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Local law enforcement is planning a strong presence on the waters off Miami this Independence Day weekend, motivated in part by the recent death of a teenager in a marine collision off Key Biscayne. 

“I want your families to see July 5th,” said Oliver Gilbert, the chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission. “If you won’t, you need to hear this. It’s our intention to arrest you. We need to be clear about that. That we’re sending law enforcement, because we are hopeful that most people self-comply.”

Melissa Fernandez, who lost her daughter Lucy in 2022 in a boating crash, started a foundation to educate and promote boating safety said most fatal boat crashes involve operators with no formal boating education. 

“She was my girl, and then she was gone. This story seems like it’s distant. Right? We’re out there on boats and we think this could never happen to us. And yet, not only has it happened to me, it’s happened to multiple other families.” 

Melissa Fernandez, who lost her daughter in a crash in 2022, speaks at a news conference on boating safety before the Independence Day weekend at the Crandon Park Marina in Key Biscayne, Fla. July 3, 2024 (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

Ella Adler, 15, died in a collision in May near the Nixon sandbar off Key Biscayne. Officials could not comment about the case because it remains under investigation. 

There were 56 fatalities on Florida waters last year and 368 injuries, said Stephen Talpins, the chief assistant state attorney, who was among several state and local officials at a news conference held at the Crandon Park Marina. 

Talpins and State Rep. Vicki Lopez talked about a number of initiatives to make boating laws tougher. One would give officers the ability to obtain search warrants in fatal cases. Other proposals would increase penalties for boat operators who willfully leave the scene of a collision and would suspend driver’s licenses for those who commit offenses on the water.

Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa, whose department’s marine patrol will be among the agencies on duty over the weekend, said safety begins with common sense. “ We ask everyone to respect one another and operate their vessels responsibly,” he said. 

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Editor-in-Chief

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow...