Boat Captain Found Guilty of Manslaughter Over Calif. Fire that Killed 34

"We hope that today’s verdict brings some solace and closure to the victims’ loved ones," said attorney Martin Estrada following the 10-day trial in Los Angeles

<p>Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo</p> Captain Jerry Boylan

Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo

Captain Jerry Boylan

The captain of a dive boat that caught fire and sank off the Californian coast in 2019 and killed 34 people has been found guilty of manslaughter.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, Jerry Boylan, 69, of Santa Barbara, was found guilty on Monday of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officers — an offense known as “seaman’s manslaughter.”

Per the release, the crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.

“This ship captain’s unpardonable cowardice led to the deaths of 34 lives on Labor Day 2019,” said attorney Martin Estrada. “As the jury found, this tragedy could have been avoided had Mr. Boylan simply performed the duties he was entrusted to carry out. We hope that today’s verdict brings some solace and closure to the victims’ loved ones.”

Following the end of the 10-day trial in Los Angeles, District Judge George H. Wu scheduled sentencing for Feb. 8. Boylan remains free on a $75,000 bond.

<p>Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP</p> Dive boat Conception

Santa Barbara County Fire Department via AP

Dive boat Conception

Related: Charred Wreckage of Dive Boat Raised to the Surface as Authorities Officially Identify All Victims

Boylan was the captain of the Conception, a 75-foot, Santa Barbara-based dive boat that burned and sank near Santa Cruz Island in the early hours of Labor Day in 2019.

The 34 people who were sleeping below deck — 33 passengers and one crew member — were trapped and killed, while five crew members, the only ones not below deck, survived the incident. They escaped by jumping overboard and seeking refuge on a nearby boat called the Grape Escape.

According to the release, the jury found Boylan “committed a series of failures” in his role as captain, including abandoning his ship instead of rescuing passengers. “Such conduct constituted misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties and led to the deaths of 34 victims,” the release read in part.

<p>Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo</p> The 34 victims of the 2019 fire

Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo

The 34 victims of the 2019 fire

Related: Family of 3 Were Celebrating Their Daughter's 17th Birthday on Doomed Calif. Dive Boat

The jury also agreed with prosecutors that the captain was the first to abandon ship even though the 33 passengers and crewmember were still alive and trapped below deck, while he also failed to perform any lifesaving or firefighting activities or use the boat’s public address system to warn passengers and crewmembers about the fire.

Other failures included not having a night watchman or roving patrol on the boat and failing to conduct sufficient fire drills as required by law.

As reported by Reuters, Boylan's lawyers argued that he remained on the boat long enough to broadcast a distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard and he only jumped overboard when he was certain he would not survive otherwise.

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Investigators said they were unable to determine exactly what started the fire, but they discovered it began toward the rear of the main deck where passengers had plugged in phones and other devices into lithium ion battery chargers.

The victims ranged in age from 16 to 62 and included a family of five from Stockton, California.

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