A Tragic Accident
Army Captain Christopher Peeples, an Aviation officer, was recently sentenced to four months in prison for failing to follow proper safety precautions at a Fort Campbell, Kentucky, weapons range. His negligence resulted in the death of a soldier.
Nineteen-year-old Private Jeremy J. Wells died at approximately 1400 hours on August 1st, 2018, due to a training accident on the range being operated by Captain Peeples. He was treated immediately and evacuated to Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, where he died of his injuries. No other soldiers were injured in the incident. Private Wells was an aircraft electrician in the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.
Captain Peeples was found guilty of dereliction of duty by a court-martial on April 13th. They determined the captain failed to follow proper Army training precautions on the firearms training range he was operating. Court documents also showed that the officer failed to ensure appropriate medical care was available on ranges under his control during training and that his conduct was “likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm.”
To quote documents released by the court,
Peeples “failed to rehearse [medical evacuation] routes and procedures, and negligently failed to ensure the overall safe conduct of training and proper use of the installation training complex,”
The Army requires that medics be present whenever weapons are being live fired. Officers and NCOs in charge of a weapons range must rehearse, treating any casualties on-site and evacuating them to a medical treatment facility as deemed necessary. The court found that Peeples did not do this. He also ran the range without the proper number of noncommissioned officers required for safe operation. Doctrine mandates that one NCO be present for every four shooters to watch for and intervene when they observe unsafe actions.
In addition to the above, weapons were not correctly inspected on the range that fateful day to ensure they were clear and not loaded during firing iterations.
Some Say the Punishment Does Not Fit the Crime
Peeples, the officer in charge, was sentenced to four months in prison for failing to follow doctrine and operate a safe range. Peeples attorney, Jason Marquez, feels that this is too harsh of a punishment for his client. He specifically called it a “terrible case of throwing a young officer into the woodchipper.” He believes that the Army was overzealous in their prosecution of his client and that this case sets a “chilling” standard for other officers at Fort Campbell. Marquez stated, “A soldier did something dumb with their weapon, which led to this young soldier being shot, and the command whipped out the microscope. They decided heads had to end up on spikes.”
How Did This Happen?
According to Captain Peeples’s attorney, a soldier finished firing his weapon and then set it down, pointing in the direction of another soldier. He did this without first ensuring that the firearm was “clear” or unloaded. Every soldier is taught that while on a weapons range, the muzzle must always be pointed downrange, that is, towards the targets and away from any fellow soldiers. While pointed at Private Wells, the weapon discharged, shooting him in the back at close range. Exactly how the weapon was discharged was not disclosed.
There were three soldiers charged in connection with the shooting. The soldier who set his loaded weapon down pointing at Wells has already served a one-year sentence. The NCO in charge of range safety was criminally charged as well.