Negligent homicide charge dropped against commander of USS Fitzgerald

The US Navy is dropping a charge of negligent homicide against the commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald over the destroyer’s collision with a container ship off southern Japan in June of 2017.

Commander Bryce Benson was in his sleeping quarters when the Philippine vessel ACX Crystal broadsided the 505-foot destroyer off of Yokosuka, leaving seven of the Fitzgerald’s crew dead.

Commander Benson still faces court martial on two lesser charges of hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty resulting in death. A date for the court martial has not been announced.

Negligent homicide charges against two officers from the Fitzgerald’s Combat Information Centre below deck — Lt. Natalie Combs and Lt. Irian Woodley — were also dropped.

Lt. Combs still faces court martial on lesser charges. Lt. Woodley will not face court martial but has been recommended to be sent to a board of inquiry to “show cause” why he should be allowed to remain in the Navy.

In May the Fitzgerald’s officer of the deck Lt Junior Grade Sarah Coppock pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty and avoided a charge of negligent homicide. She received a letter of reprimand and lost half her pay for three months.

The Fitzgerald incident came two months before another multiple-fatality collision between a Navy destroyer and a commercial ship in Asian waters. On August 21, 2017, the USS John McCain was in an impact with oil tanker Alnic MC off Singapore, leading to 10 Navy crewmen’s deaths.

A negligent homicide charge against the John McCain’s CO Jessie Sanchez, was dropped in May.

But he did plead guilty to negligent dereliction of duty resulting in death, for which he was given a letter of reprimand, a $6,000 loss of pay and agreed to retire from the Navy.

The Navy’s decision to court martial Commander Benson over the Fitzgerald incident but not Commander Sanchez indicates that Benson’s case is being taken more seriously because he was not on the ship’s bridge at the time of the calamity, whereas Sanchez was on the bridge of the John McCain when it had its collision.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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