Navy dropping charges against officers in deadly 2017 collision

The Navy is dropping the charges against the former commanding officer and a junior officer of the USS Fitzgerald in connection with the destroyer’s deadly 2017 collision.

Instead, Cmdr. Bryce Benson and Lt. Natalie Combs will receive letters of censure from Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, the Navy said in a news release late Wednesday.

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“This decision is in the best interest of the Navy, the families of the Fitzgerald sailors and the procedural rights of the accused officers,” the release said. “Both officers were previously dismissed from their jobs and received non-judicial punishment.”

In June 2016, the Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship southwest of Japan, killing seven sailors.

The crash was one of the two that summer that prompted an outcry on Capitol Hill.

The other was the crash of the USS John S. McCain in August 2017 that left 10 sailors dead.

Benson and Combs were originally charged in early 2018 with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and negligent hazarding of a vessel. The Navy dropped the negligent homicide charges in June 2018. 

In its statement, the Navy said the changes to improve readiness and training for sailors that resulted from the crash “remains on track.”

“The Navy will always keep the lost Sailors and their families in its thoughts and prayers,” the statement said.