U.S. Navy commanders face homicide charges for crashes that killed 17 sailors

The USS Fitzgerald sits in dock in Yokosuka, Japan, on July 13, 2017 after its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel. On Tuesday, Navy officials announced that the former commander of the vessel will face homicide charges. File Photo by MC2 Christian Senyk/U.S. Navy/UPI | License Photo

By Ray Downs  |  Jan. 17, 2018

(UPI) — The commanders of two U.S. Navy destroyers involved in separate crashes last year, resulting in the total deaths of 17 people, will face criminal charges for negligent homicide, officials said Tuesday.

USS McCain former commanding officer Alfredo Sanchez and USS Fitzgerald former commanding officer Bryce Benson will also face charges for dereliction of duty and hazarding a vessel.

“After careful deliberation, today Admiral Frank Caldwell announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement Tuesday.

U.S. Navy Chief of Information Capt. Greg Hicks said Sanchez and Benson will face preliminary hearings and court martial proceedings on the charges.

Two lieutenants and one lieutenant junior grade from the Fitzgerald face similar charges.

Both collisions came within two months of each other during a disastrous summer for the U.S. Navy.

In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship near Japan, Tokyo Bay, killing seven U.S. sailors.

In August, the USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant oil tanker, leaving 10 U.S. sailors dead.

In an investigation released in November, the Navy found both collisions were the result of avoidable, human errors.

“Many of the decisions made that led to this incident were the result of poor judgment and decision making of the commanding officer,” the report said.

That report also found that “no single person” was fully responsible for the incidents.

“The crew was unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control, and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation,” the report said.