Commander in Fitzgerald collision waives right to preliminary hearing

Cmdr. Bryce Benson brings down the ensign while serving aboard the destroyer USS Fitzgerald in the Pacific Ocean as the ship's executive officer in February 2016.



WASHINGTON – Cmdr. Bryce Benson, who commanded the USS Fitzgerald at the time of a deadly collision last year, has waived his right to a preliminary hearing to determine whether he should face criminal charges in the incident, according to a Navy official.

The Article 32 hearing, which was slated at the Navy Yard in Washington on May 21, is canceled, and it will be up to a panel of Naval officials, known as the Consolidated Disposition Authority, to decide whether there’s enough evidence to proceed with a criminal trial. A decision could be handed down in the coming few months.

The criminal charges include negligent homicide.

Seven sailors died June 17 after the Fitzgerald crashed into a civilian merchant ship about 60 miles southwest of Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.

Last week, a preliminary hearing for two junior officers charged in the Fitzgerald crash highlighted a series of errors by the ship’s crew, readiness challenges and other concerns that contributed to the deadly incident.

The ongoing trial at the Navy Yard ties into another Navy destroyer’s deadly crash just two months later, when 10 sailors were killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker near Singapore.

Chief Petty Officer Jeffery D. Butler will face a summary court-martial May 24. Former McCain commanding officer, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, is scheduled for arraignment at a special court-martial May 25.

Navy investigations found that both collisions were “avoidable” and caused by failures in planning, training, procedures and operations. Part of that, the Navy found, was caused by the intense operational pace the fleet has been maintaining in recent years.

Stars and Stripes reporter Dianna Cahn contributed to this report.

Twitter: @cgrisales

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