Fire burns Sun Cruz Casino shuttle with 50 people aboard

From Pasco Sheriff                       WFTS Assignment Desk

Tropical Breeze Casino spokeswoman Beth Fifer said the company does not know what caused Sunday's blaze, which gutted the shuttle boat and forced about 50 passengers to jump into the chilly waters off Port Richey.

The Coast Guard has not said where the fire began or why but it quickly burned out of control, forcing everyone aboard to jump ship into shallow water.

Port Richey Chief of Police Gerard DeCanio said the shuttle boat was close to shore when it had engine problems and the crew made a decision to turn back.

Fox 13 News has a crew heading to the scene and will continue to update this story.

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.

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He says the shuttle boat was close to shore when it had engine problems and the crew chose to turn back. Everyone on board jumped off the boat and into the water.

Everyone managed to escape the boat, with 15 people taken to a local hospital for treatment for minor injuries, including smoke inhalation and chest pain. There's no word yet on the cause of the fire.

All of the passengers in the water were pulled out and treated by emergency crews. "There were multiple people in the water", Zimmerman recounted. "I brought them socks and more towels". "I just started putting them anywhere I could fit them — my garage, my fishing room".

Jandali's family called 911 and helped people wading to shore, through water 8 to 10 feet deep.

The shuttle boat takes gamblers three miles offshore, where a casino boat floats in worldwide waters.

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