NATIONAL NEWS

Prosecutors seek restitution for families of 34 people killed in 2019 scuba boat fire in California

Jul 10, 2024, 9:05 PM

FILE - A photo collage of the victims of the Sept. 2, 2019 fire aboard the dive boat Conception, at...

FILE - A photo collage of the victims of the Sept. 2, 2019 fire aboard the dive boat Conception, at Santa Cruz Island, is held by a family member at federal court in Los Angeles, Oct. 25, 2023. Prosecutors are seeking restitution for the families of the 34 people killed in the fire that was the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history. A judge will determine the amount on Thursday, July 11, 2024, during a hearing in federal court in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Prosecutors are seeking restitution for the families of 34 people killed in a scuba dive boat fire in 2019 that was the deadliest maritime disaster in recent U.S. history.

A judge will determine the amount on Thursday during a hearing in federal court in Los Angeles. The proceeding comes nearly five years after the Sept. 2, 2019, tragedy off the central California coast, which prompted changes to maritime regulations, congressional reform and several ongoing civil lawsuits.

The captain of the Conception, Jerry Boylan, was convicted last year of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer following a 10-day trial in federal court in downtown Los Angeles. The charge is a pre-Civil War statute colloquially known as seaman’s manslaughter that was designed to hold steamboat captains and crew responsible for maritime disasters.

He was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of supervised release. He is out on bond and must report to the Bureau of Prisons by Aug. 8. His appeal is ongoing.

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

Thirty-three passengers and a crew member perished, trapped in a bunkroom below deck. Among the dead were the deckhand, who had landed her dream job; an environmental scientist who did 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.

Although the exact cause of the blaze remains undetermined, prosecutors blamed Boylan for failing to post the required roving night watch and never properly trained his crew in firefighting. The lack of the roving watch meant the fire was able to spread undetected across the 75-foot (23-meter) boat.

But Boylan’s federal public defenders sought to pin blame on boat owner Glen Fritzler, who with his wife owns Truth Aquatics Inc., which operated the Conception and two other scuba dive boats, often around the Channel Islands.

They argued that Fritzler was responsible for failing to train the crew in firefighting and other safety measures, as well as creating a lax seafaring culture they called “the Fritzler way,” 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 TV station a few days after the fire. Their attorneys have never responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

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 remains of the boat, which was a total loss. The time-tested legal maneuver has been successfully employed by the owners of the Titanic and other vessels and requires the Fritzlers to show they were not at fault.

That case is pending, as well as others filed by victims’ families against the Coast Guard for what they allege was lax enforcement of the roving watch requirement.

National News

Associated Press

UN approves more transparent procedures for people and entities to get off its sanctions lists

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved more transparent procedures Friday for the hundreds of individuals, companies and other entities who are subject to U.N. sanctions and want to get off the blacklists. The resolution, co-sponsored by Malta and the United States, also authorizes the establishment of a new informal working […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, speaks during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Dec. 13...

Associated Press

Longtime US Rep Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who had pancreatic cancer, has died

Longtime U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, who helped lead federal efforts to protect women from domestic violence and recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday, has died. She was 74. Lillie Conley, her chief of staff, confirmed Friday night that Jackson Lee, who had pancreatic cancer, had died. The Democrat had represented her Houston-based […]

1 hour ago

Stools line the bar at Elwood's Liquor and Tap on Thursday, July 18, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wis. This w...

Associated Press

Outside the RNC, small Milwaukee businesses and their regulars tried to salvage a sluggish week

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Jay Nelson was standing outside the convenience store he manages in downtown Milwaukee when one of his regular customers walked by on her daily stroll around the neighborhood. “I’ve been telling people to come and buy even just a bottle of wine,” she said, stretching out her arms. “I hope it helps.” […]

2 hours ago

Descendants of Nelson Bell, brothers Milford Fonza, front left, and Elmer Fonza, front right, surro...

Associated Press

In a California gold rush town, some Black families are fighting for land taken from their ancestors

COLOMA, Calif. (AP) — In a tiny town where the California gold rush began, Black families are seeking restitution for land that was taken from their ancestors to make way for a state park now frequented by fourth graders learning about the state’s history. Their efforts in Coloma, a town of around 300 people that’s […]

2 hours ago

An image of President Joe Biden is projected on a screen during the final night of the 2024 Republi...

Associated Press

Biden’s ability to win back skeptical Democrats tested at a perilous moment for his campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite a week of campaign stops, interviews and a determined insistence he is the best candidate to confront Republican Donald Trump, President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive his reelection bid and win over skeptical Democrats have done little to soften the push for him to exit the 2024 race. Biden has weighty […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Alaska election officials to recalculate signatures for ranked vote repeal measure after court order

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — A state court judge on Friday disqualified numerous booklets used to gather signatures for an initiative that aims to repeal Alaska’s ranked choice voting system and gave elections officials a deadline to determine if the measure still had sufficient signatures to qualify for the November ballot. The decision by Superior Court […]

3 hours ago

Prosecutors seek restitution for families of 34 people killed in 2019 scuba boat fire in California