Rear admiral kicks off Navy Misawa's safety fair with a grim reminder
May 26, 2007
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Petty Officer 1st Class Diego Lopezzenquis, the USS Kitty Hawk sailor killed in a motorcycle crash on Mother’s Day, was drinking.
Rear Adm. James Kelly, head of Commander, Naval Forces Japan, shared the tragic tale with several hundred sailors at Naval Air Facility Misawa on Thursday at the start of Navy Misawa’s 13th annual safety fair.
It was a story told to drive home the importance of being safe and watching out for friends heading into the “101 Critical Days of Summer,” the Memorial Day-to-Labor Day stretch where off-duty injuries and fatalities typically peak for the year.
Kelly, referring to Lopezzenquis as “the E-6,” said the sailor was “a great guy” who was partying at a buddy’s house the night he was killed.
Around one o’clock in the morning, a friend of Lopezzenquis called a shipmate of the sailor to drive him back to the ship. But when the friend showed up about an hour later, the sailor ran from the house and jumped on his motorcycle.
Navy officials reported previously that Lopezzenquis, 31, lost control of his motorcycle on a downhill curve, crashing into a guard rail south of Yokosuka around 3:15 a.m. Three other servicemembers in Japan also lost their lives the same weekend: Two soldiers were killed in a car wreck on Okinawa and a Marine on the island died from a fall from a bridge that is being investigated as a suicide.
“I ask you guys if you party this weekend … don’t make it your own memorial,” Kelly urged the Misawa sailors. “Start thinking a little bit smarter about this alcohol thing. We still don’t get it,” he added, sharing some recent statistics: “Looking at the khaki over here, in the last month, we’ve had two lieutenants and one chief petty officer convicted of DUIs here in Japan.”
In the dead sailor’s case, his friends did nearly all they could to stop him from drinking and driving, Kelly said. Don’t be afraid to tackle your buddy and take his or her keys away if that’s what it takes, he added.
Misawa sailors at the safety fair said they’ve received more e-mail traffic and briefings related to drinking safely in the two weeks since the fatalities.
Capt. Peter Rush, NAF Misawa commander, said since the deaths, U.S. Forces Japan is “just reinforcing what they’ve reinforced before. We know what’s right and wrong. There’s not a person that doesn’t know that drinking and driving isn’t wrong,” he said. “But it’s time to reinforce it.”
Hearing the same message can be effective, said Seaman Steven Burns, 19, also of Naval Information Operations Command. But only when you’re sober. “When you drink, it all goes out the window,” he said.
The Navy’s safety fair touched on more than just drinking and driving. It featured 22 Navy and Air Force exhibits on a range of topics, from barbecuing to boating and biking safely. Some exhibits, like the earthquake simulator and drunken-google obstacle course, were interactive.
“The theme is to prevent mishaps through peer communication,” said Greg Buck, NAF Misawa safety director. “And also keeping it fun, so it’s not just sit at your desk and read a boring e-mail or a threatening message. We focus on every day, typical off-duty events.”