PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) — A woman who was on a casino shuttle boat that caught fire in Pasco County on Sunday has died from her injuries, officials say.
An official from the medical examiner’s office has identified the woman as 42-year-old Carrie Dempsey.
A massive fire engulfed the casino shuttle boat in Port Richey on Sunday afternoon, forcing crew members and passengers to jump into the water to save their lives.
Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point spokesman Kurt Conover said Monday that Dempsey died late Sunday, shortly after she arrived at the hospital’s emergency room at 10 p.m. He said she had apparently gone home after the fire but became ill. A cause of death has not been determined. He said eight other passengers were treated at the hospital and released.
Port Richey police said 15 people were injured in the fire and it was originally believed that none of the injuries were life threatening.
The shuttle boat caught fire about 4 p.m. Sunday, quickly engulfing the boat close to shore near residential neighborhoods. The flames torched every inch of the boat except for the American flag at the bow.
“I could see the billowing black smoke,” said Christine Hashim, who lives in a nearby neighborhood.
“I started running down the road and then I could hear people yelling,” said Hashim.
The boat shuttling passengers from land to the Tropical Breeze Casino boat had engine trouble, so the captain tried to return the boat to the dock.
“He never made it that far,” said Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio. “He noticed the fire coming out of the engine room, so he literally almost ran the boat aground to the shoreline.”
50 people, including crew members and passengers, jumped off the boat and into the water.
“I could see there were people just offshore who were struggling to get to shore, crawling on their hands and knees and collapsing in the water,” said Hashim.
She ran into the water to help them. “I just tried to grab as many people as I could. The people were very cold and wet and scared, so it was a little difficult to get all of them in but we managed,” said Hashim.
Everyone made it to shore.
“We had a lot of help from the neighborhood,” said Hashim. “They brought out blankets and coffee and clothes and towels and anything they could find to keep these people warm, so it was really a group effort.”
Larry Santangelo, 57, said he had just driven into his neighborhood when he saw smoke and fire and thought a house – possibly his own – was ablaze. But then he realized it was the boat just about 100 yards offshore.
He then saw people wandering about confused, wet and cold, after they reached land. One woman collapsed upon reaching shore and vomited, he said. Santangelo said he took about 30 of the passengers into his garage to warm up and recover.
It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the fire, which sent a huge plume of dark black smoke wafting over sunny skies on an unusually chilly winter day.
“It looked pretty dramatic because the shuttle boat burned really fast,” said DeCanio.
The shuttle boat regularly carries people back and forth from the Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise, which is offshore because it can’t legally operate close to land, according to authorities. They said the shuttle vessel was headed out to the casino ship at the time of the fire.
The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the fire and will look into the actions of all crew members and the condition of the boat to determine what caused the fire.
The casino company said its shuttle boat that caught fire off Florida’s Gulf Coast never had any previous problems.
Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise spokeswoman Beth Fifer said Monday that the company “was deeply saddened” by the death of the woman who was a passenger on the boat when it caught fire off Port Richey on Sunday. She said there had never been any issues with the boat, which was destroyed by the fast-moving fire.
The Assistant to the CEO of Tropical Breeze Casino Cruise issued the following statement:
“Yes, there are life jackets on board. There was absolutely not one second of time to get life jackets out and put on those people. Not one second. That fire went up so fast that if our crew would have attempted to start dispensing life jackets, people would have burnt. People would have burnt. There was not a chance for life jackets. The other thing is, the captain and the maneuver that he made was purposely to save lives. And that maneuver that he made was to run ashore. He ran ashore so that the water would not be deep and we would not have drownings. The water the people jumped off in was no more than waist high. There was absolutely not one second available for life jackets. People would have perished if we would have tried to do life jackets.”
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.
PHOTOS: Casino shuttle boat fire
PHOTOS: Casino shuttle boat fire x
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier’s costumes through the years
Yuzuru Hanyu and Winnie the Pooh
Worried parents wait for students
Person detained after deadly shooting at Fla. high school
Students flee Broward County high school after reported shooting
Shooting reported at Broward County high school
Best Images from the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics
Model Olympians: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue
Model Olympian: Alex Deibold
Jessica Kooreman’s childhood photos
MORE ON CASINO SHUTTLE BOAT FIRE:
- Authorities identify 42-year-old woman who died in Port Richey casino shuttle boat fire
- Casino shuttle boat owner says ‘not one second’ to get passengers life vests
- Coast Guard investigating what caused Port Richey casino shuttle boat fire
- Jump or die! Casino shuttle survivor hangs from edge of burning boat
- Casino boat fire in Port Richey still a mystery, but 2004 boat fire blamed on faulty maintenance