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Coast Guard investigator finds fatal crash 'without legal justification or excuse'

October 4, 2010 | 11:59 am

A Coast Guard investigating officer, after hearing evidence against three of the Coast Guard members charged in a 2009 fatal crash on San Diego Bay, has found that the collision "was without legal justification or excuse."

Cmdr. J.R. Hamilton found that the Coast Guard members should have known that "driving a small craft with a known blind spot at a high rate of speed in a crowded harbor would present a substantial danger."

In  a collision between the 33-foot Coast Guard cutter and a 24-foot Sea Ray civilian boat, six members of three families were injured, and Anthony DeWeese, 8, from the Rancho Penasquitos neighborhood of San Diego, was killed.

The decision whether to continue the case to court martial rests with Rear Adm. Joseph R. Castillo. Hamilton's report was sent  last week to Castillo after an Article 32, the military equivalent of a grand jury or preliminary hearing. Castillo is not bound by Hamilton's findings.

Hamilton rejected the assertion from defense attorneys that charges should be dropped due to structural defects in the Coast Guard craft plus an alleged lack of sufficient training and good leadership at the San Diego Coast Guard station.

The collision came during the annual Parade of Lights. The Coast Guard boat was allegedly responding to a stranded boat when it collided with the family boat.

Four Coast Guard members were charged before the Article 32 with counts that included involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty. Castillo will decide which, if any, of the four will be court martialed and on what charges.

-- Tony Perry