Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that U.S. Coast Guard crew members had been texting at the time of the crash. Those statements, attributed to a National Transportation Safety Board report, have been removed. The NTSB previously corrected its report because it used the wrong time zone in determining whether the texting happened during the crash, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman told Patch.
A U.S. Coast Guard vessel crew and its leadership were fully to blame for a boat crash that killed an 8-year-old boy and seriously injured four other civilians during a floating holiday parade on San Diego Bay three winters ago, the maritime agency's second-in-command asserted in a new memo.
[Find the full memo attached to this story in the gallery.]
The conclusions of USCG Vice Adm. John Currier regarding the deadly Dec. 20, 2009, nighttime collision between a Coast Guard patrol vessel and a recreational motorboat echo those of the federal agency in charge of investigating transportation accidents nationwide.
About 18 months after the accident that fatally injured Rancho Penasquitos third-grader Anthony DeWeese, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the crash occurred because of recklessness and distraction on the part of the involved Coast Guard personnel, as well as their subpar training and a weak command environment.
Currier reached the same findings and called for across-the-board in- house reviews and prioritizing to specifically address the problems that led to the "tragic" failures by personnel whose duty is "to prevent the loss of life at sea."
Anthony and his family were aboard his grandfather's 24-foot Sea Ray with friends to take part in the annual San Diego Parade of Lights, a procession of vessels decorated for the holidays, when the 33-foot patrol craft struck the recreational boat from behind at a speed estimated at 19 to 40 knots about an hour after sunset.
At the time, the Coast Guard personnel were responding to a reported grounding, a call considered a non-emergency.
Currier concurred with NTSB investigators who determined that the patrol boat was traveling considerably too fast for the crowded harbor conditions before and at the moment of impact, and that its operators were derelict in their risk management, situational awareness and basic lookout duties.
Seven months after the accident, military prosecutors filed criminal charges against four of the five personnel who had been operating the government vessel that night.
A military jury acquitted Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Ramos, the guardsman who was serving as pilot at the time of the crash, of negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter. Ramos was, however, convicted of dereliction of duty and sentenced to three months' confinement, reduction in rank and forfeiture of a portion of his pay for three months.
Two other members of the crew also were found guilty of dereliction. Charges against the fourth defendant were dropped due to a lack of evidence.
In his memorandum, dated Jan. 28, the vice admiral also agreed with the NTSB analysis in identifying "a poor command environment that ... contributed to the mishap."
Currier noted that two officers-in-command of the San Diego Coast Guard station recently had been relieved of duty for performance-related reasons -- the second nine days prior to the deadly collision, due to an "inappropriate" relationship with the leader of the unit to the which the crew involved in the accident was assigned.
"The OIC's involvement ... with the A-1 section leader likely enabled the section leader to withdraw from daily management responsibilities and further contributed to the station's overall poor command climate," he stated.
Currier ordered all Coast Guard area and district commanders to incorporate his findings into their training and standard practices to prevent the types of performance breakdowns that led to the accident.
"This case is a tragic anomaly, yet clearly demonstrates the need for both organizational and operational discipline," he wrote. "No words can atone for the loss of this young life, or for the pain and injuries caused others; we can only affirm our resolve to ensure that nothing like this happens again."
—City News Service
Find the full report here under "Administrative Investigations" with the title "Final Action Memo for the 33118."