Air Force appeals court upholds sentence in Ramstein cyclist’s death
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 15, 2019
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The Air Force criminal appeals court has upheld the negligent homicide conviction of a Ramstein senior airman found responsible for the cycling death of a fellow airman three years ago.
In a ruling issued earlier this month, the court’s appellate judges said Senior Airman Benjamin Hann was negligent while driving his car on March 26, 2016, near the gate of Weilerbach Ammunition Depot, regardless of which traffic lane he was in, which was a point of dispute at trial.
Hann, while trying to pass an SUV while speeding on a blind curve on the K-25 road, struck and killed Staff Sgt. Grant Davis. Davis was riding his bicycle in the opposite direction toward Ramstein Air Base.
Davis died at the scene from traumatic injuries. At the time of his death, he was assigned to the 76th Airlift Squadron as a communication system operator, serving on board C-40, C-37 and C-20 aircraft. He was 31 years old.
A panel of seven Air Force officers found Hann guilty of negligent homicide at a Ramstein court-martial on May 4, 2017. He was sentenced to four years in jail, received a bad conduct discharge, was reduced in pay grade to E-1 and had to forfeit all pay and allowances. Hann also pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, making a false official statement and obstruction of justice.
Hann, in his appeal, did not contest that he caused Davis’ death but challenged the extent of his culpability.
He argued in part that the “vastly different” conclusions reached by the government and defense experts regarding whether he was in his designated lane at the point of impact rendered the evidence insufficient to prove simple negligence on his part, according to the appeals’ court document.
During Hann’s court-martial, defense attorneys called the crash an “unintentional collision.” They tried unsuccessfully to admit evidence that Hann told his passenger that Davis was in his lane right before the collision.
But the appellate judges said in their decision “we need not resolve the dispute over whether” Hann was in the wrong lane, citing several other factors that prove Hann “failed to exhibit due care,” including his speed at the time of the crash.
Though there was much debate at the trial how fast Hann was driving, the slowest speed suggested by the defense was about 40 mph — nearly 9 mph over the posted speed limit, the appellate judges wrote.
Hann argued, the judges noted, that “it would have been impossible for [him] to know that a bicyclist was riding near the [painted] median of the road on a curve with limited direct line of sight.”
But “the limitations imposed by the curve were precisely the reason why” he should never have passed the SUV at the curve in the first place, the judges said.
The court also upheld Hann’s sentence of four years. Hann had asked for a reduction to three years, citing the 200 days the convening authority took after Hann was sentenced to take action.
The curve on K25 between Weilerbach and Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where Staff Sgt. Grant Davis was killed on his bicycle March 26, 2016. Davis was in the southbound lane, on the right-hand side of the road, traveling toward Ramstein when he was struck by a car driven by Senior Airman Benjamin Hann.
JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES