By 6:30 p.m. the crowd was thinning, and Herzbrun and Leon decided to take off. The two boats idled alongside each other, the passengers chatting, until they passed the buoys marking the western edge of the sandbar. There they split up. Herzbrun and the SeaVee crew headed back toward Dinner Key in the soft light of a beautiful summer evening.

"Nooow I'm home," CJ Karpiak posted on Facebook, tagging Nixon beach with a smiley face.

After about seven minutes, the SeaVee was traveling around 30 mph when Herzbrun announced to the group that everyone should hold on. In a stunt, he jerked the wheel fast to the left to make a sharp turn. (Herzbrun would tell investigators, in contradiction of ten other statements, that the boat careened after hitting a wave.)

Ozzie, who had been drinking heavily, was holding a rope and straddling the right side of the boat, facing forward with his left leg inside and right leg outside. Thirty seconds after the stunt, several girls began screaming, "Ozzie's gone! Ozzie's gone!" Herzbrun swung the SeaVee around and circled the area. A few of the friends jumped out and searched the water. Later, none of the passengers recalled hearing the propellers strike Ozzie. None saw any blood.

An FWC lieutenant locks up two boats involved in a Fourth of July crash off Dinner Key. A 32-foot Contender (left) struck a 36-foot Carrera (right) and then another boat, killing four people.
Photo by Kristin Björnsen
An FWC lieutenant locks up two boats involved in a Fourth of July crash off Dinner Key. A 32-foot Contender (left) struck a 36-foot Carrera (right) and then another boat, killing four people.
Andrew Garcia, Victoria "Tori" Dempsey, and Kelsie Karpiak
Photos via Facebook
Andrew Garcia, Victoria "Tori" Dempsey, and Kelsie Karpiak

Amado Castellanos, Ozzie's father, a gentle soul who works as a plumber for the county, answered his home phone around 8 p.m. Through tears, Andy Figueredo Sr., the father of Ozzie's best friend, explained that Amado's son had somehow gone missing. Before the call was over, both Castellanos parents were hysterical. "What do you mean you can't find him?" they yelled. "He can't be lost! He loves to swim!"

Within an hour, two dozen friends and relatives had arrived at the Castellanos' house, and half an hour later, Amado, riding in his friend's Hummer, was on his way to Coconut Grove. Ozzie's younger brother Alex arrived at the marina a few minutes later, and in the pitch blackness, Amado, Alex, and Amado's friend Raul boarded Raul's boat. They set off, frantically shouting Ozzie's name into the darkness every couple of minutes. Daylight had already broken when the crew, exhausted and empty-handed, returned to the marina. Amado Castellanos slumped into the front seat of the Hummer, facing the water. He was still sitting there when, 20 minutes later, he saw a white rescue boat pulling in — and then the yellow tarp on the boat's open back.

At the house, Isabel Castellanos had been hysterical all night. Her friends hid the TV remotes just in case any news came on. She was inside when she saw the Hummer pull up. Her husband slowly walked toward the door. His head hung down. "He wouldn't look at me," Isabel says, her voice breaking, the tears coming fresh again. "And I figured it out."

The night of the incident, a state officer noted that Herzbrun gave statements about the route he had driven that contradicted his boat's GPS tracks; the next month, while the incident was still being probed, a state-contracted electrician discovered the tracks were gone. Investigators concluded Herzbrun had manually deleted the GPS data, which amounted to tampering with evidence. FWC investigators concluded that Herzbrun's actions — letting Ozzie sit on the gunwale and then making the sharp left turn — "constituted reckless operation/vessel homicide." The agency presented the findings to the State Attorney's Office, but prosecutors ultimately decided not to pursue criminal charges. Instead, Herzbrun was charged with a misdemeanor, for "violating navigational rules resulting in a boating accident." He accepted six months' probation and community service.

"A slap on the hand," Isabel Castellanos says.

Ozzie's parents filed a civil suit and ultimately recovered about $160,000 from Herzbrun's insurance company. But seven years later, Isabel is still outraged and fighting for change: She started an organization dedicated to boater safety, Ozzie's Angels, and for years has been lobbying legislators hard for stricter safety regulations and enforcement.

"In my son's case, FWC made mistakes. They didn't have cops to handle the situation," she says. "Lack of laws and mandatory education is what is killing our children out there."


The evening of June 11, three weeks before the Fourth of July accident off Dinner Key, 40 or so Key Biscayne residents filled rows of white-vinyl-covered folding chairs in a waterfront conference room at the Key Biscayne Yacht Club. In one corner of the room, under framed old photos of khaki-clad club members, was a spread with a vegetable platter, two types of crackers, spinach samosas, and pink lemonade. That evening the crowd, mostly middle-aged and elderly, many wearing dresses and polo shirts, had gathered for a discussion on the controversial topic du jour: the raucous weekend partying at Nixon sandbar.

To illustrate the problem, Melissa White, the spunky 38-year-old director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation who was leading the forum, said she wanted to show a video. "It's a little graphic," she warned. To the soundtrack of "Make That Money" by rapper Rich Homie Quan ("Fucking four hoes, feeling like a pimp/That's a dip when I walk, not a limp"), young men and women on boats at the sandbar slap and flash skin, flaunt liquor bottles, dance, and mime rap lyrics. At one point in the video, the protagonist, a muscular tough guy with a gaudy gold chain and a flat-billed Brooklyn Nets hat, holds up a large black bottle of Luc Belaire Rare Rosé sparkling wine. Then, on the deck of a boat, he pulls back the blue bikini bottom of a pretty brunette and pours the wine down her partially exposed backside. Another bikini-clad girl enthusiastically slaps the brunette's ass.

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5 comments
marionwlee
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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