District Attorney’s Office, Coast Guard announce false distress guilty plea

5th Coast Guard District News
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia announced a Gloucester woman pleaded guilty Monday to making a false distress call.

Ashley Strum-Smith, 29, pleaded guilty to a criminal information filed May 27 in United States District Court. Strum-Smith faces a maximum penalty of six years imprisonment, a fine of $250,000 and $82,764 in restitution when she is sentenced Oct. 20 in Norfolk, Va.

Dana J. Boente, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Rear Admiral Stephen Metruck, District Commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by United States District Judge Robert G. Doumar.

According to a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement Aug. 13, 2012, Strum-Smith called in a false report of a ship taking on water in the Severn River. Multiple rescue vehicles from the Abingdon Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, Gloucester Fire Department, York County Fire Department, Mathews Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard were dispatched to locate and aid the ship. After a two hour search costing more than $82,000, it was determined the call was a hoax. Strum-Smith admitted to making the false report.

This case was investigated by the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Department. Assistant United States Attorney Eric M. Hurt is prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.

“Making a false distress call puts rescuers at risk,” said Rear Admiral Stephen Metruck, district commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District. “Responding to reports of distress in the maritime environment always involves risk, and the safety of each of our Coast Guard members is always at the core of every operation. Anyone who compromises their safety by making a false report will be held accountable.”

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