The Triton


Safe boating efforts build after tragic crash on July 4th

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There’s momentum building to how recreational boating can be made safer after the tragic Fourth of July crash on Biscayne Bay.

Boats anchor near each other at the Nixon sandbar in Biscayne Bay. The sandbar provides an area for people to come with friends and family and swim in the shallow water, but the captains of the boats all have different levels of skill in anchoring and securing their boat. July 5, 2014 in Miami, FL. Natalie Fertig

Since the Fourth of July boating crash on Biscayne Bay — the worst in Miami-Dade County in recent memory — members of the recreational boating community have launched an informal but passionate campaign to try to prevent similar tragedies.

Four people died and several others were seriously hurt when a 32-foot Contender broadsided a 36-foot Carrera, then struck a Boston Whaler following holiday fireworks. The skipper of the Contender, 23-year-old Andrew Garcia and two of his passengers, Kelsie Karpiak, 24, and Victoria Dempsey, 20, were killed, along with Carrera passenger Jason Soleimani, 23.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is in charge of the investigation, said evidence of alcohol was found aboard the Contender. No charges have been filed.

The accident happened about 10:30 p.m. off Coconut Grove’s Dinner Key, despite a heavy on-water law enforcement presence. Witnesses described a chaotic scene, as hundreds of boats zig-zagged across the bay in a race to reach local boat ramps and marinas after the fireworks.

Veteran Miami sportfishing captains Bric Peeples and Terry Claus are friends of the families of the accident victims. Both are parents of young adults and both are on a mission of prevention.

“What we have now isn’t working,” Peeples said. “I’m tired of people having to bury their kids.”

Added Claus: “I don’t feel safe out there. It’s a free-for-all.”

The two have taken to Facebook with their manifestos for safer boating in Biscayne Bay, which have garnered hundreds of “likes.” Peeples has enlisted the help of local maritime attorney Bruce Marx and Washington, D.C., boating and fishing lobbyist Jim Donofrio. Claus says he is contacting representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and members of the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Tops on their safe boating wish list: a night-time speed limit or idle-only zone on bay waters from Stiltsville to Government Cut.

“That’s the easiest and fastest solution to this,” Claus said. “It’s like a manatee zone. If you can do things to protect manatees, why not to protect human life?”

The two captains also are calling for mandatory licensing and on-water education for recreational boaters; harsh penalties for boating under the influence; a change in lighting requirements for recreational boats so that skippers can easily discern approaching vessels from the bright lights of Miami; and a daytime idle-only zone around the popular Mashta Flats sandbar off Key Biscayne where boaters anchor and party on weekends and holidays.

The Key Biscayne Village Council already has imposed a 12-acre no-motor zone in a portion of the area, but the captains say careless boaters still throw big wakes around the edge of the sandbar.

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