Sailor avoids criminal charges after crash
SEOUL — A visiting U.S. sailor has dodged criminal charges in South Korea court, but he must pay more than $10,000 restitution after police say he drunkenly crashed a stolen vehicle early Wednesday morning.
“There has been an agreement made for the sailor to make restitution,” said Lt. Cmdr. Greg Kuntz, a 7th Submarine Group spokesman from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Kuntz was unable to give the exact amount the sailor must pay, but he said it’s “in excess of $10,000.” The sailor was to have paid South Korean legal officials before the visiting USS Chicago left Chinhae Naval Base by noon Friday.
Kuntz declined to name the sailor, saying only he is a 26-year-old petty officer first class, or E-6.
The spokesman stressed, however, that the sailor will be held accountable for his actions during the Chicago’s five-day visit to South Korea.
“The Navy will handle it administratively from there,” Kuntz said. “I can ensure you that it’s going to be taken care of.”
If the sailor fails to make the payment, Kuntz said, he would not embark on the submarine and would stay in South Korea. However, Kuntz said it appeared the sailor would be able to fulfill the obligation.
“The Navy’s not going to give him a loan on this,” Kuntz said during a phone interview late Thursday afternoon.
South Korean police said Thursday that they raced through the investigation so they could forward charges to the prosecutors before the submarine left port. The police recommended the sailor be charged with vehicle theft, drunken driving and causing damage to the two vehicles, among other charges. They said they were under the impression that the sailor would only be required to pay a fine.
Police have said the sailor stole a van with the keys inside it in Changwon, near Chinhae, around 1 a.m. Wednesday. Police said he crashed the van into a parked station wagon and that the sailor’s blood alcohol level was 0.154 when he was questioned.
Kuntz said the Chicago is home-ported in Hawaii and on a routine six-month deployment to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Kuntz said some modifications were made to the liberty policy for all sailors on the submarine after Wednesday’s incident, but declined to elaborate.
Kuntz said the visiting sailors were briefed on liberty rules and regulations in South Korea, including the weekday midnight curfew.
Stars and Stripes reporter Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.