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U.S. Navy given jurisdiction in deadly crash in Australia

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A Navy sailor behind the wheel during a deadly crash in Australia last month faces a possible court-martial and jail time pending a Navy investigation after a deal was struck to yield jurisdiction to the U.S. military, U.S. and Australian officials said Thursday.

Petty Officer 3rd Class James Eric Linabury, 24, was driving a military vehicle when he collided with 60-year-old bicyclist Narelle Dobinson at a three-way intersection near Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley on July 24. The North Ipswich woman died a week later at a Queensland Hospital.

Linabury, who is attached to VP-40, a P-3 aircraft squadron out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., was on duty at the time of the crash and was participating in Talisman Sabre 2011. He was charged Aug. 11 in Ipswich Magistrates Court with dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death, but the charge was dismissed Wednesday due to lack of jurisdiction, officials from both countries confirmed Thursday.

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The case has now been turned over to Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the findings will be presented to Linabury’s command, which will then decide whether to convene a court-martial under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, according to Lt. Col. Joe Imburgia, Staff Judge Advocate at the U.S. Embassy in Canberra.

Due to the status of forces agreement between the two countries, Australian officials said that they were legally obligated to hand over jurisdiction to the U.S. military because Linabury was performing official duties at the time of the crash.

“A jurisdictional transfer is not a get out of jail free card,” Imburgia said. “But there is no guarantee of a conviction either.”

Linabury was in court Wednesday, where the Australian Attorney-General’s Office presented documents to the judge saying it believed the U.S. military had jurisdiction, which the judge agreed.

“Having regard to the certificate that I issued, the Court determined that the conduct did occur in the course of official duties, and, therefore, as provided by the Defence (Visiting Forces) Act and the Status of Forces Agreement, the U.S. has primary right to exercise jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the Australian court is thereby displaced,” Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in a statement released Wednesday. “I have been assured by the United States Government that the issue of criminal liability will be fully investigated. In particular, I have been assured that if criminal wrongdoing is uncovered, the officer could face serious charges under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.”

Under the UCMJ, Imburgia said, there are two charges that are comparable to the one rendered by Queensland Police following their investigation, involuntary manslaughter, which has a 10-year maximum penalty, and negligent homicide, a three-year maximum.

There is no timetable on the investigation, Imburgia said. Linabury is now free to travel home, Imburgia said, but he declined to say if the sailor had left Australia.

Linabury’s passenger at time of the crash, an unnamed 28-year-old first class petty officer, does not face charges, officials said.

burkem@pstripes.osd.mil

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