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NEWS

May 5th, 2014

Village seeking injunction against boat gatherings after death on Mashta Flats

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nother gruesome death on the Mashta Flats – this time a 23-year-old man who was struck by the propellers of a boat owned and driven by influential Miami DJ and musician DJ Laz – has Village officials looking into seeking an emergency injunction to stop partiers from gathering on the sandbar off Key Biscayne’s shore.
The tragedy took place during an organized, advertised party – promoted by DJ Laz, real name Lazaro Mendez, and Miami rapper Pitbull – that featured free vodka from Voli Spirits.
Village Manager John Gilbert and Police Chief Charles Press want the injunction – which would be based on public safety and nuisance concerns – in place soon because the next big party is likely right around the corner: Memorial Day Weekend May 24-26.
“We’ve got to stop this,” Gilbert said. “We need an emergency injunction for Memorial Day – we need to shut that down.”
Press agrees. He said an injunction would give authorities something to enforce, and a multi-agency taskforce like the one he put together to patrol the area for last Sunday’s event would be able to effectively keep boats away.
“With the resources we had [Sunday], we could enforce an injunction,” Press said. “We could stop them as they come in and turn them around.”
Gilbert added the plan would be to seek a temporary injunction – at least long enough to cover Memorial Day – while the Village explores other plans for controlling activity on the Flats, which have become a major concern both in terms of safety and nuisance issues.
Sunday event turns tragic
Indeed, Sunday’s party was just the latest in a string of gatherings – both organized as well as spontaneous – that have sparked complaints from Key Biscayne residents whose houses back up to the Flats and concern among Village Council members and officials.
Press said he started hearing about the event in late April, and immediately reached out to law enforcement partners to support his department’s one Marine Patrol boat.
He received an impressive response – over 20 police and fire boats from federal, state and local agencies, plus several large U.S. Coast Guard vessels – and had a solid plan in place.
As Gilbert remarked, “Everything that could have possibly been done for the type of events that keep getting stuck in our backyard was in place – and we still had a tragic event.”
That incident occurred around 5 p.m.
Several vessels, including the bright orange speedboat owned and operated by DJ Laz, became stuck on the sandbar due to low tide. Press said a number of people attempted to push the vessels off the sand, battling a 25 mph headwind the entire time.
That’s when the victim, 23-year-old Hialeah resident Ernesto Hernandez, who was trying to push DJ Laz’s boat, was struck by the boat’s propeller.
Press said the man was rushed to No Name Harbor and airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, where he was declared dead.
Officials say DJ Laz voluntarily provided a blood sample to investigators, and a blood sample was also taken from the victim.
A dangerous situation
While Hernandez’s violent death was clearly the worst thing to happen Sunday, Press described a chaotic situation brought about by the mix of free liquor, hot sunshine, water and large crowds.
“We could clearly see there was hardcore partying going on,” the Chief remarked. “There was a tremendous amount of activity out there.”
Press estimated about 200 boats carrying anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen people each gathered on the Flats. Gilbert reported seeing large numbers of partiers arrive to area marinas by car, then walk to the docks so they could meet friends on boats.
The situation quickly devolved.
Press reported numerous fights, a crowd that was “loaded” with heavy gang presence, heavy drinking and boats running into each other and into people in the water. Descriptions of the event on the social networking site Twitter described flowing alcohol and bottles of beer being tossed to the crowd.
Even worse, Press said, Florida’s lack of mooring and rafting laws meant 10 to 20 boats would tie themselves together to allow partiers to travel between vessels. Unfortunately, he said, that had the consequence of basically creating 100-foot-long “blockades” that kept police and fire-rescue officials from reaching people in need of help.
“The way it was set up was the most dangerous we’ve seen to date,” he said.
Gilbert added, “You wouldn’t allow this on land. It’s beyond comprehension how this is allowed to take place.”
Interestingly, one issue that Council members and Village officials had their eye on leading up to the event – noise – didn’t prove to be a problem. Press said police were able to keep boats far enough away from the Key that “you could literally hear nothing.”
Injunction effort
But the death of yet another young person on the Mashta Flats overshadows that success.
Gilbert and Press said Key Biscayne, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Miami-Dade County and other agencies have plenty of statistics about dangerous incidents and nuisance problems to support their request for an emergency injunction.
Late last year, Press’s daughter was seriously injured after being hit by a vessel on the Flats. The next week, a young man dove off a boat, broke his neck and died. A couple years ago, a student died while trying to swim between Key Biscayne and a boat on the Flats.
The list goes on.
On top of that, Gilbert and Press said, parties on the Flats are tying up South Florida’s scant marine resources, making it harder to respond to other incidents – for example, just on Sunday there was a vessel taking on water and a deadly jet ski accident that required a response during the Mashta Flats party.
And Press said considering most of the personnel on the law enforcement and fire-rescue boats are working on overtime, the cost to individual communities is huge.
With all that in mind – and the fact that Key Biscayne simply can’t keep asking other agencies to contribute resources to the Mashta Flats weekend in and weekend out – Press and Gilbert said they were talking this week to Village Attorneys and Miami-Dade County officials about a temporary emergency injunction.
They hope to buy time to explore other options.
Gilbert continues to work on permitting for an idea presented by Council member Jim Taintor to block off the Village’s portion of the Flats with bird stakes and buoys on a stick, a project aimed at protecting both public safety and the environment.
Press was reaching out to County officials about a Memorandum of Understanding – similar to one that allows Key Biscayne cops to issue tickets on the Rickenbacker Causeway – that will allow his officers to enforce the law on portions of the Flats outside Key Biscayne’s jurisdiction. Vice Mayor Michael Davey suggested the idea at a recent Council meeting.
The Police Chief also planned to approach the Miami-Dade County Association of Chiefs of Police, of which he becomes President this month, about weekly Boating Under the Influence checkpoints at rotating locations throughout South Florida.





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