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YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A memorial service for the USS Kitty Hawk sailor who police say apparently fell to his death Saturday from a Yokosuka apartment building was held Wednesday aboard the carrier.

The service for Stephen Hecht, 20, an E-3 fireman who’d been in the Navy for about two years, was not open to the public.

More than 200 sailors, many from the engineering division where Hecht worked, gathered for prayers, eulogies, Bible readings and the playing of taps, said Lt. Brook DeWalt, Kitty Hawk spokesman. Friends and colleagues also shared their memories of Hecht, who was described as a knowledgeable, hard worker interested in basketball, weightlifting and movies and who also knew how to make people laugh.

“It was a celebration of his life,” said Cmdr. Mike Schutz, Kitty Hawk chaplain, “and an opportunity to say goodbye. It allows his shipmates to grieve for him.”

Hecht, from Yuba City, Calif., died around 4 p.m. Saturday after apparently falling from a seventh-floor walkway of a downtown Yokosuka apartment building called the Nic Heim Yokosuka Chuo, near the city’s main train station, Yokosuka police said.

Police said Wednesday they have all but ruled out homicide in the death for several reasons. Hecht was alone, according to several witnesses who saw him shortly before he died, and there were no signs of a struggle or conflict.

Police also said witnesses who saw Hecht beforehand, including a man in a barbershop and people in the Nic Heim elevator, said Hecht appeared to be highly intoxicated.

Hecht was seen going alone into the apartment building, police said, although why he did so is unclear. Hecht did not live there and Yokosuka police said they didn’t know if Hecht was going to visit a building resident or even whether he knew anyone there.

Police said they have no theory on how Hecht could have fallen from the walkway, which has a 46-inch-high railing. There was a “possibility” that he was climbing on the railing, they said, although no one reported seeing that.

Yokosuka police said they doubted Hecht’s death was a suicide because, a spokesman said, “It is unlikely that a person will commit suicide while drunk.”

However, studies indicate that about a third of U.S. suicide victims had a substantial level of alcohol in their systems when they died, according to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigators are conducting a separate investigation into Hecht’s death.

“We don’t know what happened yet. Anything else is speculation,” DeWalt said. “We need to let the investigation take its course. That’s the bottom line.”

Yokosuka police said one witness called them to report seeing a man falling from the building but that the witness did not see how it occurred. Police said the call came around 4 p.m., although earlier reports say Hecht fell around 5:30 p.m. Hecht was taken to a local hospital, were he was pronounced dead.

DeWalt said Hecht was pronounced dead at 7 p.m. but it was unclear whether he had died at the scene or the hospital.

An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday at the base hospital, he said.

Hecht’s body will be sent home to California, DeWalt said, escorted by a senior member of Hecht’s division on the Kitty Hawk.

Hecht is the first Kitty Hawk sailor to die since November 2001, when a sailor was lost overboard, DeWalt said.

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Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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