The highest-ranking member of the Coast Guard crew involved in a collision with a pleasure boat that killed an 8-year-old boy in San Diego Bay pleaded guilty on Tuesday to dereliction of duty and was sentenced to a cut in pay until he is discharged.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Howell will request immediate discharge from the Coast Guard as part of an agreement ahead of his summary court-martial Tuesday at the Camp Pendleton military base north of San Diego.
Howell, 28, was sentenced by Commander Brian Hill to a reduction in pay and rank, forfeiture of two-thirds of one month's pay and restriction to the base for 30 days except to attend college classes.
The sentence is near the maximum allowed for the charge and was handed down a day after the Coast Guard announced it dropped the most serious charges of negligent homicide, assault and hazarding a vessel against Howell.
During the military court proceedings, Howell stood and publicly apologized to the parents of Anthony DeWeese and said he wishes he was the one killed in the December 2009 crash in San Diego Bay.
"What happened that night was a true tragedy and one I cannot make sense of," Howell said, his voice trembling. "I have often ... prayed the outcome of the night were different."
Mike Neil, attorney for the boy's parents, said a sentence was necessary but he wasn't happy to see the Coast Guard lose a petty officer described as an outstanding crewman by his supervisors and peers.
"There was inadequate training and supervision of these young Coast Guard people," Neil said. "So far, the only people who have paid the price were the crewmen of that Coast Guard boat."
Last week, the driver of the Coast Guard boat, Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Ramos, was sentenced to three months in the brig for dereliction of duty for his role in the crash.
Ramos, 22, was piloting the 33-foot patrol craft during San Diego's annual Christmas Parade when it crashed into a boat driven by DeWeese's father. The child was killed and five other people were injured.
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.
One Tuesday, nine witnesses raved about Howell's quiet, honest character and outstanding performance. The Southern Californian who played the bass clarinet in his high school band told Hill he has had trouble sleeping since the crash and was sad to see his military service come to an end.
"Please consider that my punishment began on that unfortunate evening and will probably never end," he said.
Howell's sentence must be approved by Adm. Joseph Castillo, commander of the 11th Coast Guard district.
The sentence would knock down Howell's monthly base pay from $2,800 to $2,326, said Dan Dewell, a spokesman for the Coast Guard's 11th district.
Neil said he hopes a civil lawsuit filed by the family will proceed now that the court-martial process has concluded.
Two other Coast Guard crew members were also charged in the collision. Petty Officer Brittany Rasmussen was reprimanded but avoided time in the brig after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty in military court. A charge of dereliction of duty was dropped against Petty Officer Lavelle Teague.
The National Transportation Safety Board has not said what caused the collision