Like any other person in South Florida who enjoys life on the waterways during a holiday, or on a scorching hot weekend day, Monica Burguera was hanging out with friends on their boat in Biscayne Bay having fun and relaxing.
The 20-year-old Florida International University student was familiar with the water, having competed in many regatta events. But during the 2006 Columbus Day Regatta weekend festivities in Miami, the Key Biscayne resident's life was cut short in a tragic boating accident.
The accident also took the life of James Noel Pou and left many others seriously injured.
After the fatal accident, Burguera's family and friends created the Monica Burguera Foundation to raise awareness of boating safety. They partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla, which provides free monthly boating safety classes in English and Spanish at the foundation's office at the Key Biscayne Community Center, Miami Children's Hospital and other convenient Miami-Dade locations.
The non-profit foundation is now gearing up for the 12th annual Monica Burguera Foundation Fishing for a Cause Tournament, which will start at 7 a.m. on August 27 at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club.
The one-day, off-shore tournament is an opportunity for participants to catch and reel in dolphins, wahoo, kingfish and tuna. No boat? No worries. You can join another crew for the tournament.
The event also includes a dock party with music, BBQ, giveaways, a bounce house and pool party.
Nicolas Estrella, Jr., president of the foundation and a family friend of Burguera's parents, said boat safety education is the best way to save lives on the waterways.
"Boating accidents and deaths are preventable," said Estrella, who is also CEO of Estrella Insurance. "As a father of three boys in Key Biscayne, I know it's inevitable that they will be out on the water soon enough, and it terrifies me. Since Monica's tragedy, there have been a number of well-publicized boating accidents right in our backyard."
Since 2010, Estrella said, more than 5,000 students have successfully completed the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary program and been awarded a USCG Certificate of Accomplishment and a Florida Boating Safety Identification card, which is required for people born on or after January 1, 1988 to operate a boat.
Luis Burguera, Monica's father, said the preponderance of accidents shows that more work needs to be done.
"It’s tragic that so many years (after) Monica’s tragic accident, there is still a lack of boating safety,” he said. “Tragedies on our waterways continue to happen every weekend."
On Jun 13, a boating accident near Key Biscayne left a father and son dead and two others injured. Pablo Castro, 80, and his son Osvaldo Castro, 42, both from Miami were killed when their 18-foot Cobia collided with a 30-foot Picnic Boat, according to the Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Three other passengers on the Castro boat, including an 11-year-old, were injured.
The bigger vessel sank after the crash and five of the passengers were ejected but suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Witnesses said the captain of the 30-foot boat had just left the Biscayne Yacht Club and was traveling between West Point and Nixon Beach, and he believed he was in the right of way when he hit the smaller vessel. Rob Klepper, a public information officer for FWC, told the Islander News they are still investigating the accident.
For more information on the fishing tournament and to register, call (305) 398-4609.