The command master chief of a southern California air station was relieved in March after he crashed an all-terrain vehicle while giving a member of the Blue Angels a ride back to their room on base, according to an investigation obtained by Navy Times.
Jeremey J. Embree was relieved as the senior enlisted leader at Naval Air Facility El Centro in May.
His relief stems from the aftermath of an airshow on March 10, a bar after-party and the decision to use the ATV to drive a member of the Blue Angels home after the long day, according to the investigation.
Navy records show Embree is still stationed at the air base. He declined comment via a base spokesman.
The annual airshow was an “all-hands event,” and El Centro’s command triad was given ATVs to use during the day’s events, according to the report.
An after-party kicked off at the Sundowner Bar on base at about 4:30 p.m. that day.
The role alcohol played in the crash remains unclear in the copy of the investigation provided to Navy Times in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Bar staff and other patrons told investigators that Embree did not appear drunk during the after-party, and that he stayed until close and checked in with staff to see if they needed help.
The investigating officer expressed skepticism regarding witnesses stating that Embree was not drunk that night.
“The persistence displayed by some witnesses during my interviews to convince me that [Embree] was not drunk detracted from the credibility of those claims,” the investigator wrote.
The investigating officer wrote of several challenges faced during the investigation, including the fact that it focused on the base’s senior enlisted sailor, and that witnesses were already aware that Embree was being investigated when they were contacted, the report states.
“Many witnesses expressed concern that [Embree] might get into trouble,” the investigator wrote.
During the night, “members of the Blue Angels were buying and sending drinks over to [Embree],” the report states.
Embree “appeared tired and sunburned” at the party and helped staff close the bar and get customers out at 1 a.m., according to the report.
As the bar shut down, Embree offered to give a Blue Angel a ride back to their room, according to the report.
They cut through a dirt lot and Embree “unintentionally flipped the all-terrain vehicle onto its passenger side after hitting a concrete patch,” the investigator wrote.
The Blue Angel member blamed the wipeout on a patch of concrete.
“It felt like the tire edged something or caught something,” he told the investigator.
The Blue Angel sustained road rash on his arm, and the ATV sustained “significant damage done to the roof, door, and side panels” on the passenger side, the report states.
Two base police officers on patrol rolled up after seeing a dust cloud rise after the ATV tipped.
They found the ATV on its side, with Embree and the Blue Angel standing next to it, according to the report.
The officers initially radioed the watch commander but realized one of the men was Embree and radioed again to disregard their call, the report states.
Embree asked the two officers to help him get the ATV right side up.
Neither officer inquired as to who was driving the ATV when it flipped or Embree’s “possible intoxication levels,” according to the report.
The Blue Angel drove the ATV back to his room, with the patrol officers following.
He went right into his room and Embree walked toward the officer housing nearby where he lived.
One patrol officer wrote in a statement that Embree looked “dazed” after the tip-over but that he wasn’t slurring his words and it wasn’t clear if the daze was from the accident or alcohol, according to the report.
Neither the superior nor the two patrol officers who helped un-flip the ATV reported the incident to their chain of command, the investigator wrote.
It was not noted in the duty log, and neither the security officer nor command duty officer were called in because of the incident, according to the report.
“There is no clear written policy in the notification procedures on how to handle all-terrain vehicle accidents on base,” the investigator wrote.
Embree reported the incident the following morning, but other base leadership did not find out about it until Tuesday, two days later, since nothing was written down and no notification procedures were used, the report states.
He was “clearly embarrassed” by the accident and was worried about how it would look that he flipped the ATV after leaving the bar, a superior wrote in a statement.
Embree said he couldn’t state for sure how many drinks he had at the bar over the evening, but that it could not have been more than one or two, the superior wrote.
“He firmly asserted that he had not been intoxicated,” the superior said.
The base’s security officer expressed disappointment that responding officers failed to report the incident, and said he is frequently woken for minor incidents, according to the report.
Someone in the responding officers’ chain of command whose name was redacted told investigators that one of the responders thought they didn’t need to report the incident since the command master chief was driving and there was no damage or injuries, according to the report.
“They usually call me for a fire alarm going off,” the sailor wrote in a statement. “I think because they had seen [Embree] driving that vehicle around all day and there were no injuries, they thought that what they did was good enough.”
Several pages worth of investigator opinions and recommendations were redacted in the report copy provided to Navy Times.
Navy Times is appealing those redactions.
Geoff is the editor of Navy Times, but he still loves writing stories. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.