Coast Guard boat pilot gets jail in fatal wreck

AP News
Posted: Mar 23, 2011 4:09 PM
Coast Guard boat pilot gets jail in fatal wreck

A Coast Guard petty officer was sentenced Wednesday to three months in the brig for his role in a boat collision in San Diego Bay that killed an 8-year-old boy.

The seven-member jury gave Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Ramos the maximum term of confinement, as well as a reduction in rank and pay, after finding him guilty Tuesday of dereliction of duty for failure to conduct a risk assessment.

The sentencing came after a court-martial at Coast Guard headquarters in Alameda.

Ramos, 22, was piloting a 33-foot patrol craft during San Diego's annual Christmas Parade in 2009 when it crashed into a boat piloted by Anthony DeWeese's father. The child was killed, and five other people were injured.

Michael Neil, an attorney for the DeWeese family, said he was pleased the jury gave Ramos the maximum jail term for dereliction of duty, but said overall it was a "slap on the wrist for the death of an 8-year-old boy."

"It only exacerbates the trauma that this family has already felt," Neil said.

Ramos, his attorneys and family members who attended the court-martial declined to comment on the verdict or sentence.

Ramos was being transported to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Miramar on Wednesday to begin his confinement, said Coast Guard spokesman Dan Dewell.

"From the outset of this case, there weren't going to be any winners, but from a prosecutor's perspective the outcome is obviously disappointing and immensely frustrating," said Coast Guard prosecutor Lt. Commander Doug Daniels.

Jurors acquitted Ramos of the most serious charge he faced _ involuntary manslaughter _ which would have carried a maximum sentence of 10 years. They also found him not guilty of three other charges _ negligent homicide, aggravated assault and hazarding a vessel.

During the two-week court martial at Coast Guard headquarters, prosecutors said Ramos was driving too fast and failed to follow safety procedures. The defense maintained he was going at a safe speed and that DeWeese's boat wasn't properly lit.

During the sentencing hearing that began Tuesday, Ramos apologized and asked for forgiveness from jurors and the DeWeese family.

"I live with so much remorse for what happened to all the children and adults that night and the loss of life," he said in a statement. "The feeling I have inside is unimaginable to most and I know that what the DeWeese family feels is far greater and is unimaginable to me and I am so sorry."

Neil said the DeWeese family is moving forward with a negligence and wrongful death lawsuit against the government and believes the dereliction of duty charge could help their case in civil court, Neil said.

Alan DeWeese said he and his wife were surprised and devastated by the verdict.

"It's completely unfortunate that an innocent life, in this case our son, is not even considered in this verdict," he said Tuesday. "He gets to live his life. We don't have that option with our son."

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has released more than 4,000 pages of documents, has not said what caused the crash.

Three other Coast Guard crew members were charged in connection with the 2009 crash.

Ian Howell, the highest-ranking member of the patrol boat crew, faces a court-martial in May on charges of negligent homicide, assault, negligence with a boat and dereliction of duty. He pleaded not guilty.

Petty Officer Brittany Rasmussen was reprimanded but avoided time in the brig after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty in military court. The Coast Guard dropped a charge of dereliction of duty against Petty Officer Lavelle Teague.