MIAMI — A woman who died while attempting to reach the Florida Keys in a speedboat crowded with Cuban migrants sustained fatal head injuries, according to preliminary autopsy results released Sunday.
Amay Machado Gonzalez died and four others were injured Saturday when their boat, which held 31 migrants, ignored orders to stop and attempted to ram a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, authorities said. Coast Guard crew fired two shots into the vessel’s engine to disable it.
“She has blunt force head trauma. I think it’s consistent with her striking the boat,” Monroe County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Michael Hunter said.
The one-page report said Gonzalez also sustained blunt injuries to her arms, legs and back. Authorities said she was crammed into the small boat and jostled in the rough seas.
“There was no way for these people to brace themselves against the impact of the boat slamming into the rough seas,” Coast Guard Capt. Phil Heyl said in a statement.
The Coast Guard intercepted the boat around 6:30 a.m. about 4 miles south of Boca Chica, Coast Guard officials said. Gonzalez was pronounced dead as she was being transported to a hospital.
A pregnant woman onboard the vessel was transported to a hospital and released to federal custody Sunday, said Ivan Ortiz, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Three men sustained minor injuries.
All the migrants are in federal custody, Ortiz said. Among them are three suspected smugglers, though they were not immediately charged.
Legal status debated
Concerned relatives of the migrants met with Cuban activists Sunday to discuss legal action.
“There is a human being dead. Shooting at a vessel loaded with civilians is not a practice that should be done by a democratic country,” said Ramon Saul Sanchez, head of the Democracy Movement. “The high seas can’t be deemed as the wild west where shootouts happen.”
On Saturday, two Coast Guard vessels tried to corner the 36-foot Carrera, a speedboat with three outboard motors that tried to ram one of the pursuing vessels more than five times. It had three suspected people smugglers on board in addition to 31 passengers.
The Coast Guard said two rounds were fired into one of the boat’s engines to stop it and that “no migrants received injuries as a result of the disabling fire.”
It said three migrants were found to be in need of medical attention, including the woman, who had severe bruises to her face and apparent head injuries. She died as she was being taken to hospital.
Feds blame smugglers for death
“Smugglers often treat migrants as if they were human cargo, with blatant disregard for individual life and safety. This must stop,” said R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, on Saturday.
Hundreds of Cubans leave their communist country every year by sea, paying smugglers about $8,000 to take them across the Florida Straits to the United States.
Some smugglers have turned their operations to Mexico and Central America to avoid interception by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Cuba blames the U.S. government for encouraging illegal emigration from the island by granting almost automatic residence to Cubans who make it across to dry land in the United States. Under Washington’s controversial “dry-foot, wet-foot” policy adopted after a mass exodus of Cubans in 1994, boat people intercepted at sea are returned to Cuba.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.