Jerry Boylan, 67, was charged with 34 counts of manslaughter of a sailor for “misconduct, negligence and inattention” for failing to train his crew, conducting fire drills and having a roving night watchman on the Conception when it exploded. the fire on September 2, 2019. said the indictment.
“As a result of Captain Boylan’s alleged failures to follow well-established safety rules, an enjoyable vacation diving trip turned into a hellish nightmare when passengers and a crew member found themselves trapped in a burning bunk room. with no way to escape, “US attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
Boylan and four other crew members, who had been sleeping, escaped from the burning ship after he made a breathless emergency call.
All 33 passengers and one crew member died in the cabin.
Some of the dead were found with their shoes on, leading to speculation that they were trying to escape, but were trapped by flames that blocked a ladder and a small hatch that were the only exits to the upper deck.
They all died from smoke inhalation, according to coroner’s reports.
The rare federal charges against Boylan were brought under a pre-Civil War law designed to hold steamboat captains and crews responsible for the water disasters that were much more prevalent at the time.
Each count carries a possible 10-year prison sentence with conviction.
Federal prosecutors said they had informed Boylan’s attorneys of the charge and it was expected to be turned over to federal authorities in the next few weeks.
A public defender representing Boylan did not immediately return email and phone messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Their former defense attorney, Michael Lipman, said they had waited for the charges for more than a year.
Federal safety investigators blamed the boat’s owners for lack of oversight, but they were not charged with any crime, although the investigation is ongoing.
“I hate the term accident in this case because, in my opinion, it is not an accident if you don’t operate your business safely,” Jennifer Homendy, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a hearing in October.
The company that owns the ship, Truth Aquatics Inc, has filed a lawsuit in federal court under a provision of maritime law to avoid payments to the families of the victims.
The families of 32 victims have filed claims against boat owners Glen and Dana Fritzler and the company.
The cause of the fire has been under investigation for more than a year and may be impossible to identify.
It began in an area on the main deck where the divers had plugged in phones, flashlights and other items with lithium-ion fuel batteries.
The fire occurred on the last night of a three-day Labor Day weekend diving excursion near Santa Cruz Island off Santa Barbara.
The 34 victims ranged from a new sailor to scientists and engineers to parents with their teenagers and adults.
They came from as far away as China, Singapore, and India. Two passengers were celebrating birthdays.
The only crew member to die, Allie Kurtz, 26, had previously worked as a cook on another Truth Aquatics ship and was delighted with her promotion.
His family said he loved the water and had childhood aspirations to become a pirate.
Marine biologist Kristy Finstad, who was a co-owner of Worldwide Diving Adventures and booked the Labor Day weekend trip, first donned a scuba tank at the age of nine and had done hundreds of dives in the rugged and battered Channel Islands, off the Santa Barbara coast.
Five members of the Quitasol family made the trip to celebrate their father’s birthday.
Sisters Angela, Nicole and Evan were joined by their father, Michael Quitasol, and their stepmother, Fernisa Sison.
The family had been diving together for at least a decade.
Jeffrey Goodman, an attorney representing the families of nine victims, said he had not yet had a chance to speak with his clients, but that they expected charges to be filed.
“The negligence and outrageous conduct of both Captain Boylan and the ground crew are clear, so it is not surprising to see that the US attorney’s (office) concluded that criminal prosecution is appropriate,” Goodman said.
Before the disaster, Mr. Boylan and Truth Aquatics had a good reputation among customers and the Santa Barbara boating community, where the company had a fleet of three boats.
The Conception had passed its two most recent Coast Guard safety inspections.
But NTSB investigators condemned the company and the captain of a litany of problems, including failing to train the crew on emergency procedures.
Ryan Sims, who had been working aboard the ship for just three weeks, told investigators that he had asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire.
“When we have time,” Boylan responded, reported Mr. Sims.
“I didn’t know what the procedures were supposed to be,” Sims said, echoing what other crew members told investigators.
The NTSB said the lack of nighttime surveillance allowed the fire to spread rapidly and trap victims below deck.
The agency also blamed the Coast Guard for failing to enforce the night watch requirement, citing records showing no one has been cited for not providing one since 1991.
The crew members told investigators they were sleeping on the upper deck when the fire broke out around 3 a.m.
They said they made repeated attempts to reach those below deck.
But the flames and heat kept them away and eventually forced them to jump overboard.
Boylan made an emergency call at 3.14 am saying “I can’t breathe” before leaving the ship.
Sims, who has sued the ship’s owners, broke his leg while jumping off the ship.
The crew got on a boat and went to a yacht anchored nearby to call for help again.
“One thing we never heard was screaming or banging or anything from the ship, both while we were on it and when we were close,” Cullen Molitor, the ship’s second captain, told investigators.