Conception Captain Indicted for Manslaughter


From left: Diana Adamic, Berenice Felipe, Steve Salika, and Tia Salika

Claire Bourdow, Editor-in-Chief

On December 1st, 2020, the captain of the Conception, Jerry Nehl Boylan, was indicted by a federal grand jury on 34 counts of seaman’s manslaughter. Boylan is alleged to have caused the deaths of the victims who perished at sea “by his misconduct, negligence, and inattention to his duties.” 

The 75-foot dive boat known as the P/V Conception was engulfed by a deadly fire on September 2, 2019, that killed 33 passengers and one crew member. The fire took place off the coast of Santa Cruz Island off of Southern California and tragically resulted in the loss of four beloved members of the PCS community–twelfth-graders Berenice Felipe and Tia Salika, and Tia’s parents Diana Adamic and Steve Salika.

While the cause of the fire is unknown, there are some theories. The most common theory places blame on the boat’s outdated electrical system. A number of lawsuits have ensued.  Truth Aquatics, the company responsible for organizing the live-aboard dive trip, was investigated shortly after the fire but faced no criminal charges. The company filed a federal lawsuit three days after the tragedy under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851 to protect itself from damage claims, an action many have criticized. 

Truth Aquatics has since faced a number of civil suits from families of the victims as well as from a surviving crew member, Ryan Sims. Sims filed a suit against the owners, Glen and Dana Fritzler, for their lack of proper crew training and emergency equipment. 

In a counterclaim to the liability suit filed by the Fritzlers, made in November 2019,  by the spouse of one of the victims alleged they lacked proper crew training and emergency . In January 2020, four victim families also filed wrongful death claims. Although legal action following the fire has been constant, a criminal investigation into the boat’s captain, was only launched in the summer of 2020. 

Three safety violations were cited in Boylan’s recent indictment: failure to conduct sufficient fire drills, failure to conduct sufficient crew training, and failure to have a night/roving watchman. According to Christopher A. Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the vessel’s certification required a constantly-roving watchman to maintain the safety of the boat and its passengers. 

Boylan faces a statutory maximum penalty of 10 years federal prison per charge, but will likely serve less. Boylan’s attorneys were notified of the indictment after it was filed and he is expected to surrender to authorities in the coming weeks. 

News of the indictment has left many feeling relieved as well as hopeful. Some are hoping further action will be taken against the owners and others hope the lawsuits and criminal case will provide a safer future for passengers like those aboard the Conception. In light of the news last Tuesday, the family of Charles McIlvain, a passenger who died in the tragic event, renewed their call for Congress to pass the Small Vessel Passenger Safety Act, a bill intended to equip vessels with fire alarm systems and at least 2 escape routes for passengers.