USS Fitzgerald officer pleads guilty in collision that killed 7 sailors

A junior officer on the destroyer USS Fitzgerald has pleaded guilty to a dereliction of duty charge in connection with a collision that killed seven sailors last year, the Navy announced Tuesday.

Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock will forfeit a half-month’s pay for three months and receive a punitive letter as punishment, according to a Navy statement.

“Our Sailors personify honor, courage, and commitment,” the statement read, in part. “The Navy will not accept complacency, negligence, or other behaviors contrary to its core values.”

According to the Navy Times, Coppock was serving as officer at the deck at the time the Fitzgerald struck a commercial ship off the coast of Japan early on the morning of June 17. She was accused of failing to follow the commanding officer’s standing orders and international navigation rules.

In August, the Navy announced that the Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, would be removed from duty, along with the ship’s second-in-command and the top senior enlisted sailor.


A Navy report released in November found that the Fitzgerald was at fault for the collision.

“In the 30 minutes leading up to the collision, neither Fitzgerald nor [the commercial ship] Crystal took such action to reduce the risk of collision until approximately one minute prior to the collision,” the report said.

The report added that Fitzgerald’s officer of the deck, now identified as Coppock, “intended to take no action” in the minutes leading up to the collision until realizing it was “too late.”

“The Officer of the Deck, the person responsible for safe navigation of the ship, exhibited poor seamanship by failing to maneuver as required, failing to sound the danger signal and failing to attempt to contact CRYSTAL on Bridge to Bridge radio. In addition, the Officer of the Deck did not call the Commanding Officer as appropriate and prescribed by Navy procedures to allow him to exercise more senior oversight and judgment of the situation,” the report said.

A Navy spokesman declined to tell the Navy Times whether Coppock would be discharged from service, telling the publication: “As of right now, she remains on active duty.”

Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson contributed to this report.