The investigation into the deaths of two socialites whose car plunged from a ferry near Miami’s swanky Fisher Island is focusing on the boat’s safety standards, according to reports.
Emma Afra, 63, who lived in the wealthy enclave, and Viviane Brahms, 75, of Harrison, New York, were found clutching each other in the back seat of the submerged blue Mercedes-Benz Tuesday, hours after the car rolled off the deck of the Pelican ferry and into the 50-foot deep channel.
Sources told the Miami Herald that Afra may have forgotten to put the car’s parking brake on and accidentally stepped on the gas when the car began to roll.
Witnesses told police the car suddenly accelerated as the ferry left Fisher Island, ripped through a thin canvas barrier and plunged into the choppy waters, the Herald reported.
The four ferries that link the island to the mainland are open on the front and rear for cars to drive onto the deck, with workers closing the gap using only the canvas divider.
A sign on board reminds motorists to use the parking brakes on their vehicles, and workers are supposed to place wooden blocks near each car’s tires to keep them from sliding, the Herald said.
But because there are no surveillance cameras on the ferry, it is unknown if that was done.
“The netting on the Fisher Island ferry is pretty insufficient,” Miami-based maritime attorney John Hickey told the Herald. “It’s pretty flimsy. It’s not going to hold anything back.”
“Other ferries that I’ve seen have large steel barriers which also form the ramp,” he said.
In a statement Thursday, the Fisher Island Community Association said the ferry and its crew “are in full compliance with all United States Coast Guard regulations.”
“In light of the recent tragedy, we are looking at ways to improve our operations, working closely with our marine engineers, architects, and designers to find ways to help ensure a calamity like this is never repeated,” the statement said. “Our hearts and prayers continue to be with the families at this time.”
The US Coast Guard and Miami-Dade Police Department, who are investigating the fatal mishap, said the investigation is ongoing and declined to comment further.
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