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Nightengale: Grief Doesn’t Change, Even After Jose Fernandez’s Autopsy Report

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Jose Fernandez. By Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This is what we feared, the autopsy report from that fateful September evening.

It was a senseless tragedy regardless, and now we are confronted with an uncomfortable truth – the crushing news Saturday that beloved Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez had cocaine in his system, a blood alcohol content nearly twice the legal limit, and was impaired when he was killed along with two friends in a Sept. 25 boating accident.

There still is no conclusion who was driving the boat that evening when it crashed into an unlit jetty, but the Miami Herald reported last month that it was almost inevitable that Fernandez was driving his own boat.

That resulted in his death.

And the death of his two friends, Jesus Macias, 27 and Eduardo Rivero, 25.

It’s going to get ugly now. There will be wrongful death lawsuits. Fernandez’s estate will be sued.

Still, no matter what comes out of all of the investigations, one thing will never change.

It won’t bring back Fernandez, 24, or his two friends.

It also should not change our feelings, the excruciating heartbreak, the outpouring of grief we all felt when the moment we found out he was killed.

Sure, Fernandez and his buddies never should have been on that boat that night, stopping first at a bar, and then getting back into his boat at 2:30 in the morning, speeding along Miami Beach, until hitting that jetty at full speed, instantly killing all three.

Still, haven’t we all done something stupid in life? Haven’t we all been careless?

“His death was a tragedy,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said before Game 4 of the World Series. “These facts were unfortunate. But it doesn’t alter the fact he was a great, great player, a good young man and he will be sorely missed in Miami.”

Fernandez, in fact, never tested positive for cocaine under MLB’s drug-testing program, according to a high-ranking MLB official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. He was also was not in any drug rehab program, according to the official.

It was no different two years ago when St. Louis Cardinals prized prospect Oscar Taveras was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic during the World Series. We grieved, and several weeks later, the autopsy report revealed that he was drunk when he crashed, killing himself and his girlfriend.

“People make mistakes,’’ St. Louis Cardinals GM John Mozeliak said. “But when you’re dead, you’re dead.

“The worst part about Oscar’s death, is that another person died.’’

And that’s the part of the tragedy that gets lost now, the deaths of Rivero and Macias.

“These were all human lives that were lost, so the bandwidth of how famous you are,’’ Mozeliak says, “that part bothers me. They made really bad decisions. There will be negative stories. Why was anyone on that boat?’’

That Fernandez had cocaine and enough alcohol to significantly impair his decision-making shouldn’t take away our pain.

Sure, we can be mad. We can scream to the heavens, asking why no one bothered to stop these three young men from getting into that boat? We can direct anger towards Fernandez for being so careless, particularly as a soon-to-be father with a girlfriend five months pregnant.

But, please, don’t let the results of an autopsy alter your grieving process.

When Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was killed in a one-person car accident on Interstate 64 in St. Louis in 2007, the Cardinals were devastated. When it turned out that his blood-alcohol level was 0.157, nearly twice the legal limit, with 8.55 grams of marijuana found in his SUV, nothing changed.

“Everybody makes mistakes,’’ said Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who was arrested for drunk driving a month before Hancock’s death. “Most times, you don’t pay that kind of price.’’

Cardinals scouting director Randy Flores, one of Hancock’s closest friends, who spoke at his funeral, called it one of the most difficult, challenging times of his life. When the autopsy report came out, it didn’t change a thing.

The tears didn’t dry up. The heart didn’t hurt less. The pain remained the same.

“All you knew was that your friend, who we all loved,’’ Flores says, “was gone.

“That’s all that mattered.’’

It’s no different now.

All that matters is that Fernandez, Macias and Rivero are gone.

And no amount of autopsy reports, lawsuits, or blame, can ever bring them back.

That’s the tragedy.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale

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