Namely, ship commander Cmdr. Bryce Benson and Lt. Natalie Combs will face charges of negligent hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty resulting in death at general courts-martial. Lt. Irian Woodley, who was on duty with Combs, will likely be separated from the Navy after a board of inquiry.
This decision was made by Adm. James F. Caldwell, who is acting as the consolidated decision authority (CDA) for the accountability actions from last year’s fatal collisions. Mr. Caldwell had originally issued the homicide charges against Woodley, Combs and Benson in January.
Upon recommending to drop criminal charges, Cmdr. Anthony Johnson said that the poor performance of Woodley and Combs in their duties wasn’t inherently criminal and didn’t justify a court-martial. He also noted that the objectively light punishment for the Fitzgerald officer of the deck Lt. j.g. Sarah B. Coppock, played an important role in his recommendation to not push the cases forward.
Ms. Combs’ lawyer David Sheldon said in a statement to USNI News:
While Lt. Combs is obviously very disappointed in the decision of Adm. Caldwell, she nonetheless is resolute in her belief that when the facts are fully presented, she will be exonerated. The blame in this case is widespread. Fitzgerald had systemic problems with its equipment and training - to single this young woman, who has served honorably and with distinction, for prosecution is very troubling in the circumstance.
Mr. Benson waived his right for an Article 32 hearing on his charges and mentioned he would take the case to trial.
Bryce Benson, Natalie Combs and Irian Woodley had previously been given non-judicial punishment for their part in the collision before Mr. Caldwell issues the criminal charges in January.
Recently, former commander of McCain, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez pleaded guilty to a single charge of negligence after facing similar negligent homicide charges for his role in the fatal incident of August 21.
Mr. Sanchez was sentenced to a punitive letter of reprimand and forfeiture of $6,000 in pay. As part of the agreement, he has requested to retire, and that request will be allowed or denied later in the proceedings. The results of the court-martial also put a federal.