APNewsBreak: Army says troops lost their way, went off cliff

AP News
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Posted: May 04, 2016 7:46 PM
APNewsBreak: Army says troops lost their way, went off cliff

DENVER (AP) — An Army vehicle took the wrong road in the dark and was making a U-turn when it tumbled 250 feet off a cliff at a Colorado training range last year, killing one soldier and injuring five, according to a newly released investigative report.

The soldier who died had an unspecified medical condition at the time of the February 2015 crash at Fort Carson, and a physician assistant had recommended that he not go on the training exercise, investigators said.

It wasn't clear from the report whether Staff Sgt. Justin Holt's condition was a factor in his death or in the crash of the Stryker fighting vehicle. He was the commander of the vehicle but wasn't driving, the report said.

The Army provided the report to The Associated Press Monday, more than a year after the AP requested it under the Freedom of Information Act. Previously, the Army had released few details other than Holt's identity.

Holt, of Bogata, Texas, had not been sleeping well because of shoulder pain, the report said, but investigators didn't say if that was related to his medical condition. He suffered multiple blunt force trauma to his head, chest and torso in the crash, investigators said.

The report said an unidentified Army captain had allowed Holt to participate in the exercise against the advice of the physician assistant and a squadron commander.

One of the survivors, Spec. Timothy Riney Jr. of Safety Harbor, Florida, suffered a severed spine and other injuries and is paralyzed from the chest down, said his father, Tim Riney Sr.

The younger Riney was medically retired from the Army in February 2016, his father said Wednesday.

The Army hasn't released the names of the other survivors, who also held the rank of specialist. The driver had a broken leg, and three soldiers suffered cuts and bruises.

One survivor was wearing a seat belt but the others were not, the report said. One soldier told investigators Holt accidentally released his seat belt as the Stryker began to roll.

Fort Carson spokesman Lt. Col. Jason Brown said Army regulations require soldiers to wear seat belts in Strykers and other tactical vehicles.

Holt and his team were returning to a remote camp on the 219-square-mile post shortly before 9 p.m. on Feb. 6 after a training exercise had ended. A soldier in another Stryker alerted them that they had made a wrong turn, the report said.

Holt told his driver to turn around. The driver told investigators he then began a left turn at about 5 to 10 mph when the Stryker drove off the cliff.

The driver said the vehicle had white lights on, but it wasn't clear from the report if they were headlights.

The Stryker rolled and tumbled down a steep, rocky slope studded with trees. Holt and the driver were ejected, the report said. Leaking fuel started a fire, but the survivors and rescuers put it out.

It wasn't clear what action commanders took after the incident. Eight pages of findings and recommendations were redacted, as were sections on mistakes made.

The Army initially said six soldiers were injured. Fort Carson spokeswoman Dani Johnson said Wednesday the sixth soldier was a rescuer who was hurt while helping at the scene.

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