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CG petty officer acquitted in manslaughter case

Mar. 22, 2011 - 06:05PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 22, 2011 - 06:05PM  |  
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ALAMEDA, Calif. — A Coast Guard officer who piloted a boat involved in a collision that left a child dead on San Diego Bay was acquitted Tuesday of involuntary manslaughter and three other charges.

After a court-martial at Coast Guard headquarters in Alameda, a seven-member jury found Petty Officer 3rd Class Paul Ramos guilty of the lesser charge of dereliction of duty for failure to conduct a risk assessment.

Ramos, 22, could face a maximum of three months of confinement for that charge.

The sentencing phase of the proceedings began shortly after the verdict was announced. The jury began deliberations later in the day but had not yet reached a decision.

Ramos was piloting a 33-foot patrol craft during San Diego's annual Christmas Parade in 2009 when it crashed into the boat of Alan DeWeese, whose 8-year-old son Anthony was killed. Five other people were injured.

"My wife and I are devastated," Alan DeWeese said outside the courtroom. "When somebody runs over somebody and kills an innocent bystander, you would think that there would be more than just a dereliction of duty involved."

During the sentencing hearing, Ramos told jurors he joined the Coast Guard because he loves helping people, and that he lives with "so much remorse" for what happened the night of the fatal collision.

"There is nothing I can do, no matter how hard I try, that can bring Anthony back, or change any part of that fateful evening," he said in a statement. "All I can do is ask your forgiveness and more importantly the forgiveness of the DeWeese family."

During the two-week trial, 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.

Jurors acquitted Ramos of all the other charges he faced, including negligent homicide, aggravated assault and hazarding a vessel. The most serious charge — involuntary manslaughter — carried a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in the brig.

"It's a miscarriage of justice," said Mike Neil, an attorney for the DeWeese family. "It's a huge disappointment and indictment of how the Coast Guard handles these types of events."

Neil said the DeWeese family was 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.

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

Ian Howell, the highest-ranking member of the patrol boat crew, http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/03/ap-boat-wreck-trial-set-for-coast-guard-driver-030711/">faces a court-martial in May on charges of negligent homicide, assault, negligence with a boat and dereliction of duty. He pleaded not guilty.

There were three other crew members. Petty Officer Brittany Rasmussen was reprimanded http://www.navytimes.com/news/2011/01/ap-coast-guard-petty-officer-avoids-brig-in-crash-court-martial-012611/">but avoided time in the brig after pleading guilty to dereliction of duty in military court.

The Coast Guard http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/11/ap-charge-dismissed-against-coast-guard-officer-111710/">dropped a charge of dereliction of duty against Petty Officer Lavelle Teague. Petty Officer Jarett Koelmel was never charged.

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