Just one day before the third anniversary of the fire aboard the dive boat Conception that killed 34 people near Santa Cruz Island, its captain pleaded not guilty Thursday in Los Angeles to a federal charge.
Jerry Boylan entered his plea in federal court to an updated indictment alleging 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter for “misconduct, negligence and inattention” to duties leading to the fire on Labor Day weekend in 2019.
The fire resulted in the deaths of all passengers and one crew member. The disaster during the predawn hours of Sept. 2, 2019, is considered the worst maritime disaster in modern California history.
Among the nearly three dozen people trapped aboard the 75-foot passenger boat when it sank were two Santa Monica residents, Marybeth Guiney and Charles McIlvain, diving enthusiasts who lived in the same condominium complex.
The fire, which broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island, engulfed the ship and led to its sinking, resulting in the deaths of the 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Boylan was among five crew members who were able to escape and jump into the water.
The arraignment on the superseding indictment, which was filed in March in L.A. federal court, took place before U.S. District Judge George H. Wu. Trial is set for Oct. 4, but defense attorneys have moved for a delay until May of next year.
The fire prompted criminal and safety investigations. Victims’ families have also filed claims against the boat owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler and Truth Aquatics.
The company, in turn, filed a legal claim to shield them from damages under a maritime law that limits liability for vessel owners.
The families’ suits allege that the 41-year-old Conception was in blatant violation of numerous Coast Guard regulations, including failing to maintain an overnight “roving” safety watch and failure to provide a safe means for storing and charging lithium-ion batteries, and that the below-deck passenger accommodations lacked emergency exits.