Ella Adler’s death investigation continues after suspected vessel seized

Vessel seized in investigation into death of Ella Adler, killed by boat in Biscayne Bay

Vessel seized in investigation into death of Ella Adler, killed by boat in Biscayne Bay

Vessel seized in investigation into death of Ella Adler, killed by boat in Biscayne Bay

MIAMI – A boat suspected in the death of 15-year-old Ella Adler in Biscayne Bay over the weekend has been seized by Florida Fish and Wildlife officers.

Chopper 4 spotted Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers by a boat behind a Coral Gables that matched the description of the vessel they were looking for. CBS News Miami’s Peter D’Oench knocked on the door of the home but no one there wanted to say anything.

The boat was then towed away.

“The boat is in our custody and the owner is cooperating. We would like to thank the public for its help and support. The FWC called in resources from around the state and we have worked around the clock. Our hearts and prayers are with the family of Ella Adler at this difficult time,” said FWC spokesman George Renaud.

On Saturday afternoon, Adler was water skiing with friends near the Nixon Beach sandbar when she fell in the water while being towed and was struck by another boat. The operator of that boat never stopped.

Investigators said it’s unclear if the driver knew that they hit the girl. A search for the boat began immediately.

“The FWC and its officers have called in additional resources from other parts of the state and have worked around the clock to find the vessel involved in the accident. I am pleased to report that we have a vessel in custody that matches the description given by witnesses and the investigation is ongoing,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.

The owner of the vessel is cooperating with the investigation.

“This was a tragic, senseless, amazingly huge loss,” said Ira Leesfield, an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in maritime law. “On the water, rules are too lax. There’s not enough enforcement and candidly there are not enough laws. But, I think when they find the operator under these circumstances, there certainly will be a criminal prosecution and certainly be an in-depth investigation.”

CBS News Miami’s Ivan Taylor asked Leesfield if the operator of the vessel could use the excuse that they didn’t see Adler and didn’t know they hit her.

“No, I think that’s impossible and it’s not an excuse of the operator of the boat, the operator of anything has to pay attention,” responded Leesfield. “This boat which I saw pictures of has four engines, you know what the speed and horsepower of this boat must be.”

Leesfield said when drivers on the road see law enforcement officers, they know there is a sense of control and punishment for violators, that doesn’t exist for boaters.

But there is one common factor on the streets and on the water that worries Leesfield.

“Now, there’s an exponential rise in boating deaths and injuries because of cell phones, it’s a dangerous combination,” he said.

FWC has not identified the operator of the boat in the accident that killed Adler.

On Monday morning, hundreds of people attended services for Adler at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach.

On Tuesday, the Adler family issued a statement through their attorney Etan Mark.

“The world lost a star this weekend. Ella was beautiful and shined brightly. In her 15 years, she gave us more light than we could have ever dreamed. While we cope with this unspeakable tragedy, we ask the public to give us our privacy as we mourn.”

Mark said First Lady Dr. Jill Biden offered her condolences.

“We are honored that the First Lady paid a shiva call to our family during this time of immense pain. We are touched by their support and love and we are proud to call the President and First Lady our friends for over 40 years,” according to a statement from the family.

Adler was a freshman at Ransom Everglades High School and a ballerina with the Miami City Ballet.

Loren Pearson, a close family friend, said his daughter was with Ella when it happened. He said the two girls were best friends and they are devastated.

Pearson remembers Ella as a shining light in the community.

“A great dancer. My daughter’s best friend,” he said. “Happy, friendly, always a smile. That’s how I remember her.”

On Monday afternoon, the Miami City Ballet issued the following statement:

“We at Miami City Ballet and the Miami City Ballet School are utterly devastated by the heartbreaking news of this tragic accident. Ella Adler was not just a beloved student and a magnificent dancer who graced our stage in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker; she was an integral part of our family, radiating potential and promise whose kindness, warmth, and infectious joy were known to all. Our hearts go out to Ella’s family, friends, and everyone who had the privilege of knowing and adoring her. As we come together, we will profoundly grieve the loss of Ella, and hold dear the precious memories we were fortunate enough to create with her.”

The FWC said while significant progress has been made, this investigation remains open and the public’s assistance is still needed.

Anyone who saw the accident or anyone who might have video footage or information about it is urged to call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477).

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