Manslaughter Charges Dismissed Against The Captain of ‘Conception’

In Santa Barbara, Labor Day is going to be forever remembered. However, it will be in memory of the 34 individuals who lost their lives in the unfortunate and unprecedented boat fire that took place off the most extensive Channel Islands, Santa Cruz Island.

A day before the tragedy’s third anniversary this year, the country’s federal Court reportedly dismissed the charges of manslaughter against Jerry Boylan, the captain of the dive boat.

Reportedly, civil lawsuits have accused the vessel owners and inefficient examinations carried out by the Coast Guard of the mishap. Still, legal arguments that had previously resulted in the dismissal of criminal charges against Boylan — without prejudice, which also means that the government may bring some new controls — were about whether he would have to be found guilty of negligence or particularly of gross negligence.

Boat Fire
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Boylan’s public defenders argued that when it came to criminal acts, the government had to allege gross negligence, per the meaning of criminal negligence explained by legal dictionaries, case laws, and treatises. In their response, the prosecutors listed Boylan’s failure before and during the fire. This demonstrated his negligence, misconduct, and inattention to duties, as elaborated by the manslaughter statute.

Even though Boylan was a respected captain for the owner of Truth Aquatics, most of his crew members were new; their experiences ranged from a previous trip to a maximum of two years. Prosecutors alleged that none of them had received any training on fire suppression from the captain, and they did not also know where the pumps and the firehoses were kept on the vessel.

Also, Boylan didn’t have a night watch in place, even when he knew that a fire had broken out on the Conception’s sister vessel around October the year before. The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) further cited the absence of a night watch as one of the primary factors that permitted the fire to consume all belowdecks.

When talking about Boylan’s behaviour, the prosecutors stated his actions and words were only for escape. After a crew member woke up to fire and smoke on the main deck, he awakened the team, and there was chaos everywhere. Boylan reportedly called, “abandon ship” and “everyone out.” The four crew members jumped to the main deck; one broke his leg. Boylan also placed mayday calls at about 3:14 a.m., then leapt into the water.

Prosecutors allege he did not use the boat’s PA system to notify the passengers of the fire. Instead, he yelled for the crew members to jump into the water and lower the ship to escape.
A member of the crew who wanted to go back on deck to rescue the passengers reported to the prosecutors that Boylan had stated that they could not save them.

Boylan’s actions weren’t the only reason behind the ship’s fate, Conception. The NTSB was also unable to conclude if the tangled electrical cords used to charge the lithium-ion batteries were to be blamed for starting the fire, but the wires and batteries were high on the list of causes.

The agency also noted that some of the galley’s marine-grade wiring was replaced by below-standard household wiring. Nearly all victims’ families have sued the Coast Guard for missing out on the critical issues during the examinations of the Conception. This also included the escape hatch that mainly led only to the galley where the fire was raging. Legislation since the Conception fire has pushed the Coast Guard to implement more stringent standards for overnight passenger vessels.

Regarding the ruling that prosecutors had failed to allege a case of gross negligence against Boylan, the distinction between negligence and gross negligence was seated in the common law understanding of manslaughter, Judge George Wu stated in 12 pages of reasoning.

Two parts of the federal homicide statute have been in question: One that includes maritime jurisdiction and another that was for the ship’s officers — and is known as the seaman’s manslaughter. The latter was the one Boylan was reportedly charged under.

Section 1115 of Seaman’s Manslaughter Statute and the “gross negligence” standard has not been interpreted by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; that is where cases in California are heard; Wu has drawn a parallel to the issues that involved Section 1112.

He further observed that the distinction between “slight” negligence when compared to that gross negligence was a degree so wanton and awful that it deserved punishment, quoting a case named Barbeau.

Judge Wu also wrote that it’s hard for the Court to understand why gross negligence was essential for an involuntary conviction of manslaughter following Section 1112 but not for a sentence per Section 1115.

The passengers below decks on the Conception had two ways out, and both had caught fire on 2 September 2019. Prosecutors mentioned that some were awake, dressed, and attempting to escape as the captain abandoned the vessel.

The Ninth Circuit is likely to have a chance to rule on the issue of gross negligence or negligence for Boylan. The government has also planned to appeal the judge’s ruling, mentioned Thom Mrozek, a spokesperson associated with the US Attorney’s Office based in LA.

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