MIAMI (CBSMiami) – New details are emerging about one of the victim of the tragedy involving the Fisher Island Ferry accident and safety measures that are in place.
Sixty-three-year-old Emma Afra was behind the wheel of her blue Mercedes-Benz when it somehow went off the ferry Tuesday afternoon while it was making the crossing between Miami Beach and Fisher Island. Her friend, 75-year-old Vivian Brahms of Harrison, New York, also died.
Amanda Altman, the chief executive officer of the Kristi House in Miami, which is involved with children’s advocacy and helps the victims of sexual abuse and sex trafficking, said Afra had been a very dedicated volunteer for the organization between 2002 and 2012.
“It was heartbreaking to hear about this,” she said. “This was such a tragic story. Here at the Kristi House we felt this was a very sad loss. Emma had been a volunteer that was very dedicated and committed and she never took no for an answer. She worked on out largest fundraiser which was our yearly gala and in 2012 she was one of the co-chairs of the gala that brought in well over half a million dollars for Kristi House.”
A source familiar with the investigation told CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald that Afra and Brahms were found in an apparent embrace in the back seat of their car and that Afra may have been trying to put her car in park and accidentally hit the gas pedal.
“There is a sign at the ferry that is very prominent and is front of everybody and says you are supposed to put your car in park and put on your emergency brake,” said Fisher Island resident Jim Ferraro. “They also put chock blocks in front of the wheels.”
That is done even though it is not required by law.
Fisher Island resident Fred Schwalde says there should also be verbal warnings from ferry employees to turn your engine off.
“They have got to alert people on the ferry and warn them that they should shut their engines off,” he said. “They have also got to have better barriers.”
On the ferry, there is what appears to be a thin barrier of netting between the cars and the water.
A Producer with the network show “Inside Edition” took the ferry ride that is between 8 and 12 minutes and noticed that chocks were being placed in front of tires to keep them from rolling.
The Herald reported that the crew was believed to have used them to secure the Mercedes.
But the producer did not receive a verbal warning.
“Nobody told me anything about putting my car in park or turning the car off,” he said.
Some ferry users said it would it be unreasonable to expect everyone to turn off their engines.
“This is Florida,” said the unidentified resident. “It is hot and humid and for a short ferry ride of between 10 and no more than 15 minutes you cannot expect people to not have air conditioning.”
A spokesman for the Coast Guard told D’Oench that the ferry that Afra was on had passed a safety inspection that was done on Wednesday after the accident.
In a statement, the Fisher Island Community Association said the ferry system “had operated for 20 years without a blemish on its record – safely transporting millions of passengers to and from the mainland 24 hours a day, seven days a week with an average of 200 trips per day.”
The statement added that it had a “dedicated Safety Manager with more than 30 years of experience and regularly conduct safety drills and training exercises.”
The association said all Coast Guard regulations had been complied with and also said it was looking for ways to improve safety operations.
“In light of the recent tragedy, we are looking at ways to improve our ferry operations, working closely with our marine engineers, architects and designers to find ways to help ensure a calamity like this is never respected,” said the association.
Association President Robert Sosa added, “We remind all passengers of basic safety tips including ensuring their car is in park with the emergency brake on, turning off headlights at night and paying heed to access control officers and deckhands. Our hearts and prayers continue to be with the families at this time.”