On the first day of a long-awaited vacation in Bimini, Javier Perez and his girlfriend went straight to the hotel pool and beach, where they soon struck up a conversation with another young couple from Miami.
The pair, Josbel Fernandez and Violeta Khouri, invited them for an evening trip on Fernandez’s 32-foot Everglades boat.
But by sunrise the next day, Perez, 29, would be dead, his bloodied body crumpled on a jagged rock formation after a violent boat crash. His girlfriend, Carolyn Alvarez, 26, disappeared into the dark waters off Bimini and is presumed dead. Her body has yet to be found.
The crash remains under investigation by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, which told the Miami Herald this week that a coroner’s “inquest,” a formal step that potentially could lead to criminal charges, will be held at some point.
But more than one month after the July 2 wreck, exactly what happened remains an agonizing mystery for the Perez and Alvarez families. After they visited Bimini to make inquiries and examine the wrecked boat, they put the blame squarely on Fernandez, who they believe may have been drunk at the time and then delayed calling authorities for a critical period after their loved ones had been flung overboard.
An acquaintance on Bimini named Stanley Stuart said he told the family and police investigators that Fernandez summoned him and another man to the damaged boat before authorities arrived. He said the boat, despite a jagged hole in the bow, somehow came off the rocks and had managed to travel a few more miles from the wreck site.
Stuart, in an interview with the Miami Herald, said that he also told Bahamian police that Fernandez was slurring his words in the boat and “acting aggressive.”
“He was drunk,” Stuart said. “He was wasted.”
An initial police report from the Bahamian Royal Police obtained by the Herald also “collected an assortment of alcoholic beverages for evidential purposes” from the salvaged boat. Fernandez has not been charged with any crime and the initial police report does not provide any details about his behavior or whether any sobriety tests were conducted that night.
Still, Liz Alvarez, Carolyn’s mother, believes Perez delayed summoning official rescue help and should face criminal charges, either in the Bahamas or the United States.
“If you don’t have anything to hide, you call authorities for help, not your friends,” Liz said. “Obviously, he was drinking and he didn’t want to get into trouble.
Said Jorge Perez, Javier’s brother: “The fact that they didn’t render aid at the moment of the accident. That was precious time lost.”
The Royal Bahamas Police would not discuss any details of the case of the families’ accusations against Fernandez but said the investigation remained open and an inquest would be scheduled at some point.
“I have submitted the file to my legal department for review and have supplied the legal representatives for the family a copy of the file through the Embassy of the United States in The Bahamas. As such I am unable to comment further on your inquiries at this time,” Police Commissioner Paul Rolle said in a statement issued Monday.
Fernandez did not return numerous voice mails or text messages from the Miami Herald. It was unclear if he had retained an attorney. A lawyer who represented him in an unrelated case last year did not return a phone call or email. The Perez and Alvarez families say Fernandez also has yet to communicate with them.
The families say they’ve reached out to the FBI. Federal authorities, in manslaughter cases, do have jurisdiction over U.S. boats and citizens, even if they are in foreign or international waters. A FBI spokesman did not immediately comment.
The families have also hired an attorney, Daniel Grammes, and are weighing a civil wrongful-death lawsuit.
A lawyer for Khouri, 31, the other passenger in the boat, said the woman suffered a broken back, and the insurance company that covered the boat has yet to pay for her medical bills. He declined to address allegations that Fernandez had been drinking.
“She’s as much a victim as anybody else,” said her lawyer, Mitch Panter, of Miami.
The story of the crash has been pieced together through police reports, witness statements, court records and interviews with family members of the dead couple.
Previous boat troubles
Fernandez, 34, is the owner of a Hialeah welding company. The Bimini crash was not the first time he had run into trouble with alcohol and boats.
Last year, Fernandez was arrested twice on domestic-violence charges. In one of the cases, a former girlfriend told police that he got drunk and angry while they were on his boat on the Miami River.
She alleged that Fernandez punched her on the lip, threatened her by saying “you’re going to learn a lesson.” In cell-phone video, obtained through a public-records request, Fernandez can be heard berating the woman: “Keep calling me f**king drunk! Have you lost your f**king mind?!”
He then headed out to open water, refusing to drop her off, according to an arrest report. Fernandez, the woman said, finally “got scared” and dropped her off on a seawall near a Miami condo after she threatened to call police.
In a restraining order petition, the woman wrote that Fernandez “began drinking heavily about 6 months ago and that his aggressive behavior has gotten progressively worse.” He was also accused of aiming a pistol equipped with a laser sight at the woman during an later argument at his Cutler Bay house.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, however, wound up dismissing both charges, the last one in January after the woman said she no longer wanted to press charges.
