The driver of a Coast Guard boat that slammed into a smaller recreational boat during a holiday parade testified in military court Friday that he is haunted by the memory of an 8-year-old boy who died in the crash.
"Every day before I go to sleep, I think about Anthony DeWeese," said Petty Officer Paul Ramos.
Ramos, 21, spoke on the fourth and final day of the military's equivalent of a preliminary hearing for three Coast Guard members charged in the Dec. 20 crash. Ramos faces the most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Ramos read from a handwritten statement, according to a published report, pausing when his quiet voice thickened with emotion. He recalled his response to a call that a boater was stuck in the mud.
"When I heard the [radio broadcast], I just wanted to help. I think every mariner deserves the Coast Guard's help, no matter how big or small," he said. "I gave 100 percent to every mariner I assisted."
The Article 32 hearing was held to consider charges against Ramos, Petty Officer Ian M. Howell, 28, and Petty Officer Brittany N. Rasmussen, 25. An investigating officer will make a recommendation whether they should be court-martialed, but the final decision rests with Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo, commander of Coast Guard District 11, which includes San Diego.
The case against a fourth defendant, Petty Officer Lavelle Teague, 30, is being handled separately.
Despite his youth, Ramos was the most experienced boat driver in the group. He has clocked the most hours on the water, and an investigator who testified Thursday said Ramos had a reputation around the San Diego station as the best coxswain.
In court Friday, Ramos' former boss, Lt. Steven Schultz, described Ramos as sincere and very interested in doing his job. He said Ramos was crying, distraught and covered in blood when he returned to the dock after the crash.
"I think he's a very dedicated Coast Guardsman," Schultz said.
But another Coast Guard boat driver said Ramos' driving had to be corrected from time to time, including during one offshore mission when a boat crew had to entreat him to slow down because they were getting battered about in rolling seas.
Petty Officer James Helt also said he thought Ramos' boat driver qualification should have been suspended after that, and then revoked in September when he destroyed an $18,000 boat engine by running it into a commonly used underwater boat ramp at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado.
The Dec. 20 collision occurred as boats were gathered in San Diego Bay for an annual Christmas parade of decorated boats. The 33-foot Coast Guard boat was responding to a report of a grounded vessel when it rammed the 26-foot Sea Ray pleasure boat. Neither boat was participating in the parade, and witnesses have said the Coast Guard boat was speeding.
Anthony Cole DeWeese was struck in the head and died at a hospital after the crash. His family has filed a lawsuit against the federal government seeking unspecified damages.
Ramos' lawyer, Cmdr. Brian Koshulsky, called the deadly crash a perfect storm of choices that seemed reasonable at the time, including rushing to check on the grounded boater.
"Petty Officer Ramos will live with this for the rest of his life," Koshulsky said Friday. "We never said there should not be consequences. But the consequences should not be criminal."
"The harsh sound of the collision could be heard clear across the bay over the parade boats blowing horns and playing Christmas music," witness Roger Parrish wrote in an e-mail sent to NBCSanDiego shortly after the crash.
Anthony DeWeese was first taken to Harbor Island where paramedics tried to revive him. He was later pronounced dead at UCSD Hospital.
"He enjoyed life to the fullest," the boy's father said following the crash.
Five other people on the recreational boat received "major traumas," according to fire department spokesperson Maurice Luque.
Two other children were taken to Rady Children's Hospital, and three adults were transported to University of California, San Diego Medical Center, said Luque.