Trial set for dive boat captain in California’s worst modern maritime disaster
A San Diego County jury will begin deliberating a trial over who was responsible for causing the sinking of Lola Baker, a 35-foot, $17 million San Diego-based charter boat captured on April 27, 1989, in the wake of the Loma Prieta earthquake. On June 9, 1991, the same San Diego jury will begin deliberating a trial over who was responsible for the explosion and sinking of the cargo and passenger fishing boat S.S. San Antonio.
Both trials will last three days. There will be two weeks separating the trials, and each will take place at the same courthouse near the port of San Diego, where Lola Baker and S.S. San Antonio were brought to the ocean floor. For the past 10 months, a series of lawsuits have been playing out in a San Diego court over the manner in which the two vessels were destroyed. On Monday, a jury of eight men and four women will decide whether the captain of the Lola Baker and the captain of the cargo and passenger fishing boat, S.S. San Antonio, are both guilty of negligence. The jury will be asked to decide whether either vessel was entitled to life insurance, whether those responsible for the sinking of both vessels owe each other money under a maritime insurance law, and even whether those responsible for the sinking of the Lola Baker and, worse, the explosion and sinking of the S.S. San Antonio deserve an award of unlimited punitive damages.
The fact that both captains are accused of negligence is a testament to the difficulty of assigning guilt to certain actors in maritime disasters, where the roles of captain and crew can sometimes be blurred. The S.S. San Antonio was a 20-year-old fishing and dredging boat, owned by the S.S. San Antonio Inc., also based in San Diego, which had been chartered to one of its crew members. The Lola Baker was captained by Don R. Schmalz, a 43-year-old San Diego resident who was also running a charter fishing boat out of the Bayshore Yacht Basin, also in San Diego.
The two vessels,