Federal Grand Jury Issues New Indictment in Design Boat Fire | USAO-CDCA
LOS ANGELES – The captain of the P/V design – a Santa Barbara-based dive boat that caught fire near Santa Cruz Island in 2019, killing 33 passengers and one crew member – was indicted today by a federal grand jury for the misconduct or negligence of a ship’s officer.
The one-count indictment naming Jerry Nehl Boylan, 68, of Santa Barbara, alleges a series of failures and abandonment of his ship, which constituted “misconduct, gross negligence and disregard of duty ” and resulted in the death of 34 victims. .
The new indictment reinstates the charge against Boylan after a federal judge last month dismissed an earlier indictment charging Boylan with the same offense because he did not allege gross negligence.
The charge of ship’s officer misconduct or negligence contained in the new indictment alleges that Boylan – who “was responsible for the safety and security of the ship, her crew and passengers” – failed in its responsibilities in several ways, including:
- not having a night watch or traveling patrol;
- not having conducted sufficient fire drills and crew training;
- failing to provide firefighting instructions or guidelines to crew members after the fire started;
- failing to use the fire-fighting equipment, including a fire ax and fire extinguisher that was next to him in the wheelhouse, to fight the fire or attempt to rescue trapped passengers;
- failing “to perform any rescue or firefighting activity at the time of the fire, even though he was not injured”;
- failing to use the boat’s public address system to warn passengers and crew of the fire; and
- becoming the first crew member to abandon ship “even though 33 passengers and one crew member were still alive and trapped below decks in the ship’s sleeping quarters and needed help to escape”.
The Design was a 75-foot wooden and fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbor. On a 2019 Labor Day weekend dive trip, the boat was carrying 33 passengers and six crew, including Boylan. In the early morning hours of September 2, 2019, a fire broke out while the boat was anchored in Platt’s Harbor near Santa Cruz Island. The fire, which engulfed the boat and led to its sinking, resulted in the death of 34 people who were sleeping below decks. Five crew members, including Boylan, were able to escape and survived.
Boylan will be scheduled to appear in the coming weeks in United States District Court for arraignment on the new indictment.
The charge of misconduct or negligence by a ship’s officer carries a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that an accused has committed a crime. All accused are presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The FBI; the Coast Guard Investigative Service; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the matter.
Assistant United States Attorneys Mark A. Williams, Environmental Crimes and Community Safety Section Chief; Matthew W. O’Brien of the Environmental Crimes and Community Safety Section; and Brian R. Faerstein of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section are prosecuting the case.
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