boat fire

Santa Cruz Mourns Victims of Channel Islands Boat Fire

Soquel Creek Water District employee, Pacific Collegiate students among 34 victims

Vaidehi Campbell, a communications specialist for Soquel Creek Water District, was killed in the blaze.

Santa Cruz is still awaiting answers as details about local victims of a Labor Day boat fire near the Channel Islands continue to trickle in.

Soquel Creek Water District has confirmed that Vaidehi Campbell, a communications specialist for the district, was one of nearly three dozen victims in a predawn fire aboard the dive boat Conception off the coast of Santa Cruz Island on Monday, Sept. 2. The sudden eruption of flames, which is under investigation, claimed the lives of 34 people onboard for a three-day diving expedition just off the coast of Santa Barbara.

Campbell worked in several departments during her 18 years with the district. She launched a geographic information system platform and became an expert in many technology tools, according to a press release from Melanie Mow Schumacher, Soquel Creek Water’s manager of special projects and communications.

Early Monday morning on the boat, five crew members who were upstairs and awake managed to escape the 75-foot vessel alive. But downstairs in the sleeping quarters, all 33 passengers and one crewmember died.

Among those killed were two students of Pacific Collegiate School. The Santa Cruz charter school has identified students Berenice Felipe, Tia Salika and Salika’s parents—Steve Salika and Dianna Adamic—as four people on board. Another local, Kristy Finstad, co-owned Worldwide Diving Adventures, the company that chartered the dive. She was also a victim of the fire over Labor Day weekend of the recreational scuba-diving trip around Channel Islands National Park.

On Friday, USA Today reported that the victims likely died of smoke inhalation, not burns. The Associated Press also reports that Truth Aquatics Inc., which owned the boat, filed a measure in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to limit its liability from lawsuits that families of the victims may attempt to bring after the tragedy by leveraging a pre-Civil War provision of maritime law.

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