‘Conception’ Captain Pleads Not Guilty Again in Manslaughter Case

Santa Barbara’s Jerry Boylan Faces 10 Years in Prison If Found Negligent in Boat Fire That Killed 34

Captain Jerry Boylan | Credit: Kim Castro-Bran

Jerry Boylan pleaded not guilty once again in the manslaughter case against him in the deaths of 34 people aboard the Conception charter boat. In an arraignment held Thursday, November 11, he pleaded not guilty to a new charge of gross negligence — occasioned by his public defenders’ successful motion to dismiss the first complaint. He had also pleaded not guilty to the original negligence allegation.

Little else has evolved in the Conception cases, which include wrongful death and negligence torts against the owners of the vessel, as the criminal case against Boylan for “seaman’s manslaughter” is going first through the courts.

Boylan was a longtime captain of Conception, which was chartered by a dive group through Truth Aquatics on Santa Barbara’s Sea Landing for a Labor Day holiday dive in 2019. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board determined numerous shortcomings in the ship’s procedures, including a failure by Boylan to set a night watch, which would have raised an early alarm for the fire that killed all the passengers and one crew member. Boylan was the first to jump off the boat, after sending a mayday call, telling his crewmembers to also abandon ship. Prosecutors point to that as an element of negligence, as well as Boylan’s failure to train his crew and inform the passengers of the fire suppression devices at hand on the ship.

Other deficits onboard found by the NTSB were related to maintenance and procedures, such as substandard wiring in the galley, an abundance of lithium batteries plugged into extension cords, and no exit from the bunkroom to an open area on the deck.

Boylan faces 10 years in prison if convicted of the new criminal charge. The trial is scheduled for December 20 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

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