Miami baseball star Fernandez responsible for deadly boat crash: report

MIAMI (Reuters) - Miami baseball star Jose Fernandez was to blame for a boat crash that killed him and two passengers last year, Florida officials said on Thursday, finding that his reckless and impaired driving led the vessel to slam into a rock jetty.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigators said Fernandez, a dominant pro baseball pitcher with the Marlins, was steering at full-throttle at the time of the early morning accident in September 2016.

In a report, the agency said the 24-year-old could have faced criminal charges of boating under the influence, manslaughter, vessel homicide and reckless operation of a vessel.

"Fernandez operated (the boat) with his normal faculties impaired, in a reckless manner, at an extremely high rate of speed, in the darkness of night, in an area with known navigational hazards," the report said.

"Fernandez's impairment and manner of operation caused the accident which resulted in his death and the death of his occupants," it added.

Emilio Jesus Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, were also killed in the crash.

A hero in Miami's Cuban community, Fernandez was a two-time Major League Baseball all-star and won National League Rookie of the Year in 2013. The Marlins drafted Fernandez in the first round in 2011.

He was born and raised in Cuba and tried three times to defect to the United States before arriving at age 15 with his mother, surviving harrowing conditions at sea.

The report included a "probable" seating chart showing Fernandez behind the wheel of a 32-foot boat traveling at almost 66 mph (106 km) when it collided with a rock jetty near Miami Beach. The vessel rolled sideways, tossing its three passengers overboard.

Rescue divers found the pitcher's body in the water under the overturned boat, pinned between a rock and the boat's awning. He was identified by a tattoo of a baseball surrounded by gears, the report said.

In October, an autopsy and toxicology report found that Fernandez was legally drunk and had cocaine in his body at the time of the crash.

Ralph Fernandez, an attorney for the pitcher's family, could not immediately be reached for comment. He told Reuters in October that Fernandez was not driving and called the cocaine found in his system "completely out of character."

(Editing by Letitia Stein and Bernadette Baum)