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Poor leadership contributed to fatal crash, Coast Guard says

SAN DIEGO — A “poor command climate” at the Coast Guard station in San Diego, where three officers-in-charge had been relieved for cause in the previous eight years, contributed to the 2009 crash in San Diego Bay in which a boy was killed, according to a Coast Guard report issued Thursday.

The report, signed by Vice Adm. John P. Currier, the Coast Guard’s vice commandant, portrays the San Diego station as beset by poor leadership, turnover in officers, lack of discipline and inattention to training and safety.

“Sound leadership could have averted this mishap,” Currier wrote. “Instead, there were leadership compromises at several levels.... Indicators of substandard unit performance were evident, but not explored. On occasion, intrusive leadership is required; it was not evident here.”

The officer-in-charge had been accused of engaging in an “inappropriate relationship” with a subordinate and relieved of duty nine days before the Dec. 20, 2009, collision between a Coast Guard craft and a civilian boat that killed 8-year-old Anthony DeWeese of Rancho Penasquitos and injured 10 others, according to the report.

That subordinate was responsible for overseeing the crew of the Coast Guard vessel involved in the accident but had “functionally withdrawn from active oversight,” the report said.

“This was likely tolerated by the (officer-in-charge) as a result of the inappropriate relationship between the two,” the report said. “More junior and less experienced members assumed leadership and management responsibilities for which they were not suitably prepared.”

The 33-foot Coast Guard vessel that collided with the 24-foot Sea Ray during the San Diego Bay Parade of Lights had deployed without the required pre-mission brief involving safety issues, the report said.

From 2001 to 2009, three officers-in-charge were relieved for cause. Even so, senior officers “did not actively examine or monitor the station’s internal climate or exercise active leadership where necessary,” the report said.

The conclusions of the report parallel the findings of a 2011 investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board: that the fatal collision occurred because the Coast Guard craft was traveling unnecessarily fast and crew members were not attentive to the presence of civilian craft.

Of the four Coast Guard crew members charged in the collision, one was convicted in military court of dereliction of duty and given three months in the brig. Two others were convicted of lesser charges, and charges against the fourth crew member were dropped.

The report calls for better training and more diligent leadership at all levels.

“No words or deeds can atone for the death of a young boy or for the pain caused to his family, “ Currier said. “We can only affirm our resolve to ensure nothing like this happens again.”

DeWeese’s family and their friends had been watching the parade and fireworks show when the crash occurred shortly before 6 p.m.

Distributed by MCT Information Services
 

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