PORT RICHEY, Fla. (WFLA) — The boat captain of a casino passenger shuttle that caught fire Jan. 14 in Pasco County had a valid captain’s license at the time of that mishap, but the State of Florida wouldn’t allow him to get behind the wheel of a car for a decade following a drunk driving conviction and other offenses starting in 2004.
Michael Loren Batten didn’t have a valid Florida driver license from 2004 until 2014, but that failed to stop him from driving illegally. Police cited him three times between 2004 and 2010 for driving with a revoked license.
Batten also had a misdemeanor marijuana conviction in 2004, a violation of probation on that charge in 2006, a contempt of court arrest for failing to pay child support in 2010 and a misdemeanor concealed weapons arrest in 2016 for carrying a gun into a bar. A Pasco judge later withheld adjudication on the weapons charge.
The U.S Coast Guard hasn’t said when Batten received his 100-ton captain’s license, but says it was valid at the time of the boat fire this month. Coast Guard regulations won’t even allow someone to apply for a captain license if they have a suspended or revoked driver license. The Coast Guard doesn’t disqualify applicants for drug or alcohol offenses if enough time has passed, usually no more than ten years. In the worst case scenario, a convicted killer could apply for a captain’s license after 20 years.
Batten finally completed two DUI schools and a substance abuse class in 2014 and obtained a valid driver license — ten years after his original conviction. His fiance says he obtained his captain’s license after that.
One passenger died after that ship fire off the coast of Port Richey and more than a dozen were injured after jumping for their lives from the burning boat. Batten has not made any public comment since the incident, and no one answered the door at his home Monday.
Late Monday, his fiancé Amy Foley told 8 On Your Side she doesn’t understand why his drunk driving record, drug conviction and other trouble with the law have any bearing on the boat fire.
“It’s been a year since he drank,” Foley said. “He had to go to school, he had all it took to get a captain’s license.”
Foley says Batten is not operating the casino boat that now commutes between Port Richey and its offshore gambling location nine miles off of the coast now that the company’s only shuttle boat has burned to the waterline.
Beth Fifer, spokesperson for Tropical Breeze Casinos refused to comment on Batten’s criminal history or explain why the casino would hire someone to operate a passenger boat with such a record. Fifer told 8 On Your Side the casino will not be making any further comments about anything connected to the boat fire.
The Coast Guard and NTSB investigation of the boat fire is still underway.