Toms River

19-Year-Old Indicted in Connection to Deadly 2021 NJ Pontoon Boat Crash

A probe into the crash found that Juan Fernandez II was operating the pontoon boat when it struck a cement channel marker. Allegedly, he had been consuming alcohol

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A 19-year-old from New Jersey is facing multiple charges in connection to a pontoon boat accident that took place last year in Barnegat Bay in Toms River and ended in the death of one of the passengers on the vessel, prosecutors say.

Juan Fernandez II, of Towaco, was indicted on charges of death by vessel, strict liability vehicular homicide, and assault by vessel, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer announced Thursday.

A group of around six people, including Corey Molinari, 19, of Whippany, were in a pontoon boat in the Barnegat Bay near the Route 37 Bridge in the early morning of June 13, 2021 when it crashed into a channel marker. 

Two of the five people were thrown into the water but made it back to the boat. Molinari was seriously injured in the crash. 

When the boat made it back to a home in Toms River, New Jersey, around 1 a.m., the father of one of the victims called 911 to report Molinari’s injuries. 

"They seem to have had an accident and one of the kids that is on the boat is like out and he's like bleeding," the father says in a call obtained by NBC10.

Officers responded to Antiqua Avenue and found that Molinari had been ejected from a pontoon boat and suffered serious bodily injury including severe head trauma, according to prosecutors.

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Molinari was treated on scene and subsequently airlifted to Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune where he died from his injuries, according to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office. At least six other occupants of the boat were identified and treated on scene for various injuries. 

A probe into the crash by the New Jersey State Police Troop “C” Criminal Investigation Office, New Jersey State Police Crime Scene Investigation Unit and Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit allegedly determined that Fernandez was the operator of the pontoon boat when it struck a cement channel marker. Allegedly, he had been consuming alcohol while operating the pontoon boat.

Fernandez was subsequently taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River where he consented to a draw of his blood at approximately 9:32 a.m and was allegedly found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .037%. However, according to prosecutors, they retained the services of Robert Pandina, a forensic psycho-pharmacologist, who analyzed findings and concluded through extrapolation analysis that Fernandez's BAC at the time of the crash was between .13% and .15%. The legal limit to operate a vehicle is 0.08% for those 21 and older.

Fernandez was arrested at his residence on Sept. 9, 2021, but was later released.

“We would like people to know there are limitations on the water,” New Jersey State Police Sgt. Robert Frake previously said following the deadly crash. “We’ve been pushing really hard for the wearing of life jackets, PFDs and make sure they’re properly fitted.” 

Sgt. Frake also spoke about the difficulty of seeing obstructions in the water while boating at night. 

“Not everything is lit up out there at night so we want people to be conscious of their restricted visibility,” he said. “If there is alcohol consumption involved obviously, that could create more problems.” 

Additionally, during the investigation, Fernandez's father, Juan A. Fernandez, Sr., 59, was questioned by law enforcement in connection with this investigation.  It was determined that the father provided false information to detectives during the course of the investigation and has also been indicted for hindering apprehension or prosecution.

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