Coast Guard Hearing To Weigh San Diego Boy’s Death
Monday, September 6, 2010
SAN DIEGO Alan DeWeese had just finished watching the fireworks display when he saw a Coast Guard vessel racing straight at him in a crowded San Diego Bay. He furiously turned his boat but there was no time: The vessel landed on his 8-year-old son, Anthony, crushing him to death and seriously injuring four other passengers.
What went wrong during the holiday parade on Dec. 20, 2009, is the subject of the military's equivalent of a preliminary hearing this week.
The Article 32 hearing begins Tuesday at Coast Guard District 11 headquarters in Alameda for three people on the Coast Guard vessel—Petty Officers Paul A. Ramos, Ian M. Howell and Brittany N. Rasmussen. Ramos, the boat's coxswain, faces the most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The hearing was postponed for Petty Officer Lavelle M. Teague, who is accused of dereliction of duty, the least serious charges among the four defendants. The Coast Guard gave no explanation for the delay.
An investigating officer who presides at the hearing will recommend whether any of the defendants should be court-martialed. The final decision rests with Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo, the Coast Guard district commander.
The hearing will likely offer the most details yet on the mishap. The San Diego Harbor Police has refused to release its findings, and the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board have yet to complete their investigations.
Alan and Caroline DeWeese, Anthony's parents, will attend the hearing and testify if asked, said Mike Neil, their attorney. They and two other families aboard DeWeese's boat have sued the federal government for unspecified damages.
Neil, who has read the Harbor Police investigation, said alcohol or drugs were not a factor on either the Coast Guard vessel or among any of the 13 people aboard DeWeese's 26-foot Sea Ray. He said the Coast Guard boat, responding to a report of a grounded vessel, was simply going too fast amid poor visibility and without a lookout assigned.
"It's just reckless disregard for the welfare of others," said Neil. "It's very hard to fathom."
Jason Stannard, a passenger aboard DeWeese's boat, will also attend the hearing and testify if asked, said Dennis Schoville, his attorney.
"He saw the impact, he saw everything until he was hit and then he was unconscious for a period of time," Schoville said.
The defendants are represented by military attorneys. The Coast Guard declined to provide their contact information. Neil said the defendants have refused to speak with the Coast Guard or Harbor Police investigators.
The NTSB said last month that a Coast Guard crew member was using a wireless device, partly why it urged the Coast Guard to develop a thorough policy on the use of the devices by the service and to issue a safety advisory to the maritime industry.
Peter Knudson, an NTSB spokesman, said Friday that the crew member, not the boat's operator, was texting and that it was not believed to have played a significant role in the crash.
Neil said the NTSB was mistaken about the cell phone use. When asked, Knudson replied by e-mail, "We are in the process of evaluating the records provided to us by the service provider to determine at precisely what times text messages were sent so we can coordinate those times with the accident timeline."
Gary Solis, a former Marine Corps prosecutor and judge, said the case is unusual for military court because it involves the death of an American civilian.
"When is the last time you heard about a Coast Guardsman killing someone?" he said. "It's very rare."
Alan DeWeese had borrowed a boat from his father and invited his friends to watch the 38th annual San Diego Bay of Parade of Lights parade with their children on its 5-mile route past downtown skyscrapers.
Boaters festooned their decks with Christmas lights. In keeping with the theme, "Christmas at the Zoo," some participants dressed up as giraffes and pandas. There were about 80 boats in the parade, from a 12-foot canoe to a 157-foot yacht.
Schoville said the women were chatting in the back of DeWeese's boat when the Coast Guard vessel struck. He said more passengers would have died if DeWeese hadn't turned at the last moment.
"Mr. DeWeese really saved all of their lives, except his son's," he said.
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