U.S. Coast Guard holds trial for boat crewmember

Lady JusticeSAN DIEGO – A summary court-martial was held March 29, 2011, for U. S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian M. Howell at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Howell faced a charge of a violation of Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 92, dereliction of duty, in connection with his duties aboard a patrol boat that was involved in a collision with a civilian vessel in San Diego Bay on Dec. 20, 2009.

Howell appeared before the court and pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to:

–Reduction in rate from E5 to E4;

–Forfeiture of two-thirds monthly pay for a period of one month; and,

–Restriction for 30 days.

OTHER UCMJ AND NON-JUDICIAL PUNISHMENT
Besides Howell, three other patrol boat crewmembers were charged with violations of the UCMJ following the collision. In January Petty Officer Brittany N. Rasmussen received a letter of reprimand after pleading guilty to a violation of Article 92, dereliction of duty for her role as a lookout on the patrol boat. Last week Petty Officer Paul A. Ramos, the patrol boat coxswain, was found guilty at a general court-martial of a violation of Article 92, dereliction of duty for failure to perform a risk assessment, held at the 11th Coast Guard District headquarters in Alameda. Ramos was sentenced to three months confinement, reduction in rank, and forfeiture of a portion of his pay for three months. The commander of the 11th Coast Guard District, headquartered in Alameda, was the convening authority for the courts-martial.

The case of the other crewman charged with dereliction of duty was dismissed because of insufficient evidence late last year at a non-judicial hearing.

COAST GUARD STATEMENT
“This is an important step in the military justice process, and in determining the cause of this tragic collision,” said Dan Dewell, an 11th district spokesman. “No legal ruling can restore lives lost or injured, and we know that the process of recounting the details of a tragedy during a trial can be difficult for those affected by it. We take this opportunity to again extend our deepest sorrow and condolences to the victims of the crash and their families.”

Because of other pending legal matters and investigations, and out of respect for the rights and privacy of everyone affected by the collision, no additional details about the case can be released at this time.

A fifth Coast Guardsman, who was aboard the boat for training and was not a qualified crewmember, was not charged.

STATUS OF INVESTIGATIONS
The Coast Guard’s internal investigation into the collision, and an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, are ongoing.

BACKGROUND INFO ON BOATING ACCIDENTS
Although serious boat accidents in the Coast Guard are rare, they do happen. In the past five years, during 2.6-million operating hours and thousands of patrols, there have been three Coast Guard boat-related accidents resulting in fatalities. The December 2009 San Diego collision was the only incident involving the death of a civilian. In March, 2007, a Coast Guard member based in Alaska was killed after being ejected from a patrol boat near Seattle. Another Coast Guardsman died in Oct., 2010, during a training mission in Virginia after he fell into the water while transferring between a small patrol boat and a cutter.

The UCMJ is a complete set of criminal laws that covers most crimes contained in civilian law in addition to other military-specific offenses. UCMJ charges are accusations. The accused are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.

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