California boat captain charged with manslaughter for fire that killed 34

Boat captain charged for fire that killed 34

LOS ANGELES — The captain of a scuba diving boat that caught fire in 2019 off the California coast and sank, killing 34 people, was indicted on federal manslaughter charges.

Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbara 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 the blaze broke out on Sept. 2, 2019, according to the indictment.

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Each charge of seaman’s manslaughter carries a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison, KCBS reported.

“As a result of the alleged failures of Capt. 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,” Nick Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. “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.”

Boylan and four other crew members all were sleeping when the fire broke out on the 75-foot boat, according to the Los Angeles Times.

According to crew member Ryan Sims, he saw sparks fly from a socket after plugging in his cellphone before he went to bed, the newspaper reported.

Sims later told investigators that “while still in a sleep-like state, he had heard a pop and then a crackle downstairs,” followed by a crew member yelling, “Fire! Fire!” according to National Transportation Safety Board records.

By then, flames had engulfed the Conception’s main deck, blocked stairways and trapped 33 divers and one crew member in the bunk room of the wood-hulled boat, killing all of them, the Times reported.

The five crew members, including Boylan who jumped into the water near Santa Cruz Island, were the only survivors, the newspaper reported.

The federal charges against Boylan were brought under a pre-Civil War law aimed at holding steamboat captains and crew responsible for disasters at sea, according to The Associated Press.

Boylan is expected to surrender over the next few weeks, KCBS reported.