A Hialeah man led marine patrol police in the Florida Keys on a high-speed chase on a personal watercraft with his 6-year-old son on board Sunday that lasted nearly 45 minutes and placed other boaters, kayakers and swimmers at risk, police say.
Yuniel Mato Gonzalez, 34, is in Monroe County jail on a bond of $140,000 on three felony counts of fleeing and eluding police on a boat, one felony child neglect count and two misdemeanor counts of reckless driving.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers Jorge Larios and Michael Janzen were patrolling the Whale Harbor sandbar off Windley Key around 5:45 p.m. Sunday when Larios saw Gonzalez driving the personal watercraft at a high speed in the slow speed zone of Whale Harbor Channel with his son sitting in front of him between his legs, Larios wrote in his report.
The FWC officers turned on their blue flashing lights and took off toward the personal watercraft, which includes Jet Skis and WaveRunners. Gonzalez stopped his vessel for about 30 seconds, but sped off again toward the Whale Harbor Bridge. The personal watercraft was faster than the patrol boat and, with less draft, able to speed through shallower water. The officers lost sight of Gonzalez after he gunned his vessel underneath the bridge and into the bay side of the channel.
When the FWC officers reached the bay, they saw Gonzalez sitting on his craft in the no-motor zone of the Cotton Key Wildlife Management area. They signaled him to drive over to their boat, but he sped off again, according to Larios’ report.
Gonzalez, Larios wrote in his report, headed north speeding through the no-motor zone of several tidal flats, and eventually through a dangerous, narrow channel known locally as the Wheel Ditch.
The Wheel Ditch has been the scene of several bad boat accidents in recent years, including one in April 2018 that killed Jereima Bustamante, 33, who was an aide to then Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
The FWC officers caught sight of Gonzalez again heading back toward the Whale Harbor Bridge. He went under the bridge, which is a slow speed zone, at around 60 mph, Larios wrote in his report.
Once on the other side of the bridge, Gonzalez sped along the shore line of Upper Matecumbe Key traveling between 60 and 70 mph. He came about 20 yards from some people on kayaks, Larios said. Meanwhile, Larios and Janzen were chasing him but were still between 400 and 800 yards behind him.
Gonzalez reached Tea Table Relief Bridge, which is low and difficult to navigate, and went underneath it to cross to the bay while speeding, according to the FWC report. The officers’ boat was too high to clear the bridge, so they drove to Tea Table Channel to get to the bay. They interviewed some people fishing underneath Tea Table Relief Bridge who told them they saw the personal watercraft “hauling ass” toward Yellow Shark Channel. The witnesses said a man was driving the vessel with a small boy on board.
At around 6:10 p.m., Larios and Janzen saw Gonzalez coming out of the Angler House Marina channel. The officers were close to him and ordered him to stop. But, Gonzalez accelerated his vessel “dangerously close” across the bow of another boat in the channel, past the FWC boat and back toward the ocean.
Witnesses at an oceanfront restaurant called Lazy Days said they saw a blue watercraft crash into the rocks. They said the man driving the vessel ran off “dragging a child.” Cops finally caught him on a sidewalk along U.S. 1 just south of the mile marker 79.8 restaurant.
Police arrested Gonzalez and the child was released to a family friend, Yolanda Hernandez, at the mother’s request, according to the police report.
“It is worth noting that Mr. Mato Gonzalez had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his breath at this time,” Larios wrote.