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Coast Guard boat operator acquitted of manslaughter in fatal collision [Updated]

March 22, 2011 |  4:31 pm

Po The driver of a Coast Guard patrol vessel that collided with a civilian boat and killed an 8-year-old boy on San Diego Bay was acquitted Tuesday of the most serious charges, including involuntary manslaughter, but was found guilty of a lesser charge.

A seven-member court-martial panel found Petty Officer Paul Ramos guilty of dereliction of duty for failure to conduct a risk assessment, authorities said. But the panel acquitted him on charges of involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, aggravated assault and negligently hazarding a vessel in the 2009 collision at the annual Parade of Lights.

Ramos was piloting the 33-foot Coast Guard cutter when it smashed into a 24-foot civilian boat. Anthony DeWeese, 8, of San Diego was killed and half a dozen members of three families were injured.

Prosecutors said the Coast Guard vessel was traveling too fast and that crew members failed to warn Ramos of an imminent collision.

[Updated, 5:30 p.m.: "The family is devastated by the result," said Michael Neil, an attorney for the families who have sued the Coast Guard for negligence and wrongful death. "They have been victimized again. This boy was not killed just out of happenstance."]

The court martial, held at the Coast Guard’s district headquarters in Alameda, Calif., proceeded to its sentencing phase after the verdicts were announced.

Ramos' offense carries a maximum sentence of three months in a military brig along with reductions in pay and rank, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

Three other crew members were charged in connection with the collision.

Petty Officer Brittany N. Rasmussen pleaded guilty in January to dereliction of duty in her role as a lookout on the boat, and was given a letter of reprimand.

A charge of dereliction of duty against Petty Officer Lavelle M. Teague was dismissed last year for insufficient evidence.

A court-martial for Petty Officer Ian M. Howell, charged with negligent homicide, assault, negligently suffering a vessel to hazards and dereliction of duty, is scheduled for May.

The collision was one of three fatal accidents involving small Coast Guard boats in the last five years, and the only that killed a civilian, according to a statement by the Coast Guard.

In March 2007, a Coast Guard member died after being ejected from a patrol boat near Seattle. Another guardsman died last year after he fell into the water during a training mission in Virginia.

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-- Tony Barboza

Photo: Coast Guard Petty officer Paul Ramos arrives at his Coast Guard court martial in Alameda, Calif., on March 7. Credit: Paul Sakuma / Associated Press

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