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Woman dies after fire on casino boat off Florida coast

Flames engulf a shuttle boat Sunday in the Tampa Bay area.
(Associated Press)

A female passenger has died hours after a casino boat caught fire off Florida’s Gulf Coast, forcing her and about 50 other passengers and crew to jump into the chilly waters to escape.

Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point spokesman Kurt Conover said Monday that the woman 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. Her name has not been released and 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.

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Port Richey Police Chief Gerard DeCanio said the shuttle boat experienced engine problems after leaving the dock at Port Richey, a suburban community about 35 miles northwest of Tampa. But as the vessel turned back, flames kicked up and people began jumping overboard into shallow water, according to witness accounts.

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.

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He told the Tampa Bay Times that 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.

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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 in the Tampa Bay region.

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.

Tropical Breeze Casino Cruises didn’t immediately respond late Sunday to calls by the AP seeking information.

Authorities said the Coast Guard, sheriff’s office, police and other agencies took part in rescue operations.

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UPDATES:

5:30 a.m.: This article was updated with the death of a passenger and comments from a medical center spokesman.

This article was originally published at 4:45 a.m.


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