HONOLULU – A veteran rescue swimmer has been charged with desertion after he went missing for three months and triggered a massive search, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.
Petty Officer 1st Class Russell Matthews faces three other charges including being absent without leave, wrongful use and possession of a controlled substance, and causing the Coast Guard to conduct a search when there was no need, said Chief Warrant Officer Gene Maestas, a Coast Guard spokesman.
An Article 32 hearing — the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing — will be held to determine if there's enough evidence for Matthews to be tried in a court-martial.
Matthews was in the process of being discharged from the Coast Guard for illegal use of marijuana when he disappeared in October. The 36-year-old showed up at his home in mid-January.
Police said Matthews was incoherent when he was found, and he taken to a hospital for observation. The Coast Guard later took him into custody and had him confined at a Navy brig while they investigated why he left without authorization.
Police had found Matthews' car abandoned at Kaena Point, a remote area of Oahu next to the ocean, after his wife reported him missing. Police at the time described him as emotionally distraught, and said his friends and family were concerned for his welfare.
Hawaii News Now reported that Matthews lost four colleagues in a 2008 helicopter crash. The following year, his first wife was critically hurt when she was hit head-on by a car while riding her bike. She died a couple of years later, according to public records.
"In Petty Officer Matthews' case, we certainly empathize with his situation, but we certainly do not condone his actions," Maestas said.
Search and rescue crews scoured more than 10,000 square miles looking for Matthews. Honolulu firefighters sent a helicopter and rescue teams to searches the rugged coastline and sand dunes near Kaena Point.
Maestas couldn't discuss what Matthews was doing while he was missing, saying that's part of the investigation.
Maestas said he didn't know if Matthews has an attorney. He is entitled to representation by a lawyer from the Navy's judge advocate general corps if he wishes.
Matthews joined the Coast Guard in 1997. He's been stationed at Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu for five years.
The decision to charge Matthews was made by Capt. Timothy Gilbride, the station's commanding officer.