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Investigators put Jose Fernandez behind the wheel in fatal crash

In the days following the boating death of Marlin's player Jose Fernandez and his two companions, there was a lot of speculation about whether or not the beloved pitcher was at fault.

The investigation by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has finally delivered its verdict, however, putting Fernandez at the helm. The FWC report also offers a glimpse into how accident investigators can determine who was responsible for a crash even when everyone involved is dead and there were no witnesses around.

Here are some of the facts used to identify Fernandez as the pilot, which will likely play an important part in the wrongful death claims filed by the surviving family members of his two companions:

-- Fernandez knowingly got behind the wheel of his boat while inebriated. He spent the last hours before he went boating drinking at bar with his friends, where he purchased several bottles of tequila and individual drinks.

-- He got behind the wheel of his boat a mere 22 minutes after purchasing the last bottle of tequila. The boat struck a jetty and flipped only 20 minutes after leaving the dock.

-- The pitcher had a blood alcohol level of 0.14, nearly twice the legal limit of 0.08. He also had cocaine in his system.

-- The FWC was able to determine that the boat struck the jetty at 65 mph, with the throttles in full-forward position.

-- Fernandez's DNA was found on the boat's steering wheel and throttle, as were his fingerprints.

The verdict is not without dispute. The family's attorney says that the FWC should have asked for assistance from more experienced forensic experts and characterized the maritime accident as "the most complex" in recent memory.

The wrongful death claims filed by the survivors of the pitcher's two companions rely on the idea that Fernandez was both negligent and behind the wheel of the boat. Because wrongful death claims are unlike criminal charges, the jury only has to be convinced of those facts by "a preponderance of the evidence." Unless new evidence is found that leads to a different conclusion, the wrongful death claims seem to have a strong foundation.

If you believe that a close relative was the victim of someone else's negligent or reckless boating, talk to an attorney. Investigators are often able to piece together enough evidence to pursue a claim.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was piloting speeding boat during fatal crash, investigators say," Mike Clary and Lisa Arthur, March 16, 2017

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