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Florida Fish & Wildlife Chair Rodney Barreto looks to change boating laws after Ella Adler's death

Florida Fish & Wildlife chair looks to change boating laws in wake of teen's death
Florida Fish & Wildlife chair looks to change boating laws in wake of teen's death 03:02

MIAMI - The Chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said his agency will push to change boating laws in the wake of a teen's death last weekend.

Chairman Rodney Barreto said he recently talked with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle about proposing tweaks to state legislators.

Ella Adler, 15, died after she fell off a wakeboard and was hit by a 42-foot Boston Whaler steered by Carlos Alonso, investigators said. Alonso did not stop. His lawyer said Alonso was not aware that his boat hit anyone.

Barreto also took CBS News Miami on a patrol of the popular boating area near where Adler died: Nixon's sandbar.

"Look at this guy," Barreto said pointing out a man riding a hydrofoil without a lifejacket.

"That's a violation," Barreto said. "He should have a life jacket on."

Stopping him would have caused the rider to fall, officers said. They tried to warn him but chose not to chase the rider.

Nixon's Sandbar, named after President Richard Nixon who used to have a home on Key Biscayne, had boats anchored every few feet Sunday afternoon. The area is shallow enough for people to stand and enjoy the water too. It is a low speed, low wake zone. Signs warn boaters too.

So, when Barreto's team saw a man speed by on a personal watercraft, they tracked him down and gave him extra warnings. This came as their department prepares for crowds three times larger over the Memorial Day weekend. The patrol also follows Adler's death last weekend.

When asked how the tragedy change the way FWC officers approach holiday boating crowds, Barreto said, "It certainly heightens our awareness. It heightens the public awareness of boater safety. In fact, I had discussions with the state attorney."

Barreto said his agency's lawyers will work with those in the state attorney's office on proposals for state lawmakers.

"Certainly when there's a fatality, we want mandatory blood drawn," Barreto said. "The federal courts overruled it. We want it back on the books. So that gives us, gives families the right to know if someone was impaired when you had a death involved. When Lucy Fernandez (who was killed in a boating accident on Labor Day in 2022) lost her life the driver of the boat declined a blood test. If we had the law, we would have taken the blood test. We just didn't have the law."

Fernandez's family now runs a foundation in Lucy's name.

"Through the foundation, what we are trying to do is we are trying to make better (boat) operators," Andy Fernandez, Lucy's father, said during an interview on Tuesday, May 14th.

FWC leaders share that goal and plan to repeat warnings over and over during boating safety week. 

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