LOS ANGELES (AP) – A dive boat captain pleaded not guilty on Thursday in federal court for a second time to manslaughter in the fiery deaths of 34 people trapped below deck on his burning vessel three years ago off the Southern California coast.
A federal grand jury issued a new indictment last month alleging that Captain Jerry Boylan acted with gross negligence aboard the Conception during one of the deadliest maritime disasters in recent United States (US) history. A judge threw out the original case on the third anniversary of the September 2, 2019, tragedy.
The trial is scheduled for December 20 in US District Court in Los Angeles.
Boylan faces 10 years in prison if convicted of a single count of misconduct or neglect of a ship officer – a pre-Civil War statute known as “seaman’s manslaughter” that was designed to hold steamboat captains and crew responsible for maritime disasters.
All 33 passengers and a crew member who were trapped in the Conception’s bunk room died.
Boylan, who frantically radioed for help after he and four crew members sleeping above deck awoke to the fire, was the first man overboard and then told his crew to abandon ship rather than fight the fire, the indictment said.
He is accused of failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills and post a roving night watchman on the boat when the fire ignited.
Prosecutors brought the second case against Boylan after US District Judge George Wu in September dismissed the original indictment because it did not mention gross negligence, an element required to prove the crime.
The subsequent indictment alleges Boylan “acted with a wanton or reckless disregard for human life by engaging in misconduct, gross negligence and inattention to his duties”.
Officials blamed the owners of the vessel, Truth Aquatics Inc, for a lack of oversight even though federal safety investigators never found the cause of the fire. The owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler, have not been criminally charged.