Marines say probe of accident in which Romanian rock star died is finished
February 10, 2005
The investigation into the traffic accident in which a car driven by a Marine embassy guard collided with a taxi, killing a popular Romanian musician, has been completed, a Marine spokesman said Wednesday.
But according to a story in Monday’s Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, a Virginia State Police investigator who led the investigation into the Dec. 3 incident said the Marine was not drunk at the time and that the taxi driver was also to blame.
Staff Sgt. Christopher R. VanGoethem, 31, was commander of the Marine security detachment at the embassy when an embassy-owned Ford Expedition he was driving collided with a taxi, killing 50-year-old Teofil Peter, a veteran Romanian rocker and concert organizer.
VanGoethem submitted to breath and blood-alcohol tests at the time.
“His blood-alcohol content was not enough, by the [Romanian] police statement, for them to take action, nor would it have been enough had he been here,” Investigator Rick Dowsett said, according to the Times-Dispatch.
The newspaper story quoted Dowsett as saying that the taxi driver was likely speeding, and that the 4:30 a.m. crash occurred at an intersection with confusing right-of-way rules.
Meanwhile, the Romanian government is still requesting that diplomatic immunity be waived for VanGoethem, who was taken out of Romania shortly after the accident and is now assigned to administrative duties at his battalion headquarters in Quantico, Va.
“The request of a waiver for immunity is still under consideration by the Department of State,” said Paul Oglesby, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest.
Since the incident, Romania has elected a new prime minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, but Oglesby said the new government did not withdraw the request that VanGoethem be returned to Romania to face prosecution.
Because VanGoethem was a member of the embassy staff, he can be immune from facing criminal prosecution in Romania. But the State Department could choose to waive VanGoethem’s immunity and have him returned to Romania.
Oglesby said he did not know who specifically within the State Department would be authorized to make that decision or when it could occur.
The incident is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, which hired Dowsett to serve as an independent investigator, according to the Times-Dispatch.
According to Maj. Matthew Morgan, a spokesman for the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade in Camp Lejeune, N.C., the evidence has been turned over to VanGoethem’s battalion commander. The commander will decide if the case should proceed to an Article 32 hearing, which could lead to charges being filed against VanGoethem and a court-martial.
VanGoethem is from Iron County, Mich., and is assigned to the Marine Security Guard Battalion headquarters in Quantico.
Morgan said that the State Department is being kept informed about the investigation. He said that preliminary investigations in death cases typically take one to two months and that the remaining investigation that could lead to a court-martial can take up to 10 months.