Sailor dies in crash after alleged assault leaves 12-year-old son dead
By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN AND CHIYOMI SUMIDA | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 2, 2009
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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A USS Denver sailor died in a motorcycle crash after he allegedly assaulted his family in an attack that left his 12-year-old son dead Sunday at Sasebo Naval Base in Japan, base officials said Monday.
John W. Bench Jr., 39, died after his motorcycle collided with oncoming vehicles on a Sasebo expressway, Japanese police said.
The Navy would not confirm the identity of the sailor or name his family members Monday, citing an ongoing investigation. But the USS Denver’s Web page in early August listed a John W. Bench as the ship’s command master chief.
The crash occurred Sunday afternoon shortly after the alleged attack at a main base housing facility.
The Navy released few details Monday about the assault and the circumstances of the 12-year-old boy’s death. The sailor’s wife was seriously injured and upgraded from stable to guarded condition at a hospital Monday, base spokesman Charles Howard said.
The sailor’s 17-year-old daughter was treated for minor injuries and released, the base said in a release.
“I think you can say the people at the base are in collective shock,” Howard said.
The incident was first reported by an emergency phone call at about 3 p.m. Sunday and the base learned from Japanese police about 90 minutes later that the sailor had died in a motorcycle crash, he said.
Bench’s Harley-Davidson collided with oncoming traffic at about 2:53 p.m. in the Kuwakoba-cho district area of the Nishi Kyushu Expressway, according to a spokesman for the Nagasaki Prefecture police’s Expressway Traffic Police Unit. It was not immediately clear whether the collision was intentional.
“The motorcycle, which was traveling southbound from Sasebo toward Takeo, swerved into an opposite lane, colliding against a bus and then a compact car behind it,” spokesman Shuichi Nagano said.
Bench was taken to Sasebo General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:09 p.m. Sunday, Nagano said.
Neither the 31-year-old bus driver and his six passengers nor the 34-year-old driver of the compact car and his passenger reported injuries, he said.
While the cause of the crash remained under investigation Monday, police suspect speed is one of the contributors, Nagano said. On Monday, the base community was dealing with fallout from the incident.
Howard said the USS Denver is to pass by the Navy base this week while en route to another port and an effort will be made to get crisis management and religious ministry people out to the ship. Authorities did not explain why Bench had not been aboard his ship.
The base Fleet and Family Support Center sent counselors to the schools and was providing counseling support to the emergency responders who handled the Sunday incident, said Mary Vance, a clinical advocacy counselor at the center.
“When a trauma happens, there are a lot of feelings and people have different ways of dealing with it,” Vance said. “We are just trying to be there for people.”