SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - When the Conception dive boat caught fire near Santa Cruz Islands in the early hours of Labor Day 2019, Captain Jerry Boylan made a mayday call at 3:14 a.m. and said he couldn't breathe.
A couple in a nearby boat rescued the captain and the four surviving crew members from the water and brought them to the Channel Islands Harbor.
No one else survived.
With the escape hatch on fire, 33 passengers and another crew member bunking below deck got trapped by smoke and flames.
The fire began on the deck where lithium ion batteries had been charging, but investigators could not pinpoint the cause after spending more than a year examining the burned up wreckage.
Now, a Federal Grand Jury has indicted Captain Boylan on 34 counts of Federal seaman's manslaughter.
Boylan is accused of negligence, misconduct and inattention for failing to train his crew or conduct fire drills and failing to have a roving night watchman.
Some people were shocked to hear the news.
Others had mixed reactions.
People aware of the dive boat fire reacted this way.
Surfer Bert Silos said "He is going to have to suffer with the decision that he made in not doing any of the fire checks prior to that or the drills and I think that is a tough punishment on his own."
Businessman Graham Farrar said "Sometimes mistakes happen and it is not always an individual's fault so I would look at the track record the Conception has and the Captain has and use that as a basis to form a more full opinion than just looking for somebody to blame and throw the book at."
The rare charges again the Conception's captain are based on pre-Civil War law that held steamboat captains accountable.
The Captain faces up to ten years in Federal prison for each charge.