Javier and Carolyn did not know Fernandez until they met by chance in Bimini.
Carolyn, in her third year of school at Miami-Dade College, was studying to become a psychologist. Two years ago, her family suffered another tragedy: Alvarez’s older sister died of a drug overdose.
Javier, who ran an e-commerce business and lived in the Brickell neighborhood, met Carolyn about a year ago. “He loved Carolyn. They had a very nice relationship,” said his brother, Jorge, 30.
After the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, the couple took a ferry to Bimini and checked into the island’s Hilton hotel on Thursday, July 2. His brother, Jorge, and his girlfriend, were to meet them there the following day. “It was our first little escape we were going to have after all this madness,” Jorge said.
After Javier and Carolyn checked in, they were at the pool by the afternoon. Javier began posting photos and videos on his Instagram account — through private messages, he explained to his brother that they’d made some new friends.
By 6 p.m., they were out on the Fernandez’s boat. At about 8:30 p.m., Javier called his brother on Facetime, the video chat app, and showed him the boat. They were anchored at Honeymoon Harbour, a popular party spot on a tiny island south of Bimini known as Gun Cay.
“I was a little uncomfortable because it was late. But I didn’t think too much of it,” Jorge said. “That was the last conversation I had with him.”
Liz also traded texts with her daughter that evening. “We met new friends LOL … we’re out on a boat,” Carolyn replied.
That was the last anyone in Miami heard from Javier or Carolyn.
‘My whole world changed’
The following morning, Friday, July 3, Jorge and his girlfriend arrived to Bimini on the ferry from South Florida. Javier was supposed to meet him there. No one showed. Phone calls to Javier and Carolyn went unanswered. Finally, a Bahamian voice answered her phone. It was a police inspector.
Before long, Jorge was inside the police station and learned the stunning news. Javier was dead. Carolyn was missing. Fernandez and Khouri had been airlifted to Broward Health North in Deerfield Beach.
Jorge had to visit the morgue to identify the body. “He was very badly injured. A lot of trauma. It was very hard to see,” Jorge said. “I started screaming and crying. I was trying to wake him up. I lost it. My whole world changed.”
For the Perez and Alvarez families, nothing about the crash made sense.
In the days after the crash, Liz Alvarez flew to Bimini and managed to find the boat in a dry dock at a salvage yard. Taking photos and videos, she saw beer and liquor bottles scattered inside the vessel.
More mysteriously, Alvarez said she found the power wires of the boat’s GPS unit had been snipped. Familiar enough with boats, she said managed to get the unit working — and was able to review the boat’s movements in the days before the crash. Alvarez said she noticed that on the night of the crash, the boat veered sharply off its marked safe course, directly in North Turtle Rock, a well-known landmark two miles off shore.
The boat then traveled a couple miles before it stopped dead in the water, she said. She took a photo of the GPS track and has supplied it to the family attorney.
The exact time of the crash was also unclear.
According to the initial Bahamian police report, Fernandez claimed he was at Honeymoon Harbour until “after 11 p.m.” and the crash happened after that, as he was cruising at 34 miles per hour.
A local Bahamian boat captain, Thomas Butler, told the Miami Herald that he heard the first SOS call from the crippled craft at about 11:08 p.m. Butler said the boat captain explained two passengers had gone overboard. “He sounded distressed,” Butler said.
But Stuart, the Bimini man who spoke to Bahamas police and provided a sworn statement to the families’ lawyers, gave another timeline. He said Fernandez first called him at 10:38 p.m. — a half hour before the SOS, Stuart says that when he didn’t immediately answer, Fernandez then called another friend identified only as Alex, who quickly found Stuart inside Resorts World Bimini to report he needed help.
Stuart told the Miami Herald he and Alex left on Alex’s boat and arrived to the damaged vessel about 11:45 p.m. He said the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, which responds to marine emergencies, did not arrive until about midnight, the police about 15 minutes later, Stuart said.
After Bahamian authorities arrives and they had transferred the injured boaters onto the Alex’s boat to leave for an island clinic, Stuart aid he remained aboard the damaged vessel to help salvage it. At that point, Stuart told The Herald, Fernandez “told me let the f***king boat sink.”
The boat remained afloat and remains in Bimini. Fernandez and Khouri’s injuries were not considered life threatening, and they soon left the hospital in Broward.
Before filing a civil lawsuit, the Perez and Alvarez families say they are waiting for Bahamas police to finish the investigation — and hopefully to find Carolyn’s body.
“I’m a mother,” Liz said. “I need to know what happened to her.”