Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez, who had defected from Cuba at age 15 to come to the United States, was killed in what investigators believe was a high-speed boat crash. He was 24.
The pitcher, who survived a harrowing escape from his native Cuba as a teenager to become a face of the franchise and one of the brightest young stars in baseball, was found dead early Sunday morning after a collision on the jetty rocks off Miami Beach.
“As you see around you, there are no words to describe how this organization feels,” Marlins president David Samson said at a news conference attended by every Miami player and coach, plus other team personnel, according to The New York Times.
Fernandez was the soon-to-be father of a little girl.
Fernandez was one of three people killed when their boat hit the rocks and capsized on the north jetty at Government Cut near Miami Beach. The other two have not been identified, but one was the son of a Miami-Dade Police detective, the department said.
The boat was overturned on the jetty when a routine U.S. Coast Guard patrol spotted the wreckage about 3:15 a.m. Sunday, Capt. Megan Dean said.
There was no indication of alcohol or illegal drugs, Officer Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said during a news conference.
“It does appear that speed was involved due to the impact and severity of it,” said Veloz, speaking at a news briefing at the U.S. Coast Guard station on Miami Beach.
Eight divers went into the water and found two people inside or under the boat and one in the water on the south side of the jetty. None was wearing a life jacket, Veloz said.
Officials confirmed with the family members that there were only three people on board the 32-foot SeaVee center console. The boat is owned by one of the other two men who died and the owner often took Marlins players out on the boat, Veloz said.
The boat had been inspected routinely by FWC officials previously and the operator was familiar with the area, officials said.
“The jetty is [made of] rocks and not very visible, but the vessel has traveled through this area previously,” Veloz said. “The boat is a total loss. It’s bad. It’s horrible.”
The boat was apparently heading south, said Capt. Leonel Reyes of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Marine Operations Bureau. Veloz said it appeared the boat was traveling at full speed when it hit the jetty.
“Unfortunately, sometimes at night you deviate, because there are no lights out there and you can’t see anything, so we’re going to look into that and find out more,” Veloz said.
Capt. Rand Pratt of Sea Tow said coming into Government Cut can be confusing, especially at night.
“The biggest danger coming in is background lights,” he said. “You have to pick markers out of the background, and when looking at city late at night, it’s amazing how many bright lights look like navigation lights.”
He said many boaters also rely too heavily on navigational systems instead of looking at their surroundings.
“You’ve got to take it easy out there,” he said.
The boat was hoisted off the rocks of the jetty about 11 a.m. Sunday, and within a half hour was towed west down Government Cut.
There were moments of silence before every game and tributes of all fashions on Sunday for Fernandez, whose infectious enthusiasm made him immensely popular with teammates, peers and baseball fans, according to an AFP story.
"When you watch kids play Little League, that's the joy Jose played with," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said, breaking down in tears during an emotional news conference attended by all of Fernandez's teammates.
Fernandez, who was born and raised in Cuba, tried three times to defect to the United States before arriving in the country at age 15 with his mother, according to a Reuters report.