Training Not to Blame for String of Fatal Vehicle Rollovers, Marines Say

U.S. Marines conduct a mock raid in Polaris MRZR 4 vehicles during exercise Northern Edge, May 22, 2019 at Fort Greely, Alaska. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Rhita Daniel)
U.S. Marines conduct a mock raid in Polaris MRZR 4 vehicles during exercise Northern Edge, May 22, 2019 at Fort Greely, Alaska. (U.S. Marine Corps/Cpl. Rhita Daniel)

Three Marines were killed over a six-week period when in vehicle rollover accidents, but service officials say safety deficiencies likely aren't to blame for the fatal mishaps.

The Marine Corps is investigating the spate of rollovers that left three dead and 10 more injured. Two of the accidents happened in California and the latest in Australia.

"While the Marine Corps has experienced three fatal vehicle rollover events in the past two months, the circumstances behind the mishaps are considerably different," Capt. Christopher Harrison, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon told Military.com. "At this time, training and/or material deficiencies do not appear to be contributing factors."

Lance Cpl. Hans Sandoval-Pereyra, a 21-year-old expeditionary airfield systems technician deployed to Australia's Northern Territory with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, died on Tuesday after his Humvee rolled off the road three days prior. Sandoval-Pereyra was riding in the vehicle's passenger seat. One other Marine was treated for injuries.

On May 9, 1st Lt. Hugh "Conor" McDowell, a platoon commander with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, died when his light armored vehicle rolled over during a training maneuver at Camp Pendleton in California. McDowell pushed a corporal to safety before being thrown from the turret and crushed when the vehicle flipped, his family told the Washington Post. Six other Marines were treated for injuries.

And on April 14, Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a 29-year-old critical skills operator with 1st Marine Raider Battalion, died a day after his Polaris MRZR, an ultralight all-terrain vehicle, flipped at Camp Pendleton. Two other Raiders and a sailor were injured in that crash.

At this point, Marine officials have not identified any trends that contributed to the accidents. Each happened on different terrain and in different vehicles, Harrison said. The Marines also served in unrelated military occupational specialties, he added.

"Safety investigations are currently ongoing for all three mishaps," Harrison said. "These investigations will identify recommendations from the unit level to Headquarters Marine Corps that will help prevent the recurrence of similar mishaps"

Michael McDowell, the father of the officer killed in the LAV rollover, told the Washington Post last week that he wants reassurance that the Marine Corps is taking steps to prevent future mishaps.

"I want to make sure this is fixed, that he didn't die in vain," Michael McDowell said.

The Marine Corps had nine on-duty ground Class-A mishaps in 2017 and four in 2018. Those accidents killed eight Marines, four last year and four in 2017. Class A mishaps are those that cause fatality or permanent total disability, or cause at least $2 million in equipment damage.

In a statement provided to Military.com, the Commandant of the Marine Corps' Safety Division said the service provides regular guidance and resources to prevent mishaps. That includes reinforcing safety standards and publishing lessons learned in the division's monthly newsletters.

"The Marine Corps regularly reviews processes and procedures to improve and ensure the safe conduct of operations across the fleet," the statement reads.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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