Navy report says gross negligence led to death of Essex sailor
By MATTHEW M. BURKE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 6, 2012
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A breakdown of safety procedures, protocol violations and gross negligence led to the death of a sailor aboard the USS Essex in November, according to a Navy report released last week.
Petty Officer 1st Class Regan Young, a 37-year-old personnel specialist, was killed Nov. 23, while the ship was off the coast of Bali, Indonesia, after he was struck by a mounted missile launcher. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the body, Navy officials said at the time.
As is standard, inquiries into the death began immediately following the incident. A command report found that while Young most likely broke the rules and was sitting under the launcher using his cellphone as it was undergoing maintenance, his death could have been prevented if safety procedures were followed.
The report cited three sailors for gross negligence for the breakdown, including a petty officer second class who served as supervisor of the work center that operates the weapon, as well as a culture of not following safety procedures and operational protocol within the department.
On the morning of the incident, Young had several conversations with fellow sailors on his way outside to use his cellphone, according to the report.
He most likely ignored warning signs and sat underneath the NATO Sea Sparrow Missile System launcher at the rear of the ship, at the same time the crew was beginning maintenance on the system, the report found.
According to the report, sailors did not physically go out and check the area around the weapon — which they are required to do — before the maintenance was conducted and did not sound the weapon’s alarm system because it had not worked in more than a year. They did not make a call to another station to determine that the computer system was loaded properly, which would have ensured the weapon wouldn’t move.
As a result, the weapon unexpectedly jolted from its static position and struck Young, who was pinned and dragged across the deck by the weapon. He was eventually able to free himself, and he staggered into the ship, his face bloodied, before he collapsed and lost consciousness, according to the report. The ship’s medical team was unable to revive him “despite exhaustive efforts to save his life,” Navy officials said at the time.
He was pronounced dead on board.
The report also noted that the crew did not have enough people to operate the missile launcher and used sailors who were not qualified to perform the maintenance, and it called into question whether the maintenance was even required because it had been performed two days earlier.
It is now up to the ship’s commander, Capt. David Fluker to decide if any of the sailors who were found negligent will face punishment over the incident. The exact timeline for a decision is unknown, Task Force 76 spokesman Lt. Colby Drake said in an email.
The sailors are currently on board the ship on restricted duty, Drake said.
“It’s ongoing,” Drake said referring to potential action against the three negligent sailors. “They haven’t been charged with anything yet.”
The names of the sailors were redacted in the copy of the report given to Stars and Stripes, but one of the technicians, a 28-year-old from Detroit, expressed remorse.
“I apologize for all of this happening and I feel so responsible,” the unnamed sailor told investigators. The sailor admitted to all of the allegations detailed in the report.
In a letter included in the report, Fluker acknowledged the report’s findings and called for a review of the ship’s alarm systems and of protocol and procedures.
For instance, sailors alleged that the alarm system did not work due to corrosion, the report stated.
Drake said three classes of Navy ships use the alarm system and it must constantly be monitored to prevent disrepair.
“The problem with the alarm was not properly reported up the chain of command so that senior leadership could ensure corrective action was taken,” he said. “Corrosion is a continuous issue on all ships and must be continually addressed and corrected. It is not a unique issue for ships in CTF-76 … Essex is continually and aggressively addressing the issues with corrosion prevention and treatment.”
Young’s uncle, Charles, said that his nephew was always respectful and popular, and wrestled for his Los Angeles area high school. Once he joined the military, he was always overseas, first in Spain, then forward deployed to Japan.
“He was very proud of his service and being in the Navy,” Charles Young said. “He never had any doubts about joining the military.”
According to the report, Young was scheduled to rotate out of Sasebo a few weeks after the incident.
“Sometimes things happen out of our control,” his uncle said. “We’re proud of him for doing his job and serving and doing what he had to do for his country and for the rest of the world.”
In addition to the command inquiry, Naval Criminal Investigative Service is also looking into the death, a spokesman said.