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Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem leaves the Quantico Marine Base, Va. courthouse with his wife, Kathy, during a break in his trial Thursday.

Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem leaves the Quantico Marine Base, Va. courthouse with his wife, Kathy, during a break in his trial Thursday. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)

QUANTICO MARINE BASE, Va. — Delays in translating key pages from Romania’s traffic regulations into English brought a temporary halt to the trial of Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher VanGoethem on Thursday.

With a jail sentence as long as 14 years and a dishonorable discharge in the balance, both the defense and prosecution carefully monitored the progress of the Romanian linguistics expert to make sure the translation was absolutely accurate.

VanGoethem, 32, was commander of the Marine security detachment at the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest when his vehicle struck a taxi carrying 50-year-old Teofil Peter.

Peter, veteran producer and bassist for the rock band Compact, suffered major head injuries and died at the scene.

VanGoethem has been charged with negligent homicide for his role in the crash, as well as adultery, obstructing justice and making false official statements.

To counter the negligent homicide charge, the Marine’s defense team is contending that the traffic signs and the configuration of the Bucharest intersection where the collision occurred are so confusing that even the most competent driver “stood no chance” of avoiding the crash, chief defender Marine Maj. Phillip Stackhouse said during his Tuesday opening statement.

Some pivotal elements of that argument include what a flashing yellow light means in Romania as opposed to in the United States and what role the intersection’s multiple stop signs have in relation to the flashing yellow.

VanGoethem’s defenders have hinted that Romanian traffic law and U.S. law differ when it comes to reacting to flashing yellow lights.

During their testimony Tuesday, the State Department security officers who were VanGoethem’s bosses at the Embassy both said that the Marine did not receive training in local traffic rules when he took his post in June 2003.

In testimony Wednesday, Romanian security officer Stefan Berciu, a senior investigator in the Bucharest embassy, said that traffic in Bucharest is “very congested,” and that despite a lengthy licensing process that includes 30 hours of on-the-road training, many Romanians don’t obey traffic laws.

“Do people park on the sidewalk in Bucharest?” lead prosecutor Marine Capt. Charles Miracle asked Berciu.

“A lot,” Berciu replied.


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