Even at popular party sandbars like Nixon — named for the disgraced former president who used to vacation at a home nearby — boating under the influence ­arrests are almost never made. Pino, the FWC spokesman, says the agency has a policy of not disclosing the number of officers it has on patrol at a given location, but in June he defended the policing. "Typically on any weekend, we have enough officers patrolling to address any issue that may arise," he said. "This is not a law enforcement issue... It's an educational problem... People need to know that they shouldn't consume alcohol while driving a boat."

Herzbrun had manually deleted the GPS data, which amounted to tampering with evidence.

The drinking likely won't stop. Last year, alcohol was reported as a factor in ten of the state's 62 boating fatalities. That's probably an extremely conservative estimate, in part because of frequently delayed blood samples and laws that require Breathalyzer tests only when investigators observe explicit signs of intoxication. Among the Miami-Dade County alcohol-related casualties in 2013:

• A 35-year-old Hialeah woman was killed when her boat driver lost control and she became pinned against a MacArthur Causeway bridge fender.

Revelers party at Nixon sandbar on the Fourth of July.
Photo by Adam Hendel
Revelers party at Nixon sandbar on the Fourth of July.
Men push DJ Laz's boat off Nixon sandbar moments before Ernesto Hernandez was struck and killed by its propellers.
Photo via Instagram
Men push DJ Laz's boat off Nixon sandbar moments before Ernesto Hernandez was struck and killed by its propellers.

• A 24-year-old Seattle man fell off his boat while urinating on rough seas southwest of Biscayne Channel; while being pulled back in, he suffered leg lacerations when a propeller struck him.

• A 36-year-old man sustained serious head and facial injuries when he stood up while the boat he was on traveled under a canal bridge near Westchester.

A review of the area's alcohol-related incidents shows they typically happened on clear days with good water conditions. The people involved tended to be young, in their 20s and 30s, and the boat operators were almost always male. Most of the accidents involved only one boat, and victims often admitted to careless behavior. After both legs of a 30-year-old man were broken and lacerated on a Sunday evening last August at the Nixon sandbar, one FWC officer wrote, "He just remembered jumping off the boat and getting struck by the propellers."

Indeed, over the past five years, alcohol use was listed as a contributing factor in 58 deaths and 146 injuries in Florida; in California, which has nearly as many registered boats, alcohol was listed as a factor in only 26 deaths and 86 injuries.


Just before 8 p.m. on a recent Monday, Isabel Castellanos sits on the oversize black sofa in her airy, stylishly decorated home just west of Florida International University's south campus. The Cuban-born Castellanos is 53 but could pass for younger, with a youthful demeanor and shoulder-length blond hair. At the site of a visitor, she smiles politely, but she's been crying all week — for the Fourth of July boating tragedy and for her own.

"Today he went missing," she says. "Tomorrow is the official day I call the anniversary, because that's the day they found his body."

In the summer of 2007, ­Castellanos' son Osmany — Ozzie to family and friends — was 23 and on top of the world. He was a lifeguard and looked the part, with a sculpted bronze body, bright-white smile, and handsome dark features. On a Sunday, he arranged to meet several friends at the Dinner Key boat ramp around noon. The temperature was nearing 90 degrees, and Ozzie wore white shorts and a white shirt. His best friend, Andy Figueredo, soon to become a City of Miami firefighter, was there, as was Jennifer Peña, an ex-girlfriend with whom Ozzie was still close.

The crew — 12 in all — loaded onto a boat driven by Kenneth Herzbrun, a 25-year-old Miami Beach Senior High graduate. Herzbrun didn't know Ozzie or most of the others, but he had been recruited to transport the group to Elliott Key by Alain Leon, a mutual friend. Herzbrun, who did not respond to a request for comment, was a longtime boater; the only photo of him on a high school yearbook site shows him reclining on a boat in Biscayne Bay with his arms crossed in a too-cool pose. But on land, he had a history as a daredevil: Four years earlier, on June 26, 2003, he was ordered to pay $335 and attend four hours of traffic school after racking up a reckless motorcycle driving charge, and since then he had received five other traffic citations. The most recent came two months before that Sunday on Elliott Key, when he got a speeding ticket for going 46 in a 30 mph zone.

Aboard Herzbrun's boat, a 2005 26-foot SeaVee with twin 175-horsepower engines, the group started partying. Investigators would later find evidence of a liquid smorgasbord: Bacardi Silver, Bacardi Hurricane, X-Rated Fusion Liqueur, Disaronno, Captain Morgan's, Courvoisier, Heineken, 35 empty Corona Extra bottles, Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Dole pineapple juice.

The group arrived at the packed Elliott Key sandbar around 1 p.m. They circled the crowd a few times and tied up next to Leon's boat, a Renegade, and four other vessels. There they drank, danced, and hopped on and off other boats. When an argument broke out involving Nathalie — one of the SeaVee passengers — and a girl from another boat, the friends spent half an hour or so yelling, then relocated the SeaVee and resumed partying.

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5 comments
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marionwlee

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flynlawr
flynlawr

Danielle Press' tragic injury occurred on September 14, 2013 when she jumped off a boat near Key Biscayne and was struck by the prop. The Columbus Day Regatta was held on October 11 and 12 and does not go anywhere near either Key Biscayne or Elliott Key. I fail to see the connection with her injuries and the power boat craziness at Elliott Key on Columbus Day Weekend and the Columbus Day Regatta. Better fact checking, please!

Jay Wood

Member, Columbus Day Regatta Committee

Shawn Weaver
Shawn Weaver

Maybe its time to focus on people and worry less about turtles

 
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