05/18/2024

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Background: YouTube screengrab from KCAL shows the Conception boat after it was engulfed in flames in 2019, killing 34./Inset: Defendant Jerry Boylan, captain of the Conception, leaves federal court in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

‘Seaman’s manslaughter’: Boat captain who abandoned ship as 34 died in inferno sentenced for ‘cowardice’ and ‘repeated failures’

Background: YouTube screengrab from KCAL shows the Conception boat after it was engulfed in flames in 2019, killing 34./Inset: Defendant Jerry Boylan, captain of the Conception, leaves federal court in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

For the surviving family members of those who died aboard the dive boat Conception in 2019 as it became a raging inferno off the coast of California, its onetime captain, Jerry Boylan, had only a few words to deliver through his attorney at his sentencing hearing this week: “I failed. I am so sorry.”

Boylan, 70, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday, according to a statement from the Justice Department.

“The defendant’s cowardice and repeated failures caused the horrific deaths of 34 people,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said Thursday. “The victims’ families will be forever devastated by this needless tragedy. While today’s sentence cannot fully heal their wounds, we hope that our efforts to hold this defendant criminally accountable brings some measure of healing to the families.”

Boylan was found guilty by a jury last November of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer. This offense is commonly called “seaman’s manslaughter,” according to prosecutors.

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    The tragedy occurred over Labor Day weekend in September 2019 when a blaze broke out aboard Boylan’s 75-foot wood and fiberglass scuba vessel that was docked in Santa Barbara Harbor. In addition to its captain, the vessel carried 33 passengers and six crew. All passengers perished and one crew member also died.

    “Here, Boylan was the captain and master of the Conception which allowed him to take passengers and crew members out to sea to remote locations, hours away from any help. He was entrusted with the safety and wellbeing of his passengers and training his crew to maintain the passenger’s safety,” prosecutors wrote in a presentencing report. “When the fire was discovered on the Conception, Boylan was the first to abandon the boat by jumping into the ocean and ordered his crew members to abandon the boat without making any efforts to save the 33 passengers and one crewmember, even after two other crewmembers returned to the Conception to look for survivors.”

    The cause of the blaze was never determined though court records indicate the vessel did not have smoke detectors.

    This Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, file image taken from video released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a Coast Guard Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter video screen, as crew responds to the vessel "Conception" boat fire off Santa Cruz Island near Santa Barbara, Calif. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP, File)

    This Monday, Sept. 2, 2019, file image taken from video released by the U.S. Coast Guard shows a Coast Guard Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter video screen, as crew responds to the vessel “Conception” boat fire off Santa Cruz Island near Santa Barbara, Calif. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP, File)

    As Law&Crime previously reported, Boylan was indicted the first time in 2020 on 34 counts of “seaman’s manslaughter.” That case was tossed because the presiding judge, U.S. District Judge George Wu, found federal prosecutors had not accused Boylan of acting with gross negligence. But in October 2022, he was charged anew and again appeared before Wu.

    This time it was only one charge of seaman’s manslaughter and the allegations rested squarely on how his shocking negligence.

    The New York Times reported that more than a dozen family members were present at Boylan’s sentencing.

    The sister of not one but two victims — her brother and niece died on the boat as Boylan fled for safety — told Boylan the “terror” of that day haunts her until now.

    “I cannot erase the terror that engulfed me. Despair and anxiety became my constant companions,” Barbara Chan said.

    An attorney for Boylan did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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    The post ‘Seaman’s manslaughter’: Boat captain who abandoned ship as 34 died in inferno sentenced for ‘cowardice’ and ‘repeated failures’ first appeared on Law & Crime.