Miami real estate broker George Pino pleaded not guilty this week to three counts of misdemeanor careless boating in connection to a deadly vessel crash last year in south Biscayne Bay.
The tragedy killed 17-year-old Luciana Fernandez and permanently disabled another teen, Katerina Puig.
Both girls’ families criticized the outcome of the year-long investigation into the crash and the conclusion of a state agency that alcohol played no role even though more than 60 empty booze containers were found on Pino’s vessel the day after the tragedy.
Pino, through his attorney Howard Srebnick, pleaded not guilty Monday in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. Srebnick did not respond to a request for comment on his client’s plea.
Ivan Cabrera, an attorney for Katerina Puig’s parents, said the not-guilty plea “delays the criminal proceedings” and “continues to add insult to injury for the Puig family.”
“The frustration which the Puig family are experiencing is only heightened by the fact that George Pino refuses to accept any responsibility for the death of Lucy Fernandez and the debilitating injuries sustained by Katerina, which have ravaged her life permanently,” Cabrera said in a text to the Miami Herald. “Worst of all, entering a plea of not guilty after receiving the unjustified privilege of facing charges which amount to a ‘slap on the wrist,’ where any other citizen would have been charged with DUI manslaughter carrying a mandatory prison sentence, is patently offensive.”
Pino is scheduled to make his first appearance in front of a judge to answer the charges on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 11:45 a.m.
Luciana Fernandez’s parents, Andres and Melissa Fernandez, declined to comment about Pino’s plea.
The Puigs filed a lawsuit in March contending that Pino and his wife, Cecila, supplied the teens on their boat with alcohol the day of the crash, Sept. 4, 2022, Labor Day weekend last year. The Pinos, in court filings, have denied that accusation.
The Miami Herald reported in August that an investigator’s body camera footage seemingly contradicts what police say was the reason Pino, 52, declined to voluntarily submit a blood sample to test for alcohol.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigator wrote that Pino refused to let his blood be drawn the night of the crash because his attorney wasn’t present. But in the interaction between the officer and Pino caught on the officer’s body camera, Pino had admitted to drinking.
His immediate response to being asked to submit blood: “No. I had two beers.”
The Fish and Wildlife agency, however, has maintained that because Pino did not show obvious signs of impairment in the immediate hours after the crash, officers had no right to compel him to submit blood or take a breath test for drinking.
Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office prosecutors used the police report to charge him with the misdemeanors — as recommended by Fish and Wildlife — instead of seeking stronger charges.
Following the end of state agency’s investigation and the announcement of charges, the Puig and Fernandez families issued statements condemning the investigation, the resulting misdemeanors and Pino’s statement to investigators that another boat caused him to lose control of his vessel and slam into the fixed channel marker in Cutter Bank.
In the Fish and Wildlife commission’s report, investigators say they found no witnesses or data from the boat’s GPS to corroborate Pino’s story.
Pino was driving his boat back to his part-time home in the gated Key Largo community of Ocean Reef Club when the boat crashed. He and his wife were celebrating their daughter’s 18th birthday and partying with friends on Elliott Key in Biscayne Bay.
On the 29-foot, twin-engine Robalo center console were George and Cecilia Pino, their daughter and 11 of her friends, including Luciana Fernandez and Katerina Puig. Everyone was thrown into the water when the boat struck the channel marker.
Nearby boaters pulled people from the water. Fire-rescue and police crews took the injured to the hospital.
Luciana Fernandez was taken to Kendall Regional Medical Center, where she died the next day. Paramedics took Katerina Puig to Nicklaus Children’s Hospital near South Miami. Her family’s attorneys said she will require a lifetime of intense medical care.
All of the girls either attended either Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in Southwest Miami-Dade, Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart in Coconut Grove or Westminster Christian School in Palmetto Bay.