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California dive boat captain charged over fire that killed 34

Thirty-four people were killed when a commercial dive boat named Conception caught fire off Southern California on Labor Day weekend 2019. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office/Twitter
Thirty-four people were killed when a commercial dive boat named Conception caught fire off Southern California on Labor Day weekend 2019. Photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Sheriff's Office/Twitter

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted the captain of a dive boat that went up in flames last year off the coast of Southern California, killing 34 people on board.

The Justice Department said in a statement the jury charged Jerry Nehl Boylan, 67, of Santa Barbra with 34 counts of seaman's manslaughter, accusing him of causing the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member "by his misconduct, negligence and inattention to his duties."

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Boylan's attorneys have been notified of the indictment and he is expected to surrender himself to federal authorities in the coming weeks, prosecutors said.

The 75-foot commercial dive boat named Conception with 33 passengers and six crew, including Boylan, caught fire in the early morning of Sept. 2, 2019, while it was anchored in Platt's Harbor near Santa Cruz Island.

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The vessel caught fire as the passengers were sleeping below deck, killing 33 passengers and one crew member. Boylan and four crew members were able to escape.

Prosecutors said Boylan's failure to follow safety rules transformed a holiday dive trip on Labor Day weekend into "a hellish nightmare."

"Nothing will ever replace the 34 lives that were lost in the Conceptions tragedy," said Special Agent in Charge Kelly S. Hoyle of the Pacific Region's Coast Guard Investigative Service. "Our hearts remain with the families as the Coast Guard continues to work with our partners in the Department of Justice on this investigation."

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The indictment accuses Boylan of failing to have a night watch or roving patrol, failing to conduct sufficient fire drills and failing to conduct sufficient crew training, all of which is required by the Code of Federal Regulations.

"This tragedy forever altered the lives of so many families and loved ones, and it deeply affected members of the public who watched in horror," said Kristi K. Johnson, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office.

Each charge of seaman's manslaughter comes with a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

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