MIAMI (CBSMiami)—Family members and friends are saying goodbye Tuesday to a 23-year-old man who was killed Sunday in a deadly boat accident on Sunday off Key Biscayne.
Authorities say a popular South Florida radio personality was behind the wheel of the boat that took the man’s life.
“We are all devastated. He was just one of those special individuals. Words can’t fathom,” said Michael Gonzalez, whose cousin Ernesto Hernandez was killed in the accident.
Gonzalez told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “You can see by the heartfelt sentiments of the entire family. I mean he was the light of the family. He’s what linked us all together. We loved him.”
D’Oench spoke with Gonazlez, a family spokesman, before he and other family members and friends planned to attend a viewing for Hernandez starting at 6 p.m. at the Maspon’s Funeral Home at 7895 Bird Road.
On Wednesday morning, Hernandez’s body will be taken to the Dade South Cemetery at 14200 S.W. 117th Ave. for burial.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirmed that Lazaro Mendez, known to his fans as DJ Laz, is the owner of the 40-foot vessel dubbed “Off The Air” and was operating it at the time of the accident. DJ Laz said he named the boat in a self-deprecating reference to his losing his job as the morning host on Power 96 after 22 years and later being let go by 106.7 FM.
On Sunday, several people were helping to push the boat off the sandbar at Nixon Beach when Hernandez pitched in to help.
Hernandez’s family said it’s not surprising he would volunteer to lend a hand.
“He’s just a very giving person,” said Gonzalez. “He had a heart of gold. A big teddy bear is really what he was. He’s huge in size and his heart is just as big.”
Relatives said the man they called “Ernie” was a personal bodyguard who graduated from the police academy.
“The Hernandez family has had its brightest light unnecessarily extinguished before his time,” Gonzalez said.
The medical examiner listed his cause of death as “multiple chop wounds”.
Law enforcement boats were already gathered in the area off Nixon Beach to patrol the crowds Sunday when they rushed in to help Hernandez.
“The rescue pulled up next to us with a gentleman in real bad shape. He was covered up. They were pumping him,” said Frank Alonso, who was out boating.
“They put him in the rescue, the helicopter came and took off,” added Werner Velasquez.
Pino described Mendez as being distraught at the scene and “very sympathetic” to the family of the man who died.
Gonzalez told D’Oench that he hoped the family’s questions would be answered.
“At the present time we are in mourning,” he said. “We haven’t delved into that aspect of what happened.”
On Monday, Mendez posted this statement on his Facebook and Twitter pages:
“I am incredibly distraught over the unfortunate accident that occurred yesterday at Nixon Beach. My family and I send our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Ernesto Hernandez; they are in our thoughts and prayers. I have and will continue to cooperate fully with investigators during this tragic time.” -Lazaro Mendez
Investigators are trying to determine exactly how the incident happened. Pino said Mendez has “cooperated fully” in the investigation.
“Our investigators are going to look at whether alcohol played a role, carelessness, recklessness. All those things will be looked into to see if we should press charges against the operator of the vessel,” said Pino.
Pino had told CBS4 News DJ Laz had provided a blood sample to allow investigators to check for drugs or alcohol in his system. Late Monday Pino reversed himself, saying there was no blood sample or breathalyzer taken of Lazaro Mendez, because there was no “probable cause,” evidence of impairment to justify it.
Pino says investigators observed “no blood shot eyes, slurred speech or unsteady movement” to suggest DJ Laz was impaired. Still, they called state attorney who said they couldn’t compel a blood or breath test without probable cause. They still asked him to give a voluntary breathalyzer and he refused.
We asked Gonzalez if he had a reaction to that.
“I really don’t have a comment about that,” he said. “That’s regulatory and a question of law.”
The victim’s sister, Mildren Hernandez, was overcome with tears during a press conference Monday, but managed to make an emotional request to witnesses.
“If you have any information, please send it to us,” she said.
They hope pictures or video of the scene will help shed light on exactly what went wrong.
Gonzalez also said, “If anybody has got any still shot images or any video, they should go and upload them to the Ernesto Hernandez facebook page. That would be very helpful and we would be grateful.”
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