US Marines commander in Australia let go after being caught driving drunk

The officer in charge of more than 1,500 Marines in northern Australia was relieved from duty “due to a loss of trust and confidence” after he was caught driving with a blood alcohol level of more than double the country’s legal limit.

Col. James Schnelle, 48, pleaded guilty in the Darwin Local Court on Monday to driving with a BAC of 0.102 percent after his breath was tested by police on an early Sunday morning late last month. The legal limit in Australia of 0.05 percent, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. Marines First Lt. David Mancilla said Schnelle, the leader of the Marine Rotational Force in Darwin, was "relieved of his duties on Sept. 30 due to a loss of trust and confidence" – and now Lt. Col. Jeramy Brady will be officer-in-charge for the duration of the rotation.

Schnelle later issued his own statement, saying "one extremely poor personal decision" should not overshadow the significant accomplishments made by the latest Marines rotation.

"A solid foundation is established; at the tactical, operational, and strategic levels, the future is ripe for continued growth," he said.

Schnelle' driver's license though has been suspended for six months and he was fined $353, the Associated Press reported. He had been drinking in a bar in Darwin's Mitchell Street nightclub precinct and was driving to his nearby home when he was pulled over for a random breath test.

Magistrate Greg Cavanagh did not record a conviction because of Schnelle's good character and lack of previous offenses. Magistrates in Australia have the discretion to spare first-time offenders from having a police record under exceptional circumstances.

Schnelle reported to both the Hawaii-based commander of Marine Forces Pacific, Lt. Gen. Lewis Craparotta, and the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, about four hours later. They called him back "to relieve him of his command," Schnelle's lawyer told the court.

U.S. military forces have been stationed in Darwin through a Marine Rotational Force since 2012 as part of the President Barack Obama administration's pivot to Asia. The numbers are to eventually rise to 2,500 Marines.

Darwin-based Marines are subject to curfews and are restricted to taking leave in small groups to reduce the risk of social disruption in the city, which has a population of 140,000.

The largest contingent of Marines arrived in Darwin for six months in April. A Marines spokesman on Monday did not immediately respond to the Associated Press when asked when the 1,587 Marines were due to leave.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.