PORT RICHEY, Fla. – A 42-year-old mother of two from Lutz has been identified as the fatal victim in Sunday's casino shuttle boat fire, according to our news partners at the Tampa Bay Times.
Carrie Dempsey was pronounced dead at 10:42 p.m. Sunday while being treated at Bayonet Point Regional Medical Center, according to the Times.
Dempsey was not immediately taken in for treatment after the fire, rather, she later was admitted to the emergency room.
Hospital spokesman Kurt Conover said Monday that the woman had arrived less than an hour earlier after becoming ill.
Officials had originally said none of the passengers sustained life-threatening injuries. More than a dozen people were hospitalized, mostly for smoke inhalation and chest pains. In total, 50 people were able to get off the boat.
Coast guardsmen could be seen taking a small boat to inspect the burnt-out remains of the shuttle on Monday morning. A spokesperson for the Coast Guard said the investigators on site were evaluating any potential environmental impact from the wreckage.
Coast guard investigators will also be looking into the shuttle crew's emergency response, whether proper safety protocol was followed, and what caused the fire.
The U.S. Coast Guard is also coordinating with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to determine if the investigation will proceed as a criminal case.
The company is "deeply saddened" by the woman's death and for the other injuries, said Beth Fifer, spokesperson and assistant chief executive for Tropical Breeze Casinos.
Fifer added that there were no previous issues with its shuttle boat that caught fire and burned off Florida's Gulf Coast, leading to a passenger's death.
The shuttle boat involved had no known issues prior to the fire and had been inspected by the Coast Guard, she said.
"It would've never left the dock if we knew something was wrong with it," Fifer added.
In 2004, however, three crewmen were rescued by the Coast Guard when a separate casino shuttle boat operated by the same company caught fire. At the time the company was named Paradise Port Richey.
An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined a fractured, improperly installed fuel line was to blame.
In addition the NTSB determined that "contributing to the cause of the fire was the failure of Paradise of Port Richey to have a preventive maintenance program, which could have identified the company's ongoing problem with the vessel's fuel lines before a failed line led to the fire."
Authorities were sent to around 4:17 p.m. Sunday just offshore Harbor Point near Bay Boulevard as the shuttle filled with passengers being taken to the Tropical Breeze casino boat became engulfed.
The casino is anchored about three miles off the coast in the Gulf of Mexico, where gambling is legal.
Horrified witnesses on shore in nearby homes watched as passengers jumped off the boat.
Police credited the boat captain for turning the vessel around as soon as he began experiencing engine troubles. Had the boat not been as close to shore as it was when it caught fire, Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio said the situation would've been tragic.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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