BAMBERG, Germany — A New Jersey National Guard soldier was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and reckless driving charges following a two-day court-martial that ended Thursday.

Sgt. Cuong Nguyen, a military policeman with 3rd Battalion, 112th Field Artillery Regiment, was also found not guilty of the lesser charge of negligent homicide by a nine-member panel of enlisted men and officers.

The charges stemmed from a July 22, 2005, accident in which a 25-year-old single mother and passenger in Nguyen’s car died.

At approximately 11:30 that evening, Nguyen and two other drivers met outside Gate 3 of Warner Barracks to caravan to a nearby nightclub.

While passing one of the other cars in the convoy on Autobahn 70 toward Bayreuth, Nguyen lost control of his vehicle and it began to spin. While spinning, the rear of the vehicle came in contact with a guardrail and the back hatch popped open.

Marion Muenzer, who was in the right rear seat and was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the rear of the vehicle and died, Wolfgang Weiss, a German accident reconstruction expert, testified. Weiss said a combination of wet road conditions, darkness, speed and road curvature was the likely cause of the accident.

The prosecution made the speed of Nguyen’s car an integral part of its case, bringing in two witnesses who were also traveling on the A-70 that night. The two Germans testified they were passed by Nguyen and another vehicle at an estimated 170-180 kilometers per hour (about 112 mph) just minutes before the accident.

Other witnesses, including passengers and other drivers in the caravan, said they were moving at speeds closer to 120-130 kph (about 80 mph).

Weiss also said that in the 200 cases he’s worked in his 14 years, he had never heard of another instance of a hatchback popping open like Nguyen’s did — a fact the defense focused on during closing arguments.

Before the panel left to deliberate, military judge Col. R. Peter Masterton dismissed the reckless driving charge.

Nguyen, who declined comment, was activated to backfill deployed troops and had been in Bamberg since February 2005. He had been kept past his scheduled return date awaiting the trial.

With the verdict of not guilty, Nguyen’s lawyer, David Court, said he expected his client would return to New Jersey soon.

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