In the hours before his boat crashed violently into a jetty off South Beach on Sunday morning, killing him and two friends, Miami Marlins ace José Fernández purportedly argued with his girlfriend and was seen at a Miami River bar.
The beloved 24-year-old pitcher, who was honored Monday night in an emotional ceremony by the team he left behind, died when his 32-foot SeaVee named “Kaught Looking” slammed into the Government Cut north jetty. Emilio Jesus Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, were also killed.
Fernández’s death stunned Major League Baseball and Miami, which flocked to Marlins Park on Monday to pay their respects and see the team play for the first time since their star was killed — in a game he would have started were he alive. The crash remains under investigation by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, which changed its story Monday and acknowledged that the crashed boat belonged to Fernández.
Investigators have not indicated what the trio were doing, or where they were going when their boat, headed south, plowed at a high speed into the dark rocks that jut east into the ocean from South Pointe Park after 3 a.m. But Fernández was at American Social Bar & Kitchen in Brickell sometime overnight, likely after midnight. A spokesperson for the bar said there was no time line on when he came and went but acknowledged in a statement attributed to an unidentified manager that he was there.
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“José Fernández was a guest at American Social. We would like to extend our sincerest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the families and friends who share in the loss of the three victims involved in this tragic boating accident and to the Miami Marlins organization,” the statement said.
The confirmation of Fernández’s whereabouts was just one of several details to trickle out Monday following the fatal Sunday morning crash, which ripped the fiberglass from the left side of the hull and flipped the vessel onto the jetty rocks. Two men were found by divers trapped beneath the boat, and a third was thrown from the vessel.
Initially, on Sunday, an FWC officer said the boat was not Fernández’s but that it belonged to “a friend of Jose’s who is very well connected to several Marlins players.” Officer Lorenzo Veloz said he had seen the boat several times and that Fernández was never behind the wheel.
But investigators confirmed Monday that Kaught Looking — spelled with a backwards K, the symbol for a strikeout when the batter doesn’t swing — was indeed the pitcher’s. FWC Officer Rob Klepper said the initial statements about the boat’s owner were simply a mistake.
“The exact time of the accident is still under investigation and the operator of the vessel at the time of the accident is undetermined at this time,” Klepper said in a statement.
Although there is no criminal case — everyone in the accident is dead and there would be no one to charge — the FWC turned to prosecutors to draft a search warrant to search the boat, in an abundance of caution. A Miami-Dade state attorney’s spokesman would not talk specifics.
“FWC has a duty to investigate tragic boating accidents like this one,” said spokesman Ed Griffith. “Upon FWC’s request, the state attorney’s office has agreed to help the agency gather the necessary information to fully clarify what actually happened early Sunday morning and why.”
In a press release, Klepper confirmed that Macias and Rivero were also aboard Fernández’s boat Sunday morning. The two friends were both graduates of G. Holmes Braddock Senior High School and both have studied psychology at Florida International University, where Rivero was still a student. Macias, the son of a Miami-Dade police detective, worked at Wells Fargo Advisors. Rivero, an avid boxer, worked for Carnival Cruises.
It’s not clear whether the two friends were with Fernández when he left the bar in Brickell. According to investigators, there was no evidence of alcohol or drugs at the scene of the crash. Toxicology results are pending.
Klepper declined to discuss whether they were looking into Fernández’s appearance at American Social. He also declined to discuss whether investigators were aware of a Sunday Instagram post from Will Bernal, a friend of Rivero’s who said Fernández was upset about something before the trio boarded his boat.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, Bernal, a Miami socialite, said he believes Fernández might have been stressed after getting into an argument with his girlfriend. Bernal said he spent Saturday night text-messaging with Rivero, who tried to get him to come along on the boat. Worried about boating at night, Bernal declined.
“I was trying everything in my power to try to convince him to not go out on the boat, and José too,” Bernal told the Miami Herald.
Bernal posted what he said was an exchange with Rivero.
“Try to keep him close to shore if you go out,” Bernal texted.
“Trust me it’s not my time yet,” Rivero responded.
“I know but try to keep José cool, tell him what I said,” Bernal wrote back.
Rivero then posted a picture of his phone’s map application, showing an area of the Miami River.
Bernal said the texts began after midnight. He said Rivero had only met Fernandez within the past few months and had actually left a birthday party late Saturday night to hang out with the Marlins superstar, “who was really stressed out.”
American Social, located on the river between the Miami Avenue and Second Avenue bridges, has dock space where customers can arrive by water. Government Cut is almost due east, several miles out past Dodge Island and PortMiami.
Klepper said FWC “investigators are looking into every lead.”
The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office has completed the physical autopsies of the three victims, but pathologists are awaiting the results of toxicology tests, according to an office spokesman. Klepper said the cause of death for the three men has not yet been established.
Fernández, one of baseball’s best and most exciting pitchers, was originally slated to pitch Sunday, but his start was moved back one day. Monday night’s contest against the New York Mets began with the team huddling at the mound, and every Marlin wearing Fernandez’s No. 16 jersey.
“Hold your hand with somebody, and if somebody’s struggling, pick ’em up. We’re gonna find a way to do this,” slugger Giancarlo Stanton said.
Second baseman Dee Gordon responded with a lead-off home run.
Earlier, outside the Kendall home that Fernández bought for his grandmother, Olga Fernández, a dozen balloons in Marlins blue, orange, black and white were tied at the gate. A sign drawn in marker read, “We will miss you Jose,” with drawings of hearts, baseballs, the Marlins logo and Fernández’s jersey number.
Fernández’s agent, Scott Boras, brought flowers to the family Monday and spent a couple of hours at the home before going to the game. He broke down while speaking about the late pitcher, who escaped Cuba during a harrowing boat trip across the Florida Straits, during which his mother fell in the water and he swam to her rescue.
“It’s so rare that you get a Cuban-born native who comes here, acclimates, he goes to high school and becomes such a rare, rare talent,” Boras said. “He became a model for all those who made that transition.”
In an interview with El Nuevo Herald, Ramon Jimenez, the longtime fiancé of Fernández’s mother, said he was hoping to hear from his “son” soon to learn about whether he would pitch Sunday or Monday. Instead, he received a 6 a.m. call at his Tampa home about Fernandez’s death.
When the phone rang, he thought it was José.
“Everything fell apart,” Jiménez said. “That is something no parent wants to hear. I still refuse to believe it. I think that at some point I will wake up from this nightmare.”
Fernández’s family is planning to a public service open to fans on Thursday. Other details have not yet been announced.
Miami Herald reporters Julie Brown, Joey Flechas and David J. Neal contributed to this report.