his jersey No. 16 after his death.

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