Judge Rejects Indictment in Fatal Fire on Dive Boat

Prosecutors to seek appeal of ruling in case against captain
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 2, 2020 12:23 AM CST
Updated Sep 2, 2022 4:45 PM CDT
Boat Captain Hit With 34 Charges of Seaman's Manslaughter
This undated file photo provided by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) shows the wreckage of the dive boat Conception on a dock in Southern California.   (NTSB via AP,File)

Update: Three years to the day after 34 people were killed in a fire aboard a dive boat anchored near Santa Barbara, a judge threw out an indictment charging the captain with manslaughter. US District Judge George Wu ruled Friday that the filing didn't specify that Jerry Boylan acted with gross negligence, which he said is required for proving manslaughter. Prosecutors said they'll seek Justice Department approval for filing an appeal, per the AP. Our story from December 2020 follows:

The captain of a scuba diving boat that caught fire and sank off the coast of California last year, killing 34 people who were trapped below deck, was indicted Tuesday on federal manslaughter charges for one of the deadliest maritime disasters in recent US history, the AP reports. Jerry Boylan, 67, was charged with 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter for "misconduct, negligence and inattention" by failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills, and have a roving night watchman on the Conception when fire broke out Sept. 2, 2019, the indictment said. “As a result of the alleged failures of Captain Boylan to follow well-established safety rules, 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,” US Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

Boylan and four other crew members, who had all been sleeping, escaped from the flaming boat after he made a breathless mayday call. All 33 passengers and one crew member perished in the bunkroom. Some of the dead were found with their shoes on, leading to speculation they were trying to escape but were trapped by flames that blocked a stairwell and a small hatch that were the only exits to the deck above. All died of smoke inhalation, according to coroner's reports. The rare federal charges against Boylan were brought under a pre-Civil War law aimed at holding steamboat captains and crew responsible for watery disasters that were far more frequent at the time. Each count carries a possible 10-year prison term with conviction. Federal safety investigators faulted the owners of the vessel for a lack of oversight, but they were not charged with any crime, though the investigation is ongoing.

(More Conception dive boat stories.)

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