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Hearings Delayed for Officers Accused of Negligence in Fitzgerald, McCain Collisions

Former USS Fitzgerald commander Cmdr. Bryce Benson (left), Former USS John S. McCain commander Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez (right). USNI News Image

The preliminary hearings for sailors facing criminal charges for their roles in the fatal collisions of two guided-missile destroyers in the Western Pacific have been continued, according to the Navy.

The Article 32 hearings on charges that include negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and hazarding a ship for the former commanders of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and crew aboard Fitzgerald were previously set to take place March 6 to 8 at the Washington Navy Yard, but they were continued at the request of the defense counsel, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Dan Day told USNI News.

Former McCain CO Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, former Fitzgerald CO Cmdr. Bryce Benson and three Fitzgerald officers will now appear before a military judge sometime in April or May, a Navy official told USNI News.

“As continued scheduling and changes occur — common to all cases docketed — updates will be posted on the regularly scheduled public docket issued by Naval District Washington,” read a statement from the service.

Charges for Benson, Sanchez and the sailors from Fitzgerald are part of the ongoing accountability process that is overseen by Adm. James Caldwell. The director of Nuclear Reactors was appointed in October as the Consolidated Disposition Authority tasked to oversee additional accountability actions for the McCain and Fitzgerald collisions.

Earlier this month, Caldwell found former McCain executive officer Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez guilty of violating Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice during a non-judicial punishment hearing in Washington, D.C.

The Navy has issued 18 non-judicial punishments to sailors related to the two collisions, which the service has determined were preventable.

The June collision between Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan resulted in the death of seven sailors. The August collision between McCain and the merchant oiler Alnic MC resulted in 10 sailor deaths.