Two in Court Over Separate Incidents of Hoax Calls to Coast Guard

PORTLAND, Ore. – Two defendants appeared in federal court on Monday, December 17, 2008, regarding hoax calls for emergency services made to the U.S. Coast Guard. Jesse Walon Murphy, 27, entered a guilty plea, before U.S. District Judge Garr M. King, to communicating, or causing another to communicate, a false distress message to the U.S. Coast Guard that caused rescue vessels and personnel to respond in an attempt to save lives and property when no help was needed.

On April 29 2004, Murphy faked his own death by making it appear that he had drowned in the ocean in order to avoid facing legal consequences in one or more pending criminal cases in the State of California and elsewhere. Near midnight on April 28, 2004, Murphy’s girlfriend drove him to Indian Beach at Ecola State Park on the Oregon coast. He changed into a wetsuit, left his clothes and wallet in his girlfriend’s vehicle, and walked to the beach with his surfboard. Murphy threw his surfboard into the ocean then walked back to a car where friends waited to drive him back to their home. Approximately 15 minutes later, Murphy’s girlfriend called 911 as Murphy had previously directed her to do, to report that he had fallen off his surfboard into the ocean and had not reappeared. As a result, the Coast Guard, state and local police, and search and rescue personnel, searched for Murphy for over ten hours. The cost incurred by the Coast Guard’s search and rescue efforts was calculated to be $94,150.91.

Judge King scheduled sentencing for March 3, 2008. Murphy faces a maximum prison sentence of six years, a maximum fine of $250,000, a 3 year term of supervised release, a $100 statutory fee assessment, and restitution for all costs incurred by the Coast Guard in their search and rescue efforts.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, the Cannon Beach Police Department, the Oregon State Police, and the Seaside Police Department and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Gary Sussman and Special Assistant United States Attorney Aaron W. Reiman, Lieutenant, U.S. Coast Guard.

In another courtroom, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman sentenced, Gregory Clayton Askew, 44, to two months in prison and ordered Askew to pay $60,502.00 in restitution for his earlier guilty plea to communication of a false distress message.

Shortly after 6:30 p.m. on February 20, 2004, Askew called 911 emergency services and begged for help, saying that he had fallen off a trail into the Pacific Ocean south of Cannon Beach, Oregon, and that he could not swim. The Nehalem Fire Department, the Manzanita Department of Public Safety, and the Coast Guard began a search for him in and around the cliffs bordering the Pacific Ocean. For nearly six hours, two Coast Guard helicopters, each crewed by two pilots, a flight mechanic, and a rescue swimmer, searched the cliffs and open ocean of the Pacific near Neahkanie Mountain, north of the city of Manzanita, Oregon. The Coast Guard also launched a boat to aid in the search, but called off the boat search after one hour because of the danger due to the proximity of the surf zone and cliffs. Both helicopters had been on training flights when they were recalled to conduct the search for Askew.

Askew stated that he made the phony 911 call as a means to disappear and avoid dealing with his “problems.” At the time he placed the fake distress call to 911, Askew was facing an indictment in Columbia County for assault, criminal mistreatment and kidnapping charges.

Captain Mark D’Andrea, Chief of Response for the United States Coast Guard’s Thirteenth District, stated: “False distress calls not only cost taxpayers money and place Coast Guard members at increased personal risk, but more importantly, they divert limited resources from mariners who are in actual distress.”

This case was investigated by the United States Coast Guard Investigative Service and the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Frank Noonan and Special Assistant United States Attorney Aaron W. Reiman, Lieutenant, U.S. Coast Guar

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