In the early morning hours of September 25th last year, in the ocean waters just off the coast of South Beach in Miami, three young men lost their lives in a boating accident that never should have happened.
Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, along with friends Eduardo Rivero and Emilio Jesus Macias, went out for a jaunt in Fernandez's 2016 Sea Vee model through the Government Cut Channel leading from Miami River, sped northeast about half a mile into the surrounding waters and then circled back in the same direction.
On the way back to the channel, the vessel called “Kaught Looking” (with the “K” written backwards) struck a submerged boulder that was part of the north side of the channel jetty at a speed of over 65 MPH, causing the boat to flip and land topside-down on another part of the jetty. All three men were ejected from the boat.
All three died, and according to the Incident Report filed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Division of Law Enforcement, the cause of death for each one was “blunt force trauma and drowning.” This means that they were still alive when they hit the water, for a moment at least. The 24-year old fire-balling phenom was pinned underwater by the boat's t-top against a boulder when he was found by divers from the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department.
In the process of investigating the accident, it was learned that Fernandez was driving at the time of the accident. A toxicology report determined that Fernandez had both cocaine and alcohol in his system. His blood-alcohol level was found to be 0.147, well above the .08 legal limit.
This is all based upon what is known to be true, up to this point.
On Thursday, Marlins team president David Samson said that the team is planning the erect a statue of Jose Fernandez to honor his memory. Team owner Jeffrey Loria searched through innumerable photos of Fernandez for an image on which to base the statue, which is planned to be more than 9 feet in height, and hired sculptor William Behrends for the job.
Samson is quoted, thusly:
“It's something Jeffrey wanted to do personally for Jose and his family and his fans –to have something that would permanently represent what Jose was.”
Ernie Banks has a statue. So does Ron Santo. Mays and McCovey each have one. Mike Schmidt has his own. Clemente? Of course. Musial? Certainly. Dozens of other players have statues of their own, all outstanding players in their time.
Fernandez played a total of four seasons, won a total of 38 games, and struck out a load of batters before his life was tragically cut short. He was an exceedingly rare talent, one which speaks for itself. He was loved by countless fans and fellow countrymen, both American and Cuban. His was a career that could well have led him to immortality in the Hall of Fame. And without a doubt, he should not get his own statue.
I know that many people are quick to dismiss the flaws and mistakes of their idols, but this isn't a fight at a nightclub or a speeding ticket or a paternity suit.
This is the tragic and utterly avoidable death of three young men, in an accident that may never have taken place had Jose Fernandez not been, as we now believe to be true, the driver of a vehicle of any kind while he had both alcohol and cocaine in his system.
The attorney representing the family and estate of Jose Fernandez, Mr. Ralph Fernandez, was quoted in an interview with investigators after the accident that he knew Jose could “throw 'em down”, and would not have been surprised to find that Jose was over .20 on his blood-alcohol level. He also described Fernandez as being a “hothead”, which may help to explain the text messages send to Rivero's phone shortly before the accident took place.
Bernal pleaded with Rivero to “please be careful,” and to “try to keep Jose cool, tell him what I said.” Bernal also asked Rivero to keep Jose close to shore, while they were on the boat. It's worth noting that Bernal was asked to join the three on the boat and refused, according to the incident report and interview.
I know it's easy to jump to conclusions in situations like this, but in this case those conclusions are based on facts currently in evidence. Fernandez was legally drunk and had cocaine in his system, he was operating a boat at a high rate of speed in the middle of the night, apparently had something occur that evening that had upset him, and while both the boat and (perhaps) Jose were at full throttle the three men capsized and drowned.
Now, I know that most of us felt like we would live forever when we were his age. For those of you who aren't yet in your 20's, you probably will feel ten feet tall and bulletproof for years to come. That's the nature of youth: that it makes us feel we can do anything, be anything, live like there's no tomorrow.
But that's not reality. That's not how the real world works. All decisions have consequences. Some are good, others bad. Some change our lives irrevocably. Some can end a life.
Loria and Samson would both like to memorialize Fernandez for all that he meant to the community and to the team and the fans. They would like to remember him for all the good that he represented, to so many people. They would also like to put aside the bad, and to have us ignore and forget it. But the simple truth of it is this: if, after all the dust has settled, there is no new evidence to report, it appears that Jose Fernandez and his two friends died because the driver of their boat was intoxicated.
According to the incident report, Fernandez was that driver. Erecting a statue in that same man's honor is nothing but a monument to a stupid and senseless tragedy that could possibly have easily been averted had someone intervened.
But nobody stepped in. He made a very bad choice, a tragic and sad one, and that can't be covered over with a hunk of bronze or stone. Besides, how much sense does it really make to create a monument to a drunk driver?
If the team wants to “build” a monument to Jose Fernandez, the best thing they can do is to let the memory of his death sear into their brains, in the hopes that perhaps they may help prevent another such tragedy in the future.