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Guard dismisses charges against crash survivor

Posted: March 6, 2012 - 1:54pm

The U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday dropped charges against the copilot and sole survivor of a 2010 fatal Coast Guard helicopter crash in Washington, family and friends say.

The mother of Lt. Lance Leone, Heather Rice, told the Empire via email that her son received news today that the charges were dismissed.

“I am so proud of my son, standing strong through all this,” Rice said. “... I wish I was in Sitka to send him the huge hug I want to give him.”

With the charges dropped, Leone, 31, will not face a court-martial hearing. The Coast Guard has not yet confirmed that charges were dropped, pending notification of family members, a spokesperson said earlier Tuesday.

Leone was copiloting a helicopter traveling at low altitude that hit power lines and crashed near in Washington in July of 2010. Three Coast Guardsmen died.

The crew of the Sitka-based MH-60T Jayhawk was ferrying the chopper from Astoria, Ore., to their base in Sitka when it collided with power cables near La Push, Wash.

Leone was charged with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and destruction of the helicopter, worth about $18.3 million, for failing to properly navigate the helicopter to avoid charted hazards and for failure to ensure it was flying at a higher altitude. He was also charged with failure to employ crew resource management. All those are violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Leone’s family was surprised to hear charges had been filed against him in September of last year, especially since he had already been cleared by two investigation boards and was given the green light to fly again. Rice says she could not stop crying for joy when she heard that they were dropped.

“Emotionally, this is a tearful time,” Rice wrote. “He is totally amazing how he handled all this.”

Leone’s friend Mike Finn of Sitka, who started a Leone support team on Facebook, said he spoke to Leone on the phone earlier on Tuesday and confirmed the charges were dropped without prejudice.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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