USA News

Captain sentenced to 4 years in fiery deaths of 34 aboard scuba boat : NPR


Defendant Jerry Boylan, captain of the Conception, leaves federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Richard Vogel/AP


hide caption

toggle caption

Richard Vogel/AP


Defendant Jerry Boylan, captain of the Conception, leaves federal court in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Richard Vogel/AP

LOS ANGELES — A federal judge in Los Angeles on Thursday sentenced the captain of a scuba diving boat to four years in prison and three years of supervised release for criminal negligence after 34 people died in a fire aboard the vessel .

The September 2, 2019, fire was the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history and led to changes to maritime regulations, congressional reform, and several ongoing lawsuits.

Capt. Jerry Boylan was convicted of one count of misconduct or neglect of the ship’s officer last year. The charge is a pre-Civil War law, colloquially known as seaman’s manslaughter. It was designed to hold steamboat captains and crews responsible for maritime disasters.

Family members pleaded with U.S. District Judge George Wu to give Boylan the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison during a heated hearing. Many cried, and Robert Kurtz, father of the only sailor killed, Alexandra Kurtz, brought a small container with him to the lectern to address Boylan and the court.

“That’s all I have of my daughter,” he said.

Yadira Alvarez is the mother of 16-year-old Bérénice Felipe, who volunteered at an animal shelter and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, and was the youngest of the 34 victims killed on the boat.

“He’s not a victim. He’s responsible for my daughter not being here,” Alvarez said, sobbing in court. “Can you imagine my pain?”

The Conception was anchored off Santa Cruz Island, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Santa Barbara, when it caught fire before dawn on the last day of a three-day excursion, sinking less than 100 feet (30 meters) from the shore.

Thirty-three passengers and one crew member died, trapped in a dormitory below deck. Among the dead were the deckhand, who had landed his dream job; an environmental scientist who conducted research in Antarctica; a globe-trotting couple; a Singaporean data scientist; and a family of three sisters, their father and his wife.

Boylan was the first to abandon ship and jump overboard. Four crew members who joined him also survived.

During the hearing, Boylan’s attorney read aloud a statement to the court in which he expressed his condolences and said he had cried every day since the fire.

“I wish I could have brought everyone home safe and sound,” the statement said. “I’m so sorry.”

In sentencing, Wu said he took into account Boylan’s age, his health, the unlikelihood of a repeat offense and the need for deterrence and punishment.

He said that even if Boylan’s behavior was reckless, sentencing guidelines would not warrant a 10-year sentence.

“This is not a situation where the defendant intended to do anything wrong,” Wu said.

The defense had asked the judge to give Boylan a five-year suspended sentence, including three years of house arrest.

Boylan’s appeal is pending.

Hank Garcia, whose son Daniel was among the victims, said he was not a vengeful person, but that he and other members of his family did not want something like this to happen again.

“We all get life sentences,” he told the court. “We are sentenced to life without these people we love.”

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement: “While today’s sentence cannot completely heal their wounds, we hope that our efforts to hold this defendant criminally accountable will bring some healing to the families.”

Thursday’s sentencing was the final step in a lengthy process that lasted nearly five years and repeatedly frustrated the victims’ families.

In 2020, a grand jury initially indicted Boylan on 34 counts of manslaughter of a mariner, meaning he could have faced a total of 340 years in prison. Boylan’s attorneys argued that the deaths were the result of a single incident and not separate crimes, so prosecutors obtained a superseding indictment charging Boylan with a single count.

In 2022, Wu dismissed the superseding indictment, saying it did not specify that Boylan acted with gross negligence. Prosecutors were then forced to appear before a grand jury again.

Although the exact cause of the fire aboard the Conception remains undetermined, prosecutors and the defense have sought to assign blame throughout the 10-day trial last year.

The government said Boylan failed to work the required roving night shift and never properly trained his team how to fight fires. The lack of roving surveillance allowed the fire to spread undetected on the 75-foot (23-meter) boat.

But Boylan’s lawyers sought to shift blame to Glen Fritzler, who with his wife owns Truth Aquatics Inc., which operated the Conception and two other scuba diving boats, often around the Channel Islands. They argued that Fritzler was responsible for failing to train crew in firefighting and other safety measures, as well as creating a lax maritime culture they called “the method Fritzler,” in which no captain who worked for him posted a roving watch.

The Fritzlers have not spoken publicly about the tragedy since an interview with a local television station days after the fire. Their lawyers never responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

With the conclusion of the criminal case, attention now turns to several ongoing trials.

Three days after the fire, Truth Aquatics filed suit under a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law that allows it to limit its liability to the value of the boat’s remains, which constituted a total loss. . This tried-and-true legal maneuver was used successfully by the owners of the Titanic and other ships, and requires the Fritzlers to demonstrate that they were not at fault.

That case is ongoing, along with others filed by victims’ families against the Coast Guard for what they claim was lax enforcement of the roving surveillance requirement.

After the sentencing Thursday, Susana Solano, who lost three of her daughters and their father on the boat, said she and other family members hoped the judge would listen to their pleas.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

News Source : www.npr.org
Gn usa

jack colman

With a penchant for words, jack began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class.After interning at the New York Times, jack landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim.Though writing is his passion, jack also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
Back to top button