PDA

View Full Version : Marine's widow seeks justice



thedrifter
04-01-06, 08:03 AM
Marine's widow seeks justice
Web Posted: 04/01/2006 12:00 AM CST

Anne Marie Kilday
Houston Chronicle

Staff Sgt. Andrew Jason Gonzales survived a tour of duty in Iraq only to die in an alleged hazing attack by fellow Marines in San Diego, Calif.

The Houston native, a drill instructor, drowned in a swimming pool at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Aug. 1, 2005. Details of the alleged attack were released last month during a three-day hearing in San Diego.

According to witnesses, no one came to Gonzales' aid as one Marine splashed water in his face and a second soldier held the dying man in a chokehold until he lost consciousness.

The instructors, Staff Sgts. David Roughan and Fernando Galvan, face charges of manslaughter, negligent homicide and dereliction of duty.

Roughan is accused of grabbing Gonzales in a chokehold. Galvan is accused of splashing water in his face.

Michelle Gonzales, the Marine's widow, attended the hearing with a small photograph of her husband of four years pinned to her chest. Although she knew the details surrounding her husband's death would be painful to hear, she said she felt it was her duty to attend.

'Out of control'

The purpose of the Article 32 hearing is to determine whether the charges against Roughan and Galvan should proceed to a full court-martial. If convicted of all charges, they could face 20-year sentences.

Defense attorneys for Roughan and Galvan either declined to comment or couldn't be reached this week.

During the hearing, counsel for Roughan and Galvan contended Gonzales' death was an accident. Neal Puckett, Roughan's attorney, declined to comment, saying he preferred to wait for the hearing officer's report.

Four Marines initially told Michelle Gonzales last August her husband was found "alone and unresponsive" in the pool. Gonzales, 35, who recently moved from San Diego to San Antonio, said she learned through the testimony of several Marines that a training exercise took what she called a vicious turn shortly before her husband's death.

The Marines who testified described an "out of control" swimming course that was more "a rite of passage" than a training exercise, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

"People testified that they heard him yell: 'Let me go! Let me go! Let me swim to the side!' Other people testified they saw the other instructor swim over there and splash water in my husband's face. Others said they just saw Jason being pulled from the pool," Gonzales said. "I'm struggling now with the visual images that brought up for me."

The widow said she wants reassurance that no more Marines will die during unnecessarily harsh training.

"Jason loved the Marine Corps. But he saw many recruits graduate who didn't have to have people treat them viciously.

"There are these cases where they go to the extreme," Gonzales said.

Most Marines put up with the abusive training, she said, "with that whole 'suck it up' thing. You do not have to hurt, or kill somebody to train them."

Risky training

In a report released in January, the Marine Corps said poolside equipment that might have saved Gonzales' life wasn't used, and it found that no one at the pool was focused on watching for Marines in danger.

Lt. Col. Paul Starista, a Marine judge advocate who presided over the hearings, will make a recommendation to the depot commander, Brig. Gen. John Paxton.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, at least 20 Marines and recruits have died in training in the past three years. Eight Marines have died at the San Diego depot since 1998.

Gonzales' drowning death was the second case Marines investigated in 2005 for possible foul play.

In February 2005, Marine recruit Jason Tharp, 19, drowned during a similar water-rescue training exercise at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, S.C. His instructor, Nadya Lopez, later was acquitted of charges of negligent homicide.

Michelle Gonzales said she knew her husband was having difficulty in the water-rescue training course. She also knew he was worried about his standing in the training group.

"He told me that he was scared," she said. "At the time, I thought he meant he was scared about being busted down in rank. Now, I wonder if he was scared for his life."

Gonzales joined the Marines shortly after his mother died in 1997, said his grandmother Betty Alexander, of Houston, who helped raise him.

It was his mother, Alexander said, who urged him to join the Marines. He was determined to succeed, she said.

When two Marines came to her Houston home last summer, Alexander said: "My heart just sank. I thought: 'This can't be happening, he is in America, he just came back from Iraq,' I was just so relieved that he didn't get hurt, and he was supposed to be safe. And most of all, he loved the Marines."

Ellie