Probe centers on Task Force’s top enlisted
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 3, 2009
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Master Chief Petty Officer John W. Bench Jr. was headed for a promotion.
With orders in hand, Bench finished his tour on the USS Denver at the end of last week and left the ship to take over as command master chief of the Navy’s Task Force 76 on Okinawa, according to Lt. Cmdr. Denver Applehans, the spokesman for Task Force 76 and Expeditionary Strike Group 7.
Bench,39, was about to go from the most senior enlisted sailor aboard the USS Denver to the top chief overseeing the entire strike group.
But everything went wrong on Sunday.
Investigators on Tuesday were still piecing together why Bench allegedly killed his 12-year-old son during an assault on his family and then died shortly afterward when his Harley-Davidson motorcycle collided with oncoming vehicles on an expressway near Sasebo Naval Base in Japan.
The sudden spasm of violence shocked the small Navy community. Counselors were dispatched to the USS Denver and local schools this week.
The Navy said there had been no indication that Bench was capable of such an assault.
He had never before been accused of personal or professional misconduct, Applehans wrote Tuesday in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.
Violence, however, had visited Bench, his wife and two children earlier this year when the family was on leave together in the Philippines and witnessed a killing.
According to an incident reported in the Philippine Star newspaper that Applehans confirmed, the Benches were traveling by taxi in Antipolo City on April 6 when their driver was fatally shot in the head during an alleged robbery.
The shooting was handled by police in the Philippines, and the Navy did not investigate, Applehans said.
The Navy declined to release further details about Sunday’s events due to an ongoing investigation.
During the incident, Bench’s wife was seriously injured and required surgery, according to base officials.
She remained in stable condition Tuesday at a local hospital after her condition was upgraded on Monday, base spokesman Charles Howard said.
Bench’s 17-year-old daughter suffered minor injuries.
"There are friends and people who care about her looking out for her now," Howard said Tuesday.
The base was working on a memorial service that could occur later in the week, Howard wrote in an e-mail to Stripes.