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Coast Guard officer receives no jail time for role in fatal crash

The official motto of the United States Coast Guard is Semper Paratus, or "always prepared," and certainly members of the Coast Guard provide an invaluable service to American citizens by diligently and attentively safeguarding our coasts. However, some San Diego residents might remember a December 2009 boating accident in which several Coast Guard officers were not prepared for what lied ahead of them, and ended up making a fatal error.

An 8-year-old boy was watching the 2009 Christmas watercraft parade from a boat in San Diego Bay, when a crash with a Coast Guard patrol vehicle resulted in the boy's death and five other injuries. The victim's family proceeded to file charges against four members of the Coast Guard crew, and the case has been working its way through the military court system ever since. In the trial's most recent development, one of the defendants has pleaded guilty to a charge of "dereliction of duty", and will be issued an official letter of reprimand from the court.

By pleading guilty to the dereliction of duty charge, the officer in question acknowledged that she didn't effectively communicate her limited view of the waterway to the patrol boat's driver. The court's sentence assures that the charge will remain on the officer's permanent record, but will not require her to spend any time in jail.

The plaintiffs' attorney went on record soon afterward, declaring that the victim's family considered this ruling far too lenient in view of the tragedy caused by the defendant's mistake. In addition to dereliction of duty, the family also initially charged the officer with negligent homicide and aggravated assault, both of which were dropped during a preliminary hearing.

The fates of two more defendants still hang in the balance, including the driver of the Coast Guard boat and the highest-ranking officer on the boat that fatal night. Both men face prison time, up to 20 years in the case of the driver.

Source: Sign on San Diego. "Coast Guard crew member pleads guilty in boy's death." Jeanette Steele, 26 January 2011.

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