PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The charred wreckage of “Island Lady” sits just offshore where Captain Mike Batten ran it aground Sunday afternoon.
Its burned-out hull is that remains from the inferno, which claimed Lutz woman Carrie Dempsey’s life and sent 50 passengers and crew scrambling to safety in the chilly waters off Port Richey. The dramatic scene was caught on several cameras.
To learn more about the chaos onboard the doomed Tropical Breeze casino shuttle boat, News Channel 8 visited Captain Batten’s home, which is located 12 minutes away from the dock.
“He’s not ready to talk right now” said his wife, Amy Foley.
Foley tells us the incident is very hard on him. “Everybody sees him as a hero, but he doesn’t feel like that right now,” she said.
Eddie Lohr said his step-granddaughter, who works at the casino, was at a snack bar on the shuttle boat when the fire broke out.
“So she ran down to get a fire extinguisher but the flames were too much for her,” he said.
Lohr said Captain Mike ordered her to put out the fire.
“Her thoughts was, the heck with this and jumped right overboard. She said the flames just came right out on her. I mean, it was bad,” Lohr said. “Boat’s on fire, he don’t send a crew member to get a fire extinguisher, to me.”
However, Mark Falcone, a family member who runs the casino operation tells News Channel 8 the captain saved lives.
“He did everything in his power to make sure everybody made it off that vessel safely,” said Falcone.
According to Beth Fifer, a spokeswoman for a Tropical Breeze Casino, after the fire started, the captain climbed into the engine compartment and didn’t see the fire, but he did sense trouble.
Fifer said he turned the ship around and ordered everyone to the top deck right before he ran the boat aground.