Coastie Arrested in Alleged Murder of Shipmate in Alaska

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The Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro sails past Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, July 15, 2018. The Douglas Munro crew assisted the Glacier Bay National Park Service personnel in rescuing four people whose kayaks overturned in rough waters, but all four people made it to shore. (Trenton Hirschi, U.S. Coast Guard)
The Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro sails past Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, July 15, 2018. The Douglas Munro crew assisted the Glacier Bay National Park Service personnel in rescuing four people whose kayaks overturned in rough waters, but all four people made it to shore. (Trenton Hirschi, U.S. Coast Guard)

A Coast Guardsman has been arrested and charged with the murder of a shipmate from the cutter Douglas Munro last January near Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

Coast Guard Seaman Ethan Tucker, from Ludington, Michigan, faces charges in the Jan. 26 death of Seaman Ethan Kelch, 19, who was found unresponsive on Amaknak Island, near Dutch Harbor, after he went missing during liberty.

Following a seven-month investigation, Tucker was charged Wednesday with violating seven articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including murder, involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault, maiming, obstructing justice, making a false statement and failure to obey an order or regulation, according to the Coast Guard.

If convicted of the most serious charge, murder, he faces life in prison, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a dishonorable discharge.

According to the seaman's charge sheet, Tucker had allegedly been drinking Jan. 26 when he assaulted Kelch, strangling him and striking him on the head with enough force to cause a severe injury. He allegedly then placed Kelch in the water and left him to die, later telling a Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent when questioned about an injury to his hand that it was caused when he punched a steel bulkhead after learning of Kelch's death.

Tucker was taken into custody by the Coast Guard and transported to the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar, San Diego, where he awaits pre-court-martial proceedings.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area public affairs officer, said the charges are the result of the service's "desire to gather all the facts and seek justice."

"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," Brickey said in a news release.

Kelch, 19, hailed from Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he graduated in 2017 from Cox High School and was an active member of the Junior Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. He "joined the Coast Guard because he had an overwhelming desire to save lives," according to a statement released by his family to WAVY 10 shortly after his death.

At the time, family members called his death a "tragic accident" and said they were "incredibly devastated."

"We love him and will miss him forever," they wrote.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

 

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