Last May 4, 23-year-old Ernesto Hernandez just wanted to help. Hernandez was a big guy who had recently graduated from the police academy. Like dozens of others he had come to the Nixon Sandbar, off Key Biscayne, to spend the day on the water; when he saw the boat operated by DJ Laz get stuck in the sand nearby, he waded over to try and help.
It was the last decision Hernandez would ever make. While the young man was pushing the boat from behind, Laz (real name Lazaro Mendez) gunned the engine, sending propellers whirling. Hernandez was sucked in, his body lacerated. He would die from his injuries.
Mendez declined to take a breathalyzer test after the tragedy, and authorities couldn't require it because they saw no indication the DJ was impaired. In April, prosecutors announced there would be no criminal charge against Mendez.
More than a year later, though, a recently-completed Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) report confirms that cocaine, as well as liquor, were consumed on the boat operated by Mendez.
The cocaine residue, says FWC spokesman Jorge Pino, was discovered on a ripped-up dollar bill that the agency had submitted for testing, although it's unclear who actually used the drug.
"We'll never know who that dollar bill belonged to," Pino tells New Times. "The evidence shows that it was in the vessel — there's no way of me pinpointing who was ingesting" the coke, or when.
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Evidence of the use — and of alcohol consumption — isn't necessarily surprising: in the weeks leading up to May 4, on social media Mendez had promoted the event as a party on the sandbar; the boat he operated was emblazoned with "Voli", for the vodka company, who was sponsoring it.
Now, more than a year later—and in the wake of more tragedies, including the Dinner Key disaster last July 4—Pino was still pleading with boaters to exercise caution and good judgement.
"People need to be careful when they're operating a vessel out there," he said. "Don't operate a vessel while you're intoxicated, or if you're at the sandbar, don't drink so much that it's going to impair your decision making."
New Times has asked DJ Laz's attorney for comment on the new FWC report; we'll update this post when we hear back.