A Coast Guardsman is charged with murder in the January death of a 19-year-old seaman who was found unresponsive along the shore of an Alaska island, Coast Guard officials said Thursday.
Ethan Tucker was charged Wednesday with seven violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Charges include murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Ethan Kelch of Virginia Beach, Virginia.
The charging document says Tucker showed a wanton disregard for human life when he caused blunt force trauma to Kelch's head and placed him in water, leaving him there.
"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," Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey said in a statement. "The charges today are the result of the Coast Guard's steadfast desire to gather all the facts and seek justice."
Tucker, who is from Ludington, Michigan, is in custody in San Diego as he faces court martial proceedings. It's unclear if the 19-year-old man has an attorney. He will be provided an attorney if he wants one, according to Coast Guard Senior Petty Officer NyxoLyno Cangemi.
Kelch was found unresponsive Jan. 27 along the shore of an island when the Coast Guard cutter, the Kodiak-based Munro, was docked in nearby Dutch Harbor for repairs. Responders performed CPR, but Kelch was pronounced dead at a clinic.
A search had been launched for Kelch when he failed to return Jan. 26 from liberty hours.
The charges say Tucker lied when he said he injured his hand by punching a steel bulkhead after learning of Kelch's death.
After an investigation was launched, Tucker was transferred to the Coast Guard base in Alameda, California, in June, according to Cangemi. He was assigned to the security division with such duties as check IDs of base visitors, making rounds with security and maintaining records and logs, Cangemi said.
"He was being investigated at the time, but working in the security division allowed him appropriate supervision by base security," he said.
Cangemi said he was unable to release other details of the case, including how Tucker became a suspect and if there are any other suspects because the investigation is ongoing.
It's unclear what the relationship was between Tucker and Kelch. But both were assigned to the Munro, where they worked together in various jobs, including painting, gear maintenance and standing watch, Cangemi said.
"As both were seamen aboard the ship, they would have quite a bit of interactions with each other in the duties," he said.
Cangemi said Tucker will remain in custody until scheduled hearings, including a federal court proceeding scheduled for Sept. 3 in San Diego to determine whether to keep him in pretrial confinement or release him back to Coast Guard duties.
A later Article 32 hearing will determine whether to proceed with a court martial, Cangemi said.