Judge Drops Manslaughter Charges in Conception Fire

On Sept. 2, a Los Angeles Federal judge threw out criminal charges for manslaughter against Captain Jerry Bolan for the Conception Fire, which killed 33 passengers and a crew member in 2019. On Sept. 2, 2019, the Conception, a dive boat, was anchored off the coast of Santa Barbara when it caught fire, trapping 34 people below deck. Bolan was accused of misconduct, negligence, and inattention by failing to train his crew, conduct fire drills, and have a roving night watchman on the boat when the fire ignited. Although Bolan was originally indicted on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter, each carrying a possible 10-year prison term, the count was reduced to one count of seaman’s manslaughter as defense attorneys argued that his actions were the result of a single incident and not separate crimes. U.S. District Judge George Wu then said that the indictment failed to specify that Bolan acted with gross negligence, which is a required element to prove the crime of seaman’s manslaughter. Family members from seven of the victims’ families released a joint statement expressing their disbelief at the decision. “This is an outrageous miscarriage of justice and quite a slap in the face to receive on the third anniversary of this disaster,” they wrote. “The captain accepted the responsibility of ‘duty of care’ when he received his merchant mariner’s credential. He violated that duty and then was the first to abandon the vessel.” Prosecutors will seek approval from the Department of Justice to appeal the ruling.

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