03/29/2011

Court-martial begins for USCG officer charged in Calif. boat crash

Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Howell is charged only with dereliction of duty now that the most serious charges of negligent homicide, assault, and negligence with a boat were dropped

Associated Press

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The court-martial is set to begin for the highest-ranking member of the Coast Guard crew on a vessel that collided with a pleasure boat in San Diego Bay, killing an 8-year-old boy.

The military trial for Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Howell was initially scheduled for May, but was moved to Tuesday after the most serious charges of negligent homicide, assault and negligence with a boat were dropped. Howell is charged only with dereliction of duty, according to authorities.

Last week, the driver of the Coast Guard boat, Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Ramos, was sentenced to three months in the brig for dereliction of duty for his role in the crash a little more than a year ago.

Ramos, 22, was piloting a 33-foot patrol craft during San Diego's annual Christmas Parade in 2009 when it crashed into a boat driven by Anthony DeWeese's father. The child was killed, and five other people were injured.

Jurors acquitted Ramos of the most serious charge he faced _ involuntary manslaughter _ which would have carried a maximum sentence of 10 years. They also found him not guilty of three other charges _ negligent homicide, aggravated assault and hazarding a vessel.

The child was killed, and five other people were injured.

Michael Neil, an attorney for the family, said he was pleased the jury gave Ramos the maximum jail term for dereliction of duty, but said that overall, it was a "slap on the wrist for the death of an 8-year-old boy."

"It only exacerbates the trauma that this family has already felt," Neil said.

Ramos, his attorneys and family members who attended the trial declined to comment on the verdict or sentence.

During the two-week court-martial at Coast Guard headquarters in Alameda, prosecutors said Ramos was driving too fast and failed to follow safety procedures. The defense maintained he was going at a safe speed and that the DeWeeses' boat wasn't properly lit.

Two other Coast Guard crew members were charged in the collision. Petty Officer Brittany Rasmussen was reprimanded but avoided time in the brig after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty in military court. A charge of dereliction of duty was dropped against Petty Officer Lavelle Teague.

The National Transportation Safety Board has not said what caused the collision.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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