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Date: 05-02-2024

Case Style:

United States of America v. Jerry Nehl Boylan

Case Number: 20-CR-600

Judge: George H. Wu

Court: The United States District Court for the Central District of California

Plaintiff's Attorney: The United States Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles

Defendant's Attorney:

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Los Angeles, California criminal defense lawyer represented the Defendant charged with operating a Dive Boat that Burned and Sank

Captain of Santa Barbara-Based Dive Boat that Burned and Sank, Resulting in 34 Deaths, Sentenced to 4 Years in Federal Prison

The captain of the P/V Conception – a Santa Barbara-based dive boat that caught fire and sank near Santa Cruz Island on Labor Day in 2019, resulting in the deaths of 33 passengers and one crew member – was sentenced to 48 months in federal prison.

Jerry Nehl Boylan, 70, of Santa Barbara, was sentenced by United States District Judge George H. Wu. A restitution hearing was scheduled for July 11.

At the conclusion of a 10-day trial, a jury found Boylan guilty in November 2023 of one count of misconduct or neglect of ship officer – an offense commonly called “seaman’s manslaughter.”

The Conception was a 75-foot, wood-and-fiberglass passenger vessel that docked in Santa Barbara Harbor. During a Labor Day weekend dive trip in 2019, the boat carried 33 passengers and six crew members, including Boylan.

During 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 deaths of 34 people who had been sleeping below deck. Five crew members, including Boylan, were able to escape and survived.

“The defendant’s cowardice and repeated failures caused the horrific deaths of 34 people,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “The victims’ families will be forever devastated by this needless tragedy. While today’s sentence cannot fully heal their wounds, we hope that our efforts to hold this defendant criminally accountable brings some measure of healing to the families.”

“The fate of the victims on the Conception might have been different were it not for the negligence of the defendant,” said Mehtab Syed, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “I want to commend the collaborative effort by investigators and prosecutors that led to today’s sentence and hope that it delivers a measure of justice to the victims’ families as they continue to heal from this tragedy.”

Boylan, as captain of the Conception, committed a series of failures – including abandoning his ship instead of rescuing passengers – that resulted in the disaster. Such conduct constituted misconduct, gross negligence, and inattention to his duties and led to the deaths of 34 victims, prosecutors argued.

As the ship’s captain, Boylan was responsible for the safety and security of the vessel, its passengers, and its crew. Federal prosecutors argued he failed in his responsibilities in several ways, including by:

failing to have a night watch or roving patrol;

failing to conduct sufficient fire drills and crew training;

failing to provide firefighting instructions or directions to crew members after the fire started;

failing to use firefighting equipment, including a fire ax and fire extinguisher that were next to him in the wheelhouse, to fight the fire or attempt to rescue trapped passengers;

failing to perform any lifesaving or firefighting activities whatsoever at the time of the fire, even though he was uninjured;

failing to use the boat’s public address system to warn passengers and crew members about 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 deck in the vessel’s bunkroom and in need of assistance to escape.
“There are no winners when lives are lost at sea, but there is justice in bringing those accountable to answer for their crimes. Today is an example of that.” said Coast Guard Investigative Service Director, Jeremy Gauthier. “This was in its truest form, a joint effort by our hard-charging CGIS Special Agents, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.”

“The horrific tragedy on the Conception has forever changed many lives,” said Christopher Bombardiere, special agent in charge of ATF’s Los Angeles Field Division. “I want to express my deepest condolences to everyone who lost a loved one. No sentencing will ever be sufficient for the suffering you have endured, nor will it bring back your loved ones. I hope this prosecution and sentencing sends a message to other captains and this recklessness is never repeated. I want to thank our National Response Team, which investigated the cause and origin of the fire. Their dedication and skilled expertise provided much needed answers.”

The FBI, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigated this matter.

Assistant United States Attorneys Mark A. Williams, Matthew W. O’Brien and Juan M. Rodríguez of the Environmental Crimes and Consumer Protection Section, Brian R. Faerstein of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section, and Alexander P. Robbins of the Criminal Appeals Section prosecuted this case.


Defendant was found guilty and sentenced to 48 months in federal prison

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