A three-boat crash July 4 in Florida’s Biscayne Bay killed four and sent a dozen to area hospitals following a fireworks display in a scene rescuers called “as chaotic as chaotic could be.”
By Sunday, investigators were forming a clearer picture of what happened in the deadly three-boat crash, which claimed the lives of four people and injured seven.
It started when a 2003 32-foot Contender center-console boat careened into the Hanono family’s boat—a 2005 36-foot Carrera center console — spun out of control and hit a third boat, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the Miami Herald.
The impact threw most of the people aboard the Contender into Biscayne Bay. Three of them died — Andrew Garcia, 23, Victoria Dempsey, 20, and Kelsie Karpiak, 24. Two others aboard, Catherine Payan, 24, and Samantha Rolth, were critically injured.
Jason Soleimani, a 23-year-old from New York state aboard the Carrera, was killed on impact. Girlfriend Heather Hanono told the paper she suffered a dislocated shoulder and a concussion. One other adult on the boat was treated and released, but a third was critically injured and remained hospitalized this morning.
There were eight people on the third vessel, a 2014 35-foot Boston Whaler center console, and all but one, who had a minor cut to the left thigh, were uninjured.
Capt. Burt Korpela, of Atlantis Marine Towing and Salvage, one of the first on the scene, said he found the Contender spinning out of control. “The boat was running out of control in circles 20 to 25 miles per hour, limited lights on the boat,” he told CBS4.
Fish and Wildlife spokesman Jorge Pino said Sunday that officials were still investigating what caused the deadly crash, which happened about 10:40 p.m. Friday after the fireworks display.
Describing the scene as “as chaotic as chaotic could be,” Pino said Sunday that the challenge at the time was trying to determine how many people were involved. Several agencies pitched in to ferry victims back to the dock.
“All of the people on the first boat were in the water, so it was a real challenge trying to figure out how many people were out there,” he said.
He said that every year on July 4 hundreds of boats head back to the shore after the fireworks “in a mad dash.” Unlike streets, there are no lanes and there is no “speed limit, per se,” he said.
“It’s not like we can have someone out there directing traffic,” he said. Boaters often zoom through the open bay, crisscrossing, he said.
Pino said the accident involved two separate collisions, one right after the other. All three boats were towed in, and Fish and Wildlife will hold them for investigation at its base in North Miami.
On July 4, 2012, a 34-foot Silverton capsized in Oyster Bay, N.Y., after a fireworks show and left three children dead, garnering national attention.
As recently as April, legislators have continued to push for new regulatory legislation to address capacity limits on recreational vessels.