The captain of a diving boat, which caught fire and sank off the coast of California last year, killing 34 people trapped beneath the ship’s deck, was charged on federal charges of manslaughter in one of the deadliest marine disasters in recent U.S. history.
Gerry Boylan, 67, was charged with 34 counts of killing a sailor for “misconduct, negligence, and inattention” by failing to train his crew, conducting fire drills and getting a traveling night watchman on pregnancy when a fire broke out on September 2, 2019, the indictment said.
“As a result of Captain Boylan’s alleged failures to follow established safety rules, a fun holiday diving trip turned into a hellish nightmare as passengers and a crew member found themselves trapped in a blazing bedroom with no way to escape,” US attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.
Boylan and four other crew members, who were all asleep, escaped from the flaming boat after making a roaring call. All 33 passengers and one crew member were killed in the bedroom.
Some of the dead were found wearing their shoes, leading to speculation that they were trying to escape but were trapped by flames blocking a stairwell and a small hole that was the only exits to the roof above. They all died from smoke inhalation, according to a coroner’s report.
Rare federal charges were brought against Boylan under a pre-Civil War law with the aim of holding steamboat captains and crew responsible for water disasters that were more frequent at the time.
Each charge carries a 10-year prison sentence with a conviction.
Federal prosecutors said they had informed Boylan’s attorney of the indictment, and he is expected to turn himself in to federal authorities in the coming weeks.
A public defender representing Boylan did not immediately respond to phone and emails requesting comment from the Associated Press. His former defense attorney, Michael Lippmann, said they had expected the charges to be filed for more than a year.
Federal safety investigators have blamed the ship’s owners for the lack of oversight, but they have not been charged with any crime, although the investigation continues.
“I hate the term accident in this case because, in my opinion, it’s no coincidence that you fail to operate your company safely,” said National Transportation Safety Board member Jennifer Homendi at a hearing in October.
The company that owns the boat, Truth Aquatics Inc. , Filed a lawsuit in federal court under a maritime law clause to avoid paying compensation to victims’ families. The families of 32 victims have filed lawsuits against the boat owners Glen, Dana Fritzler and the company.
The cause of the fire has been under investigation for more than a year and it may be impossible to determine. It started in an area on the main deck where divers attached phones, light bulbs, and other items containing combustible lithium-ion batteries.
The fire occurred on the last night of a three-day Labor Day weekend scuba diving excursion near Santa Cruz Island off Santa Barbara.
The 34 casualty numbers ranged from the new platform to scientists, engineers and parents with their teenage and adult children. They come from as far away as China, Singapore and India. Two of the passengers were celebrating birthdays.
The only crew member to die, Allie Kurtz, 26, previously worked as a chef on another Truth Aquatics boat and was happy with her promotion. Her family said she loves water and had childhood aspirations to become a pirate.
Marine biologist Kristy Finstad, who co-owned Worldwide Diving Adventures and chartered the Labor Day Weekend trip, first put on a dive tank at the age of nine and had done hundreds of dives in the rugged, wind-swept Channel Islands, off Santa Barbara’s coast.
Five members of the Quitasol family took the trip to celebrate their father’s birthday. Sisters Angela, Nicole and Evan joined their father, Michael Quitasol, and their stepmother, Fernisa Sison. The family had been scuba diving together for at least a decade.
Jeffrey Goodman, a lawyer representing families of nine victims, said he hadn’t had a chance to speak with his clients yet, but they had expected charges to be filed.
“The negligence and outrageous conduct of both Capt. Boylan, as well as the shoreside personnel, is clear, so it’s not surprising to see the U.S. attorney’s (office) concluded a criminal prosecution is appropriate,” Goodman said.
Before the disaster, Boylan and Truth Aquatics had a good reputation with customers and the boating community in Santa Barbara, 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 captain for a litany of issues including failing to train the crew on emergency procedures.
Ryan Sims, who had been working aboard the boat for just three weeks, told investigators he had asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire.
“When we have time,” Boylan replied, Sims reported.
“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 a night watch allowed the fire to spread quickly and trap victims below deck. The agency also faulted the Coast Guard for not enforcing the night watch requirement, citing records showing no one cited for failing to provide one since 1991.
Crew members told investigators they were asleep on the upper deck when the fire broke out below around 3 a.m.
They said they made repeated attempts to reach those below deck. But the flames and heat kept them back and eventually forced them to jump overboard.
Boylan made a mayday call at 3:14 a.m. saying, “I can’t breathe,” before abandoning ship.
Sims, who has sued the boat’s owners, broke a leg jumping from the boat.
The crew climbed into a dinghy and motored to a yacht anchored nearby to call again for help.
“One thing we never heard was any screams or banging or anything from the boat, both while we were on it or when we were close,” Cullen Molitor, the boat’s second captain, told investigators.
Marine biologist Kristi Finstad, who co-owns Worldwide Diving Adventures and chartered a weekend excursion for a workday, first put on a diving tank at the age of nine and made hundreds of dives in the rugged, windswept Channel Islands, off Santa Barbara. coast.
Five members of the Quitasol family made the trip to celebrate their father’s birthday. Sisters Angela, Nicole and Evan have joined their father Michael Kitasol and stepmother Vernesa Sison. The family has been diving together for at least a decade.
Jeffrey Goodman, an attorney representing the families of the nine victims, said he had not had a chance to speak with his clients yet, but that they had been expecting charges.
“The negligence and indecent behavior of Captain Boylan, as well as the beach personnel, is evident, so it is not surprising that we see the US Attorney (office) have concluded that the criminal trial is appropriate,” Goodman said.
Before the disaster, Boylan and Truth Aquatics had a good reputation with the customers and boat community in Santa Barbara, as the company had a fleet of three boats. The concept has passed the last two Coast Guard safety inspections.
But NTSB investigators indicted the company and the captain over a series of cases including failure to train crew in emergency procedures.
Ryan Sims, who had only been on the boat for three weeks, told investigators that he had asked the captain to discuss emergency plans the day before the fire.
“When we have time,” said Sims.
“I didn’t know what it was supposed to be,” Sims said, echoing what other crew members had told the investigators.
The NTSB said the lack of a night clock allowed the fire to spread rapidly and trapped victims below deck. The agency also criticized the Coast Guard for not enforcing the night watch requirement, citing records showing no one mentioned for not providing it since 1991.
The crew told the investigators that they were sleeping on the upper deck when the fire below broke out at around 3 am.
They said they made repeated attempts to reach those below deck. But the flame and heat took them back and eventually forced them to jump into the sea.
Boylan made a distress call at 3:14 am saying, “I can’t breathe” before leaving the ship.
Sims, who is suing the boat owners, broke his leg as he jumped off the boat.
The crew boarded a dinghy and headed to a nearby yacht to call for help again.
Colin Molitor, the boat’s second captain, told investigators, “One thing we’ve never heard is any shouting or banging or anything from the boat, either while we’re on it or when we’re close by.