COCONUT GROVE, FLA. – – Police have arrested one person a day after members of a yacht crew were caught on cellphone video popping and dumping party balloons in Biscayne Bay off Coconut Grove, hours after the man who chartered the boat took to social media to say he never told workers to dispose of the balloons that way.
Police arrested 29-year-old David Torres-Bocanegra on Wednesday. He now faces charges of reckless disregard for the environment.
Investigators said Torres-Bocanegra confessed to dumping nearly 50 party balloons in the water.
Speaking in a series of videos posted to the Instagram account @tomrivas, Wednesday evening, a popular fitness instructor claimed to have chartered the vessel and said the crew’s careless actions were not his fault.
“I just really want to put my heart out and say how I think it’s so important to take care of our environment, and things like this certainly need to be addressed,” he said.
The man said he had chartered the boat to celebrate his engagement, and this was supposed to be a happy and exciting occasion.
“If you’ve ever had your engagement time ever, you’re just so like – you don’t even know what’s going on around you,” he said.
Hours after he posted the video to Instagram, police took Torres-Bocanegra into custody and issued a total of 10 citations, including to the owner of the boat, the charter company and its employees. The fines total more than $25,000 combined.
Cellphone video recorded by a witness captured crew members popping balloons and letting them fall on the water near Bayshore Landing Marina, Tuesday afternoon.
Comments from Miami Maritime Group’s Esteban Bruna, the witness who recorded the video, could be heard in the footage.
“Gotta love Miami charter boats. Let’s throw a party,” he said.
The video sparked outrage and went viral shortly after Bruna posted it on social media.
In his Instagram videos, the man said he never told crew members to dump the balloons into Biscayne Bay.
“We did not even see this happening in the time that this was going on. We were inside, and that was the end of it. We didn’t see the balloons anymore,” he said. “They said, ‘We need to remove the balloons ’cause the balloons can’t go out to sea,’ and I said, ‘OK, cool, not a problem. Take them off, whatever.’”
But it’s the way the crew removed them that has fellow boaters seeing red.
“People were mad. I was mad. I was glad I was able to post [the video],” said Bruna.
Bruna said he tried to talk to the crew, to no avail.
“They basically ignored me and blew me off, so I went ahead and posted it and let the people do what the people do,” he said.
“‘Pop,’ every single balloon on the bow of the boat right into the water,” Bruna is heard saying in the video.
The clip also captured the attention of Miami-Dade Police’s Illegal Dumping Unit, who came out to the marina on Wednesday to investigate.
J.P. Ortega, who charters an eco tour of the marina, recorded video of the balloons on the yacht before they were popped.
“It was really frustrating to see somebody with that kind of ignorance,” he said. “We thought they were going to end up in the bay unintentionally. We never thought that two hours later they were going to be popping the balloons on the water.”
Other boaters sprang into action and tried to salvage some of the balloons and clean up what they could in an effort to prevent them from going into the mouths of animals they could hurt or kill.
“We pull trash from the bay all the time, and here we have people deliberately popping balloons and throwing them into the water, so it made us angry,” said David Furer with Salty Miami Eco Tours.
“It’s just not right. There’s a lot of wildlife, a lot of people depend on this for their living,” said Ortega, “whether they’re charter captains, fishing captains, yacht brokers such as myself. This is what we do.”
As anger grows, local boaters hope people learn from this incident.
“Clean up after yourself. We’ve got one ocean,” said Bruna.
As of late Thursday afternoon, Torres-Bocanegra has posted bond but has yet to be released from the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in West Miami-Dade.