After five days of sporadic leaks of victim names, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office released positive identifications for 22 of the 34 passengers aboard the Conception during Monday morning’s deadly dive boat fire.
In a Friday morning press conference, Sheriff Bill Brown indicated that the delay in releasing the names was twofold: needing to acquire DNA from a family member, with some are as far away as India and Japan; and the commitment to meeting with next of kin face-to-face to reveal the results, offering family resources in coping with the sudden death of a loved one.
The 22 names released included two from Santa Barbara County, with Alexandra Kurtz of Santa Barbara and Wei Tan of Goleta.
The rest of names that were released on Friday were:
- Carol Diana Adamic, 60, Santa Cruz
- Tia Salika-Adamic, 17, Santa Cruz
- Neal Gustav Baltz, 42, Phoenix, AZ
- Patricia Ann Beitzinger, 48, Chandler, Ariz.
- Vaidehi Campbell, 41, Felton
- Kendra Chan, 26, Oxnard
- Raymond “Scott” Chan, 59, Los Altos
- Justin Carroll Dignam, 58, Anaheim
- Andrew Fritz, 40, Sacramento
- Daniel Garcia, 46, Berkeley
- Marybeth Guiney, 51, Santa Monica
- Yulia Krashennaya, 40, Berkeley
- Alexandra Kurtz , 26, Santa Barbara
- Charles McIlvain, 44, Santa Monica
- Caroline McLaughlin, 35, Oakland
- Angela Rose Quitasol, 28, Stockton
- Evan Michel Quitasol, 37, Stockton
- Nicole Storm Quitasol, 31, Imperial Beach
- Michael Quitasol, 62, Stockton
- Steven Salika, 55, Santa Cruz
- Ted Strom, 62, Germantown, Tenn.
- Wei Tan, 26, Goleta
Mr. Brown also spoke to the ongoing work by the Coroner’s Office, which has utilized technology from their counterparts in Sacramento to quickly match DNA samples, a priority in helping provide answers for families.
Mr. Brown revealed that there would be no traditional autopsies, with the pathologist comfortable concluding that smoke inhalation was the cause of death, at least for the first nine victims that were positively identified.
“Our pathologist is convinced the victims were victims of smoke inhalation,” he said. “It will likely be the cause of death.”
For at least these nine victims, Mr. Brown said it was safe to conclude that any burn damage to the bodies happened post-mortem.
“The belief is that the victims died and that burn damage to the victims was post-mortem,” he said.
Mr. Brown indicated that the remaining identifications should be released in the near future.
“This list is representative of the diverse makeup of the passengers,” Brown said. “They were from our local area and from throughout California. They were from the U.S. and throughout the world. We mourn their loss. We will continue working tenaciously.”
Extraction could lead to finding final body
The U.S. Coast Guard commenced the process of extracting the Conception from the ocean floor on Friday, first needing to flip the boat and then carefully lifting it out of about 62 feet of water on to a barge.
Due to high winds, the extraction was halted late Friday afternoon.
Coast Guard Capt. Monica Rochester had indicated during Friday morning’s press conference that the extraction process could take some time.
“Salvage operations can take some time,” Rochester said. “It is a very tolling operation. It’s not a hurry up-and-lift and be placed on the barge.
With winds come some pretty trecherous currents. The divers can only stay on station for so long and battle the currents.”
There was some underlying hope that the extraction would reveal the body of the 34th victim, but that had not occurred before work was halted.
“As the vessel is moved during the operation, our divers will search the area that (has) heretofore been inaccessible to them as well as search, again, the vessel itself for the last victim,” Mr. Brown said.
Truth Aquatics’ owner breaks silence
After filing a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday, the owner of Truth Aquatics, Glen Fritzler, made his first public comment in a statement released to the News-Press.
“My family and I are speaking today with extremely heavy hearts. No words will ease the pain that loved ones are feeling. We extend our deepest condolences to all those involved in this horrific tragedy,” said Mr. Fritzler, who has been with Truth Aquatics since 1979. “We have not yet made a public statement because we have been working tirelessly with the NTSB to find answers. As a member of the NTSB task force committee, we are prevented from commenting on details of this active investigation. We are committed to finding accurate answers as quickly as possible.”
Mr. Fritzler did speak to the state of his emotions.
“We are utterly crushed. We are devastated. We are a small, family-run business that has taken this event entirely to heart. Our customers are like family to us, many returning for decades. Our crew is family,” Mr. Fritzler said. “Our lives have been irreversibly changed by this tragedy and the sorrow it has caused. The families and friends of the victims and survivors are now, and forever, in our thoughts and prayers.”
New agency joins the investigation
With the FBI and NTSB already on site, another federal agency — the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — are joining the investigation into the fire. According to Carlos Casino, special agent in charge of the Los Angeles ATF, the National Response Team converging on Santa Barbara features more than 250 years of experience investigating fires.
“Our primary role is to determine the origins and cause of the fire,” Mr. Canino said. “We don’t put time limits on how long we’re going to be here.”
The addition of the ATF had some questioning whether the investigation had started to turn toward one that is criminal in nature, something that Mr. Brown was quick to explain.
“We are looking to determine what happened,” he said. “A criminal element to that is always a possibility and is always something we would want to make sure that we have evidence for and we investigate, but at this point no one has been charged criminally. It has not turned into a criminal investigation at this point.”