Lakenheath airman sentenced to 21 days in jail for fatal crash
Stars and Stripes May 8, 2008
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — Senior Airman Erica Rangel was sentenced to 21 days in jail Tuesday night at the conclusion of her one-day court-martial related to the driving death of a British woman.
Rangel pleaded guilty to negligent driving and dereliction of duty for driving without a license in the Feb. 7, 2007, accident that killed Sheniz Russell, 21.
Rangel said she failed to brake sufficiently that day as she drove south toward the base from nearby Brandon while taking a friend to run an errand.
Rangel was traveling at about 60 miles per hour, which she testified was the speed limit on that stretch of road.
Rangel said she tried to stop the Ford Mondeo she was driving when traffic slowed, causing her to skid and swerve to the right into oncoming traffic.
The first head-on collision was avoided, the second was not. Russell, who was driving a blue Ford Escort, died a few days later in the hospital as a result of the impact with Rangel’s vehicle, which occurred just outside the gates at Lakenheath.
Rangel, who was not injured in the crash and was driving her then-boyfriend’s car, did not have a military license required for all U.S. troops, dependents and civilian employees who wish to drive in Europe while working for U.S. forces. She passed the test shortly after arriving at Lakenheath in 2005 but was denied the permit because she had never obtained a valid U.S. driver’s license.
Rangel admitted to driving in England without a license before the accident, though there was no record of previous driving violations, according to 48th Fighter Wing spokeswoman Tech. Sgt. Jill LaVoie.
During the emotional last stretches of the trial Tuesday, Rangel’s mother, Alicia Rangel, testified that her daughter often called home saying she wished she had died in the accident instead of Russell.
“She cries and tells me she can’t stand the suffering anymore,” Alicia Rangel, who only speaks Spanish and lives in California, said through an interpreter.
In a direct address to the four-member jury, Erica Rangel apologized to the victim’s family, none of whom attended the court-martial. The British court relinquished jurisdiction of the case to the Air Force.
“I know I have brought pain to their family,” Rangel said through tears while asking the jury for mercy during the sentencing. “As a parent myself, I can’t imagine a child being taken from me.”
The whimper of Rangel’s 4-month-old son echoed in the background as her husband tried comforting the baby. After the jury imposed its sentence about an hour later and court was adjourned, the newlywed couple embraced tightly behind the desk. Rangel seemed dazed after finally receiving the punishment she had been contemplating for the past 15 months.
In addition to the 21-day confinement she is serving at a site on base, Rangel received 21 days of hard labor to be served with her unit, a demotion to airman basic (E-1) and was ordered to forfeit $210 from her monthly pay for a year. The jury could have sentenced her to one year in jail and ordered a bad-conduct discharge.
Rangel, an intelligence analyst with the 48th Operations Group at Lakenheath, could face an administrative separation from military service as a result of the conviction, if her squadron commander deems it necessary.