A Coast Guard member was charged Wednesday following a seven-month investigation into the death of Coast Guardsman Ethan Kelch in Dutch Harbor in January, according to a Coast Guard news release.
Seaman Ethan Tucker, 19, was charged with violating seven articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Tucker, who is from Ludington, Michigan, was taken into custody by Coast Guard authorities and transported to the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego where he awaits court-martial proceedings.
“Since our shipmate’s untimely passing, we have been in contact with his family to provide as much support as possible throughout this tragic and difficult time. The charges today are the result of the Coast Guard’s steadfast desire to gather all the facts and seek justice,” said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, public affairs officer for the U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area.
Kelch, 19, from Virginia, was found unresponsive and later declared dead in Dutch Harbor, while assigned to the Coast Guard cutter Douglas Munro.
The Douglas Munro, which is homeported in Kodiak, was in Dutch Harbor awaiting repairs at the time of Kelch’s death. Kelch was reported missing on Saturday, Jan. 26, and declared dead the next day.
The charges against Tucker include murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, maiming, obstructing justice, false official statement and failure to obey an order or regulation.
According to the charge sheet, Tucker is accused of murdering Kelch “by causing blunt force trauma to the head … and placing and leaving him in water.”
Tucker also is accused of making a false statement about striking Kelch. Tucker stated that he injured his hand by punching a steel bulkhead after learning of Kelch’s death, a statement which was “totally false,” according to the document.
If found guilty, the charges against Tucker carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, and forfeiture of pay and allowances.
Tucker was stationed in Kodiak and assigned to the Douglas Munro until June 4, when he was transferred to Coast Guard Base Alameda, according to Coast Guard spokesperson Nyxolyno Cangemi.
While assigned to the Douglas Munro, Tucker’s tasks included standing watch, painting, cleaning, sweeping and other tasks aboard the ship, Cangemi said.
In Alameda, Tucker conducted duties in the base’s security division, while “appropriately supervised,” Cangemi said. His duties included checking IDs for people entering the base, and maintaining logs and records.
Charges were filed Wednesday. According to Cangemi, an Article 32 hearing will be held in two to four months, similar to a grand jury hearing in a civil court. The hearing will review whether to take the case to court-martial.
The Coast Guard investigation is open and ongoing. Cangemi could not comment on whether additional charges will be filed in the future.