California Dive Boat Captain Charged with Manslaughter in 2019 Fire That Killed 34
A federal grand jury indicted the captain of a scuba diving boat that caught fire off the coast of California last year, killing 34 people. He was charged with 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter. Federal officials said that the captain ignored critical safety measures and precautions, thereby causing the deaths.
Investigators claimed that Jerry Boylan, the 67-year-old captain of the Conception boat, failed to undertake mandatory crew training and fire drills, and post-night patrols as per the Code of Federal Regulations.
The decedents’ families filed a wrongful death lawsuit following the September 2019 fire, accusing the captain and boat owners of gross negligence leading to the fatal event.
In a news release, State Attorney Nick Hanna said, “A pleasant holiday dive trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers, and one crew member found themselves trapped in a fiery bunkroom with no means of escape.” He continued, “The loss of life that day will forever impact the families of the 34 victims. With this indictment and our commitment to vigorously prosecute the case, we seek a small measure of justice for the victims and their loved ones.”
33 passengers, along with Boylan and six crew members, were aboard the 75-foot scuba diving vessel when it caught fire. They were taking a Labor Day weekend excursion off Santa Barbara, near Santa Cruz. The passengers were asleep below the deck when the event unfolded.
As per the boat’s diagrams, there was only one exit. The fatalities were due to smoke inhalation. The vessel sank north of Santa Cruz Island. It was operative since 1981 by Truth Aquatics.
Four crew members and Boylan escaped the boat, while one crew member and 33 passengers perished in the vessel’s bunk room.
The coroner’s report verified that they died because of smoke inhalation. However, a few of the deceased were found with their shoes on, which further led to speculations that they tried escaping, but the flames blocked the small hatch and stairwell.
The rare federal charges against the captain were aligned with a pre-Civil War law. According to the law, steamboat captains and their crew can be held accountable for aquatic disasters.
The captain is expected to surrender in the coming weeks. Each charge of manslaughter by a seaman carries a statutory 10 years in federal prison.
Federal safety investigators also condemned the vessel’s owners for lack of oversight. National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendy at an October hearing said, “I hate the term accident in this case because, in my opinion, it is not an accident if you fail to operate your company safely.
The assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office — Kristi K. Johnson — said, “This tragedy forever altered the lives of so many families and loved ones, and it deeply affected members of the public who watched in horror. We continue to grieve with them. Our hope is that this indictment leads to the prevention of boating accidents and the senseless destruction of lives through proper precautions and training.”